Dig York Stadium Excavation Report

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Just over a year after the Dig York Stadium project was launched by York Archaeological Trust and City of York Council, the excavation and analysis has been completed and the report is now ready for all to see!

Click here to read it!: Dig York Stadium Report

And here are the illustrations, all created from the records made by our community team: Figure 1 Figure 2 Figure 3 Figure 4 Figure 5 Figure 6 Figure 7 Figure 8 Figure 9 Figure 10 Figure 11 Figure 12 Figure 13 Figure 14 Figure 15 Figure 16 Figure 17 Figure 18 Figure 19 Figure 20 Figure 21 Figure 22 Figure 23

Over the past year we have had a lot of support, volunteers and enthusiasm from all corners of the globe. If you are just discovering this exciting project now, welcome! Please do have a look through our previous posts on this blog, but for now, here is what has happened over the past year (and a bit)…

In a land, far far away…

Well, not very far away at all really. It was November 2014. The plan was to look at the archaeology at Huntington Moor before the work for York’s new Community Stadium commenced. As it was going to be a Community Stadium, that’s where the emphasis was: on the community. However, before this could happen, we had to take a look at what archaeology could be expected during the excavation.

In 2002, aerial photographs taken by English Heritage as they flew over Huntington Moor suggested that there laid the remains of two ancient camps. Following this discovery, an excavation carried out by York Archaeological Trust in 2003 unveiled the location of one of these camps close to the site of where the Monks Cross shopping area is now located. The archaeology confirmed that English Heritage’s aerial photography had some… ground to it, so to speak.

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Aerial view of Camp 2 prior to the 2003 excavation. Seeing how clear it is makes it surprising it had never been noticed before!

What was found was significant: a Roman encampment! Antiquarian record suggests that there may be up to eight Roman camps around York. Two of these are already known to be at Bootham Stray, so finding another helped us understand Roman York, or should I say Eboracum, even further. The ditch of the camp itself, known as Camp 2, showed us that it was a precisely designed layout, but less carefully built. The pottery finds, silting found within the ditches and lack of Roman features within the camp told us that this camp was only used for a brief period of time during the early-mid 2nd century (100-150AD).

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Detailed plan of the archaeology uncovered in Camp 2 in 2003.

Not only was Roman archaeology unearthed, but several Prehistoric features and postholes revealed that this area of York has been occupied for many thousands of years; so we were naturally very excited to see what could be found on the site of the new Community Stadium!

In the beginning there was… rugby?

The site of the new Community Stadium is not far at all from Camp 2; just a ballista‘s throw away really. Unlike Camp 2 however, the half of the area we were going to look at, Camp 1, happened to be underneath Huntington Stadium, built in 1989 and recently vacated by York City Knights RFC and the City of York Athletic Club. Not that this could phase us (get it? Sorry.), we decided to persevere regardless!

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Camp 1 in relation to Huntington Stadium and Camp 2.

This is where the lovely folk of York and beyond came to our aid. On the 12th November 2014, Ian Milsted (YAT Project Manager) and Jon Kenny, who over the years has done endless work with getting people involved in all aspects of community archaeology, launched the Dig York Stadium project at the Mansion House, York.

Jon Kenny briefs the troops at the Mansion House, November 2014.

Jon Kenny revealing the plans for Dig York Stadium, November 12th 2014.

Questions were asked, interest was piqued and support was gained. Not long after, we received a deluge of emails from many people wondering how they could get involved in this exciting project. Not ones to disappoint, YAT and the Dig York Stadium team started offering various roles to help with the later excavation.

Baby it’s cold outside.

After the aerial photography unveiled all sorts of excitement hidden under the ground, we needed YOU to help us look at features which may not be quite so easy to spot. Help you certainly did! Many members of the public contacted us showing lots of interest in getting involved in one of the most useful forms of modern technology for pre-excavation: geophysics.

In February 2015, Jon Kenny marched our community volunteers out of the warmth of their homes, into the cold British weather and onto the site of the Roman camp to do a full geophysical survey. Using resistivity and magnetometry, our team completed the work in a lighting fast time of three days (well done!). The results were… interesting…

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Resistivity survey results.

Judicious chin-stroking, pontification and conjecturing led to a rough interpretation of the results, but the outline of the defences were by no means clear.

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… and again with a little interpretation (guesswork)…

Catching the highly contagious and well documented Geophysitis bug (please don’t look it up), our team once again went out into the field in March to continue the survey. This time however, they weren’t venturing into the area that we would later excavate, but instead into the field adjacent to site.

“What’s the point in that?”, I hear you ask. Well, let me tell you. The field adjacent to the Stadium is a scheduled ancient monument, therefore it is protected by law and so we were not allowed to excavate this area at this time. This protection thankfully doesn’t prohibit non-intrusive survey so, if we weren’t allowed to see what was under the ground with our own eyes, then we weren’t going to miss the opportunity to see it on our survey…

… and see it we did! As this area of land has not been built on, unlike the area previously surveyed, the results were strong!

Don’t believe me?

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Resistivity results of the adjacent field.

Well, you should.

Now that both areas had been fully surveyed, we could collate this information and have a look at the potential of this site:

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Geophysics and interpretation overlaid on the Google Earth view of the Stadium.

“Well blow me away and call me Joe!”, you exclaim. Well Joe, that is almost what happened to our brave volunteers as the conditions during these geophysics sessions were a little breezy.

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Symptoms of Geophysitis include willingly enduring British weather…

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… and finding a solution, even when trees try to get in your way. Jon Kenny, pictured here, caught the bug several years ago. He has learnt to live with it and is doing well.

