Find of the Year 2014 Poll

During our debut season at All Saints, North Street, we were lucky enough to find some fantastic artefacts. These objects would all have been personal possessions of people who lived, worked and worshipped along North Street many centuries ago.

The Archaeology Live! team hate to pick favourites, but a decision needs to be made as to which find will feature on the T-shirt for the upcoming 2015 season. Each year of Archaeology Live! has had a different T-shirt design to give trainees a unique reminder of their time on site. We always try and use an image of an artefact or feature discovered specifically on the current site. As 2014 was our first year at All Saints, we used one of the ‘maria’ tiles from the church’s newly restored Lady Chapel as the featured image; these can still be purchased from http://www.zikzak.co.uk/acatalog/all-saints-dig-york-t-shirts.html

So, which find will be the winner? It’s down to you to vote!

Here are the contenders:

Alan’s worked antler object.

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This beautifully made object may have been a decorative spindle whorl, counter or gaming piece. It is likely to be medieval or perhaps even Viking in date.

Katie’s fragment of a 15th century Hambleton Ware lobed bowl.

Yoshi? Dino? Hmmm...

This wonderful creature would have been set in the base of a communal drinking vessel. As people passed around the bowl, it would have emerged from the wine/beer/water and been rather amusing for all involved. Quite what the creature is remains a mystery. Dino from the Flinstones has been mooted but is rather unlikely…

Gina and Rob’s bone die

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Gina’s dice (above) is in beautiful condition and could be anything between Roman and medieval in date. Rob’s dice (below) features a more 13th century style layout and has clearly been used for some time.

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Kaye’s glass ring

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This beautiful object is most likely Roman in date and would have been a stunning piece of jewellery when complete.

Barry’s fragment of a medieval seal jug

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This seal would have graced the side of a 13th century York Glazed Ware jug. The image on the seal tells us that it may well have been commissioned by noteable York citizen Thomas FitzWalter to celebrate a marriage and/or birth of a son. A rare example of an artefact being linked to a single person or family.

Gerwin’s Belarmine Jug.

Gerwin's sherd of a Bellarmine jug.

This grumpy looking individual is Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), a staunch anti-protestant who’s image adorned many thousands of 16th-17th century German stoneware drinking jugs. This provides wonderful evidence of post-medieval satire, as the cardinal was strongly opposed to excessive drinking!

Voting

Please cast your vote for which find should feature on the 2015 T-shirt on the poll below. The winner will be announced in the next couple of weeks once the Archaeology Live! team have counted and ejudicated the votes. If you feel we have omitted a deserving find from the shortlist, get in touch and let us know!

Over to you!

– Arran

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.

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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!

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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.

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Decorated Roman ceramics.

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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

FAQs

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!

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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.

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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

Archaeology Live! Summer 2014. Week 12.

IMG_5698 Time flies when you’re having fun.

It’s a cliche that’s brazenly obvious at the end of a long project, but nonetheless seems perfectly apt. We’ve had a lot of fun and made some intriguing and often surprising discoveries.  It really is hard to believe that three months have passed since we kicked off the summer season back in June! Back then, the team were fresh and raring to go and Planty the Plant was in the first flush of youth.

A youthful, verdant Planty back in June.

A youthful, verdant Planty back in June.

That said, it’s been a very busy 12 weeks for the Archaeology Live! team. There are a few new grey hairs here and there and Planty now looks a little worse for wear…

Oh, the ravages of time...

Oh, the ravages of time…

Tired archaeologists aside, it’s been an amazing summer and week 12 saw the team add a few new pieces to the puzzle, before making sure that all loose ends were tied up prior to our autumn hiatus.

In ‘That End’, Gary’s team had a very productive week. Rob and Nick began their week by wrapping up the records for ‘contrary corner’.

Nick and Rob made use of a former cupboard in the old boxing club.

Nick and Rob made use of a former cupboard in the old boxing club.

This area proved to be incredibly difficult to pick apart right up to the last few weeks of the summer, when the sequence began to resolve itself.

Records, records, records...

Records, records, records…

We now know that the area was used as part of the All Saints burial ground from 1823, a marked change from its previous life as a working yard at the turn of the 19th century. Pre-dating all of this, a wall footing discovered by Iain and Rose in week 10 suggests that the area was built on in the 18th century. What this building was and when it was built will be research targets for next season, for now it will remain a mystery!

Later in the week, Rob and Nick turned their attention to a pit that was started in week 11. Situated next to our ‘horn pit’, this feature also contained a large amount of cattle skull fragments and horn core. This tells us that the by-products of the tanning industry on nearby Tanner Row were also being disposed of in this pit, which in turn suggests that this was part of an ongoing process as opposed to being an isolated event. Future historic search into the 18th century tanning industry will hopefully add some more detail to this picture of industrial early modern York.

Work in progress on a shallow refuse pit.

Work in progress on a shallow refuse pit.

With work on this feature completed by midweek, the terrible twosome went their seperate ways as a number of new features were investigated. Rob moved to the central area of the trench to assist Jane in completing work on a partially excavated grave backfill. Jane, joining us for her fourth year of archaeology, had high hopes for this feature – it was from this context that Alan found his delightful Viking antler spindle whorl several weeks ago.

Jane picks up work on a 19th century burial.

Jane picks up work on a 19th century burial.

It took Jane a matter of minutes to locate the surprisingly shallow skull of the individual interred in this grave. Fascinatingly, the metallic decorative exterior of the coffin had survived, allowing us to see the size and shape of the coffin, as well as the position of the body within it. In this case, the coffin must have been lowered in a somewhat clumsy manner, as the skeleton had rolled slightly to one side, with the skull pressed against the edge of the coffin.

At the bottom end of the grave, Rob was looking to uncover the legs of the individual. He quickly located one leg, then another and then… another!? This was certainly a strange discovery, which caused a good deal of discussion among the team.

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Rob working on the foot end of a burial.

It is not unusual, particularly in densely occupied medieval burial grounds, for burials to cut through earlier interments. Often, the disturbed bones of the earlier grave will be re-deposited along the exterior of the new coffin – a trend seen on several recent York Archaeological Trust excavations. In this case however, all of the remains Rob had uncovered were in position and correctly articulated. Something odd was going on…

Thankfully, a little more delicate trowelling by Rob cleared up the situation when he revealed yet another leg. Instead of having numerous graves that were cut into each other, it seems our early 19th century burials can play home to more than one individual. In this case, at least one further inhumation lies beneath the skeleton revealed by Jane and Rob.

The fact that the two skeletons are currently laid directly over one and other reveals that the lower coffin must have decayed and given way, causing the coffin above to fall on to the top of the lower burial. One cannott help but wonder if anyone was in the church yard to hear the muffled thud from beneath the ground…

Recording Jane and Rob's grave.

Recording Jane and Rob’s grave.

This is a fascinating discovery that really helps us to build a better picture of the area’s use as a graveyard. The fact that none of our adult burials intercut tells us that the burials must have been clearly marked, perhaps with headstones or earthern mounds. The graveyard was clearly well ordered, with family plots being periodically re-opened to receive numerous burials. It is also increasingly clear that the area was intended to remain in use as a burial ground for some time and records must have been kept of who was buried in which plot, and at what depth.

In the fullness of time, the area only went on to receive burials for around 25 years, as it was de-consecrated in the 1850s to house the new church hall. Despite this, Rob and Jane’s discoveries this week reveal that the churchyard was well ordered and was certainly not intended to be a short-term endeavour.

Lori’s week began with the tricky task of recording a fragment of a post-medieval (or earlier) hearth made of edge-set roof tile.

Lori and Graham recording a tile hearth.

Lori and Graham recording a tile hearth.

Sitting on a slither of undisturbed archaeology between two early 19th century grave cuts, this feature is lucky to have survived! It’s precise date will only be confirmed following its excavation in the autumn, but it is exciting to be seeing glimpses of earlier archaeology beginning to emerge.

Medieval roof tiles are sturdy things and can take a lot of heat! Setting them on edge reduces the risk of cracking and provides a hearth surface that can be used again and again. Visitors to YAT’s Barley Hall can see a complete example of an edge-set tile hearth; they were certainly decorative as well as practical.

The edge-set tile hearth in Barley Hall is a complete example of a medieval hearth.

The edge-set tile hearth in Barley Hall is a complete example of a medieval hearth.

With the records done and dusted, Lori teamed up with Nick to resume work on what appeared to be an infant/juvenile burial close to the north end of the trench.

Grave business in 'That End'

Grave business in ‘That End’

Despite being small, this feature proved to be very deep and quite challenging to excavate. Nick and Lori worked patiently to uncover the remains of a small coffin. Degraded to little more than a stain, this required delicate work as the timber and corroded metal could very easily be destroyed.

Nick working on a tiny coffin.

Nick working on a tiny coffin.

Happily, after three previous years with us, Nick has developed a great trowelling technique and her and Lori were up to the task. Interestingly, this proved to be our second ’empty’ grave of the season, with no human remains found within the coffin. As discussed in last week’s blog, this could be the result of a localised quirk in the acidity of the soil (which can easily dissolve infant remains) or perhaps an infant lost early in a pregnancy that has not survived in the ground. There is also the possibility of these being symbolic burials of a coffin for an individual whose remains could not be interred.

While we will never know for sure, such features are always highly evocative, with very human moments of tragedy and remembrance that would otherwise have been lost to history being recovered the ground.

