Despite it still feeling like we’ve only just got started on North Street, the growing pile of artefact boxes begs to differ. We’ve had five entertaining and eventful weeks of archaeology so far and it still feels like we’ve only just scratched the surface (no pun intended, honest.)
This week saw the site make real progress, as our trainees continued to tease apart the complex layers of archaeology. New contexts that were beginning to appear last week have become increasingly typified by cut features such as pits, post holes and so on, as opposed to the proliferation of tips, dumps and surfaces that we have encountered throughout the summer.
Team This End began their week by giving their area a thorough, robust trowelling. Numerous surfaces and levelling deposits were recorded last week and the last pockets of these were now lifted. This gave an increasingly clear view of the earlier archaeology.
Helen continued to work on a spread of burnt material that her dad had begun to investigate last week. Initially a tad ephemeral, this deposit began to resolve itself as it was more fully exposed. We had been fairly confident that this would be a relatively late burning event that overlaid 18th century deposits; the reality however has proved to be somewhat different.
It is now apparent that this context is cut by numerous features that date to the early 19th century. This pushes the date of the burning back in the sequence. It is possible that it could even be contemporary with the main use period of the nearby 18th century rectory.
Close by, as more 19th century yard deposits were excavated, some great finds were appearing. Pete was very happy to find a well-worn grindstone, an object that could be mounted on an axle, rotated and used to sharpen blades.
Such objects have been in use as long as metalworking has been practiced so dating will require a specialist eye, although we have found similar examples in York within 10th century and 12th-13th century deposits. With this in mind, it is possible that this object was made and used in the Viking or medieval period before ending up in a Victorian dump deposit.
As these 19th century layers were removed, Celia and Helen exposed yet another wall relating to the 18th century rectory that occupied the site until the 1850s. The structural sequence of this building is becoming more complex as we reveal more of its footings. Understanding and dating this phase of activity will be something we’ll be looking at in detail next week.
Archaeology Live! regular Nicola was clearly on good form this year as she found a number of great artefacts! These included decorative Victorian glass, decorated Samian ware and an unusual copper alloy object.
Sarah had been investigating a mortar rich deposit that had been extensively disturbed by animal burrowing at the end of last week. This week, she finally cleared up what had been happening.
Amazingly, it seems an industrious 19th century individual took exception to the rabbits burrowing in his/her yard and blocked up the rabbit hole with mortar. It was ironic that we made this discovery on Beatrix Potter’s birthday! Poor Peter Rabbit…
With the mid-19th century deposits lifted, the team stood back and admired a series of new features. These included a number of rectangular cut features, around six feet in length, that follow the alignment of the church. As we know the area was briefly consecrated to receive burials between the 1820s and the 1850s, it now seems almost certain that these will be inhumations.
With so many new edges appearing, Toby’s team assigned context numbers to each new feature and began work on creating a composite plan. The plans for individual contexts can be taken from this master plan as and when they are investigated. The planning was done en masse before the baking sun was allowed to dry out the newly exposed layers and mask the more subtle edges.
While there are currently no plans to remove any articulated human remains, it is important that we know the location and depth of each potential burial. This will allow us to protect them from any future disturbance and to understand this phase of activity.
To this end, the team began to carefully excavate the backfills of several of the possible burials. Any human remains that we discover will be recorded before being left covered and protected.
As these features were cut through earlier archaeology, some interesting finds have been appearing. Celia discovered a rather splendid medieval jug handle, possibly 15th-16th century in date.
Bill also made an interesting discovery with this bangle shaped copper alloy object.
Work on these contexts will carry on into next week. It is important to be thorough and careful with such features. The backfills are being 100% sieved and staff or placements with experience of excavating burials are present at all times to offer advice and supervise the work.
Over in Arran’s area, the That End team continued work on several cut features that were identified the previous week, some of which proving to be quite unpredictable!
This was a busy week for tasters, with numerous people joining us for one or two days on site. This meant that some larger features have now been worked on by quite a number of people! The small bone-rich deposit begun the previous week by Tom and Gill was continued by Kevin, Julie, Sharon, Susanne and Emma over the course of the week. The backfill was absolutely packed with cattle skull fragments and each time we thought we’d found the end of the feature, more bone appeared!
Now four times larger than we had expected, the pit finally revealed it’s edge on Friday, with the bone abruptly ceasing to occur. Again, as the feature cuts earlier deposits, it contained a great range of finds, including a beautiful sherd of Roman black burnished ware. The cross hatched decoration is still remarkably visible after almost two millennia!
Our first ‘pie crust’ rim from a Torskey ware Viking pot was also discovered from this context. Being able to put your thumb in a thousand year old thumbprint never wears thin!
As the deposit contained several sherds of transfer ware, it must date to no earlier than the late 18th century. It is very interesting how regimented the finds from this pit have proved to be, as such features often contain a huge range of material. Domestic refuse was almost entirely absent, with the vast majority of finds being fragments of cattle skull and horn core.
