A medieval miscellany… Medieval finds highlights from Archaeology Live! 2014.

Last week, we took a closer look at some of the Roman finds that were uncovered during our 2014 excavation at All Saints, North Street. By the end of the season, we had excavated over two centuries worth of archaeology and uncovered deposits dating to the late 1700s.

A wonderful thing about urban archaeology is the variety of finds that it provides. As our site has been in constant use for two millennia, a wealth of earlier material can be found re-deposited in later contexts. The sheer volume of re-deposited Roman material uncovered so far strongly suggests that intact Roman archaeology is present at All Saints, buried beneath countless layers of later activity.


The 120ft spire of All Saints adds a touch of drama to the beautiful 14th century All Saints Cottages.

While we can only interpret so much with finds from secondary contexts, we can still get a thrilling sneak preview into the Roman world beneath our feet; with glimpses of legionary tile production, imported luxuries like wine and oils and evidence of high status buildings, jewellery and ceramics uncovered already.

These artefacts are exciting, but they remain only echoes of a landscape that has since been radically and irrevocably changed. With one or two rather stunning exceptions (i.e. the Multiangular Tower in the Museum Gardens), York’s wonderful Roman heritage is now entirely below ground.

When we consider medieval York, we are lucky enough to be brought a little closer to life in the Middle Ages by the wealth of medieval architecture that still stands today. It is easier to visualise and understand a lost world, when you are able to see fragments that have survived the intervening centuries. A 15th century time traveller visiting our site today would see a lot that they would recognise. The magnificent church tower was completed in 1410, and the beautiful cottages pictured above were under construction in 1396. While they would see a world much changed, they would have reference points with which to orientate themselves.

A decorative, twisted medieval jug handle.

A decorative, twisted medieval jug handle.

The remains of York’s medieval cityscape allow us to share experiences with people who lived centuries ago; an experience that is made even richer when we discover the objects that these people owned and used. Archaeology is all about adding flesh to the bones of history. The lives of kings and queens are well documented, but archaeology allows us to learn more about people like ourselves.

The recent Hungate project featured the largest modern open area excavation to have ever happened in central York. The dig uncovered a wealth of wonderfully human moments; occurrences that we can easily relate to today. These came in many forms, with themes continuing over many phases of activity. We found the spoons that Victorian children had used to try and retrieve lost marbles from drains, we also found the marbles! Rewinding 1,000 years, we found leather shoes, beads and ornate metal objects that had been lost down Viking cesspits. It seems there are some things that never change…

At All Saints this year, we have been lucky enough to find an array of medieval objects that add more of these wonderfully personal details to our knowledge of medieval York. These finds aren’t always particularly glamorous, but they do tell a story to anyone who cares to listen.


Joan and a large fragment of a medieval vessel.

Mysterious creatures…

The medieval world was alive with symbolism and meaning. Medieval parishioners of All Saints would have often seen religious processions making their way along nearby Micklegate, with priests and visiting dignitaries arrayed in rigidly defined hierarchies. The allegorical tales of the mystery plays would have been imbued with far greater meaning to those of a medieval mindset than can be appreciated by you or I in the 21st century.

This was a world where monsters and evil spirits would have seemed very real and the threat of hellfire and damnation weighed heavy on every mind. But these layers of tradition and symbolism were not limited to the glorious stained glass and monumental architecture of the church, they also appeared in everyday life.

Katie's fantastic Hambleton pot sherd.

Katie’s fantastic Hambleton pot sherd.

Joining us for her third season of Archaeology Live!, Yorkshire lass Katie made a particularly wonderful discovery when she spotted something green in the fill of an 18th century refuse pit. The object proved to be a sherd of Hambleton ware, most likely dating to the early 15th century (this date will be tightened up following a specialist assessment of the ceramics). It was immediately apparent that this was an unusual find. Unlike the numerous utilitarian fragments of bowls, jars and jugs that had already been found, this pot sherd was clearly a more decorative object. Initially thought to be part of an elaborate lid, a spot of research has revealed Katie’s find to be a fragment of a lobed cup or bowl.

A medieval lobed cup (right). © Image Copyright University of Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, 2000

A complete medieval lobed cup (right). © Image Copyright University of Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, 2000

These lobed bowls were popular in the 14th and 15th centuries, being used as communal drinking vessels that would be passed around a group of people. As the contents were drank, figures of mythical creatures, biblical characters and animals would emerge from the liquid. This period saw a nationwide shift in material culture; drinking vessels which had mainly been made of wood up until this point were now occurring more frequently in ceramic forms. However, it seems that older, communal dining traditions were being maintained, as these lobed bowls remained popular into the early 16th century. Pictured below is a charming example of a somewhat eroded, but clearly human figure from a similar vessel.

A Medieval pottery fragment, the anthropomorphic figure from a Coarse Border ware lobed cup (14th century AD) Image copyright The British Museum.

A Medieval pottery fragment, the anthropomorphic figure from a Coarse Border ware lobed cup (14th century AD)
Image copyright The British Museum.

Katie’s example has provoked a great deal of debate. Is it a cockerel? Is it a dog? Could it be some form of serpent? Final confirmation will come when the specialist pottery assessment is carried out next year. The figure has clearly lost its ears or horns and does seem to have stylised legs of some sort. If parallels have been found elsewhere, we may be able to say exactly what we’re looking at, but for now, it will remain open for debate. A suggestion that it is an early representation of Dino from The Flintstones has been met with a sensible degree of scepticism…

Yoshi? Dino? Hmmm...