Elsewhere in Gary’s area, a pit cut that was started during our August training weekend was completed by Jackie. Joining us for a two day taster course, Jackie unearthed evidence of 19th century refuse disposal alongside medieval material upcast from earlier deposits.

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Jackie preparing her pit cut for photography.

There are a number of traditions on Archaeology Live! and a number of individuals who join us year after year, without whom the dig wouldn’t be quite complete. Week 12 saw the arrival of the one, the only, Betty Bashford! (For some reason, dressed as a Viking!)

Betty Bloodaxe in full Viking garb.

Betty Bloodaxe in full Viking garb. Cue the Ride of the Valkyries…

Betty, along with her friend Janet, is one of the characters that make working on Archaeology Live! such an absolute pleasure. There is never a dull moment when this dream team are on site! Sure enough, it didn’t take them long to make an unexpected discovery. Betty and Janet firstly took out the last remaining construction backfills relating to the 1860s church hall.

Betty and Janet tackling a 19th century construction backfill.

Betty and Janet tackling a 19th century construction backfill.

Some nice finds were recovered from these deposits including a lovely hand-painted fragment of tin glazed earthenware dating to the late 18th century.

Janet's 18th century discovery.

Janet’s 18th century discovery.

With the backfills removed and the construction cuts empty, it was possible to see the footings of the church hall, however, this was not all that was revealed. At the base of the cut, what appears to be a fragment of a herring-bone pattern brick floor was uncovered.

An unexpected discovery.

An unexpected discovery.

This was certainly a surprise, as we weren’t expecting to see structural remains in this part of the trench. Quite what building or yard this floor relates to is uncertain at present, but it is always exciting when such features appear.

19th century dumping over Janet and Betty's brickwork.

19th century dumping over Janet and Betty’s brickwork.

A surviving patch of 19th century levelling material covered the rest of this brick feature, so Janet and Betty ended their week by recording this deposit and beginning to remove it. Excavation of this deposit will resume during our October dig.

Excavating a 19th century levelling dump.

Excavating a 19th century levelling dump.

Over at ‘This End’, Toby’s team had a similarly industrious week. Joining us from Sweden, Paul joined Bri to work on the site’s earliest deposits.

Toby, Bri and Paul discussing their sequence.

Toby, Bri and Paul discussing their sequence.

Working on a slither of archaeology cut on one side by a drain run and the other by the church hall wall footings, Paul recorded and removed a dump deposit. This revealed an interesting feature filled with rubble and mortar.

We suspect that the front wall of our 18th century rectory would have run below the current church hall brickwork (pictured below). Up to this point, we hadn’t been able to identify any surviving structure in this area. This truncated post-hole/footing is our first tantalising evidence of this part of the rectory structure. As we know the medieval rectory was altered and re-built on numerous occasions, it is hard to say which phase this feature relates to, but it is a good start, and something we hope to clarify as work progresses in this area.

A possible footing appears in section.

A possible footing appears in section beneath the brickwork.

Paul went on to empty out the rubble feature and record the cut. This exposed a burnt dump very similar in appearance to one being worked on in the next cell by Bri. By chasing into this early archaeology in these two cells, we have had a self-contained sneak preview into the medieval archaeology we will be seeing across the whole site.

Paul and Bri working on medieval material.

Paul and Bri working on medieval material.

Bri’s slot featured no large structural remains, but it was possible to see distinct tips of medieval material and one shallow post hole that may have contained a fence post in front of the old rectory.

Bri troweling.

Bri troweling around his post hole.

With the post hole recorded, Bri then fully exposed and recorded his burnt medieval dump. Whether this is evidence of some industrial process will be investigated in the autumn.

Dave assisting Bri with a spot of planning.

Dave (left) assisting Bri (right) with a spot of planning. The burnt dump is the orange deposit beneath Dave’s end of the tape.

Paul ended his week by wrapping up the records for his and Bri’s area. He also found time to help with the excavation of another of our 19th century graves.

Paul working on a grave backfill.

Paul working on a grave backfill.

Archaeology Live! legend Clive re-joined us for the last week of the summer, assisting Steve with an area populated by intercutting infant burials.

Clive and Steve working on a sequence of 19th century burials.

Clive and Steve working on a sequence of 19th century burials.

This was delicate work! Fragments of coffin and the tiny bones of juvenile individuals are very susceptible to damage, so Clive and Steve were slow and steady with their work. They located the position and extent of the burial of a small child, but also worked out the relationships of a number of burials in close proximity to each other. This allows us to understand the order of events, which burials were the earliest and latest in the sequence.

These features always throw up a lot of paperwork, as the grave backfills, coffin remains and skeletons are all recorded, drawn and photographed individually. Clive and Steve made sure that all the records were in order for their burial sequence and that all the contexts were positioned correctly on our stratigraphic matrix – the diagram that allows us to understand the site sequence.

I love it when a plan comes together.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Working on his birthday, Clive was rewarded with a small archaeological gift when he found a small bone button. Clive and Steve brought their week to a close by taking over work on a burial that has been heavily disturbed by a 19th century rabbit burrow. True to form, the pair managed to locate the true edges of the grave cut. This will be looked at later in the season.

Happy birthday Clive!

Happy birthday Clive!

Another returning Archaeology Live! legend, Juliet was also kept very busy in this area. Charged with some of the week’s most challenging excavation, Juliet looked to fully expose a deep burial by the southern edge of the trench.

Juliet hard at work in one of our deepest graves.

Juliet hard at work in one of our deepest graves.

Buried well over a metre below present ground level, Juliet discovered that what had been thought to be a juvenile individual was actually an adult. Working in close confines, Juliet managed to expose enough of the skeleton to accurately plot its position. This was then recorded in detail and backfilled with a cushion of sieved soil to protect the remains from any damage. Later in the week, Juliet and Donald worked to clarify more of this sequence of infant burials and to complete any outstanding records.

Juliet at work on yet another infant burial.

Juliet at work on yet another infant burial.

The proliferation of infant burials by the rectory wall makes for very difficult excavation. Inter-cutting features often have very unclear edges due to the frequent disturbance of later graves. Once located, it takes time and great care to expose and record these remains.

Working with the guidance of the professional staff, the team in This End have done a fantastic job of picking apart this sequence. There is a lot more to do, but we are really starting to get on top of this area.

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This End in the afternoon sun.

Week 12 saw us enjoying site visits from a number of YAT colleagues from our Nottingham branch, Trent and Peak Archaeology. T&P archaeologist Laura was the quickest to break out her trowel and get stuck in! Working with Kirsten, Laura investigated our largest grave cut.

Kirsten and Laura

Kirsten and Laura

This feature has been ongoing for a number of weeks and has become increasingly complex as time has gone by. It is clear that a number of graves have been situated here, the question in hand is whether we are seeing a family plot being repeatedly re-opened, or an inter-cutting sequence of individual burials. IMG_5786 Kirsten and Laura’s deposit is proving to be one of our more finds-rich grave backfills. At present, three tubs of pottery, animal bone, shell, glass, tile, etc. have been recovered, and the feature is far from finished! As is the norm on North Street, the material is a fantastic mix of Roman to 19th century artefacts.

Later in the week, Kirsten helped Clive and Steve with the recording of their newly discovered grave backfill.

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Kirsten and Clive recording a grave backfill.

The great success of this week in Toby’s area has been the sharpening up of a very difficult sequence. As mentioned above, no half measures can be taken with this kind of archaeology, with care and respect for the individuals interred always being the prime concern.

We are now developing a growing understanding of exactly who was buried here and when. Quite why this area in particular is so densely occupied will be something to investigate in the near future.

Toby discussing edges with Kirsten and Laura.

Toby discussing edges with Kirsten and Laura.

It was another busy and eventful week for Arran and the finds team. Beneath the Tree of Finds, they battled to keep on top of the vast amount of material coming from the trench.

Just some of our finds drying in the sun.

Just some of our finds drying in the sun.

Over the course of the week, countless finds were washed, dried, sorted and bagged – to the ruthlessly exacting standards of our finds department.

Finds bagging

Finds bagging

As the finds are cleaned and dried, it is often at this point that previously un-noticed details are spotted.

Jane and Rob under the Finds Tree.

Jane and Rob under the Finds Tree.

The most exciting discovery this week was found on a seemingly innocuous piece of black burnished ware pottery. At first, the sherd of a Roman vessel seemed to be perfectly ordinary, part of a shallow, flat bottomed bowl referred to by archaeologists as a ‘dog bowl’.

Just another 'dog bowl'?

Just another ‘dog bowl’?

Closer inspection revealed that the sherd had a secret – it had been inscribed with a cross.

Graffitied Roman pottery

Graffitied Roman pottery

It would be very easy to get excited about an early example of christian graffiti, but it must be kept in mind that, while the date of the pot is securely Roman, it is impossible to know exactly when the cross was inscribed. Regardless, it is still wonderful to see a personal touch on an artefact that is almost 2,000 years old!

This wasn’t the only piece of interesting Roman pottery either. A beautifully decorated sherd of a colour coat drinking vessel was noted during washing, this would have been a lovely object when complete. Seeing 2000 year old brush strokes is always wonderful!

Painted Roman colour coat.

Painted Roman colour coat.

One piece of Roman pottery caused confusion at first, as it proved hard to identify. It became clear that this confusion had arisen due to the fact that this particular sherd of high status samian ware had been burned, changing the familiar terracotta colour to a dark grey.