Thanks again to all of our volunteers during these sessions, we honestly couldn’t have got these results without you!

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Members of the Dig York Stadium geophysics team.

It’s not all about getting down and dirty.

Archaeology obviously involves a fair amount of mud-spattered clothes and hard hat hair but it doesn’t always begin there. Before any work on site can be done, we have to do what we call Desk Based Assessments, which involves what it says on the tin: assess the site at your desk (or seating/standing arrangement of choice). This is a part of archaeology that many people never get the opportunity to see, particularly in community excavations because by the time you are on site, most of this assessment has already been done.

YAT did not want people to miss out on this incredibly important aspect of the work, so we asked whether anyone would like to volunteer in research sessions carried out by YAT’s own historian and buildings archaeologist, Dr. Jayne Rimmer, in collaboration with York Explore Library and Archives, City of York Council, and JORVIK DIG.

As this is an area many people don’t often see, all three sessions held were fully booked, with 30 people getting involved over three days. These sessions were designed to teach our volunteers not only how we research sites, but also what resources we can use, which technology we can utilise and how sometimes going back to basics can teach us a lot.

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Ordnance Survey maps contain a plethora of valuable information. This 1852 OS map shows the Huntington Stadium site.

The volunteers over the three sessions looked at a variety of information, in all kinds of media, to uncover any unknown or forgotten knowledge of the area and/or of the Roman camps around York. From looking at the historical background of the site in JORVIK DIG, to delving into the printed and microfilm archives at York Explore Library and Archives, the teams threw many ideas around the table as to the history of the site.

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In my opinion, there’s nothing quite like the smell of books and records, and our team seem to be enjoying looking through them in York Explore too!

From finding evidence of a Roman road possibly extending directly towards the Huntington site (which would make a marching camp a feasible idea), to learning about the history of Huntington Stadium and the sport it’s held over the years, our discoveries made these sessions enjoyable for everyone involved.

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Trying to look at things from a different perspective in JORVIK DIG.

Thanks to all of the work our volunteers put in during these sessions and for helping understand the historic landscape of Huntington Stadium and Camp 1 further!

GOAL! Uncovering the camp.

As you have seen, a lot of work had already taken place before even getting dirty. The time had come though; Winter was turning into Spring, the weather getting warmer, the days getting longer and the start of the excavation drawing ever closer. There was just one more thing to do: prepare the site!

On the 19th May 2015, YAT archaeologists Jan McComish and Arran Johnson headed out onto the pitch of Huntington Stadium with two 32 tonne mechanical excavators and four dumper trucks. The main task at hand was to remove the pitch and see whether any archaeology survived in this area. After all, the geophysics results in the adjacent field were much stronger.

At first it didn’t look promising.

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20th century field drains beneath the pitch.

As the first section of the pitch was removed, the only features we could see were 20th century field drains, installed when the stadium was built in 1989 and possible ridge and furrow plough scars. Having to avoid the goal posts, the pitch continued to be stripped back.

All of a sudden, there was hope!

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Dark soil appeared in the NE side of the site.

As more and more of the pitch was removed, a dark linear feature began to emerge from the soil. Could it be the camp we had spent months of planning and research into finding?

You bet it was!

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A kite’s view of the camp defences courtesy of @watertowers https://www.flickr.com/photos/22260522@N06/

As you can see from the amazing aerial shot above that community volunteer David Dodwell took while this work was going on, two distinctive sides of the Roman camp were revealed! It was almost too good to be true, especially in such a good state of preservation considering the fact that it had been built on so extensively. We then took the earlier image of the site on Google Earth, with the geophysical survey results overlaid and added David’s photograph. The result was fabulous:

Geofizz and kite photo

It almost brings a tear to your eye…

It was almost perfect. The scale, the quality of the build and the typical ‘playing card’ shape all told us what we had hoped for all along: the lost Roman encampment was found. The time for Dig York Stadium was here.

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YAT archaeologists (from left to right) Ian, Jane and Arran look suitably pleased with themselves!

Let the digging commence!

With almost perfect timing, the community volunteers began the first of four weeks on site. Our fresh-faced, enthusiastic volunteers turned up to site on the first day and encountered the beautifully clear outline of the camp. Hard hats donned, high-vis vests administered, steel toe-capped boots tied and trowels at the ready, it was time to start digging!

Or not.

The prominent outline of the ditch which was uncovered the previous week had weathered over the weekend. Whilst still visible, the edges weren’t as clear as one would hope. This would normally be a quick ‘trowel over’ jobby to clear up those edges, but no. This site had something which every archaeologist despises, particularly in warm weather: clay. Baked clay.

And so it began.

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Who knew that there was a desert in York? Oh wait…

Our volunteers put on a brave face and began trowelling over the ditch by hand. We know that this wasn’t necessarily what you were expecting on first your day but we thank you all for your hard work because those edges started screaming out to us!

Once the area was cleaned up, it was time to see how much of the ditch remained under the ground, how deep it went and how formidable a defensive structure it once was. Did someone say “mattock”?

 

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As much as we would like to lovingly trowel everything, mattocks have a time and a place and this was it!

We quickly found that once the baked solid top layer of clay was removed, it started to become easier to work with… for clay anyway. As the ditch became deeper and the sides started to meet, we began to notice that this encampment may be slightly different to Camp 2, previously found.

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Clive and Brian continue to investigate as there still appears to be too much fill in there for that to be the base.

As the volunteers mucked in further, the gradual slope of the ditch suddenly stops and turns vertical. “What could it be?”, we wondered.

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Chris and Russell celebrate their discovery.