Yoshi? Dino? Hmmm…

While Katie’s pot sherd will remain enigmatic for now, it can certainly be agreed that it is a wonderful find. Whether it was used during celebrations or ceremonies (or both!) is an entertaining question to ponder. This find has a certain frivolous charm, allowing us a glimpse into this medieval world of mystery and symbolism. It reminds us that life in the middle ages could have a more jovial side, which gives a warm contrast to All Saints air of piety and devotion.

Family ties

Joining us for his fourth season of Archaeology Live!, Barry didn’t waste any time in adding a new piece to our medieval puzzle. In a deposit associated with the 1860s church hall, he noticed a sherd of medieval pottery.

At first glance, there was nothing immediately remarkable about this find. However, now we are learning to decode the imagery of medieval York, it is possible to find a very personal story behind this artefact.

Barry and his medieval seal.

In the 11th century, carved bone or metal seal stamps came in to common use. These stamps were used to create impressions in wax to authenticate documents with a recognised seal, a tradition that had become firmly established by the 13th century. While medieval potters were somewhat lower down the social scale than those who created beautifully illuminated manuscripts, they were nonetheless influenced by the religious and heraldic symbolism that surrounded them, particularly in their parish churches.

This influence of medieval symbolism on the ceramic tradition is something that we can clearly see in the archaeological record. In York, the 13th century saw an influx of seal jugs; vessels that featured at least one applied cirucular motif. A reflection of imagery seen on documents, high status metal vessels and in church architecture, the seals on these jugs fall into three broad categories; personal seals featuring the owner’s name, seals containing the maker’s name (medieval branding if you will) and those with motifs of animals, floral decorations and anthropomorphic images.

A complete medieval seal jug from the Yorkshire Museum collection.

A complete medieval seal jug from the Yorkshire Museum collection.

The variety of seals that have been found on these jugs suggests something far more complex than simple decoration. As we have discussed, medieval people were far more in tune with the significance of the myriad images and symbols that punctuated their world. These jugs clearly carried social, cultural, religious and political messages, as well as being beautifully crafted objects. Barry’s sherd is a perfect example of this tradition.


A closer look…

A closer inspection of Barry’s sherd shows that we have the majority of a seal bearing the image of a bird. The stretched legs and raised wing create an image of imminent motion; our bird seems ready to take flight! Around the perimeter of the seal is a worn, but visible legend. At a glance, YAT ceramics specialist Anne Jenner instantly recognised the significance of this seal. Fragments of identical and similar seal jugs have been found at Wellington Row, Micklegate, Coppergate, Low Petergate and as far afield as Gilling East and Wharram Percy. Clearly, Barry’s vessel was one of a batch that would go on to spread across York and North Yorkshire.

Comparison with the more complete examples reveal this to be part of a jug with two bird seals on one side, and two featuring a lion on the opposite side. The lion is a ‘lion passant’ with its head looking back and its tail upright. Around the image of the lion is the text, “S. TOME:FILLI:WALTERI”, while the the bird is surrounded by the legend, “SIGILL.TOME.P-WA”. The survival of these seals means that we can actually link Barry’s pot to a particular individual, a very rare occurrence in archaeology!

A lion passant (left) and a complete bird motif .(right)

A lion passant (left) and a complete bird motif (right). Image copyright York Archaeological Trust.

The images above bear the personal seal of Thomas FitzWalter, a member of one of York’s more prosperous medieval families that are known to have been patrons of the arts. Historic records for the FitzWalters in York are scant, but the imagery of these seal jugs leave us with some tantalising possibilities. The fact that the legends contain a ‘P.’ (Pater, or father) and ‘FILII’ (son) over two separate seals could suggest that these jugs were commissioned to celebrate a marriage and the birth of a son. The widespread nature of the vessels may represent them being given as gifts, or becoming dispersed family heirlooms.

The cross above the head of the bird acts as both a grammatical indication of the legend’s beginning and a symbol of religious devotion, adding yet another layer of meaning to the seal.

Whatever the case, Barry’s find is a wonderful example of how archaeology can bring us closer to the past. Holding the vessels that people would have drunk from is always exciting, but being able to tie them to particular individuals is a rare and wonderful pleasure. Further research may yet reveal more about this fantastic artefact, but for now we can enjoy being very late guests to the FitzWalters’ happy day.


A recurring theme of the 2014 season was objects featuring fingerprints. While this is not uncommon in ceramic objects from busy, urban sites, it is always highly evocative. Placing your finger in the mark left by the person who made the object you are holding many centuries ago is a vivid experience. It reminds us that archaeology is the study of people, not just sweeping historic events. Here are some of the finer examples from this year’s dig.

Medieval fingerprints.

Medieval fingerprints.

Pots and tiles were often dried before firing, but they would remain very pliable. Finger and thumb prints can be used to apply decoration, but they can also be accidental. The medieval roof tile below features the fingerprints of either a very slight individual, or a small child.

Child fingerprints in a medieval tile.

Child fingerprints in a medieval tile.

These are just several examples of similar finds, although people weren’t the only ones to make their mark…

Fingerprints in a decorative late medieval pot rim.