Scorched 1st-2nd century samian ware.

Scorched 1st-2nd century samian ware.

This wouldn’t be the last pot sherd with a story to tell either. The base of a medieval jug was cleaned and noticed to feature a ‘kiln scar’. As pots are often stacked upside down during firing, the base of the vessels can be marked by the glazed rim of the pot above. The pot above can also affect the firing of the lower vessel and a distinct curved line was clearly evident on our sherd.

The curved mark on this pot base shows that it was fired beneath another pot.

The curved mark on this pot base shows that it was fired beneath another pot.

The fabric on the inside of the curved mark is darker and has a distinctive grey colour. This is where the above pot has limited the airflow to the base of our vessel. When clay is fired in an oxygen starved environment it will often turn a dark grey colour, this is called reduction.

When pot is fired in a well-ventilated environment, such as a kiln with bellows, it will turn a lighter, more orange colour – this is called oxidisation and can be seen on the outside of the kiln scar curve pictured above.

Bri's early clay pipe stem.

Bri’s early clay pipe stem.

While washing a clay pipe stem, Bri noticed that it was a little different to most. Early examples of clay tobacco pipes feature thick stems with a wide, off-centre aperture. This is due to the relative crudeness of manufacturing process and that thin wire had yet to be developed that was strong enough to push through the wet clay to create an airway. Instead, thicker wire had to be used which leaves a broader airway. Bri’s example could be as early in date as the late 1600s!

In a busy week for finds highlights, we also came across another fragment of medieval roof tile complete with the paw-print of a large dog. As medieval tiles were laid out to dry before firing, finds like these are surprisingly common. That said, we never tire of finding such wonderful objects! It is even possible to see the ridges of the skin in the pads of the dog’s paws. You can almost sense the medieval tiler’s annoyance!

Bad dog!

Bad dog!

Yet another great find from this week was a fragment of worked bone that appears to be a very early form of pen. Its date is as yet uncertain, but we look forward to showing this one to our small finds specialist.

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An early bone pen nib.

Week 12 saw the team bring together a lot of loose ends, while new discoveries showed no signs of slowing. Our knowledge of the site’s early modern development from a busy industrial yard to a peaceful graveyard has come on in leaps and bounds. It is wonderful to be able to plot the sweeping changes in the mood and use of the area and to recover small moments such as a medieval dog plodding over his master’s unfired tiles.

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Betty showing Gary her latest finds.

This End’s concentration of infant and juvenile burials is now being mapped and understood in detail, while the first glimpses of the site’s medieval past are beginning to appear. That End continues to surprise us, with Betty and Janet’s unexpected brick floor and Nick and Lori’s ’empty’ grave keeping us firmly on our toes! Not to mention Rob’s ‘four-legged’ individual!!

Huge thanks as always must go out to our team of trainees and placements for yet another vintage week of good fun and and great archaeology!

The week 12 team.

The week 12 team.

While it is frustrating to have to stop just when the site is getting so exciting, we know that we’ll be returning to some wonderful archaeology in October! In the intervening weeks, we hope to post an overview of our findings so far on North Street, to help understand quite how much we have learned about this fascinating site. We will also aim to continue our series of blog posts looking back at previous seasons of Archaeology Live!

We’ll be back on site in October, there’s still room to join us, just contact trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk for info/bookings. We will also be opening up the site to the public between 11am and 3pm on the 25th of October! Come along and see the latest finds, meet the archaeologists and say hello to Planty the Plant (if you don’t mind the smell of slightly rotten cabbage…)

So, that wraps up the summer season of our first year on North Street. It’s been better than we could have hoped for, with a wonderfully diverse and passionate team of budding archaeologists joining us from far and wide. Thanks again to all involved for making the site such a success! Now it’s time to catch our breath, take stock and get prepped for the autumn season. Until then friends, onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

PS. It’s become traditional to share the more light hearted moments of the week at the end of each post. Our placement Donald had an unexpected moment this week when a sizeable moth flew out of his hair. Goodness knows how long it had been living in there. Donald’s vegan superpowers are clearly growing…

Donald, truly at one with the natural world...

Donald, truly at one with the natural world…

Archaeology Live! Summer 2014. Week 10.

Water water everywhere!? What on earth?

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Can’t rain all the time…

After a long, dry summer, the Monday of week 10 was the first to be disrupted by rain. Digging through the glorious British summertime can be an unpredictable business, although it must be said that we’ve done rather well this year.

Thankfully, there is much more to archaeology than digging and our site hut isn’t the worst place in the world to take shelter in times of need. Plus, there was a rather big task left on the to-do list…

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Thumbs up if you love cow skulls!

The finds from ‘Biagio’s bone pit’ and our increasingly infamous ‘horn pit’ were by this point fully cleaned and dried. This freed them up for the next step in the finds processing system – sorting and bagging.

The ‘horn pit’ (context 1152) was partially excavated earlier in the season and provided us with 15 tubs of cattle horn core and skull fragments that represent by-products of late 18th to early 19th century leather production. The backfill of the feature also contained a modest amount of incidental domestic waste and a small number of earlier finds upcast from deposits that were disturbed when the pit was originally cut. Before each fragment of bone, pottery, tile, glass, clay pipe, etc. can be seen by their relevant specialist, the finds have to be sorted into type.

Once sorted, the finds can then be bagged up following YAT’s standard protocols and are then ready for analysis. Jobs like these can be a little on the dull side, thankfully our team met the task with enthusiasm and enjoyed the opportunity to have a closer look at the finds.

Finds sorting can be fun too! (If you make it fun…)

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Donald, our resident ‘glam Viking’, tries out the horn look.

Toby’s team also took the chance to catch up with some outstanding records. As the records produced by our trainees make up the final archive, it is important that we maintain professional standards, and Toby certainly has an eye for detail!

The benefit of being quite so fussy is that the records produced by our trainees go on to make up our final site archive; nothing is re-done and it is this archive that forms the basis of the final site report.

It's a 'yes' from me.

It’s a ‘yes’ from me.

Thankfully, only parts of the day were affected by rain and the rest of the week remained clear. This allowed the team to make some great progress on site!

Team ‘That End’ began the week with some industrious troweling. Many of the edges identified by the week 9 team had been obscured by the rain and needed sharpening up. Joining us from the USA, Lori successfully identified a 19th century grave cut. The edges were a little hazy, but persistence paid off in the end.

Joined on Tuesday by Leicester lass Jen, Lori began work on excavating the grave backfill.

Lori and Jen begin to excavate their grave backfill.

Lori and Jen begin to excavate their grave backfill.

After helping us to discover the north wall of the lost church of St. John the Baptist last year on Hungate, Joan returned for her second season with us. Like Lori, she had some troweling to do before her feature became visible. Nonetheless, a pit cut was identified and recorded allowing Joan to get digging. Having dug on a number of projects, Joan is known for her habit of spotting good finds and it didn’t take her long to pick up where she left off! She was delighted to find two large fragments of a medieval Humber ware jug.

Joan up to her old tricks.

Joan up to her old tricks…

Eleanor joined the team for a taster day on site and also worked on Joan’s pit. Joan’s luck was clearly catching as Eleanor quickly made a great find of her own!

Eleanor and her debut find.

Eleanor and her debut find.

Eleanor’s rather splendid pot sherd is part of a transfer ware bowl and may date to as early as the late 1700s!

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Eleanor’s bowl/saucer. Jolly civilised.

When the pit was fully excavated, a number of inter-cutting edges became visible in the base. This suggests that we are coming down onto a sequence of refuse pits, although whether any of these newly discovered edges resolve into more grave cuts will remain to be seen.

Joan and Eleanor getting their pit cut photo-ready.

Joan and Eleanor getting their pit cut photo-ready.

Back in Lori and Jen’s grave backfill, the finds were coming thick and fast. Lori unearthed a dense copper object that could have been a wall spike or hook.

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Lori’s latest find.

Meanwhile, Jen discovered more evidence of how the medieval interior of the church may have looked with a splendid glazed medieval floor tile.

Tah dah!

Tah dah!

At present, we have found both green and yellow glazed floor tiles and some so worn that barely any glaze survives. This suggests that different areas of the church floor may have been laid with different coloured tiles. The rich, deep green floor would certainly have been a sight to see.

A closer look at Jen's floor tile.

A closer look at Jen’s floor tile.

Later in the week, Joan moved over to help Lori with the excavation of her grave backfill. True to form, Joan’s luck continued as she and Lori located the skull and coffin remains of an infant burial. Working on such features requires a great deal of concentration and a gentle touch. Armed with wooden clay modelling tools, Lori and Joan worked to expose the full extent of the coffin and the body position of the individual interred.

Once fully recorded, this burial will again be covered over.

Gary was on hand to offer Lori and Joan advice on how to approach their burial.

Gary was on hand to offer Lori and Joan advice on how to approach their burial.

In the mysterious realm of ‘contrary corner’ at the northern end of the trench, returning trainee Iain was the next archaeologist to tackle one of the site’s trickiest areas.

We may however have to re-name the area, as Iain made short work of it. After giving the area an initial trowel, he revealed and recorded a linear feature running parallel to Church Lane.

Iain working on his linear feature.

Iain working on his linear feature.