Chins were scratched, ideas thrown around and suggestions made. There is a possibility that this feature at the bottom of the ditch was used as drainage for the encampment, but the shape of them is comparable to a Roman defensive structure used in many other fortifications, colloquially known as ‘ankle breakers’. These do what they say on the tin: someone running towards the bank would have to enter the ditch before climbing it. With these tasty little surprises in the bottom, it would be easy for one’s foot to get stuck in it. The person keeps moving forwards, their foot does not. The rest can be filled in with your imagination.

To test this theory out, we needed to see whether this was a feature along the majority of the ditch, or an isolated occurrence. So we continued.

We found another…

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Clive recording his ditch slot, complete with ankle breaker.

And another…

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David Dodwell’s aerial photography really highlighted the ankle breakers.

You get the idea…

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We used very accurate methods to work out whether they lined up with one another.

As an entire matter of coincidence, the portion of the camp that we had access to also contained two termini, or sections of the ditch which end to enable an entrance/exit to the camp.

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Here you can see the two sections of the ditch which end, creating a gap for the entrance/exit. Photograph by D. Dodwell.

As can be seen in the photo above, the ditch was not the only feature to investigate on this site. There is a linear feature running between these termini, which was looked at along with several isolated features across the site. The goal was to investigate whether they were related in any way to the Roman camp and if so, how. These features ranged from possible Prehistoric to Roman pits and postholes:

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Richard and our site placement, Jeffer investigating a cluster of postholes.

To more modern field drains, furrows and culverts:

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Tonnie and Andrew exposing an 18th century brick culvert.

Mixing the old and the new.

One of the other interesting aspects of this dig was the combination of more traditional techniques and the practice of more modern ones. Throughout the early and late processes on site, we were joined by York and District Metal Detecting Club. While the archaeological volunteers were on site, we had several metal detectorists scanning the site and putting a flag on any spots with a strong signal for us to investigate at a later stage (because of course, archaeology is all about context). Some of our metal detectorist volunteers enjoyed seeing the site being excavated so much, they joined us in having a go themselves! To all of you who joined us on site, thank you for working together with us and helping us pick up a few finds we probably wouldn’t have spotted without you!

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Some of the detectorists from York and District Metal Detecting Club at work!

Many people think that archaeology is just about the digging, which of course is a large part of it, but recording is, if anything, more important to enable us to create a record of what was once there. Once it’s gone it’s gone after all! Traditionally, when trying to work out elevations it can be a fairly lengthy job with a few steps to follow. However, on this site, we had with us a piece of technology which is being increasingly utilised in archaeology: GPS! A GPS unit stores certain points taken and gives us the information of not only the coordinates of where the point was taken, but how far above sea level it is, alleviating the need for dumpy levels!

Of course we weren’t just going to do this work ourselves, we were too excited to show our volunteers how useful this technology is so at some point during their time on site, we tried to allow everyone to have a go! It takes a little bit of explaining at first, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes a breeze!

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Heather and Tom surveying field drains with the GPS unit.

You all did a stellar job and you’ll be able to see in the report how well this technology works!

And as if that wasn’t enough.

As our hardy members of the community worked at excavating and recording the remains of the Roman camp, we had other community involvement happening not just on site, but in the area. During our time on site, we had staff from The JORVIK Group bring school groups around the outskirts of the trench to talk to the children about Archaeology and Roman battle tactics. Afterwards, the excited kids had an ‘Ask the Archaeologist’ session, where they had the opportunity to ask one of the site supervisors any questions they wanted. We had all sorts of great questions, from “What’s the best thing you’ve ever found?” to “Why did the Romans build here?” In total we had 630 children come to visit us on site, which is certainly an impressive number! We hope you all had fun learning about Romans and Archaeology and we hope to see you again some day!

We also held regular open days, where anyone could pop by during certain hours to be greeted by a JORVIK Group volunteer to ask questions about the site. We had many people come by during these sessions and it was a great way for people to get involved without getting into the trench itself.

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Site guide Rebecca ready to welcome visitors to site.

At the end of the third week on site, Arran went back to the stadium during the weekend to welcome a keen group of visitors into the trench: the Young Archaeologists’ Club. We didn’t want all the fun to be left to the adults after all! They donned their vis-vests and hard hats, just like the adults, and got straight to work on some features in the trench.

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The Young Archaeologists’ Club show us how to get excited about Archaeology!

The YAC certainly knew what they were doing as finds came flying out of the furrows left, right and centre! We hope you all had fun joining us on site and thanks once again to Sarah Drewell and the YAC for bringing the archaeologists of the future to come dig with us!

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The budding archaeologists in the YAC.

For those who couldn’t make it to site but still wanted to get involved, every Friday throughout the excavation YAT held a series of lectures on various topics at Huntington Memorial Hall, all of which had people attending.

Additionally, the site had an artist, Catherine Sutcliffe-Fuller, visit occasionally as an ongoing art project with City of York Council. We wish you all the best with your project and hope that you enjoyed your time on site!

So what now?

So as I mentioned at the beginning, the work has all been done, the finds analysed and the report written and that leads us here. The report is being made publicly accessible for the first time right here! Click on the link at the beginning of this article to have a read through our findings and interpretation of the site.

 

Even though it may be over for now, please do get in touch with any of us if you would like any more information. We all enjoyed working with you and without your help, this project would not have been half the success it was. So all that is left to say, from Ian, Jane, Arran, Jon and Maddy, is thank you. Thank you to each and every person that got involved throughout this project. We sincerely hope you had a great time and even though it’s curtains closed on this project, we and the rest of the team at YAT are always keeping ourselves busy, so be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Archaeology Live! and keep your eyes peeled for future community digs!

