Archaeology Live! in Nottingham

As we celebrate our fifteenth year of trainee funded urban archaeology, we’re happy to announce that we are expanding the Archaeology Live! training excavation into the historic city of Nottingham. The archaeology of Nottingham has received increasing attention in recent years, with many fascinating discoveries being made during the construction of the city’s new tram network. The city was an important Anglian and Viking settlement, a key location in the Civil War and boasts a fascinating warren of post-medieval and early modern caves. All of this makes Nottingham a thrilling place to excavate!

The excavation will be a joint venture between Nottingham City Council and Trent and Peak Archaeology – the Nottingham branch of York Archaeological Trust. The fine details of the project are currently being drawn up and more detail will follow in the coming fortnight, but we can confirm the location of the dig – Nottingham Castle.

Partner8Digging inside a medieval castle is an archaeologist’s dream come true. Sites like these are packed with stories, drama and archaeology covering many centuries. This building has been pivotal to many crucial moments of Nottingham’s long history and we hope to learn more about the castle’s evolution and ever-changing fortunes. The training excavation will operate on the exact same system as has been tried and tested over the years in York; every feature will be recorded and excavated by trainees, with guidance and support from professional archaeologists.

We hope to release the dates and more info very soon, so watch this space for further updates. We’ll be sharing the findings of the York and Nottingham excavations as they’re uncovered, it’s going to be an exciting summer!

As ever, please direct any enquiries to or @ArchaeologyLive

I’ll hopefully see some of you in the trench!

– Arran

“Castles, Caves and Cannons”

Archaeology Live! has been opening up archaeological sites of national significance and offering professional standard training to people of all ages and backgrounds for fifteen years. Over the years, our trainees have explored some of York’s most exciting archaeology and made some unbelievable discoveries.

It’s now time to spread our wings…

As well as returning for a second season at All Saints, North Street in the heart of medieval York, 2015 will see us open up a new site with our team in Nottingham (and a familiar face or two!)

Here’s a small clue regarding where we’ll be digging…


Full announcement to follow next week, we’re very excited about this one!!

Watch this space.

– Arran

A Clay Pipe’s Tale

Sometimes, with a little research, tiny objects recovered from archaeological excavations can tell us amazingly detailed stories. This fairly unremarkable piece of fired clay is a fine example of an object with a tale to tell.

'York 1828'

‘York 1828’

Discovered in July, during our excavation at All Saints, North Street, this fragment of a clay pipe bowl was one of many found over the summer. When it was cleaned, the team were delighted to notice that the object told us not only where it was made – right here in York – but also when, as it was stamped with the year 1828. If all artefacts were so free with their provenance, us archaeologists would quickly be out of a job!

While this level of detail was an unusual and somewhat fortunate find, the story doesn’t end there. Sufficient detail of the stamp is visible to actually relate the object to an individual person and to tell us a tale of a father, a son and a stolen idea.

In 1792, George Mason of York began a seven year apprenticeship in the manufacture of fired clay tobacco pipe under the tutelage of master craftsman Mark Hesp. At the turn of the century, Hesp produced a batch of pipes with a decorative shield motif and the text ‘HESP YORK 1800’. His pipe marking the new century must have proved popular, as numerous examples have been found in excavations across York. By the 1820s, the young apprentice George was in business for himself, producing clay pipes in a premises on Monkgate in central York. In 1828, he produced a batch of clay pipes that have also been found in sites across York. The shield motif featured on the pipe bowls was almost identical to the one created by Hesp 28 years before, although the text now read ‘MASON YORK 1828’. On the opposite side, the York city crest was pictured – clearly indicating a degree of civic pride. An example found in the Hungate Block D excavation in 2007 shows us how the whole pipe would have looked.

The complete pipe bowl.

The complete pipe bowl. Image copyright York Archaeological Trust.

The pipes made by George Mason supported a flourishing business, which would be taken over by his son George Jr. following his death in 1839, aged 63. George Jr. saw no reason to alter his father’s design and created his own batch of York pipes in 1848. The design featured, you guessed it, the familiar shield motif and the text ‘MASON YORK 1848’. Well, if it ain’t broke…

The exact significance of the years 1828 and 1848 remains unknown, but it is nonetheless wonderful to be able to relate a tiny fragment of clay pipe found at All Saints to a Victorian family business that certainly didn’t mind ‘borrowing’ ideas. That, in a nutshell, is the joy of archaeology; extracting the personal stories from the objects that we discover in the ground.