In true ‘contrary corner’ fashion, the plot quickly thickened as Iain discovered that his linear feature was actually cut by a rubble filled post-hole. Excavation of the linear was put on hold while the post-hole was dug and recorded. The feature contained some great finds including three fragments of a medieval jug handle. Happily, these proved to fit together!

Iain's medieval jug handle.

Iain’s medieval jug handle.

The handle of a 16th century Cistercian ware drinking vessel was also found. Iain was having a great start to the week!

Iain admires a 16th century Cistercian ware handle.

Iain admires a 16th century Cistercian ware handle.

After recording the post-hole, attention was turned back to the mysterious linear feature.

Recording Iain's post hole.

Recording Iain’s post hole.

Later in the week, we were joined by Rose, a prospective archaeology student looking to try out a spot of excavation before university. Working with Iain, she helped to expose a very exciting feature.

Iain and Rose hard at work.

Iain and Rose hard at work.

The linear feature turned out to be relatively shallow and at its base, a well-mettled layer of cobbles was exposed. Sat within a construction cut, these cobbles represent the base of a robbed out wall footing.

A wall footing emerges...

A wall footing emerges…

This discovery poses a number of questions.

  • How old is it?

The deposit that Iain and Rose excavated represent the robbing of the stonework in the late 18th century, we will only know the date of the feature when we excavate the cobbles and see what finds are among and below them.

  • Was this part of a large building?

The stonework in the ground is substantial and well-laid. We have dug many Victorian buildings with a complete absence of footings. This foundation could have supported a large structure.

  • Is this evidence for a demolished part of All Saints Cottages?

The 14th century cottages that overlook ‘contrary corner’ may once have extended over it. This wall lies close to the buildings centre and could have acted as a spine wall. As we uncover more contemporary features, we hope to prove or disprove this theory.

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Iain and Rose’s wall footing, cut at the top end by a later pit.

 

The footings are truncated at the northern end by a pit cut. Once this is excavated, we will look to excavate the cobbles and shed some more light on this fascinating area of the trench.

In Toby’s area, Janice and Coco took on the daunting task of finishing the excavation of a pair of graves and creating the records for each context they encountered (coffin, skeleton, grave cut, etc.)

Janice, Coco and Chas putting together the records for a grave cut.

Janice, Coco and Chas putting together the records for a grave cut.

This involved a lot of cleaning, numerous photographs, context cards and plan drawings. As always, when dealing with human remains it is vital to be respectful and thorough. By recording the exact location and depth of each inhumation, Coco and Janice are helping to safeguard the remains from any harm during future development and they did a fantastic job.

Grave cuts in an empty trench.

Grave cuts in an empty trench.

With their epic recording session complete, they closed out their week by excavating more backfill from a juvenile burial. As ever with Archaeology Live! the feature proved to be more complicated than we might have expected.

As yet, we have not been able to locate a construction point for the rectory wall (pictured in the shot below). It had been thought that this was a result of numerous later deposits lapping against the face of the wall and obscuring the construction cut. Janice and Coco’s discovery offer a new possibility.

Janice and Coco manning the dumpy level.

Janice and Coco manning the dumpy level.

The grave cut they were investigating proved to be a number of intercutting infant/juvenile grave cuts. Unlike the adult graves that all appear to respect each other’s position, the burials of the younger individuals seem to have been crammed into this area, cutting through pre-existing burials.

As church records for this phase of burials do not survive, it will be the task of our team of archaeologists to gain an understanding of this period. Could we be seeing family plots being repeatedly returned to? Could some form of pandemic have caused a surge of infant mortality? Either way, our findings over the coming weeks will hopefully clarify what was happening along Church Lane in the 1820s-1850s. Watch this space.

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Work underway on a number of grave cuts along the rectory’s north wall.

Like a number of the week 10 team, Chris and Audrey faced the challenge of finding edges in areas riddled with stratigraphy. It took a little time, but as there time on site ended a rectangular feature was beginning to appear. It is very possible that this could be another early 19th century burial.

Chris and Audrey hard at work.

Chris and Audrey hard at work.

Belle joined us for her second season of digging and made a great start. Working in a wide grave cut, she found a shaped fragment of medieval window glass.

Belle's window glass fragment.

Belle’s window glass fragment.

It is important to keep ancient glass damp to arrest its decay. After bagging up the find, Arran couldn’t help but wonder which window this glass may once have occupied. We may never know, but as all our finds will remain within the church, it is good to know that the glass will return to its old home.

A little speculation never hurt anyone...

A little speculation never hurt anyone…

Belle went on to join Jo, another returnee, to help clean up the brick chamber on the north side of the rectory. With the cesspit recently discovered, it was time to further investigate this much-altered structure.

Jo and Belle troweling the interior of the rectory's annex.

Jo and Belle troweling the interior of the rectory’s annex.

Within the structure, a void was discovered that appears to be a post hole. A small brick wall addition was also recorded and removed. When these features are squared away, we will continue to work on the fill of this small brick chamber as it may tell us more about the rectory’s construction, use and alteration.

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YAT education officer Fran joined us on site at the end of the week to sharpen up her archaeology skills. After helping Janice and Coco with their recording marathon, she took over work on the grave backfill that contained Belle’s shard of medieval glass. She quickly picked up the art of good troweling and found numerous sherds of medieval pottery.

Fran trying her hand at troweling.

Fran trying her hand at troweling.

Archaeology Live! placement Chas and Arran took the chance to have a closer look at the fabric of All Saints this week and they made some interesting discoveries. The columns and walls of the church are a veritable goldmine of medieval graffiti, bearing the marks of numerous ancient scribes. The majority of these inscriptions are masons’ marks, with craftsmen leaving their mark on their work. It is clear that a number of 14th and 15th century masons were producing stonework for All Saints.

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Masons’ marks in a medieval column.

Some of these marks have become increasing faint with age, it takes a light shone at the right angle to see them clearly. One of the columns holding up the bell tower is adorned with the image of a swan.

A medieval swan.

A medieval swan. Can you see the outline?

Robert Richards, the church warden was kind enough to give Chas and Arran a tour of the tower of All Saints. This was a thrilling chance to see the interior of one of York’s most iconic landmarks and see some ingenious feats of medieval engineering.

The spiral staircase that leads to the belfries is hidden within the church’s west wall. It is near vertical and turns only one and a half times during the ascent. While many medieval bell towers were accessed by ladders, the builders of All Saints clearly had grander plans.

 

Steady feet required.

Steady feet required. (For bonus points, spot the mason’s mark in the step)

As well as being incredibly steep, the fact that the stairway is built into the wall also makes it incredibly narrow.

The stairs proved to be a snug fit.

The stairs proved to be a snug fit.

Under construction in 1396, the octagonal spire of All Saints stands an impressive 120 feet tall, making it York’s second tallest parish church. The lower belfry was recently reinforced with a steel frame, although much of the original fabric still survives. The oldest bells date to the 17th century!

Ancient bells above All Saints

Ancient bells above All Saints

To access the upper belfry, a precarious climb over the lower bells is required. Arran caused more than one accidental dong (ahem…)

It’s best not to look down at times like these…

Clambering over the lower bells.

Clambering over the lower bells.

The upper belfry is reached by a slightly wobbly ladder and also features a mix of ancient and modern fittings.

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Looking down from the upper belfry.

A third ladder leads from the upper belfry into the interior of the spire, a remarkable structure that is equal parts breathtaking and eerie.

Looking up within the spire of All Saints.

Looking up within the spire of All Saints.

While the views are limited by wooden shutters, it was possible to catch some glimpses of York from new angles.

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Not a bad view really…

On the descent, Chas spotted some slightly less ancient graffiti. Clearly we weren’t the first to make the climb…

Modern graffiti

Modern graffiti in the lower belfry.

Under the Finds Tree, the team continued to work through our sizeable backlog of finds. Chas took the time to share his expertise on clay pipes, which are relatively simple to date.

Coco and Chas looking at clay pipe stems.

Coco and Chas looking at clay pipe stems.

Often ubiquitous on sites dating from the 17th century onwards, there is a world of variety in their shape and size. Thicker stems, with a wide, off-centre aperture will tend to be earlier in date as the wire used to create the hole through the stem could only be produced to a certain thickness. As technology evolved in the 19th century, thinner, stronger wires were created. This in turn made the stems tend to become thinner, with a central and increasingly narrow airway.

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17th, 18th and 19th century pipe stems from a single pit backfill.

Early pipe bowls were typically small and bulbous. Tobacco was expensive and hard to source in quantity, initially being the preserve of the wealthy. As early modern trade links improved and tobacco became more readily available, we see pipe bowls grow in size and adopt straighter sides. The example below is an intermediate one, dating to the 1790s.

An 18th century pipe bowl.

An 18th century pipe bowl.

Week 10 was another successful and eventful week on North Street. Our understanding of the complex 19th century sequence is becoming clearer as distinct phases and zonings of activity continue to appear. More and more we are seeing a busy early 19th century yard, complete with distinctly aromatic features like our ‘horn pit’ and butchery waste pits, being abruptly given over to burials from 1823.

This abrupt change in land use would have given the area a very different atmosphere. Instead of workmen smoking clay pipes and disposing of tanning waste, the yard would now have played home to the funerals of 19th century parishioners. This garden of remembrance would be short-lived however, as the church hall was under construction at the end of the 1850s.

As we move into 18th century and earlier deposits, we hope to bring more of the story of this quiet corner of central York back to life. The week 10 team were a joy to work with, thanks go out to all involved for some really great work, even with the abundance of cow puns…

The week 10 team.