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Thank you all!

See you again soon!

-Maddy

 

A Community Perspective

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Looking back on the Dig York Stadium excavation

From the beginning, the Dig York Stadium project was set up to showcase the benefits of keeping archaeology open and inclusive. The community excavation put together by York Archaeological Trust and City of York Council revealed just how deeply the people of York care about their heritage and what a fantastic cultural and educational resource archaeology can be.

The week three, day two team.

The week three, day two team.

With the excavation report nearing completion, now seems like a good time to explore what the community volunteers who actually carried out the investigation thought about the project. To this end, we asked our volunteers to share a few thoughts on their favourite moments of the dig and what the project meant to them. Over to you folks!

“The first thing to say is how much I was struck by the position and orientation of the marching camp. With one corner situated, with perfect alignment, right in front of the old stadium grandstand it looked just like half of an American baseball diamond. What an incredible coincidence that the stadium should be built just there! Perhaps some old Roman god was having a laugh!

The digging was hard going in the baked clay, but at least most of the time there were good distinct edges to work to, with the dark grey/black ditch infill standing out well amongst the natural orange clay. Novice diggers must have thought archaeology was easy if the features show up like this all the time – at least until they started to try to dig it!

Community excavations are always good fun, largely because the people who get involved are always so keen, but also because of the absence of tight time constraints that are imposed upon most excavations. Most people involved with archaeology seem to love what they do, even in that sort of pressure situation, so to be able to be relaxed when you are doing it makes it an even more enjoyable experience.”

Clive Green

Clive and Brian investigating a possible base to their ditch.

Clive (right) excavating a ditch slot

For many volunteers, this was their first ever excavation. Despite the clay, Joy thoroughly enjoyed her time.

“I joined the Dig York Stadium Team for the last week of the dig with a mixture of happy anticipation and slight worry about whether I would still be standing after a week’s physical activity! It had rained heavily at the weekend so I was not surprised to find that the existing trenches needed bailing out and that the heavy yellow clay subsoil was a sticky squelchy consistency underfoot.

The health and safety session for us ‘newbie’s’ was thorough and we were given an explanation of the history of the site and the work done so far. Without further ado we donned our hard helmets and high viz jackets and were allocated our jobs. My task, with Lisa and Roger, was to dig the terminal section of the ditch, which took us the best part of two days. There is no denying that it was tough, especially as the clay began to dry out in the warm weather and turn to concrete. However, we found the edge of the ditch and were able to follow it right down to the ankle breaker at the bottom. Over the next couple of days we were shown how to record our trench. It involved GPS, careful measuring, drawing, and description. This was a real learning curve for me, so there was a huge sense of achievement when we finished.

Metal detectorists were surveying the whole site and the final day and a half was spent investigating their ‘blips’ in the ground. I teamed up with Stuart who showed me how the metal detector worked. Amongst others things we found a George II coin – very exciting but not Roman! Working with like minded people all day was a pleasure, everyone had a real interest in archaeology and history. We all had stories to tell about our experiences and I learned a lot. The site archaeologists were supportive and informative and we were made to feel that our contribution was valuable. The highlight of the week was finding the coin and also finding, what may turn out to be, part of a Roman brooch.

Yes, I did make it to the end of the week, fitter and with a healthy glow after spending five days in the fresh air! Would I do it again? Without doubt. Archaeology is not as glamorous as people may think but it is so fascinating.”

Joy Wilkinson

Joy and her newly discovered coin.

Joy and her newly discovered coin.

While many of our volunteers joined us from in and around York, a large proportion of the team were Huntington born and bred. It was wonderful to get so many local people involved!

“I was raised in Huntington and had recently attended running sessions
at the stadium so I was intrigued by an opportunity to see what was
below the surface! Day 1 was washed out in the afternoon but Arran rescued the day by giving us an impromptu talk taking us on a virtual dig through York’s history and archaeological techniques.

The following day I was set to work in a corner trench trying to
establish the parameters of the defensive ditch and ankle breaker. My
favorite moment was unearthing a piece of pottery considered to be
Roman in origin and one of only two sherds to be found during my week
on site. Having never attended a dig I was surprised just how hands on the
experience was, even being trusted to operate a £20k GPS data recorder
at one point. Arran, Jane and Maddy provided patient advice and an
insight into the archaeological profession.

I was very impressed with the painstaking techniques used to record
the site and just how much hard work is required, especially when
excavating through York’s clay! I enjoyed the week so much I applied to spend a couple of days on YAT’s Archaeology Live! dig.”

Mark Anness

Mark's pottery sherd.

Mark’s and his Roman pot sherd.

One of the main benefits of community archaeology is having a diverse group of people working together. As a result of this, the excavation saw the forging of new friendships and the addition to the team of an interesting range of skills, from metal detecting to aerial photography. One such individual was Huntington native and keen amateur photographer David Dodwell.

Growing up, David was fascinated by history, local history in particular. As his teachers preferred to cover the campaigns of Napoleon, David went on to work in engineering and maintenance, but he never lost his interest in the past. Over the years, he experimented with kite photography, and his first successful image was of farmland now occupied by the Monks Cross retail park. The excavation of Huntington Camp 1 by YAT in 2003 spurred David to take a deeper look into the history of his hometown.

“From the information on the internet I found out that York had many Roman temporary camps around the outskirts, two at Clifton Moor had been well documented, and that two at Huntington had been seen on some early RAF aerial photographs, and that Ryedale Stadium had been built over the top of one without anyone noticing it was there. This revitalised my interest in history – local history.