Fingerprints in a decorative late medieval pot rim.

As roof tiles were dried in the sun before firing, it is not uncommon to find that pesky dogs or cats wandered over the still-wet clay, accidentally immortalising their paw prints. These wonderful finds give medieval York’s animal population the chance to make their mark on the archaeological record.

Fido's signature on a medieval roof tile.

Fido’s signature on a medieval roof tile.

Medieval paw-prints.

Medieval cat paw-prints.

Fun and games

While life could be challenging in medieval York, we have found evidence that people were taking the time to have a little fun. Local lad and regular Archaeology Live! trainee Rob had a bumper year for finds; one of his finest was a tiny bone dice.

Rob having a good finds day.

Rob having a good finds day.

Dice with the traditional arrangement of opposite sides totalling seven have been around from Roman times, made in bone, metal and antler. Rob’s example has a more irregular layout that appeared in the 13th century, most likely dating it to the second half of the medieval period.


It is a beautiful object which has clearly been worn from use. The games it played, whether it proved lucky in gambling, and how long it remained in use will never be known, but it is a fun thing to ponder. The particular joy of this artefact is its simplicity. There is no palimpsest of meaning here, just an instantly recognisable object that could be used just as easily today as it was centuries ago.

Happily, this wasn’t the only evidence of gaming to be found this year. Early in the season, Geoff was delighted to find a worked bone counter. Initially thought to be a button, closer inspection showed it to have no perforations. Instead, a small hollow had been made on one side of the disc that perfectly fits an index finger. The reverse was worn smooth, making it likely to have been a gaming piece. Its date is uncertain at present, specialist analysis may tell us more.

Geoff and his bone gaming piece.

Geoff and his bone gaming piece.


It’s one thing to recreate the sights of medieval York, but one find from 2014 gives us a clue to how the area may have sounded. This medieval object is made of bone and would have been used to tune stringed musical instruments. Tuning pegs are common finds in medieval York and reveal that music would have been part of life for people of all classes. Quite what instrument this peg would have tuned is uncertain, although one possibility is the rebec, predecessor of the modern violin, which was a popular instrument in the 13th and 14th centuries.

A medieval tuning peg

A medieval tuning peg

Style and wealth

Status was of high importance to the people of medieval York. Those with a little wealth to their name would want to be seen to be fashionable and rich. Several objects discovered this year tell us about the ways medieval people chose to decorate their clothes and possessions.


A tiny copper alloy buckle or clasp.

The 2014 team uncovered a number of small strap ends, clasps and buckles. These decorative objects could have added a little flair to items items of clothing, saddlery and furniture. By their decorative nature, they reveal a certain degree of wealth. They were clearly owned by individuals who could afford more than simple, functional items.

Ellen's brooch.

Ellen’s brooch.

These objects will be cleaned and analysed in late 2015/early 2016 by the YAT conservation team. Who knows what more we will be able to learn about these intriguing objects.

While it is tempting to clean these finds on site, they are often highly corroded and very fragile. The buckle pictured below may even have surviving fabric, preserved within the corrosion. Treated properly, this may give us direct evidence of the kind of attire people would have favoured in the medieval period. Watch this space for further news on the metal finds!

Anne's medieval buckle.

Anne’s medieval buckle.

All Saints

It is impossible to look at every medieval find from 2014 without writing a rather lengthy tome! With that in mind, we will conclude our look at the medieval assemblage with a look at the finds that tell us more about the church itself.


While the church is a wonderful example of high-medieval architecture, it is a building that has been in near constant flux for much of its existence. The changing demands and fashions of each century have seen swathes of structural and decorative alterations. Pews, floors, windows and walls have been entirely removed and re-modelled. However, the finds of this year’s excavation provide us with evidence of the church’s previous incarnations.

The Lady Chapel in All Saints has recently been re-floored with hand-made tiles recreated using medieval techniques to create an authentic middle ages appearance. We have been lucky enough to find examples of the original medieval floor that has since been so lovingly and faithfully restored. A wonderful moment this year, was laying a newly discovered medieval tile over the replica floor. It fit the traditional dimensions perfectly!

A medieval tile reunited with the church floor.

A medieval tile reunited with the church floor.

Our tile, while complete, shows evidence of a long life, with the glaze on the upper surface all but worn away. There is no doubt that this object will have witnessed the church in its medieval heyday, a fact which is as frustrating as it is fascinating! If only tiles could speak…

Working on a 19th century burial, Archaeology Live! regular Belle made a wonderful medieval discovery – a fragment of stained glass.

Belle's window glass fragment.

Belle’s window glass fragment.

While this wasn’t the first fragment of medieval window glass to be found this year, it is the most complete and features two complete edges that give us an idea of its original shape. The cut edges even bear the marks of the grozing iron – the tool used by medieval craftsmen to shape the glass.

All Saints is famous for its wonderful stained glass, but not all of the medieval windows have been lucky enough to survive the intervening centuries. Belle’s shard fits tantalisingly well in a current window of the church and once it is cleaned by the conservation department, we will find out whether any of the paint still survives.

The cliche that this provides a window into the medieval world is a guilty (but true!) pleasure…

A little speculation never hurt anyone...

Placing the glass over a window that survives gives an idea of its possible appearance when new.