The week 10 team.

Two weeks of the summer to go, we’d best keep digging! Onwards and downwards!

 

-Arran

 

PS. In an amusing turn of events under the Tree of Finds, Ellen and Jen noticed that 19th century pearlware rim sherds make passable tiaras. It seems we are budding fashionistas…

Kind of.

Pearlware tiaras. It could take off...?

Pearlware tiaras. It could take off…?

 

 

Archaeology Live! Summer 2014. Week 9.

 

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One of the great pleasures of being part of Archaeology Live! is meeting people from all walks of life, from all over the world. Over the last fourteen years, our Archaeology Live! excavations have proved to be a melting pot of new friendships, professional contacts and more than a few budding romances. That said, it’s always great to see the return of a few familiar faces. With Archaeology Live! stalwarts Tom, Megan and Chas returning to placement duties, week nine got off to a flying start.

Chas, Tom and Megan. Part of the Archaeology Live! furniture.

Chas, Tom and Megan. It wouldn’t be Arch Live! without them.

With the new arrivals inducted, suited and booted, trowels were brandished and work began.

With ‘This End’ becoming increasingly populated by early 19th century burials, Toby’s team cleaned up the central area of the trench.

Cleaning up 'This End'

Cleaning up ‘This End’

Looking to clear up a number of somewhat fuzzy edges and hopefully expose a few new ones, the new additions quickly got their troweling eye in. Theo and Callum took over work on a large rectangular cut feature that has up to press seemed a tad wide to be a grave. 

Theo and Callum taking on some tough stratigraphy.

Theo and Callum taking on some tough stratigraphy.

As the week progressed, it became apparent that something rather complex was going on. The wide cut feature was in fact several intercutting graves, later interrupted by a shallow charnel pit. The difficulty in tying down the sequence lay in the intensive focus of activity on a very small piece of ground. As each feature cut into its predecessor, much of the earlier deposits were removed, leaving only thin slithers of surviving backfills. 

Callum in full troweling swing.

Callum in full troweling swing.

This discovery effectively turned a single context into a multitude of separate events, each requiring an individual record. Joined at the end of the week by Hugo, Callum began to record and excavate the sequence of graves and pits. While work on these features will continue over the next couple of weeks, the work done by Callum, Theo and Hugo has made a confusing mass of disturbed edges into a complex, but understandable stratigraphic sequence.

Records! Records! Records!

Records! Records! Records!

Beth and Donald joined us for their third year running this week and faced quite a new challenge. Last year on Hungate, the pair recorded and excavated an early 20th century concrete yard surface, during which Beth managed to break a mattock shaft in two! This season’s work would prove far more delicate.

Beth and Donald beginning their week.

Beth and Donald beginning their week.

In the section of a later burial, the grave of an infant had been discovered earlier in the season. Now the feature was free to investigate, Beth and Donald delicately troweled the area to locate the full extents of the burial.

As has been the general policy all season, no burials are currently scheduled to be removed during this excavation. The team have however looked to locate the positions and depths of surviving human remains to ensure they are protected from any intrusion from future development work.

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Beth and Donald employing their most delicate troweling techniques.

As the grave backfill was gently peeled away, the outline of a collapsed coffin became visible, including a very degraded name plate. This discovery is important as it tells us that this was a sanctioned burial and adds a sombre human touch to the feature. These remains, partially revealed by Donald and Beth, will last have been seen by their grieving relatives almost two centuries ago.

With respect for the individuals interred along Church Lane, we will not be posting any images of their remains. While public access to our discoveries is perhaps our main aim, features like these are best dealt with quietly and respectfully. 

Janice working on a C19th burial.

Janice working on a C19th burial.

Janice enjoyed a similarly challenging week, as she worked to ascertain the position and depth of the individual interred in her grave cut. This was tricky work, made harder by the confined space, but Janice’s patient excavation paid off as she revealed the upper and lower extremes of the skeleton. This allowed us to begin detailed records of the burial, again allowing us to ensure that this individual can continue to rest in peace. 

As the grave was cut through almost a metre of earlier stratigraphy, a great variety of finds were present in the backfill. A particular highlight was the shiny, slightly comical lid fragment from a post-medieval pot.

Janice's unusual pot sherd.

Janice’s unusual pot sherd.

In Gary’s area, the ‘That End’ team looked to make similar progress. Joined this week by Archaeology Live’s favourite Southern Belle, Lorraine, Beth recorded and excavated the fill of a small refuse pit. 

Beth and Lorraine's refuse pit.

Beth and Lorraine’s refuse pit.

Making a formidable team, it wasn’t long before Beth and Lorraine made some great finds. Highlights included a worked bone object with a carved internal thread. 

Beth's worked bone object.

Beth’s worked bone object.

It is possible that this could be the decorative end of an umbrella or similar item. It was certainly designed to screw on to something.

The excavation of this pit proved that a possible structural feature visible in the section of ‘Biagio’s bone pit’  (see earlier blog entries…) to be almost entirely truncated by later activity. That slight disappointment didn’t stop Beth and Lorraine from enjoying their work, however, as the finds continued to flow.

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Live long and prosper.

With the pit recorded, the intrepid pair revealed, recorded and excavated a small post hole, forcing Beth to break out field archaeology’s most devastating tool: The Teaspoon.

'There is no spoon'

‘There is no spoon’

One of a number of emerging structural features, this post hole adds to a growing body of evidence that this yard was a busy working space in the first two decades of the 19th century. 

Sandra and Bella began their week of excavation with us by investigating a feature that cut into a cobble surface/footing recorded by Gina and Geoff early in the season. Like Callum and Theo’s feature, this proved to be a difficult task. After a good deal of investigative troweling, Sandra and Bella discovered that they were actually dealing with two features, a shallow pit cut and an infant burial. 

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Sandra and Bella’s area under investigation.

Complex relationships like these throw up a lot of records and Sandra and Bella worked hard to clean, photograph and plan each layer and cut edge. The discoveries made in this area depict an unusual dichotomy. Clearly, this area of 19th century yard space was home to countless pits, tips and post holes, but it was also being used, seemingly concurrently, for burials. As the ceramics from each context in this area are analysed by specialists, it will be fascinating to see if we can tighten the dating sequence and confirm whether or not the yard remained in active use while it was receiving burials.

Recording in 'that end'

Recording in ‘that end’

Bella and Sandra ended their week by recording and excavating a small dump of clayey material. This in turn revealed yet another stakehole! 

Sandra and Bella lifting a clay dump.

Sandra and Bella lifting a clay dump.

A busy week in ‘That End’ has added to an increasing cross-site division. It is certain that refuse pits, structural features and industrial features are increasingly common as you move further from the 18th century rectory building. Clearly, the rector liked to keep such smelly nuisances away from his dwelling. It is interesting to note that the residents of All Saints Cottages couldn’t afford to be so choosy. It’s fascinating to think that these beautiful medieval buildings have only been held in such high regard in relatively recent times; they must have seemed quite old hat in the 1820s.

Hindsight can be a wonderful thing.

All Saints Cottages border the northern end of the trench.

All Saints Cottages border the northern end of the trench.

The rectory is depicted in an early 19th century engraving and seems to have been quite a grand residence, even if a little artistic licence seems to have been taken – the footings we have uncovered are a tad smaller than you would expect for such a large building.

The north-east wall of the rectory with cesspit annex to the top of shot.

The north-east wall of the rectory with cesspit annex to the top of shot.

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The rectory – note the annex to the right.

The Tree of Finds enjoyed a wonderful moment as the last of the ‘horn pit’ finds were finally washed. Representing the by-products of the tanning industry, the 15 tubs of cattle skull and horn core proved quite a task to clean! 

No more horn core!! :)

No more horn core!! 🙂

Finds washing revealed a number of treasures that had yet to be noted. A seemingly innocuous pot sherd was washed by Beth and was found to contain antler stamped decoration.

Beth under the Finds Tree.

Beth under the Finds Tree.

This is proving a tough sherd to date, with opinion remaining thoroughly divided. It’s fabric and decoration are crude and a Roman or Anglo-Saxon date wouldn’t be beyond the realms of the imagination. However, it is equally plausible to be a locally made post-medieval ware. We await specialist opinion…

Suggestions welcome...

Suggestions welcome…

While washing what appeared to be a clump of dirt, Bella spotted this small, well-made copper alloy object. A decorative fitting of some sort, we eagerly await our small finds specialist’s opinion on this one.

Bella's copper object.

Bella’s copper object.

Another amusing discovery was a large dog’s paw print in a medieval roof tile. You can almost picture the tiler’s annoyance at his unruly dog!

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Woof

Often difficult to distinguish between some Roman equivalents, we have nonetheless been noting an increase in Viking finds as we creep into earlier deposits. It bodes well for what lies beneath us!

 

 

Viking ceramics.

Viking ceramics.

Week 9 has seen our picture of early 19th century activity along Church Lane come into ever sharper focus. We can see unpleasant activities being pushed away from the rectory at the south end of the yard and kept close to All Saints Cottages to the north; we can also see working life continuing in the yard while it was being incorporated into the church’s burial ground. The refuse pits we excavate are giving us new insights into past diets and lifestyles and, as we expose elements of the individuals buried along Church Lane, we are able to meet the 19th century parishioners of All Saints face to face.