I became fascinated with old maps, old postcards but especially aerial photographs. Occasionally questions would pop into my head, which I had to answer, such as – why is Mill Hill called Mill Hill? Obviously because there once was a windmill, but where did it actually stand? What did it look like? There are a row of house known as “Brewery Cottages” where was the brewery?, Tanners Yard, was there a tannery?  Why is New Lane called “new”? What was there before? I really enjoyed working out how these things fitted into the landscape and slowly over the years I’ve noticed how things have changed even since I took my first photographs.”

Looking down on Huntington Marching Camp 2.

Looking down on Huntington Marching Camp 2.

“At ground level you would never notice the crop marks in the fields of the Roman Fort near the Ryedale Stadium. It was most enlightening and to take pictures from the air at different times of the year and to see the outline of the long filled in ditches as the grass grew, or to see the Medieval ridge and furrow marks evenly spaced as buttercups grew tall in the moisture rich silt as the clay baked hard in early dry summers. Old hedgerows and field boundaries stand out in winter as the fields become water logged. By being able to see these things first hand, in detail and to record how they change over time has been for me a rewarding hobby.

When Dig York Stadium community project was announced, I wasted no time in looking back through my collection of aerial images and decided to email a copy of the Roman Camp crop marks off to Arran at York Archaeological Trust, just for his interest really. I knew the professionals already knew a lot about the site from their previous work on the nearby Camp 2 but did not expect their reaction to my photographs. I realised then that they could be useful to show to other people who didn’t have my local knowledge, as they say “a picture paints a thousand words”

I was excited to be offered a chance to take some more pictures on site with my kite as the dig progressed and asked if I could also practice some pole photography. This involves the use of my camera at the top of an extremely long fishing pole. At 12 metres high, I still class this as aerial photography as it gives an unusual perspective, but can be used on days when the kite can’t be flown and shows greater detail.

It was terrifically enjoyable and perfect flying weather on the first day as the layers of the old Stadium pitch was dug away, Arran was visibly worried that the novice community diggers might not see what his keen archaeologists eye could see beneath the old pitch, but from my vantage point a hundred foot up it was unmistakable, the ditch outline, ridge and furrow marks, modern drainage could plainly be seen by all. As the dig progressed the winds fell too light to fly but this gave me opportunity to experiment and refine my pole photography techniques. As a keen amateur photographer the community dig has given me huge satisfaction to be able to showcase some of my pictures and to experiment with new techniques.”

Pole photography in action.

Pole photography in action.

“Working closely with professional archaeologists has been a real eye opener for me and has helped me understand the finer detail of this local history event. It certainly has answered a lot of my question. The YAT should be really proud of there achievement, everything was well organised, and there helpful explanations and attention to detail was first class, everyone felt included and as well as been very informative it was fun too. Its was really good to see school children enjoying their time and I sure they have a better understanding and certainly enjoyed their history lesson much more than I ever did. It was great to spend time with other like minded people and has been a great opportunity for all involved.

In the future I hope to extend the use and scope of my low level aerial photography on other archaeology sites of interest and hopefully make some discoveries I can share with anyone who wishes to look at my photographs.”

David Dodwell

Catherine and David with the kite responsible for our amazing high level shots. See @watertowers on Twitter for more shots.

Resident artist Catherine and David with the kite responsible for our amazing high level shots. See https://www.flickr.com/photos/watertowers/ for more of David’s work.

Many volunteers took part in every stage of the Dig York Stadium project, from geophysics to archive research.York acupuncturist Manda shares her thoughts:

“I was very fortunate to be involved in three areas of Dig York Stadium: a day surveying the stadium with the Geophysics team,a day researching historical documents in the City library and a week excavating the stadium itself.
All areas were fascinating, it was an amazing experience meeting like minded community volunteers, particularly at the stadium armed with mattocks,trowels and enthusiasm.
The great joy for me was to help excavate part of the Roman ‘ankle breaker’ ditch and actually stand in the footsteps where a Roman legionnaire had previously dug, it’s a very surreal experience but one I feel very privileged to have experienced. It makes me smile every time I think about it! Equally, it was the expert guidance of Jane, Arran, Maddy and Ian that brought the Roman history of the site to life as it emerged. I learned so many new skills from them, all of which I can hopefully take forward to future digs.
There was always a real buzz of excitement about the dig when anybody found a potential artefact to be verified which was great fun.
I really hope that the shared experience of the Community Stadium Dig and its resounding success will act as a springboard for future excavations of our wonderful city landscape for many years to come!”
Amanda Silcock
Maddy and Manda surveying a feature.

Maddy and Manda surveying a feature.

For much of the team, the hard labour of excavating the tough clay ditch fills will be a lasting memory, thankfully a rewarding one! Here are Catherine and Judy’s favourite moments from the dig.

“Catherine and Judy are next door neighbours from Helmsley who have been volunteering on digs together since the first Boltby Scar Hillfort season of 2009; curiously, these digs have all tended to involve ditches – Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Medieval – so it was very good to be able to add a Roman one to the collection, particularly one boasting a feature as “interesting” as the possible clavicula gate in “Maddy’s difficult section”, the trench where everyone said “Hmmm” an awful lot.”
Catherine and Judy.

Catherine and Judy.