A final find type to look at reveals even more about the church’s former appearance. This year, our team have found numerous fragments of beautifully made glazed roof tile. Made between the 13th and 16th centuries, these tiles were expensive and would only have graced the roofs of prosperous secular and religious buildings. Their lead and copper glaze gives the tiles a bright green hue that would have looked spectacular in the sun.

Anne showing off her glazed roof tile.

Anne showing off her glazed roof tile.

Some examples have a darker, more purple tinged hue.

Tah dah!

Tah dah! Jen presenting her latest find.

The combined evidence of the glazed floor and roof tiles present an image of a vibrant, colourful building. Much of this colour would fall victim to the tumult of the 16th century reformation, but the finds made by our 2014 team make it possible to see a little more of the church’s high medieval splendour.

Vivid green glaze.

Vivid green glaze.

This brief tour of just some of 2014’s finds highlights serves as a reminder of the power of archaeology to enrich and humanise the past. Adding these pieces to the medieval puzzle removes some of the distance between ourselves and the people who lived through the times we are studying. We are so close and yet so far from truly understanding the world they would have lived in.

The medieval finds from the 2014 season allow us to place our fingerprints in theirs, to decode the meanings of the ways they decorated their possessions and to roll the dice and hold the gaming pieces they would have played with.

2015 will see us reach the layers that were deposited during this age of medieval mystery. Who knows what secrets the parishioners of All Saints will have left in wait for us.

Thanks for reading! If you would like to join us in 2015 and add your own discoveries to our growing collection, email trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk to book a place on the dig or to find out more.

We can’t wait to get back on site, but until then… onwards and downwards!

– Arran

Post-excavation Courses

Have you ever wondered what happens after an excavation has been completed?

The UK is home to many community archaeology projects and training digs, although very few deal with the work that happens between fieldwork and publication. As an educational charity, all at York Archaeological Trust are passionate about engaging the public in all aspects of archaeological research. In 2015, we will be adding a new course to our training porfolio; an introduction to post-excavation.


What is post-excavation?

Anyone who has dug with us or followed our blog will be aware that our work creates a lot of paperwork! Single context recording breaks down complex layers of urban deposition into individual events, or contexts, that are excavated in reverse chronological order. For example, if a medieval person digs a rubbish pit in their yard, half fills it with refuse and then tops it off with clay to mask the smell, we have three contexts – a clay capping, a refuse layer and a pit cut. Each of these will be cleaned, photographed, drawn in plan, levelled, described on a context card and added to a stratigraphic matrix. These days we use a combination of hand-drawn plans, GPS survey, paper records and digital records; this makes for a lot of paperwork!


The post-excavation process sees all of this data being cross-referenced, checked, digitised and analysed. All of which sounds far more complicated than it actually is!

During our post-excavation courses, we will take a small team of trainees through each step of the process. This will involve scanning and uploading plans and context cards to a digital database, creating a digital stratigraphic matrix, digitising and manipulating plans to create report illustrations, carrying out an assessment of ceramic finds, analysis and interpretation of the stratigraphic sequence among numerous other tasks. The training will be delivered by professional archaeologists and will be based in nice, warm offices with a tea room close-by. Thankfully, archaeology isn’t always wet and muddy!

No experience is required and people of all ages (14+) and backgrounds are welcome.

When and where are the courses held?

The courses will take place across YAT’s York HQ, Dig and at All Saints Church, North Street, York and will last for one week. The dates will be confirmed early in 2015, they will initially operate on an ‘out-of-season’ base and will not overlap with our training dig. A one week course will cost £150.

The post-excavation courses give you the opportunity to get your name on an archaeological assessment report and experience a side of the profession that normally takes place behind closed doors. A PDF copy of the report will be sent to everyone who completes the course.

For bookings or further enquiries, please contact trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk

Archaeology Live! 2014 Highlight Reel: The Roman finds

As the nights draw in, the trimmings go up and Ferrero Rocher inexplicably return to supermarket shelves, the festive season is almost upon us once again. Training dig teams across the country are dragging tarps over trenches, filling sheds with freshly cleaned tools and retiring to the warmth of the tea room. Except of course, the Archaeology Live! Team, who are currently busying themselves with various projects and taking bookings for next year’s return to All Saints.

A wintry view of All Saints.

A wintry view of All Saints.

With the North Street excavation on hold until spring, now seems a good time to take stock and look back at what we achieved during the 2014 season. A good archaeologist will be quick to remind you that finds themselves are not necessarily as important as what they can tell you. Objects alone can tell a story, but it is with the art of considering finds in their context that brings us closer to the people that made, owned, used and lost them. As I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts, we are storytellers not treasure hunters, always looking for the human moments hidden in the ground. Although that said, X does occasionally mark the spot and making an exciting discovery is always the highlight of any archaeologist’s day.

We were somewhat spoiled with finds during this year’s excavation and as it’s almost christmas, let’s allow ourselves to put the grand tales aside and look back at some of the finds highlights! (Or ‘shinies’, as they’re known on site…) The season began at the end of march, with a wintery chill lingering in the air. The rubble of the freshly demolished church hall was cleared away and the site was cleaned up before the arrival of our first team of trainees.

'That End' cleaned up but unexcavated. April 2014.