Each of these skull fragments were from the top half of the skull, with no mandibles, maxilla, etc. being unearthed. It seems that this pit represents the exclusive disposal of the by-products of horn working. The site’s proximity to Tanner Row suggests a link with the tanning industry, could a relationship have existed between the tanners, butchers and horn-workers in the area?
Another interesting and slightly grisly discovery was also made, as many of the skull fragments featured a small puncture wound – possible evidence of 19th century slaughter techniques.
While the edges of this ‘cow mashing pit’ (as it has been informally dubbed) have been discovered, there is still plenty of backfill to excavate. Next week will see us add even more bone to the eleven tubs that have already been recovered!
Returning for his second year, Biagio took over work on the pit started by Anne in week 5. Also full of animal bone, this pit differed from the horn pit as it contained bone from various parts of various animals and appears more likely to represent disposal of general butchery waste.
The pit backfill contained two particularly noteworthy finds, including a fragment of worked flint. Heavily struck on one side, this object doesn’t appear to be a pre-historic tool or offcut. Instead, it seems more likely to be a 19th century object used to strike a flame. We look forward to hearing the specialist opinion on this one!
After filling three tubs with fragmented animal bone, Biagio was overjoyed to find something a little different. This time, he spotted a large fragment from a Roman amphora – a large vessel used to transport luxury goods such as oils and wines. We are finding more and more evidence of high status Roman material as the weeks pass.
In ‘contrary corner’ at the northern end of the trench. Gideon and Jess’ pit from week 5 continued to be worked on by Gary, Erica, Paul and Michelle who all joined us on one day taster courses. The edges we had worked so hard to find last week continued to make good sense and the pit appeared to be close to completion by Friday. This will be finished up next week, bar any contrary surprises of course!
Beverly and Ellen, who proved quite the team last year on Hungate, reunited to continue work on the rectangular feature begun last week by Katie and Beverly. Very possibly another early 19th century burial, this feature yielded a number of great finds.
The ceramic assemblage has been of particular interest. Alongside several sherds of samian ware, local reproductions of a lower quality were also found. Clearly, fake designer goods have been around for a while…
The base of a small, globular medieval drinking vessel proved that there is more to the medieval assemblage than storage jars, jugs and cooking pots.
A sherd of medieval roof tile was discovered complete with the footprint of a large dog! This tile could very well have spent several centuries on the roof of All Saints before ending up in the backfill of Ellen and Beverly’s feature.
There isn’t enough room in this blog to list all of Ellen’s week 6 finds (she had a bumper week!), although the highlight was certainly this small copper alloy brooch.
Similar to medieval examples found on Hungate, this object is in excellent condition and should look great when the conservation team have it cleaned.
Finds from sieving a single bucket full of Beverly and Ellen’s backfill deposit highlight the multi-phasic quality of York’s archaeology. This particular bucket load contained examples of medieval, Viking and Roman pottery, including an unusual colour coat mortarium rim – giving a date range of 2,000 years!
At present, this feature has been excavated to a depth of roughly 0.60m and is still descending. Work will continue next week and we’ll hopefully be able to confirm whether or not we are dealing with burials. The feature, like many on site, has been heavily disturbed by rabbit burrowing, although luckily this particular burrow passes above any human remains that may be present.
Week 7 will be a key week this season, as we will hopefully be able to confirm the presence of inhumations. If Beverly and Ellen’s feature is representative, these graves could all be rather deep. This would mean that we will safely be able to reduce the ground level of the whole trench substantially, working around but not disturbing any in-situ burials.
Beneath the Finds Tree, Gary has been dealing with the mass of finds from the substantial trample deposits that we recently completed work on. The finds teams have worked tirelessly to clean, sort and bag the mountain of artefacts, spotting some gems along the way.
Week 6 has seen the nature of the archaeology on site shift focus from horizontal layers to cut features. As these are excavated, the site will look increasingly like an archaeological moonscape! The sections of these features give us a glimpse into earlier deposits and these sneak previews have already revealed hints of buried structures, substantial refuse pits and possible burials.
We are now bang on halfway through the summer session. We have recorded and excavated just shy of 200 archaeological contexts and moved almost 35 tons of soil – ENTIRELY by trowel! Week on week, our trainees have got their heads round some genuinely tricky archaeology and consistently impressed us with the professional standards of their work. It’s also been a hell of a lot of fun!
Without the funding of our ever-growing crowd of trainees, this excavation (and its 13 predecessors!) would not be possible. As ever, huge thanks must go out to all of our trainees and placements for supporting Archaeology Live!
Next week, Arran and Gary will tag in/out and switch roles – with Gary looking after That End and Arran taking over the mystical realm of the Tree of Finds. The archaeology is looking really promising as we edge towards the post-medieval period, and yet more sunshine has been forecast! Can’t wait to get started!
Onwards and downwards!
PS. Week 6 also saw the beginnings of a beautiful new friendship between our placement Dave and a local pug. The two enjoyed a bit of quality time on the edge of the trench. Bless ’em…