“The dig was also special for other reasons. Catherine has been fascinated by the Romans since childhood, so being able to dig an actual Roman site was quite literally a dream come true. As for Judy, at long last (their previous sites were not noted for plenteous small finds either) she found a piece of pot – and a rather important piece of pot at that, since being prehistoric it pushed back the dating of the enigmatic linear feature near one of the gates. They both thoroughly enjoyed their days at the dig – and if ever you need some painstaking trowel work done on a ditch, you know where to go.”
Catherine Thorne and Judy Bradfield
The excavation was certainly not limited to people who had spent all their lives in the area. After recently moving to the area, this was Tonnie’s first dig in Yorkshire.

“Since moving across the Pennines, I have been looking for opportunities to dig in Yorkshire. I have several years experience of community digging at Poulton, near Chester which is a fantastic multiphase site. I jumped at the chance of helping with the York Stadium dig. To me, it is important to work on digs that are run by proper, competent archaeologists who are happy to share their skills with non-experts.

The York Stadium dig was perfect (apart from the heavy clay!) – great supervisors, friendly volunteers, good organisation and a chance to do some serious archaeology. Thanks to everyone who organised this great opportunity.”

Tonnie Richmond
Tonnie and Andrew exposing an 18th century brick culvert.

Tonnie and Andrew exposing an 18th century brick culvert.

The mix of ages, backgrounds, levels of experience within the team was the highlight of the dig for many participants.

“I did enjoy the people and the very different levels of experience. One guy was a very experienced volunteer, having been digging for years – most impressive. I also enjoyed the ‘glass chat’ we had one afternoon when it was raining.

I don’t know how you deal with such a wide variety of expectations and experience, and I thought your managed it all very well! Thanks!”

David Brear

For others, it was the chance to learn new skills.

“What was particularly valuable for me, apart from the conviviality of the group, was the opportunity to do some hands on excavation in the context of an interesting Roman military site with many puzzles and unanswered questions. To see the structure of the fort’s defences emerge was very satisfying. The mixture of the practical, the stratigraphy demonstration (on the one wet afternoon we had) , the earlier Resistivity and Magnetometer work and the final section drawing as well as the background research and historical narrative for the Roman occupation of this part of York made the whole exercise a very memorable one for me.”

Maurice Cowen

Martin and Maurice and their completed terminus.

Martin, Maurice and their ditch terminus.

“I found the dig at York Stadium not only extremely hard work with the solid clay geology but immensely interesting as I have never dug on a Roman fort before. I enjoyed working with the team of professionals and volunteers as there was an interesting mix of people and the professional staff were always willing to listen, help and advise.

A little disappointed not to have found any artefacts, as this is a ‘first’ – my luck ran out. Compensation could be had by being able to dig and identify the ankle-breaker in all its pristine glory. Thanks for the opportunity.”

Brian Elsey

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Elizabeth and Bob drawing a section.

“I thought it was a very well run project, with the YAT team taking people with a large range of skills and experience and making sure that they felt welcome, did something which interested them and that they learnt something new. I have never excavated on (that much) clay before and that was a whole new experience – including using a spade to clean up a section before photographing! It was interesting to see the section of roman ditch come to life, to think about all the different layers and to then draw it up.

Always good to find something – which we did on the last day digging the metal detector hotspots and, of course, the fellow diggers and leaders in sunshine (and biscuits) helped.”

Bob Barker

While most people joined the project purely for the enjoyment, York University student Jeffer took part as a placement and used the experience to learn about the logistics of running an excavation.

“It was my great pleasure to be able to participate in the Dig York Stadium Project. This experience was particularly important to me, as a field archaeology student at the University of York, because I could put theory into practice under the guidance of a professional and friendly team of site supervisors. The site management knowledge as well as excavation and on-site recording skills that I acquired from taking part in this project will be very useful to my professional development.

I also enjoyed every moment of working with the volunteers, who demonstrated their enthusiasm for archaeology. I will never forget the post-holes which I discovered and recorded.

May I take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to Ian, Jane, Arran, Maddy, excavation team-mates and friends for making my fieldwork experience so fruitful and delightful!”

Jeffer Mak

Jeffer's masterplan.

Jeffer and his masterpiece.

For Ian, Jane, Maddy, Jon, Jayne and Arran, the York Archaeological Trust team who supervised the project, the real highlight was our team of volunteers. It was a genuine pleasure to work with such a delightfully diverse and passionate group of archaeologists.

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, the excavation report will soon be completed and we look forward to sharing the finished article with everyone who’s taken part or followed the project from afar. Watch this space!

For information and updates on future YAT public archaeology projects, please see http://www.yorkarchaeology.co.uk/ and http://archaeologylive.org/

Cheers!

Cheers!

Site Diary: Weeks 3 & 4

 

Community Stadium logo_Arran

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The NE ditch (right, in the trench) and its SW counterpart (left, dark line in the crop behind the stands). Image courtesy of David Dodwell.

Week Three

Prior to a pair of 32 ton 360° mechanical excavators breaking ground and removing the pitch of Huntington Stadium on the 19th of May, the York Archaeological Trust team behind the Dig York Stadium excavation had been a tad nervous. It was well known that the construction of the stadium back in 1989 would have caused a lot of damage to the as yet undiscovered archaeology that occupied the site. What wasn’t yet known, was just how much damage had been done.

As it turned out, we needn’t have worried! Weeks one and two of the excavation revealed that the site was packed with fascinating archaeology and had a far more complex story to tell than had been anticipated. There were also a few unexpected twists in store for us!

The week three, day one team (during a short break in the rain!)

The week three, day one team (during a short break in the rain!)

Week three began amidst an atmosphere of genuine excitement, we had so much left to find and were already halfway through the excavation!

And then… it began to rain!