‘That End’ cleaned up but unexcavated. The mixed trample layer covers the whole of the trench. April 2014.

It didn’t take long before surprisingly ancient finds began to appear in relatively modern contexts, disturbed from deeper layers and then re-deposited by 19th century workmen. Let’s start our tour of these finds with the Romans…

Samian ware is a high status Roman tableware that proliferated across Britain in the 1st and 2nd centuries. Made primarily in France and Germany, it is often highly decorated with vivid imagery and is identifiable by its terracotta red colour and beautifully smooth, slipped exterior. In fact, it often defies belief that such well made pottery can be almost 2000 years old! The 2014 season provided us with many sherds of samian ware, one of the finest examples featuring the rear end of a lion, not a creature that immediately springs to mind when you consider 2nd century North Yorkshire…

Decorated samian ware.

Decorated samian ware.

As well as Roman pottery, we were also lucky enough to find a number of Roman coins. This silver denarius features a figure (Mars?) holding a spear and shield. Despite being found in 19th century trample, it is a good indicator that intact Roman archaeology survives in deeper layers.

Anne and Branka's Roman coin.

Anne and Branka’s Roman coin.

Amphorae were large ceramic vessels used to transport goods like oils and wine across the Empire. On North Street this year, we have come across a number of large fragments of these huge storage vessels.

Sarah's amphora sherd.

Sarah’s amphora sherd.

The amount of high status Roman material suggests that the area may well have been quite affluent two millennia ago, with the Romano-British inhabitants enjoying the finer things in life.

A Roman amphora, currently on display in the Yorkshire Museum.

A Roman amphora, currently on display in the Yorkshire Museum.

Earlier, we mentioned objects having the ability to tell a story. This sherd of samian is one such find, which in this case has clearly been burned, turning its terracotta slip a deep grey. As the cross-sections and outer surfaces are equally charred, it is almost certain that this pot was broken before it was burned. You can imagine the heavy heart of the owner, who would have been very aware that this beautifully manufactured bowl had travelled thousands of miles to reach York, as they dropped the tragically broken heirloom into the pile of burning rubbish.

Fanciful perhaps, but a good way to remind ourselves that this pot was owned and used by people just like us. Imagine finding your prized Le Creuset dinner set smashed on the kitchen floor…

Scorched 1st-2nd century samian ware.

Scorched 1st-2nd century samian ware.

Another broken pot with a tale to tell was this sherd of black burnished ware. Once part of a flat bottomed bowl type referred to affectionately by archaeologists as ‘dog bowls’, the rim of this pot has been inscribed with an ‘X’.

Graffitied Roman pottery

Graffitied Roman pottery

Whether this was the act of one of Britain’s first christians, wishing to express their faith through personalised possessions, or an absent mindedly doodled numeral, will never be known. While we do know that the pot is definitively Roman, it is impossible to know when the ‘X’ was carved. This is a wonderful find, bringing us painfully close to connecting with an ancient graffiti artist. Quite why they were driven to inscribe this object however, will remain a mystery.


A complete 3rd century ‘dog bowl’. Image copyright Dorset Pottery Group.

One piece of Roman text that we could read appeared on a fragment of stamped tile. When the Roman army established the settlement of Eboracum (York) in 71AD, the Legio IX Hispana (Ninth Spanish Legion) began, among other things, the manufacture of tiles complete with a legionary stamp. In 119, the Legio IX Hispana were relieved in garrisoning York by the Legio VI Victrix (Sixth Victorious Legion) allowing the Hispana to embark on their famous (mis)adventure to the north. A grand scheme of re-building then occurred across Eboracum as the northern capitol of the Roman Empire grew ever grander.

The wonderful thing about this tile fragment is that we are able to confidently link it to this important part of York’s past. The stamp clearly features the text ‘VIC‘, making it a product of the kilns of the Sixth Legion. What really bridges the many centuries between us and the men of the Legio VI Victrix however, is the thumbprint located just below the stamp. This impression would have been made by the hand of the individual who placed the still wet tile into the kiln (currently thought to have been located close to St. Cuthbert’s church on Peasholme Green) sometime in the early decades of the second century AD. 

It is always surprising how much you can learn from a seemingly innocuous fragment of roof tile!


Roman roof tile.

Roof tiles weren’t the only Roman ceramic building material that we found this year either! A fragment of  flue tile was discovered by Rosie in August. This tile may have formed part of a hypocaust system, the Roman equivalent of underfloor heating. The sites position in the heart of York’s prosperous civilian settlement, the colonia, makes it likely that high status homes would have existed close-by. This tile may have once have provided welcome warmth to Romano-British feet, finding shelter from York’s somewhat variable weather.

Rosie's Roman tile fragment.

Rosie’s Roman tile fragment.

Our trainees are often surprised by the sheer quality of manufacture that typifies Roman artefacts. Even more utilitarian wares like greyware or black burnished are often decorated with incised markings or exteriors buffed to a smooth shine. Many sherds unearthed this season have been excellent examples of this.


Decorated Roman ceramics.


Roman calcite gritted ware.

Perhaps the most delicate example of fine Roman material was found by a trainee named Kaye, who attended the inaugural season of Archaeology Live! in 2001! This object has yet to be seen by a specialist, but has been tentatively dated as Roman. It appears to be a fragment of a beautiful glass ring with an inlaid stone.

