Post-excavation Courses

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

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

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What is post-excavation?

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

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

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

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

When and where are the courses held?

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

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

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

Archaeology Live! 2014 Highlight Reel: The Roman finds

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

A wintry view of All Saints.

A wintry view of All Saints.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decorated samian ware.

Decorated samian ware.

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

Anne and Branka's Roman coin.

Anne and Branka’s Roman coin.

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

Sarah's amphora sherd.

Sarah’s amphora sherd.

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

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

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

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

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

Scorched 1st-2nd century samian ware.

Scorched 1st-2nd century samian ware.

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

Graffitied Roman pottery

Graffitied Roman pottery

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

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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

Weekend courses

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

IMG_5758Weekend course dates and details:

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

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

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

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

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

Basic Schedule –

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

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

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

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

To reserve space email trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk

Taster courses

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

A post hole emerges...

A post hole emerges…

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_53391 day taster

The basics of digging and finds work

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

2 day taster

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

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

Cost:

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

Sarah's amphora sherd.

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

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

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

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

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

E-mail: trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk

Mobile: +44 (0) 7908 210026

One & two week courses

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

All Saints Cottages border the northern end of the trench.

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

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

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

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

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

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A Viking spindle whorl unearthed Summer 2014.

1 week course

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cost:

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

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

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

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

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

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

E-mail: trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk

Mobile: +44 (0) 7908 210026

Placements

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

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

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

Rosie's Roman tile fragment.

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

E-mail: trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk

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 11.

 

IMG_5666All good archaeologists know that our discipline is not a science. While there is a definite overlap with the scientific process, our findings are always tinged with a degree of subjectivity. We are storytellers at heart, modern day bards collaborating with specialists and supplementing our tales with detailed evidence and diligent recording. The real art of excavation is taking layers of earth and stone and extracting the stories of those who occupied that same space before us.

The tales are rarely complete. The pesky 1950s pipe trench has always removed the key piece of evidence; that industrious rabbit will, without fail, enthusiastically burrow in precisely the wrong place. Nonetheless, we nearly always find enough to piece together at least some of the lives that were lived in our trenches and the All Saints excavation has been a fine example of this. The last 10 weeks of digging have allowed us to discern an unexpectedly complex 19th century sequence, producing along the way some incredibly human moments. Week 11 continued this theme.

In Gary’s area, Rob and Nick cleaned up and recorded the wall footing discovered last week by Iain and Rose. One of the most exciting discoveries of the whole dig, we hope to find more evidence for what this structure was.

Up to press, our understanding of this area in the early 19th century has been of a busy yard becoming a graveyard. Only now are we beginning to see the first glimpses of what land uses pre-date that sequence.

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Recording a wall footing.

First things first though, we have to make sure we have located, excavated and understood all of the 19th century features before we can further investigate the earlier material.

With the wall footing recorded, Rob and Nick worked to clean over the whole of ‘contrary corner’ and check for any 19th century stragglers. A rectangular deposit of dark, clayey material had been noted in the base of a pit excavated during our August training weekend. Thought to be an infant burial, this was the next feature to investigate.

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Nick breaks out the wooden tools.

With the records complete, Rob and Nick began to gently remove the backfill of the feature, taking care not to disturb the fragile remnants of a tiny coffin. Some interesting finds quickly emerged, with Rob having a particularly good week! An early 19th century clay pipe bowl was discovered, fitting our suspected date of the feature perfectly.

Got a light?

Got a light?

As the week pressed on, Rob was lucky enough to find a truly wonderful object – a bone dice. This tiny object is somewhat cruder than the medieval example found by Gina in the second week of the summer season, leading us to suspect it may be somewhat earlier in date. Similar objects have certainly come out of Viking deposits elsewhere in York, so there is a strong possibility that this object may be the best part of a thousand years old.

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Unlike Gina’s example, the sides of this dice do not add up to seven, the numbers seemingly being cut at random.