Clay isn’t known for its absorbency and it didn’t take long for the site to become totally waterlogged. As the rain set in, the team retreated to the cabins for shelter. As is only proper, these were well stocked with tea, coffee and biscuits in case of just such an eventuality – archaeologists are a civilised bunch after all.

With no break in the weather, there was an opportunity to train up the volunteers in a different area of archaeological research. A good understanding of stratigraphy is key to interpreting an archaeological site, so YAT Supervisor Arran took the team through an exercise in creating a hypothetical sequence of around 70 contexts and putting them into a Harris Matrix. This is a form of flow chart that is used to visualise where each excavated context sits within the timeline of the site and forms the basis of our site reports. Armed with a new understanding of stratigraphy and with the forecast for the rest of the week looking good, the team were keen to get digging!

The team get started!

The team get started!

To excavate the whole of the huge ditch that encloses and defends our Roman encampment would take far longer than the four weeks we’ve been given on-site. To understand the feature, a strategy was developed to excavate a number of 2m wide slots through the ditch. Situated at strategic points along the defences, these slices through the layers that infill the earthwork will hopefully tell us how and when the ditch filled up.

Looking along the ditch to the north-west.

Looking along the ditch to the north-west.

In addition to the ongoing investigation of the ditch, our volunteers were also tasked with investigating the many possible features that occupy the interior of the camp. This gave the team a chance to try their hands at different techniques of excavation and, perhaps more importantly, to gain more experience in recording archaeological features.

Maddy and Elizabeth putting together the records for a cess/refuse pit.

Maddy and Elizabeth putting together the records for a cess/refuse pit.

A feature can be beautifully excavated, but if detailed, professional standard records are not made, then the exercise would have been almost pointless. With the aim of the whole project being to involve our volunteers in all aspects of archaeological fieldwork and research, we made sure that everyone got a chance to record their own features.

The week three, day two team.

The week three, day two team.

By the middle of Tuesday, some really impressive progress had been made in the active ditch slots. People who had never previously swung a mattock in anger were not only digging at a healthy pace, but also accurately following the edges of the ditch cuts. The team were really getting into the swing of things!

A partially excavated ditch slot.

A partially excavated ditch slot with the fill of the ankle breaker clearly visible.

Despite the difficulties that come with digging on a clay site, the edges were generally quite distinct. As the image above demonstrates, the upper levels of Huntington’s natural geological deposits are typified by a firm yellow clay. Against this, the darker, siltier fills of the ditch provided a sharp contrast, making it relatively easy to follow the edges of the ditches down towards their base.

The image above also shows the ditch slot excavated to a depth where the angle changes and the ankle breaker begins, this is visible as a darker line running along the centre of the cut.

The NE ditch under excavation. Image courtesy of David Dodwell (watertowers@hotmail.co.uk)

The NE ditch under excavation. All aerial images courtesy of David Dodwell (watertowers@hotmail.co.uk)

As the ditch slots grew deeper and the sections were cut straight and vertical, it was possible to begin to compare the varying patterns of deposition at different points along the ditch. What was becoming clear in all of the slots was that the upper third of the fills were revealing a uniform story across the whole of the site.

At some point in the Roman period, a mixed deposit of silts and re-deposited natural was pushed into the ditch from within the camp. This pattern of deposition shows that the whole site was subject to the same fate, as the departing legionaries deliberately slighted their ageing defences.

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Russell hard at work in his ditch slot.

This was an intriguing but ultimately frustrating development. Here was proof that the site went out of use abruptly and was purposefully rendered indefensible, the only problem was an almost total absence of dating evidence. In fact, finds were proving hard to come by across the whole of the excavation. It seems that our legionaries were a tidy bunch, bringing everything they needed and neatly packing everything away as they left.

To flesh out the story of the camp, the team were going to have to do some real detective work!

Maddy & Elizabeth taking an environmental sample from their possible cesspit.

Maddy & Elizabeth taking an environmental sample from their possible cesspit.

Artefacts recovered from an archaeological context can tell us a number of things; the date that a feature was in use, what activities were taking place at the time, where people were sourcing their materials from, and so on. On sites with little or nothing in the way of finds, all hope is not lost!

Many features within the camp have contained organic material within their backfills. Whether this is decayed refuse, sewage or industrial residue, samples of this material can be investigated by YAT’s Dickson Laboratory in Glasgow (http://www.yorkarchaeology.co.uk/services/specialist/scientific-and-forensic-services/). Viewed through a microscope, processed samples can reveal a wealth of information on past ecosystems, diet, lifestyle – even the particular parasites that were crawling around the stomachs of our Roman soldiers! As the post-excavation phase begins later in the summer, it will be interesting to see what these samples reveal.

By the end of the day, countless buckets of ditch fill had been excavated and the defences were beginning to look increasingly like their original fearsome selves.

Vina, Maurice & Sarah getting stuck in to a ditch terminus.

Vina, Maurice & Sarah getting stuck in to a ditch terminus.

Particularly good progress was made in and around the northern gateway into the camp. Despite truncation from a 1989 field drain and some initially tricky edges, one of the two points at which the ditch terminates to facilitate entry into the camp was now well underway. Interestingly, the entrance seemed to lack a titula style ditch that would traditionally defend the exposed gateway. This simple earthwork is often manifested in a short section of bank and ditch that sits just outside the threshold, its purpose being to slow a charge and to force people to travel around the earthwork, thereby exposing their vulnerable sides to projectiles.

Patricia investigating the terminus of a curious linear feature.

Patricia investigating the terminus of a curious linear feature.

The absence of a titula ditch suggests that a bank alone was deemed sufficient by the garrison, a feature that has now been entirely ploughed away by centuries of agriculture and the construction of the stadium.