Kaye's rather splendid Roman (?) ring.

Kaye’s rather splendid Roman (?) ring.

This would have been an object worn with some pride by a rather well-to-do individual whom could both afford to buy it and lived a gentile enough life to risk wearing a ring made of glass. That said, it clearly did break at some point! Even if this object proves to be medieval, or later, it will remain a thing of delicate beauty. It would have adorned the finger of someone who knew well the past landscape that we have to work so hard to even begin to understand.

Personal, almost frivolous objects such as this give us a wonderful sense of closeness to those who walked the streets of York, or Yorke, or Jorvik, or Eorforwic, or even Eboracum before us. It would be just as prized today as it was then and shows that an appreciation of beauty is an enduringly human trait. The 2015 season will see us continuing to unearth lost Roman treasures like these mentioned above.

To join us and add your own discoveries to our Roman assemblage, contact trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk to reserve your place on the dig.

What did the Romans ever do for us eh? Ahem…

– Arran

Weekend courses

This course will give beginners and those with some basic knowledge the chance to take part in fieldwork based at our All Saints Church, North Street site. If you have more experience and want to attend, that is not a problem as we can easily gear the training towards your experience and ability. You will get the chance to excavate the site, and explore archaeological techniques with the experts from York Archaeological Trust, as well as see behind the scenes and find out more. This is a fantastic opportunity to experience the excitement and discovery of urban archaeology.

IMG_5758Weekend course dates and details:

April 11th & 12th. (Sold out! email trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk to join a reserves list)

*NEW DATE ADDED* May 23rd & 24th. (Sold out! email trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk to join a reserves list)

August 22nd & 23rd. (Sold out! email trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk to join a reserves list)

October weekend TBC (email trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk to express interest)

*NOTE* 14/1/15 All weekend courses are currently fully booked, please contact us to join a reserve list. An October weekend will hopefully open for bookings in early summer.

Basic Schedule –

Saturday: 9.30am Induction & Introductions followed by work on site for the rest of the day until 5pm. There will be breaks in the morning and afternoon as well as a longer break for lunch (provided). In the evening there will be a meal provided for the group at 8pm.

Sunday: 9.30am straight into the archaeology with similar sessions as well as working with the finds from the site. If the weather is poor in the morning we will do a tour of the local area to avoid disturbing mass inside the church. Sundays will finish at 4pm.

The cost will be £130 per person which includes 2x lunches, evening meal on the Saturday and a pass to the YAT attractions. Previous Archaeology Live! trainees of FoYAT members have a reduced rate of £110.

We have a lower age limit of 16. This is dropped to 14 if accompanied by a parent guardian who is also completing a course.

To reserve space email trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk

Taster courses

Taster courses are designed to provide trainees with an awareness of what is involved in working on a modern excavation. They are an affordable and hands-on introduction to digging and finds work. All tasters include a ticket to the YAT attractions.

A post hole emerges...

A post hole emerges…

We are now taking bookings for the 2015 Archaeology Live! training sessions at All Saints Church, North Street, York.

Spring session:  Monday 6th April  – Friday 17th April

Summer session: Monday 22rd June – Friday 11th September

Autumn session: TBC. Email trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk to express interest.

Taster courses are available Tuesday-Friday each week with a two day taster ideally running Tue-Wed or Thu- Fri.

IMG_53391 day taster

The basics of digging and finds work

  • Introduction and site tour
  • Excavation techniques (generally trowelling and sieving)
  • Washing and studying the finds made during the day

2 day taster

A more in-depth introduction to digging and finds work.

  • Introduction and site tour
  • Excavation (trowelling, mattocking and sieving)
  • Site recording (drawing plans and using a level)
  • Finds washing and study


One day Taster £50 £50 Friends of YAT/Returnees
Two day Taster £100 £100 Friends of YAT/Returnees

Sarah's amphora sherd.

Taster Days run Tuesday to Friday, subject to availability. The first working day is 10.30am – 5pm including a 45-minute lunch break and a 15-minute tea break. The second day would start at 9.30am and have an additional morning break. Full details of working arrangements will be supplied on booking.

Please contact us by email if you would like to make a reservation enquiry/provisional booking.

We have a lower age limit of 16. This is dropped to 14 if accompanied by a parent guardian who is also completing a course.

Booking forms will be provided when dates/course places have been agreed and reserved.

E-mail correspondence is preferred, however, if you don’t have email access please phone (office hours Mon-Fri 9am to 3 pm).

E-mail: trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk

Mobile: +44 (0) 7908 210026

One & two week courses

One and two-week courses are designed to give beginners and those with some experience the opportunity to take part in a remarkable working experience and gain an insight into the work of an archaeologist.

All Saints Cottages border the northern end of the trench.

We are now taking bookings for the 2015 Archaeology Live! training sessions at All Saints Church, North Street, York.

Spring session:  Monday 6th April – Friday 17th April

Summer session: Monday 22rd June – Friday 11th September

Autumn session: TBC. Contact trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk to express interest.

A week long course runs from Monday to Friday and the working day is 9.30am until 5pm.


A Viking spindle whorl unearthed Summer 2014.