None of this would be possible without the funding, hard work and boundless enthusiasm of our wonderful team of budding archaeologists. It is people like this that give archaeology such a bright future, thank you to all the week 9 team for another exciting week on North Street! 

The week 9 gang.

The week 9 gang.

So, now we head in to the closing stages of the summer session. Only three weeks and one weekend to go! It’s been immense fun so far and a genuine privilege to work with such a passionate and diverse group of individuals. Here’s to a big finale!

Onwards and downwards!

 

– Arran

 

PS. In closing, I’ll leave you with this. 

Odd things happen on excavations sometimes. Our placement Becky was off sick for a day and it was decided she needed a replacement. Enter Becky MkII…

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Finding some ‘green graze’

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Keeping on top of those finds.

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A spot of recording.

A dinner date with Planty.

A dinner date with Planty.

Some light troweling.

Some light troweling.

Becky MkI.

Becky MkI. Thankfully, alive and well.

Archaeology Live! Summer 2014. Week 8.

 

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All Saints in the sunshine.

At its core, archaeology is all about stories; capturing glimpses of bygone times in the material left behind by the people who lived through them. To hear these echoes we have to follow through a long process, beginning with research and excavation. Archives are trawled through, aerial photographs are pondered and historic maps are searched for hints of former land use. With a good knowledge of a site’s background, we call in the ground troops.

Over the last two months, the Archaeology Live! summer team have been working to read the story of our little corner of land by All Saints Church, beginning as archaeologists always do – at the end. 

From the recent demolition of the old church hall, we have uncovered an unbroken sequence of activity dating back to the beginning of the 19th century. Photographs have been taken, plan drawings measured and detailed context cards have been filled in. We have worked out exactly what cuts into what, which dump overlies which surface and recovered finds to provide a date for each of these events. This combined effort is what forms the core of our story. 

We always remind our trainees that individual finds, while exciting, are only part of the bigger picture and that archaeology is certainly not a treasure hunt. That said, it is always nice when these things appear and every now and then a week comes around where you can’t move for amazing artefacts!

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The monday of week 8 marked the beginning of just such a week. There was a palpable buzz around the trench as the team began to arrive; the sun was shining, the trench was looking smart and we had everything to play for. 

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In ‘This End’, Toby’s new arrivals and continuing trainees began work on a number of features. Returning trainee Reinhilde once again made the trip from Belgium to join us, this time with her nephew Gerwin in tow. The pair drew the difficult task of finding good edges in an area heavily disturbed by Victorian rabbit burrows. Happily, with some of ‘Toby’s trowelling top tips©’ they were able to identify a cut feature that could be another early 19th century grave. 

Gerwin and Reinhilde trowelling over new deposits.

Gerwin and Reinhilde trowelling over new deposits.

After recording their new context, Gerwin and Reinhilde began to excavate and it wasn’t long before they were rewarded with some amazing finds. A strong contender for the image on next season’s T-shirt was Gerwin’s sherd of a mid-16th century Bartmann jug. Also referred to as Bellarmine jugs, these stoneware vessels were produced in Germany throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. Almost ubiquitous in their decoration is the image of a bearded  man. 

Gerwin's sherd of a Bellarmine jug.

Gerwin’s sherd of a Bellarmine jug.

A popular image in European folklore from the 14th century, the ‘wild man’ appears on many artefacts, although Gerwin’s pot is more likely a representation of cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621). Opposing the rise of protestantism in Germany and the Low Countries, the use of his image on these vessels could well have been a form of ridicule from European protestants – especially when his staunch anti-alcohol stance is considered. 

A quick google search provides numerous images of complete examples.

A quick google search provides numerous images of complete examples.

This is a fantastic find and would have been a colourful addition to any household.

Reinhilde wasn’t left behind however and among a number of good finds, she discovered a large sherd of a flat bottomed Samian ware bowl. 1st-2nd century in date, this is a piece of high-status Roman tableware more familiar to olives than pottage! Found in such good condition, it is hard to fathom that this object is almost two thousand years old!

Reinhilde displays her freshly unearthed samian bowl sherd.

Reinhilde displays her freshly unearthed samian bowl sherd. 

New trainees Vicky and India also had a busy week in Toby’s area. Alongside working on several dumps and a grave backfill, the pair worked together to record and excavate the backfill of a truncated brick chamber located between the rectory and Church Lane. 

Vicky and India working on their brick chamber.

Vicky and India working on their brick chamber.

The backfill yielded some interesting artefacts including our second possible corset clasp of the season. Good to know the resident rector was an appreciator of ladies’ fashion! India found another fashionable object within a lump of metallic corrosion – a small, decorative copper button. 

India's delicate copper button.

India’s delicate copper button.

As the base of the feature was exposed, it appeared increasingly likely to represent a small cesspit. Not an obvious place for items of clothing to end up, although it is fun to imagine a slightly ill individual ripping off clothing for an urgent trip to the loo… 

The rough, brick-built cesspit.

The rough, brick-built cesspit.

Later in the week, India’s fashion collection was added to by a glazed ceramic button. Another smart item of clothing found close to the rectory.

India and her ceramic button.

India and her ceramic button.

Archaeology Live! regular Kirsten Hald, alongside longstanding placement Dave ‘the dig’ Dearlove, achieved legend status this week after ten straight years of digging with us! Toby presented the pair with commemorative T-shirts to celebrate. Here’s to the next decade!

True Archaeology Live! legends, Kirsten and Dave.

True Archaeology Live! legends, Kirsten and Dave.

Continuing to work with Kaye, another Archaeology Live! regular, Kirsten recorded and excavated a dump of cinder within a small annex of the rectory. This backfill contained a good deal of late 18th to early 19th century pottery, including a fragment of a chamber pot. Fittingly, as things often do on Archaeology Live!, it turned out to be a cesspit. 

Kirsten and Kaye's cobble-based cesspit is visible in the right of this shot.

Kirsten and Kaye’s cobble-based cesspit is visible in the right of this shot.

Lined with brick and complete with a well-mettled cobble floor, this cesspit was better built than Vicky and India’s example and provides an earthy insight into life in an early modern rectory. Kirsten and Kaye also exposed a small, truncated section of the rectory’s brick floor. 

The rectory's north wall. A tale of two cesspits.

The rectory’s north wall. A tale of two cesspits.

In keeping with the week’s theme of great small finds, Kaye was lucky enough to discover a particularly beautiful artefact – a fragment of a glass ring. We’ll need a specialist to give us a date for this one, although Toby, Arran and Gary are all in agreement that it looks distinctly Roman. If this is the case, this will go down as one of the year’s most significant individual artefacts. 

Kaye's rather splendid Roman (?) ring.

Kaye’s rather splendid Roman (?) ring.

Being a glass object found in damp conditions, this object will be kept moist to arrest any possible drying out and subsequent decay.

Over at ‘That End’, Gary’s team also enjoyed an eventful and finds-rich week.

Continuing work on a 19th century grave cut, Rosie and Alan began their second week with the intention of cleaning up and recording the partially excavated feature with a view to it being picked up later in the season when access is easier and safer. This clean-up produced a number of wonderful finds, including a sherd of a sizeable splash glazed pot. Dating to the 12th-13th century, this would have been a substantial vessel!

Alan's thumbprint decorated medieval pot rimsherd.

Alan’s thumbprint decorated medieval pot rimsherd.

However, the real star of the show was unearthed moments later. Alan spotted what appeared to be a very precisely curved fragment of bone. As it was revealed in its entirety, it proved to be a beautifully crafted antler spindle whorl. Used throughout the Viking and medieval periods, such objects were part of daily crafting life.

Alan looking deservedly happy with his latest find.

Alan looking deservedly happy with his latest find.

While a date between the 10th and 12th century is as accurate as we can confidently say before specialist analysis, the circular incised decoration looks very similar to numerous Viking antler objects discovered on nearby Hungate. What can’t be doubted is the wonderful craftsmanship of this object, which would have been a valued possession and was almost certainly lost rather than discarded. 

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You know it’s a good finds day when…

Later in the week, Rosie and Alan investigated a small, sub-rectangular refuse pit. The finds proved to be the usual ‘That End’ pick n mix of Roman to post-medieval pottery, animal bone and ceramic building material. Rosie unearthed a large tile fragment, charred on one side and scored on the other. This could represent a fragment of flue tile from a Roman hypocaust (early under-floor heating!) and when this is considered alongside the many fragments of Roman tablewares and amphora found nearby, we have increasing evidence for consumption of luxury goods early in the first millennium. 

Rosie's Roman tile fragment.

Rosie’s Roman tile fragment.

As excavation of the feature continued, the plot thickened. Alan and Rosie began to expose a layer of well-laid stonework. The assemblage of limestone blocks appears to be a substantial post-pad, designed to take the weight of a large structural timber. As the surrounding sequence is tightened up, it may be possible that this is the first definitive evidence that the neighbouring row of medieval buildings, All Saints Cottages, may once have extended further over our site.

Alan uncovering new stonework.

Alan uncovering new stonework.

To provide a visual aid, the reconstructed early 20th century hermitage at the rear of the church features a large timber upright being supported, in this case, by a concrete post-pad.

The hermitage at the rear of the church (currently a finds storage area).

The hermitage at the rear of the church (currently a finds storage area).

Elsewhere in Gary’s area, Sarah, Hannah and Beth recorded and excavated a rough yard surface. This revealed a complex, intercutting sequence of early 19th century pits. 

