The waiting is finally over! Toby, Arran and Gary have wrapped up work on numerous other commercial excavations and watching briefs and work has commenced on All Saints, North Street. Week one has seen Archaeology Live! 2014 off to a flying start, welcoming trainees from as far away as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Spain, the USA and Barnsley to the new trench. As ever, it’s been great to see a mix of new and familiar faces and we couldn’t have asked for a nicer group of trainees.
Week one has been a busy one, with lots of finds and features being excavated. Arran’s team, or Team That End, began the week by investigating the south wall of the former boxing club.
In glorious sunshine, new trainees Katie, Jade and Janet have spent the week recording and excavating the wall’s construction cut. In doing so, they have revealed the wall to have sizeable foundations, laid on a bed of concrete. The finds from the construction backfill were varied in date and type. Detritus dating to the construction of the building included a rather lovely pipe mouth-piece. You can almost picture the builder’s annoyance at breaking his favourite pipe!
As the 1860s foundation trench was cut through intact archaeology, finds from earlier deposits have found their way into its backfill. Janet was delighted to unearth an 18th century clay pipe bowl. Smoking seems to have been a bit of a theme over the centuries!
At the northern end of the trench, returning trainees Rob and Yvonne were looking at features within a yard space that pre-dates the boxing club. Yvonne tackled a pit that was packed full of pottery, two full finds tubs in fact! The ceramics were mainly 19th century in date, with some earlier medieval examples. A high occurrence of oyster shell makes this likely to be a pit dug to dispose of domestic refuse.
Nearby, Rob spent the week looking at a sequence of rather enigmatic cut features. Again dating to the 19th century, it appears that this area has been peppered with the pits and interweaving tips and dumps that you would expect from a well used yard space. A finds highlight was a small decorative copper alloy object that is possibly post-medieval in date. We’ll look forward to seeing what our small finds experts think of this object.
Elsewhere in Arran’s area, Gina and Geoff recorded and excavated a number of interesting features. After exposing the footings of the boxing club’s north wall, they turned their attention to a small pit containing a mix of animal bone and disarticulated human bone. It appears that a medieval charnel pit, probably within the churchyard of All Saints has been disturbed at some point, and the upcast remains re-deposited within this pit. The remains of a number of individuals were identified, varying from juvenile to elderly. One tooth was found to have a large abscess, which would have been very painful indeed. Any disarticulated human remains discovered during the excavation will not be removed from the church compound and will eventually be re-interred. Intact burials, if encountered, will be left in-situ.
At the end of the week, Gina and Geoff began work on a truncated cobble and stone footing. A number of linear features are beginning to appear in this area. Could we be finding evidence for earlier buildings? We’ll find out as the weeks pass.
Toby’s area, or ‘this end’ had an equally busy first week. During the spring excavations, the team exposed a network of ceramic drains. With work on these complete, this week saw a lot of work on the boxing club wall construction levels. Marlene and Bri did a great job of recording the construction cuts of the building’s south-west corner before beginning to pick apart a heavily modified set of drains. This area is proving to be extremely complicated, but the diligent recording work has made the archaeology start to make sense.
Sammy, Virginia, Barry and Jan also had an eventful week, working on a number of features. More wall construction cuts have now been cleaned, recorded and excavated. At points the area was rather busy as the team worked out the boxing club’s construction sequence.
Later in the week, Toby’s team began to work on new areas, removing a number of trample deposits. Tantalisingly, elements of a brick building pre-dating the boxing club are beginning to emerge. Could this be part of the post-medieval rectory that once stood in this vicinity? Hopefully week two will bring some answers.
A finds highlight for Jan was a fragment of high status glazed floor tile that may once have been part of the fabric of the church. As All Saints has been altered countless times over the centuries, the deposits within our trench may shed new light on the evolution of the church building.
As well as working in the trench, the trainees have done a number of specialist sessions at YAT’s Aldwark headquarters. These involved an introduction to ceramics, a tour of our conservation facilities and a seminar on identifying and processing small finds. On top of this, the trainees have also been working with Gary in the churchyard, helping him to run the finds processing element of the excavation. This involves finds washing, cataloguing and bagging and provides an opportunity to practice new skills in finds identification. Archaeology Live! placement Tess has been on hand to share her knowledge of bone, pointing out methods of species identification alongside how to spot evidence of age and illness.
On Friday, Gary led the team through a seminar on building stratigraphic matrices, the diagrams we use to relate each excavated context to each other in the order they occurred. Working on complex, urban archaeology means that our trainees are dealing with difficult sequences. A good knowledge of stratigraphy allows us to keep on top of this and really get to grips with interpreting the story we are uncovering.
Thursday evening saw Toby lead the team on an archaeological tour of York. This week, he focused on how elements of the Roman city have been preserved in the fabric of the modern town. The team were fascinated to hear about how the archaeological remains beneath their feet have continued to influence York’s development.
A number of taster students joined the team for one and two day introductions to archaeology. It’s always surprising how much can be fitted into a day and the tasters did a great job of trying their hands at new techniques. The excavation received a visit from a Council of British Archaeology (CBA) delegation, who enjoyed a tour of the site led by Toby. It’s always a pleasure to share our findings and we will be scheduling a public open day for later in the summer.
So that’s a wrap on week one. We’re underway and already finding some fascinating archaeology. Also, we already seem to have gained a site mascot in the form of the imaginatively named ‘Planty the Plant’ (to whom Toby has taken quite a shine!). Odd things happen on archaeological excavations…
Big thanks must go out to our fantastic team of trainees. They’ve made the site a really fun place to be and worked hard to really bring the dig along. Our team of placements, Tess, Gus, Craig and Andy have also been a pleasure to work with. It’s looking like Archaeology Live! 2014 will be a season to remember!
Onwards and downwards!
Oh, and cheers to Planty!