1 week course

The one-week course will include on the first day introductory talks about the site, excavation techniques and health and safety, and a site tour. Subsequent days will include hands-on experience of excavation work; time will be divided equally between three tasks:

  • Basic digging techniques: trowelling, mattocking, shovelling etc.
  • Site recording: planning, levelling, section drawing and context description.
  • Finds processing: washing, sorting and environmental sample processing.

One-hour seminars by specialists from York Archaeological Trust on topics such as archaeological conservation, artefacts, stratigraphy and pottery dating and recognition will take place on most days. An evening walking tour of the archaeology of York will be included.
2 week course

The two-week course will include on the first day introductory talks about the site, excavation techniques and health and safety, and a site tour. Subsequent days will include hands-on experience of excavation work; time will be divided equally between three tasks:

  • Basic digging techniques: trowelling, mattocking, shovelling etc.
  • Site recording: planning, levelling, section drawing and context description
  • Finds processing: washing, sorting and environmental sample processing.

One-hour seminars by specialists from York Archaeological Trust on topics such as archaeological conservation, artefacts, stratigraphy and pottery dating and recognition will take place on most days. An evening walking tour of the archaeology of York will be included.

An evening walking tour of the archaeology of York and a tour of York Archaeological Trust’s Conservation Laboratory will be included.


Duration Price Friends of YAT/Returnees
One Week £240 £220
Two Week £420 £380
Three Week £550 £500
Four Week £650 £600

It is possible to do a course which is three or four weeks long, but please contact us beforehand to discuss what your training requirements are.

Please contact us by email if you would like to make a reservation enquiry/provisional booking.

We have a lower age limit of 16. This is dropped to 14 if accompanied by a parent guardian who is also completing a course.

Booking forms will be provided when dates/course places have been agreed and reserved.

E-mail is preferred, however, if you don’t have email access please phone (office hours Mon-Fri 9am to 3 pm).

E-mail: trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk

Mobile: +44 (0) 7908 210026


Placements are available to previous trainees on any of the earlier Archaeology Live! training excavations, or to archaeology students with practical experience of single context recording who want to pursue a career in the profession.


The placements will be assisting the trainers on site and helping out wherever else is necessary. This is a very good opportunity for those who feel they would like more experience in how an archaeological site works.

Previous placements have found paid work because of the reference they have received from the excavation.

Rosie's Roman tile fragment.

There is often confusion as to what a ‘placement’ is and people will sometimes use the term ‘placement’ when they mean ‘trainee’. Within the Archaeology Live! project a ‘placement’ is somebody who has already been trained in archaeological excavation and has appropriate archaeological experience.
To apply for a Placement position on the excavation, a CV with an accompanying covering letter must be sent (e-mail is acceptable) to the contact address below. Make sure that you say why you want to be a placement and why you would be good for the project within your cover letter. The selection process will include an informal telephone interview.
For more information contact:

E-mail: trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk


Q: How do I book a place?

A: To book a place, email trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk with the type of course you would like to attend and which dates you would like to book. We will then send you a booking form to fill out and get back to us either in the post or by email. This form will contain information on methods of payment. Cheque by post is preferred, although card payments over the phone can be arranged.

Work in progress on a shallow refuse pit.

Q: Can people with no previous digging experience take part?

A: Yes. The courses cater for beginners, but people with digging experience can also learn a great deal from the courses. Anyone aged 16 years or over (or 14 and above if accomapanied by a guardian who is also taking part in a course) and of any nationality, can take part.

Q: Is there an upper age limit, or any constraints due to physical ability?

A: No. The work and teaching are designed to meet the needs of each individual. Provided we are notified in advance of any special requirements, we hope to cater for all.

Our amazing week 11 team.

Q: Do I need any special equipment?

A: All participants must have their own steel toecap safety boots and wear full length trousers on site; other safety equipment will be provided. It is recommended that you buy a WHS 4″ pointing trowel (others will just break) if you intend to take part in other digs, but otherwise we have spare trowels. The information sent to you after you have booked includes details on what you need to bring.

Q: How do I get to the excavation?

A: York is well served by road and rail links, and can easily be reached from the major airports. The excavation is in the city centre and can be reached on foot by bus or taxi. Once you have completed a booking you will be sent further information regarding York and the excavation, including details of how to get to the site.

Q: Do you provide accommodation?

A: We do not currently offer any inclusive accommodation. York has a wide range of accommodation options, a good place to begin your search is a discussion doc on our facebook page https://www.facebook.com/notes/archaeology-live/accommodation-york-nearby/10151781819631846 Please feel free to add comments with any of your own recommendations.

If you still have queries about the dig after reading the details and the frequently asked questions page, please contact:

E-mail trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk 

Mobile: +44 (0) 7908 210026

Archaeology Live! 2015

All at Archaeology Live! are jolly pleased to announce that our 2015 season is now open for bookings!


Looking north over the trench. Summer 2014.

We will be returning for a second season in the grounds of All Saints, North Street in the very heart of medieval York. The 2014 season proved to be more exciting than we could have hoped, with a fascinating and diverse sequence of 18th and 19th century archaeology. 2015 will see us delve deeper into the rich history of the site as we explore the medieval deposits beneath the early modern industrial yards of Church Lane.

Contact trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk for bookings and enquiries.

Here are the dates:

Spring session:

April 6th – April 17th 2015

Summer session:

June 22nd – September 11th 2015

Weekend courses:

April 11th-12th 2015 (Fully booked! Email to join a reserves list.)