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Beth and Hannah hunting edges.

The yard deposit contained some more great finds, including the year’s second copper alloy lace tag (fashion being something of a theme this week).

Sarah and her lace tag.

Sarah and her lace tag.

Beth unearthed a rather lovely copper alloy clasp/buckle. Again, appearing medieval in date, this find should clean up beautifully.

 

 

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Another wonderful personal possession.

A structural feature, exposed earlier in the season in the section of Biagio’s ‘bone pit’, proved to be less substantial than may have been expected. Only around 100mm in width, it now seems this feature has been almost entirely truncated by later pits.

A structural feature is visible in the pit section.

A structural feature is visible in the pit section.

With a number of new pits identified, Gary’s team recorded the two latest examples and began to investigate them.

Planning.

Planning pit fills.

Joining us on a two day taster, Emily worked with Beth on one of our pits. She was delighted to find the handle of an 18th century tin-glazed earthenware jug. 

Emily's decorative jug handle.

Emily’s decorative jug handle.

The same deposit turned up another good find for Beth, as she unearthed a corroded copper alloy coin. Cleaned up by our conservators, this should provide a good date for the pit.

Beth and her coin.

Beth and her coin.

The new edges and pits unearthed by Gary’s team reveal an increasingly busy and well-used yard space that continues to contrast sharply with the sequence at Toby’s side of the trench. These will continue to be investigated next week, perhaps we will find more evidence of the tanning industry.

Sarah exposing a sub-circular pit.

Sarah exposing a sub-circular pit.

Beneath the Tree of Finds, Arran’s merry band of finds processors continued the mammoth task of cleaning the finds from the now infamous ‘horn pit.’

Just SOME of the bone from context 1152.

Just SOME of the bone from context 1152.

Thankfully, a few earlier artefacts were found among the mass of early 19th century cattle crania and horn core. These included a fragment of medieval pottery complete with the perfectly preserved fingerprints of the potter. The ridges of each fingerprint are clearly visible in the fabric of the pot.

Medieval fingerprints in vivid detail.

Medieval fingerprints in vivid detail.

One fragment of cattle skull provided evidence of a rather unhealthy cow, as the skull was peppered with holes. These represent damage caused by tumours and would have made for a rather unhappy beast.

Evidence of poorly cows.

Evidence of poorly cows.

Washing what appeared to be a fragment of cattle rib, Kirsten spotted some unusual markings in the bone.

Kirsten marks her decade of service with another top find!

Kirsten marks her decade of service with another top find!

Closer inspection revealed the object was not bone after all. Instead, it was a thin panel of decorated antler, incised with circular markings. Possibly the exterior of a Viking composite comb, this find proved that finds washing can be exciting at the most unlikely times!

Decorated Viking antler.

Decorated Viking antler.

An unexpected pleasure was a site visit from Lewis Gell, the former owner of the boxing club, under which we are currently digging. Lewis had many good stories of his time in the building and will be providing us with some photos of the boxing club in its former glory. We’ll post a more detailed blog post on the club’s recent history in the coming weeks.

Gary and former boxing club owner Lewis.

Gary and former boxing club owner Lewis.

And so ended a thrilling week of archaeology on North Street. We normally have a stand-out find from the week, but week 8 left us with a whole collection!

Recording a 19th century pit cut.

Recording a 19th century pit cut.

Importantly, these artefacts add depth to our site story. From evidence of 18th century fashion favoured by the occupants of the rectory to tantalising clues of what Roman, Viking and medieval archaeology lies in store below us; our understanding of what people were using, consuming and doing along Church Lane has grown considerably. Personal possessions like Alan’s spindle whorl and Kaye’s glass ring, bring us that bit closer to the people that lived and worked here.

The week 8 team.

The week 8 team.

Thanks as ever must go out to our ever changing team of trainees and placements for their continuing work on site. The quality of recording has been tip top and new excavation skills have been put to practice with an expert eye. Congratulations must also go to our placements Gus and Craig, who have now begun working with us as professional archaeologists on one of our commercial excavations! The experience gathered by our placements can prove a great stepping stone into professional archaeology.

Next week, we will work to read an earlier chapter of the trench’s story and welcome back some familiar faces from the glory days of Hungate. It should be good fun and maybe, just maybe we’ll have another bonanza week of finds!

Until then, onwards and downwards!

 

-Arran 

 

 

 

 

Archaeology Live! Summer 2014. Week 6.

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.

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A sunny start to week 6.

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.

 

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Helen exposing a burnt deposit.

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.

Pete and his grindstone.

Pete and his grindstone.

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.

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A closer look at Pete’s grindstone.

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.

Celia and Helen hard at work.

Celia and Helen hard at work.

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.

 

Nicola's mysterious copper alloy object.

Nicola’s mysterious copper alloy object.

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 with her now mortar-free rabbit warren.

Sarah with her now mortar-free rabbit warren.

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…

 

EDGES!!!

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.

Planning newly unearthed features.

Planning newly unearthed features.

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.

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PLANFEST 2014

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.

Toby's team begin to investigate a number of possible burials.

Toby’s team begin to investigate a number of possible burials.

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.

A medieval jug handle.

A medieval jug handle.

Bill also made an interesting discovery with this bangle shaped copper alloy object.

Bill's copper alloy object.

Bill’s 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.

Helen following a tricky edge.

Helen following a tricky edge.

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!

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Kevin and Dave continue work on an ever expanding bone rich deposit.

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!

Julie and Sharon getting in the bovine spirit... (A 'horny' joke would just have been lazy)

Julie and Sharon getting in the bovine spirit… (A ‘horny’ joke would just have been lazy)

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!

Black burnished ware with it's diamond pattern decoration still clearly visible.

Black burnished ware with it’s diamond pattern decoration still clearly visible.

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!

Susanne's sherd of Torksey ware.

Susanne’s sherd of Torksey ware.

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.

Cattle skull with a puncture wound.

Cattle skull with a puncture wound.

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!

 

Biagio's bone pit.

Biagio’s bone pit.

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.

 

Biagio's worked flint.

Biagio’s worked flint.

 

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.

Biagio, clearly chuffed with his amphora fragment.

Biagio, clearly chuffed with his amphora fragment.

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!

 

Ellen and Beverly working on their possible inhumation.

Ellen and Beverly working on their possible inhumation.

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…

 

Samian ware and a local 'knock-off'

Samian ware and a local ‘knock-off’

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 beautiful medieval vessel base.

A beautiful medieval vessel base.

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.

 

Fido's signature on a medieval roof tile.

Fido’s signature on a medieval roof tile.

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.

 

Ellen's medieval brooch.

Ellen’s medieval(?) 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.

 

A closer look.

A closer look.

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!

 

Pottery from sieving.

Pottery from sieving.

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.

Ellen looking rather annoyed at Flopsy the Victorian bunny's handiwork.

Ellen looking rather annoyed at Flopsy the Victorian bunny’s handiwork.

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.

 

Possible graves under excavation.

Possible graves under excavation.

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.

 

Sorting finds. This assemblage came from a single deposit!

Sorting finds. This assemblage came from a single deposit!

A ceramic pipe bowl with masonic decoration.

A ceramic pipe bowl with masonic decoration.

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.

Deep features can make for tricky digging!

Deep features can make for tricky digging!

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!

 

-Arran

The week 6 team.

The week 6 team.

 

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…

IMG_4946

Pug Life.

 

 

Archaeology Live! Summer 2014. Week 4.

All Saints Church in the 19th century with the newly built church hall (later a boxing club) to the left.

A very Victorian view of All Saints Church with the newly built church hall (later a boxing club) to the left. (Image copyright City of York Council)

Week 4 of Archaeology Live! 2014 saw us one third through the summer excavation. Time does indeed fly! As is becoming something of a theme, this week saw the team working with almost constant sunshine and birdsong. The week also saw us reach something of a benchmark as work across the whole trench was now focused on archaeology pre-dating the Victorian boxing club.

Our trainees have taken the trench back in time to the turn of the 19th century and gained a detailed understanding of the site’s Victorian past.

IMG_4743

Toby’s team peeling away construction trample layers.

If one word could define this week it would be trample, as archaeologists on both sides of the trench made a concerted effort to remove the remaining areas of the trample deposit laid down by Victorian builders preparing to erect the boxing club. Compacted by nature, this deposit has made for some sore wrists, but the finds recovered from it have proved an ample reward!

Trowelling away trample in 'This End'

Trowelling away trample in ‘This End’

The 19th century builders were certainly not a tidy lot and churned up a great deal of earlier material during their work. In Toby’s end, this resulted in a very exciting discovery! While a specialist eye will be required to confirm the precise date, a fragment of a possibly prehistoric worked stone object was recovered.

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A fragment of a worked stone object.

Judging by the size, shape and type of stone used, the team suspect this to be a neolithic stone axe-head, something which would have been highly prized in its time! While it was found re-deposited in a 19th century context, it adds to a growing body of prehistoric artefacts unearthed in central York.

Could York have been occupied prior to the Roman invasion? Finds such as this certainly add some weight to this exciting possibility.

A fragment of a worked stone object.

A fragment of a worked stone object.

A somewhat more recent discovery in the trample layer was a sizeable animal burrow, most likely created by an suitably industrious Victorian rabbit. This explained why new trainee Minty’s area hadn’t been making a lot of sense until that point!

Minty goes down the rabbit hole...