Gina's dice (above) is larger and better preserved than Rob's (lower) example. They are a wonderful pair of finds!

Gina’s dice (above) is larger and better preserved than Rob’s (lower) example. They are a wonderful pair of finds!

It is a genuinely wonderful object that could have been owned by someone who knew the area before the current church was even standing. One can’t help but wonder what games this dice may have played and whether or not it brought success to a gambling owner.

Rob having a good finds day.

Rob having a good finds day.

With objects like this being discovered, the signs are good that medieval and Viking occupation deposits survive below us.

As Rob and Nick excavated the backfill they noticed an abrupt change, with the dark clayey material giving way to a stoney, mortar rich deposit; they had reached the base of their cut and found no evidence of any human remains. This left us with something of a mystery.

Rob and Nick's cut feature.

Rob and Nick’s cut feature.

As ever, the true reason why a seemingly empty coffin was buried here will never be known for sure. We can however put forward several possible explanations, the first of which being a quirk of the soil’s chemistry in this area of the trench – acidic soils can easily dissolve juvenile human remains and leave very little trace. It is also possible that the coffin could have been something of a symbolic burial, perhaps for a child lost very early in a pregnancy.

While this mystery will remain unresolved, it is clear that someone in the early 19th century was driven to bury a tiny coffin in the corner of a small graveyard. Nick and Rob’s painstaking excavation of this feature allows us to witness a solemn moment in York’s story that would have otherwise been lost to history.

A mass clean-up underway  in 'That End'

A mass clean-up underway in ‘That End’

Elsewhere in Gary’s area, new trainees Sara, Anna and Liberty worked together to clean a large area of ‘that end’. Numerous edges were visible; the challenge now was to ascertain which of these features was the latest to occur.

Anna and Liberty enjoying a spot of troweling.

Anna and Liberty enjoying a spot of troweling.

On sites as complex as this, this process can take some time! However, Sara struck gold when the edges of a sub-circular feature began to emerge.

Sara reveals a pit backfill.

Sara reveals a pit backfill – a darker semi-circle to the left of her trowel.

Cutting a possible fragment of cobble surface, we were keen to see whether this feature was part of the early 19th century yard or something even earlier.

Sara filling out the context card for her newly discovered deposit.

Sara filling out the context card for her newly discovered deposit.

The deposit was photographed and recorded and the team got started with the excavation. This proved to be hard work! The deposit had clearly been trampled during the early 19th century, making it very difficult to trowel.

Work begins on the pit backfill.

Work begins on the pit backfill.

Good progress was made on this feature, which pre-dates the adjacent ‘horn pit’. While it didn’t produce the same density of cattle skull fragments, a lot of horn core and bone was still present. This indicates that some tanning by-products were being deposited in this feature, alongside general domestic waste. This fits well with the idea that the yard space was used for numerous purposes between c.1800 and 1823.

Working with Becky, Lori and Dom continued work on a pair of burials close to the northern wall of the old church hall. This required a lot of work in tricky, deep features and a lot of recording. The first task was to record the infant remains uncovered at the end of last week by Lori and Joan.

Dom and Lori in recording mode.

Dom and Lori in recording mode.

With the records completed for the infant burial, a cushion of sieved soil and wooden boards were placed over the remains to protect them from any damage. Lori and Dom’s attention then turned to completing the excavation of a burial started several weeks ago by Katie and Beverly.

When the upper elements of the skeleton were revealed, it became clear that the foot end of the grave hadn’t been fully excavated. Lori and Dom amended the records for the deposit and began work on removing the last of the backfill.

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Establishing the true edge of the grave cut.

Significantly deeper than the infant burial, this adult inhumation had surviving evidence of a wooden coffin and was very well preserved. The remains were recorded and covered over.

While this was underway, Lori exposed a fascinating feature cut by both graves. On the slither of archaeology that survived between the two grave cuts, a fragment of an edge-set tile hearth with brick edging was exposed. While the date of this feature will be confirmed later, we do know that the materials used to build it are medieval in date.