* NEW DATE ADDED DUE TO HIGH DEMAND! * May 23rd-24th 2015

August 22nd-23rd 2015 (Fully booked! Email to join a reserves list.)

Autumn session and weekend:

TBC. Most likely one weekend and week in October. Contact trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk for further info.


A beautiful bone die, discovered in summer 2014.

What will we find?

This is always the big question, but in the case of our site, we do know the answer – a lot! Urban archaeology rarely fails to deliver wonderful finds and features, especially in the unparalleled layers beneath the streets of York!

The 18th and 19th century sequence excavated over the 2014 season was far more complex than we had anticipated and is covered in depth in our earlier blog posts (feel free to peruse the archive!). In short, we found evidence of an ever changing landscape that began the 19th century as a busy and rather smelly semi-industrial yard, before being absorbed by the church to become a burial ground in 1826. This quiet place of remembrance would receive the remains of parishioners old and young until 1860, when All Saints church hall was built. This building was used as a Sunday school, a mortuary chapel and even a boxing club, until its demolition in 2013.

Pre-dating all of this, we began to discover elements of a much altered post-medieval rectory, wall footings that could once have been a row of medieval cottages and pits and deposits relating to the site’s 12th century occupation. This season, we aim to look more closely at these features and to see what surprises are laying in wait beneath them.

The Rectory

The walls uncovered in the 2014 season relate to an 18th century re-build of the rectory, however earlier stone footings had been incorporated into the structure. As we pick apart this building, will we find evidence of the original medieval rectory? Can we find evidence of how people were using the building and how this changed over the centuries?

Cleaning the 18th century rectory walls.

Cleaning the 18th century rectory walls.

19th century burials

Between 1826 and 1860, many individuals were buried on the site. While we are not planning to excavate any human remains, we will be locating, carefully exposing and recording these burials, before re-covering them to ensure they remain undisturbed by any future development. It is likely that there are more as yet undiscovered burials to find and we will aim to learn as much as we can about the people who lived through the times we are studying.

Investigating 19th century graves.

Investigating 19th century graves.

Industrial structures, pits and surfaces

The area was a busy place in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The 2015 season will see us continue to excavate these features and learn more about the industrial practices of the day. We have already found evidence of the tanning industry and butchery waste that indicate the area would have been somewhat pungent two hundred years ago!

Excavating industrial refuse pits.

Excavating industrial refuse pits.

Lost medieval dwellings?

The site is surrounded by ancient buildings, some of which may once have existed within the excavation area. The end of the 2014 season saw us beginning to uncover tantalising evidence of this, with robbed out wall footings appearing below 18th century industrial layers. Whether there are more walls waiting to be found and precisely what buildings they were once part of is something we hope to resolve in 2015.

A wall footing emerges...

A wall footing emerges…

Medieval archaeology

A test pit dug in 2004 reveals that substantial deposits dating to the medieval period lay almost directly beneath our 18th century deposits. What was happening in this area during this period is presently little understood. Our 2015 team will expose and investigate these layers and reveal the site’s medieval past. This medieval sequence is something the whole team are very excited to discover!

Also, what is becoming quite an Archaeology Live! tradition, is the discovery of a medieval cesspit or two! (This is a good thing! Honest…)

Katie's fantastic medieval pot lid.

Katie’s fantastic medieval pot lid.

The Vikings

Nearby excavations and the site’s proximity to the River Ouse (once a major international port) mean that we have a strong chance of encountering Viking archaeology. We know there was a lot of Anglo-Scandinavian activity nearby and it would be wonderful to learn about the site’s 10th century past.

Viking Torksey ware, complete with thumbprints.

Viking Torksey ware, complete with 10th century thumbprints.

Roman archaeology

While stratified Roman archaeology is likely to be buried below metres of later deposits, the 2014 team unearthed a wealth of Roman material. This ranged from high (and low) status pottery, evidence of luxury goods (amphorae, hypocaust tiles), well preserved coins and a possible glass ring. The site lies close to the Roman bridge across the Ouse and is located within the wealthy heart of the colonia, or civilian part of the city. While we may or may not reach the deeply buried Roman features, we are certain to find more Roman finds and learn how people were using the area at the dawn of the 1st millennium.

Kaye's rather splendid Roman (?) ring.

Kaye’s rather splendid Roman (?) ring.

Everything else!

While the 2014 season focused on 18th-19th century archaeology, the continuous use of the site over countless centuries means that many early artefacts have been re-deposited into later layers. For example, a 19th century context dug in 2014 yielded what we believe to be a neolithic polished stone axehead! With York’s wealth of archaeology, anything is possible!

Ellen shows off her latest find. Summer 2014.

Ellen shows off her latest find. Summer 2014.

The training excavation provides a way to learn about and participate in excavation, recording, planning, finds processing, environmental sampling, and processing.  Any other specific requests for training may also be available on application. Professional field archaeologists provide all the training throughout the course.

During Archaeology Live!, the archaeology will be excavated and recorded by the trainees; the trainers teach and assist when required. It is a field-based training program where people learn by doing the excavation, and by discovering and recording the archaeology themselves, rather than by classroom-based tuition.

For more information contact:

E-mail trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk

Mobile: +44 (0) 7908 210026