To read more about the clay pipe assemblage from Hungate Block D, head to

To learn about how to join us on site and make your own discoveries, head to

The All Saints excavation fires up once more in April, we can’t wait to get back on site and will post regular updates right here.

Onwards and downwards!

– Arran

Find of the Year 2014: The Winner

The votes have been counted, the expert panel of judges (well, Toby, Arran and Gary) have debated and the winner of the inaugural Archaeology Live! Find of the Year award has been decided.

Despite facing stiff competition from some stunning finds such as an ornate Viking spindle whorl, an incredbly delicate glass ring from the Roman period, two medieval bone die and some beautiful, highly symbolic medieval and post-medieval pot sherds; the artefact lovingly referred to as ‘Dino’ has come out on top, with 42% of the public vote!

Yoshi? Dino? Hmmm...

Drum roll please…

Found in July 2014 by Katie Smith, a familiar face on Archaeology Live! excavations, this object was discovered in the backfill of a post-medieval refuse pit. Dating to the 15th century, it is a fragment of a Hambleton Ware lobed bowl, a drinking vessel that combined old traditions with new technology.

Lobed bowls were popular from the late 14th to early 16th centuries and were a continuation of the bawdy old tradition of communal drinking, where large bowls of delightful libations would be passed around groups of merrymakers. Originally, these vessels would have mainly been made of wood, however, as ceramic manufacture became more affordable for the middle classes, bowls such as these began to replace the older wooden vessels.

As the decades passed, they became increasingly elaborate, with figures of mythical creatures, people and animals set within the bowls. As the contents were imbibed, the figures would slowly be revealed. Examples such as this one, found at 1-5 Aldwark in 1976 feature two human figures seemingly deep in conversation.

A lobed bowl fragment from Aldwark, York

A lobed bowl fragment from Aldwark, York. Image copyright York Archaeological Trust

The identity of these figures may never be known, but wonderfully impractical objects like these invite us into the minor rituals of domestic medieval life.


The Aldwark bowl in illustration. Image copyright York Archaeological Trust

Katie’s figure, despite it’s somewhat dinosaur-esque appearance, may be a stylised cockerel or dog. Perhaps it could be a mythical beast from some allegorical tale of the 1400s. Specialist analysis in late 2015/early 2016 may finally reveal Dino’s true identity, but it remains open to debate at present – which is, of course, half the fun!

gary pix

Who/what ever the figure turns out to be, Katie’s find remains a wonderful insight into a more playful side of medieval life and highlights the wealth of symbolism and imagery that would have been commonplace at the time. While we can never know what merriment Dino may have bourne witness to, we can at least hold the very same object six centuries later and allow ourselves to imagine. Such objects bring us closer to the everyday people of medieval York and this is a deserving winner.

Katie's fantastic Hambleton pot sherd.

Katie’s fantastic Hambleton pot sherd.

Toby will start work on the T-shirt design in time for the spring training excavation in April, where the race begins to find the most exciting find of the 2015 season. What wonderful objects and stories remain buried around the ancient church of All Saints, North Street? Join us in the spring to find out!

As the old cliche goes, onwards and downwards!

– Arran

Festival of Archaeology 2015

We are pleased to announce that we’ll be opening our excavation up to the public for site tours on July 18th as part of the 2015 Festival of Archaeology! Working in conjunction with our hosts at All Saints Church, this will be an opportunity to explore the trench, meet the archaeologists and see the latest finds. There will also be tours of the church that will provide fascinating insights into its history, architecture, archaeology and its nationally important stained glass.

This will be one of many events taking place across Britain to celebrate our archaeological heritage.


The trench in summer 2014

The open day will be a chance to see behind the scenes of an archaeological excavation and to learn about the countless stories and events from this small corner of historic York.

Gus declares the site open to all!

Gus declares the site open to all!

On top of all this, the church will be holding a medieval mass at 2pm. This is an opportunity to experience what would have been central to the lives of the medieval people of York, almost exactly as they would have seen, heard and even smelled it!


The trench will be open between midday and 4pm, times for the church tours will be announced in the near future. People of all ages are welcome and the trench is fully wheelchair accessible.

The summer excavation will be in full swing at this point, who knows what we will be finding! If you would like to join the excavation and add your own discoveries, please browse the information on this website and direct enquiries to

See you in the trench!

– Arran

A freshly unearthed medieval lead weight. Summer 2014.

A freshly unearthed medieval lead weight. Summer 2014.