This could be one of our first definite examples of medieval or post-medieval activity in ‘That End’ and it is only by chance that this fragment of early activity has survived – if the grave cuts had been any closer, the hearth would certainly have been lost. History can indeed be a fickle mistress…

A tile hearth emerging between two graves.

A tile hearth emerging between two graves.

In Toby’s area, Bri and Zoe began to investigate the deposits that pre-date the two small cells within the south-west corner of the 1860s church hall.

Zoe excavating an early 19th century dump.

Zoe excavating an early 19th century dump.

These deposits proved to be very similar to the pre-church hall trample layers exposed elsewhere in the trench. Like Lori’s tile hearth, these small islands of archaeology seem quite lucky to have survived numerous later truncation events!

Bri working on a dump that pre-dates the church hall.

Bri working on a dump that pre-dates the church hall.

A great mix of finds were discovered within these deposits, including medieval ceramics and a piece of post-medieval(?) chain. With attachments at either end, we’ll have to wait for specialist analysis before we know what this enigmatic find was used for.

Zoe and her fragment of chain.

Zoe and her fragment of chain.

A close look...

A closer look…

As Zoe and Bri worked together to record and lift a number of contexts, something quite exciting became apparent. Ubiquitous until now, 19th century ceramics had ceased to occur. Not only that, the latest finds to be encountered were medieval in date. It seems that Zoe and Bri have exposed our first confirmed layers of medieval archaeology!

This exciting prospect will be further investigated next week.

Zoe and Bri recording one of their layers of dumping

Zoe and Bri recording one of their layers of dumping

Steve and Sarah had a week of challenging archaeology, beginning with a search for good edges around a suspected infant burial. Once these edges were clarified, the backfill was recorded and the pair got started with the excavation.

Steve and Sarah investigating a grave backfill.

Steve and Sarah investigating a grave backfill.

As we’ve seen across all of our grave backfills, an interesting mix of finds are generally present within them. Steve found a rather lovely fragment of pressed glass. Finely made, this was clearly part of a very decorative object.

Steve's glass artefact.

Steve’s glass artefact.

With the expert guidance of our resident bone expert Tess, Steve and Sarah patiently removed the backfill to expose the coffin and remains of a small child. These are very evocative features to work on and it is of paramount importance to keep in mind that these are the remains of a human being and should be treated accordingly.

Steady hands required.

Steady hands required.

Once fully exposed, these remains will be recorded, re-c0vered and left in-situ. Steve and Sarah’s delicate work has added to an increasingly complex picture of this corner of the site.

Whether the concentration of infant burials in this area relate to re-used family plots or historic pandemic events will be resolved in the fullness of time, the key aim at the moment is to locate all of the burials on site and ensure that they are protected from any future intrusive works.

Maggie working on a grave backfill.

Maggie working on a grave backfill.

Joining us for a taster day, Maggie continued work on a grave backfill that has been worked on by a number of people this season. These things cannot be rushed and Maggie quickly mastered the art of delicate troweling, finding an intriguing flint object that may be a 19th century striker used to create sparks.

Maggie's worked flint object.

Maggie’s worked flint object.

Elsewhere in ‘This End’, Jo and Liz continued work on the brick chamber attached to the north wall of the 18th century rectory.

Jo and Liz troweling in the autumn sunshine.

Jo and Liz troweling in the autumn sunshine.

The plot continued to thicken in this area. As a post hole was recorded and excavated, it became apparent that earlier structural elements were beginning to appear.

A small fragment of stone wall was revealed that clearly pre-dates the 18th century brickwork. While a number of later contexts will have to be removed before we can expose this stonework, it is distinctly possible that Jo and Liz have revealed a fragment of the medieval rectory that was incorporated into the post-medieval re-build. A very exciting find!

Recording a post hole that cuts possibly medieval stonework.

Recording a post hole that cuts possibly medieval stonework.