Minty goes down the rabbit hole…

The removal of the trample layer at the south-west end of the trench exposed yet more of the 18th century rectory that occupied the site before the boxing club. Still standing on the 1852 OS map, this structure was cleared in the 1860s. Despite later truncation, the remains of this building are proving to be surprisingly extensive.

Recording 18th century rectory walls.

Recording 18th century rectory walls.

Close to the edge of the trench, Toby’s team have uncovered wall footings that may relate to additional structures such as chimneys, cesspits, etc. While the purpose of these structural elements is still being investigated, the presence of a deposit of ash and clinker could suggest we have discovered part of a chimney/fireplace. Excitingly, it seems that deposits relating to the use of the building survive in some quantity. As these are investigated, we hope to discover clues as to what was happening in the early-modern rectory.

It was a particular pleasure this week to welcome back Archaeology Live! legends Clive and Juliet who have worked with us on each of our fourteen training digs!

Jack exposing use deposits relating to the 18th century rectory.

Jack exposing use deposits relating to the 18th century rectory. Note the dark deposit in the foreground.

Team This End made some other exciting discoveries during week 4. Beneath the trample layer, Jack and Louise came across a small refuse pit dating to the mid-19th century. It contained a huge amount of pottery, some with identifiable stamps and some memorable designs.

Jack and Louise's C19th refuse pit under excavation.

Jack and Louise’s C19th refuse pit under excavation.

More unusual artefacts recovered from this context included a curious copper alloy disc with a floral decoration and a clasp from a corset. The finds from this pit date from the same period as the later use of the rectory buildings, perhaps these objects once belonged to the Rector himself!

An unusual copper alloy object.

An unusual copper alloy object.

Over in That End, Arran’s team were equally busy. In the centre of the trench, more of our seemingly endless trample layer was removed exposing a confusing mass of interlacing edges. This is the kind of complex archaeology that we love at Archaeology Live! It gives our trainees a chance to test their new skills on some genuinely challenging contexts.

Kate and Becky working on the last remnants of the trample layer.

Kate and Becky working on the last remnants of the trample layer.

Katie and George spent Monday and Tuesday attempting to isolate the latest of the many features revealed beneath the trample. Establishing the order archaeological events occurred in is a crucial element of single context archaeology. We begin with the latest feature and travel back in time as we dig – a process that can be quite the challenge!

George and Katie begin work on their pit.

George and Katie begin work on their pit.

In this case, persistence paid off and Katie and George exposed a refuse pit dating to the 18th century. This appears to be the last of a sequence of inter-cutting pits that will be investigated in the coming weeks.

Like many deposits we have encountered, the pit backfill contained finds ranging in date from Roman to 18th century. Finds highlights included a rather smart copper alloy button, a fragment of glazed medieval roof tile, stamped clay tobacco pipe and a small lead weight.

George's copper alloy button.

George’s copper alloy button.

One of Katie’s finds proved to be a real show-stopper! She discovered a fragment of very decorative medieval pot lid, the handle of which being in the form of an animal. Debate within the trench rages on as to whether it is a dog, serpent, chicken or Dino from the Flintstones (?!)

Katie's fantastic medieval pot lid.

Katie’s fantastic medieval pot lid.

Close inspection reveals a flat head that has lost its ears and a curved tail. Stylised legs may be seen in the glaze of the body, we can’t wait to show this one to our medieval ceramics specialist!

Yoshi? Dino? Hmmm...

Yoshi? Dino? Hmmm…

Elsewhere in Arran’s area, returnees Ray and Ian came back for their sixth year of York archaeology and were thrown into what is lovingly known as ‘complicated corner’! Situated at the north-east of the trench, this area contains a myriad of tips, dumps, post-holes and pits that relate to the yards marked on the 1852 map.

Ray and Ian catch up on their records.

Ray and Ian catch up on their records.

A good deal of trowelling saw Ian and Ray take up a trample layer and reveal two small cut features dating to the earlier 19th century. The finds again proved to be very mixed, with Roman pottery appearing in some quantity. An interesting pair of sherds from a small pit dug by Ray were very similar in appearance, but very different in date! One is 19th century, one is Roman Samian ware. Can you tell which is which? (Clue: The Samian is unglazed)

Samian and a Victorian imposter!

Samian and a Victorian imposter!

Digging in York is always a pleasure as each feature will tend to provide an interesting mix of finds, allowing people to handle artefacts of various dates and to spot clues to assist in their dating. Another nice sherd from ‘complicated corner’ was this medieval piece of green glaze, complete with the potter’s fingerprints!

Medieval fingerprints.

Medieval fingerprints.

Another interesting object from Ray and Ian’s area was this scrap of twisted lead relating to repair work on the stained glass in the 19th century.

Leadwork from stained glass repair.

Leadwork from stained glass repair.

This difficult corner of the trench is now starting to make more sense and seems to be markedly less disturbed than other areas. This will hopefully allow us to create an unbroken sequence from boxing club demolition through to the earliest deposits we reach.

Ian excvating a deep, narrow cut feature.

Ian excvating a deep, narrow cut feature.

In the robber trench that we began work on in week 3, Anne was joined by fellow returnees Carol and Martin. An enigmatic feature, the cut proved to be quite deep, with some sizeable pieces of worked limestone appearing in the backfill.

Anne, Martin and Carol cleaning their robber trench.

Anne, Martin and Carol cleaning their robber trench.

The backfill of the feature contained a good amount of medieval to 19th century pottery and a particular concentration of disarticulated human bone.

Carol showing off a medieval jug handle.

Carol showing off a medieval jug handle.

As the base of the cut was cleaned, the team revealed a number of in-situ burials, something that raises interesting possibilities. While we will not be excavating any burials, it is important that we locate and record any that lie within our trench. This will inform any future building work of areas to avoid while also answering the question of whether or not this area has been used as part of All Saints’ graveyard. Quite what was happening in this area in the middle ages is little understood and it will be fantastic to shed some light on activity during this period.

Anne's medieval buckle.

Anne’s medieval buckle.

Other finds highlights from this feature included corroded remains of coffin furniture, a small ferrous buckle and our second Roman coin of the season.

Anne and her coin.

Anne and her coin.

Under the ‘Tree of Finds’, Gary and his team were working flat out to keep up with the volume of finds pouring from the trench. The sun was fierce at points this week, making it a pleasant respite to wash some finds in the shade. As ever, numerous points of interest were revealed as the finds were cleaned up.

Finds washing in the shade of the Tree of Finds.

Finds washing in the shade of the Tree of Finds.

A pipe bowl fragment marked ‘York 1828’ was an unusual example of a find kindly letting us know its provenance!

York 1828

York 1828

A small glass stopper appeared amidst a mass of 19th century pot sherds.

A Victorian glass stopper.

A Victorian glass stopper.

Finally, a sherd of transfer ware was washed that depicted a woman stood beside a deer on a leash. This is a trifle odd to begin with but worsens as you notice that the deer’s head appears to have exploded. While this is was clearly a fault during the pot’s manufacture, it did raise a few laughs!

'The Maiden and the Exploding Deer' 1858

‘The Maiden and the Exploding Deer’ 1858. Maybe…

Taking a closer look at the finds gives the team a chance to voice theories about the nature of the deposits they have been investigating, a lot of good ideas and interpretations emerge from the Finds Tree!

Later in the week, Gary and Tess reprised their masterclass on animal bone identification and the trainees enjoyed a tour of the YAT conservation lab and talks on ceramics and stratigraphy.

Sorting and bagging finds.

Sorting and bagging finds.

The week wound up with the Friday site tour, where the team get to look at what has been happening elsewhere in the trench. After looking closely at individual features, it is always good to see these features in their broader context.

Toby explaining the week's findings in This End.

Toby explaining the week’s findings in This End.

Week 4 was an important week for Archaeology Live! as the team really began to get to grips with archaeology of greater antiquity. With the boxing club recorded, we are now looking more closely at the rectory and yards marked on the 1852 OS and learning how the site developed between the post-medieval and Victorian periods.

The week 4 team were a perfect mix of returnees and new additions and once again did some great work despite the hot conditions! With the groundwork firmly set, we will now continue to delve deeper into the past of this fascinating little trench! Thank you to all the trainees and placements for another busy week of exciting discoveries!

The week 4 gang.

The week 4 gang.

To celebrate the Festival of Archaeology on Saturday, Gary, Gus and Arran opened up the site to members of the public. Robert Richards, All Saints church warden, led tours of the stained glass, the history of the church and the medieval tile while Gary showed off the latest finds from the trench. Outside, Gus and Arran showed people around the excavation and explained our latest theories and features.

Gary's finds talks proved very popular!

Gary’s finds talks proved very popular!

Despite driving rain (finally!) a good number of visitors joined us, our favourite being a very bright six year old with all the makings of a future archaeologist! It’s always a pleasure to present our sites to the public and we hope to do several more such open days during the All Saints dig.

Gus declares the site open to all!

Gus declares the site open to all!

 

So, we’re one third through the summer and it really feels like we’ve stepped up a gear. The finds keep coming and the sequence is wonderfully complicated. Long may it continue! Until next week, onwards and downwards!!

 

– Arran

 

PS. An honourable mention to Jack who went above and beyond when I asked him to pose with his find and look pleased with himself!

Ladies and gentlemen, Jack Pestell.

Ladies and gentlemen, Jack Pestell.