The cobble-based cesspit (upon which Donald is standing in the image below) now seems to have been brought to construction level, sitting atop a mortary deposit. Jo and Liz recorded the wall and the deposit below it and ended their week by investigating the earlier deposit.

Week 11 has seen some exciting developments in this area, with the small brick chamber exhibiting a more complex sequence than had been anticipated. As the dig continues, we will continue to expose and record the various alterations to the structure and, once these are removed, we will finally be able to see exactly how much of the medieval buildings survive. Watch this space!!

Donald, Jo and Liz recording a deposit within the brick chamber.

Donald, Jo and Liz recording a deposit within the brick chamber.

An eventul week in the trench was mirrored beneath the Tree of Finds where a number of exciting artefacts were cleaned up and looked at in more detail.

The Finds Tree looking typically resplendent.

The Finds Tree looking typically resplendent.

While washing what was assumed to be another muddy fragment of medieval roof tile, Rob noticed some markings on the fabric of the tile. Closer inspection revealed part of a legionary stamp, clear evidence that this was actually a Roman tile!

Rob's Roman tile fragment.

Rob’s Roman tile fragment.

The letters ‘VIC’ were faintly visible in the side of the tile. This stamp most likely relates to the Legio VI Victrix (Sixth Victorious Legion) of the Roman army. In 119AD the legion was despatched to northern England to help repress an uprising and eventually replaced the incumbent IX Hispana to garrison the fortress of Eboracum (Roman York).

Finding such direct evidence of the area’s Roman past was a real privilege, which was only made sweeter when the thumbprint of a Roman potter was noticed beside the stamp. Being able to put your thumb into an almost 1900 year old thumbprint is a unique perk of archaeology. What a find!

IMG_5571

‘VIC’ and a clear thumbprint.

Another interesting find was a toe bone from a rather unwell cow. We’ve had numerous examples of diseased cattle bones from features associated with the tanning industry. This 19th century example exhibits clear evidence of bone infection and would have been of sufficient severity to render this foot completely useless.

Poorly cows seem to have been common.

Poorly cows seem to have been common.

Week 11 saw us continue to build on the findings of the previous week and to better understand a fascinating 19th century sequence. It seems that our first season at All Saints will be best remembered for demonstrating the merits of early modern archaeology, a period that has been criminally under-valued until now.

We have uncovered moments of early 19th century heartbreak, with numerous juvenile and infant individuals being interred along Church Lane, but we have also found evidence of more carefree times with Rob’s fantastic bone dice. Next week, we hope to add to this picture of 19th century York and wrap up the remaining loose ends. We also hope to reveal more sneak peeks of the earlier archaeology that will be the focus of next year’s excavation.

Our amazing week 11 team.

Our amazing week 11 team. It’s a shame Graeme couldn’t stay awake…

The tantalising glimpses of the Roman, Viking, and medieval deposits that lay beneath us highlight what an exciting site this is. Massive thanks go out to the week 11 team for their patient, careful excavation and fine company.

On a less jolly note, week 11 saw us say goodbye to two placements who have been absolutely invaluable to this year’s excavation, Becky and Tess. This pair of Arch. Live! veterans have very bright futures ahead of them! Huge thanks go out to Becky and Tess from all at York Archaeological Trust, we’ll see you next time.

Cheers Tess!

Cheers Tess!

Cheers Becky! (Green graze!!!)

Cheers Becky! (Green graze!!!)

 

It’s been a vintage year for the Archaeology Live! project in our new home on North Street. Now we head into the last week of the summer with a thousand questions and a lot of excitement for more thrilling discoveries. Best get cracking then, onwards and downwards!

 

– Arran

 

PS. One amusing moment to share. Archaeology Live! placement Jack was late for the group photo on Friday, assuming he was ill we were forced to improvise a replacement. I think we truly captured his essence!

Becky and Jack MkII

Becky and Jack MkII

Cheers Jack! 😉

Jack MkI

Jack MkI