The entranceway wasn’t wholly devoid of earthworks however, as a strange linear feature and a possible pit were found to occupy the space between the two termini of the defensive ditch. A section was excavated through the terminus of the feature and it was found to be quite shallow, although the loss of almost a metre of overlying archaeology may suggest it was originally much more substantial. No dating evidence was recovered and its odd alignment seemed to bear no regard to the Roman ditch or the later plough scars – this one was going to need more work!

Russell and Manda nearing the base of their ditch slot.

Russell and Manda nearing the base of their ditch slot.

Wednesday of week three was equally busy! The ankle breaker of the site’s most north-westerly ditch slot proved to be particularly deep and narrow. Anyone attempting to take this at a run would quickly have found themselves painfully incapacitated!

Richard and Jeanne's ditch slot under excavation.

Richard and Jeanne’s ditch slot under excavation.

As they attempted to empty out the bases of the ditch slots, the team had to take great care. Unsurprisingly, it isn’t easy to move around in the base of an ankle breaker style ditch and we were very keen not to find out if they still functioned! The tough conditions also gave us a more practical insight into the difficulties that would have been faced by Roman soldiers hoping to create a fortification on such terrain. Experiencing how hard the work is first hand, in favourable weather and using modern tools, gave everyone on site a new-found respect for our Roman predecessors.

Looking down on Richard & Jeanne's ditch slot.

Looking down on Richard & Jeanne’s ditch slot. A post-hole is visible as a dark circle below the ditch slot.

Next to Richard and Jeanne’s ditch slot, one of a number of circular features that follow the inner edge of the ditch was investigated. The position of these features between the bank and the ditch may suggest that they were part of a timber revetment designed to stop the bank from collapsing into the open ditch.

Nathan and Maurice's ditch terminus getting ever deeper.

Nathan and Maurice’s ditch terminus getting ever deeper.

Work on a ditch terminus at the north-west gateway continued apace and while the unusual linear feature that runs through the entrance was cleaned up, a final check ascertained that no remains of the lost titula bank survived.

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The linear is visible running diagonally across the upper half of the image.

Explaining the odd linear feature was still proving difficult. No physical relationship was present between the feature and the ditch termini, so it was impossible at this point to say whether the linear was contemporary, later or earlier than the Roman defences.

At the southern end of the trench, Maddy and Stuart were having an equally tricky time. Located close to a suspected entrance to the camp, this slot was proving to be somewhat different to the other excavated sections.

Maddy and Stuart in the southernmost ditch slot.

Maddy and Stuart in the southernmost ditch slot.

Numerous slumps of re-deposited natural were making it tough to find reliable edges and the ditch seemed decidedly more shallow than its counterparts. Undeterred, Maddy and Stuart persisted, investigating each change in deposition as they descended further into the ditch fills.

Maddy breaks out the mattock!

Maddy breaks out the mattock!

While some of the team battled with difficult sequences, a breakthrough was made in the ditch slot situated at the corner of the defences – we’d found something!

Mark's pottery sherd.

Mark’s pottery sherd.

Found within the upper fill of the ditch, a sherd of what appears to be 1st-2nd century Ebor Ware pottery was discovered. This was a really significant find as it gave us a chance to date the Roman archaeology; a ditch backfill layer containing 1st-2nd century pottery can’t possibly have been deposited before that date.

Unfortunately, there are limitations in how much this find can tell us. As the sherd came from the upper layer of the ditch’s numerous layers of infilling, this only truly confirms that the site was abandoned by the 1st/2nd century AD or later. The abandonment of the camp most likely happened later in the Roman period and there is every chance that the pot sherd was deposited earlier in the site’s use, before being re-deposited in a later context – the abraded nature of the pot suggests that it has indeed been turned over in the soil for some time!

A closer look.

A closer look.

While the sherd isn’t 100% useful in dating the camp, it can still tell us a lot. Ebor Ware was a locally made utilitarian ware, with kilns known to exist on Walmgate in central York. This particular sherd appears to be the base of a plate or bowl and is the kind of material that you may expect to find on such a site, after all, a legionary shivering in a leather tent on a cold night is unlikely to have been dining from a fine Samian Ware dinner set!

The key thing is that this find strongly suggests that there was activity on site early in the Roman occupation of the area. The significance of this will be discussed a little later…

Roman tree bark.

Roman tree bark.

Back on site, work was coming along nicely! Maddy and Stuart had discovered a layer of organic material in their ditch slot, with an excellent level of preservation. In moist anoxic soils, bacteria cannot spread effectively and organic materials that would normally be broken down can survive for unfathomable lengths of time. Stuart was delighted to discover a piece of bark from a silver birch tree, a UK native with a distinctive white bark.

While this doesn’t have any intrinsic interpretive potential, knowing more about the flora that was present in the area helps us to begin to imagine how the area may have looked two millennia ago.

The week three, day three team.

The week three, day three team.

Thursday of week three proved to be a good day for just getting things done! The warm, sunny weather held and many features came on leaps and bounds!

Bob and Mark hard at work in their ditch slot.

Bob and Mark hard at work in their ditch slot.

While the slot through the corner of the ditch grew deeper, Russell and Manda finished excavating their ditch slot and began to clean the section.

Russell cleaning a fascinating section.

Russell cleaning a fascinating section.

Work began on the ditch terminus on the NW side of the northern gateway into the camp, revealing the remains of a post hole cut flush to the edge of the defences. Had we found a gatepost?

Patricia begins to excavate a post hole in the entrance to the camp.

Patricia begins to excavate a post hole in the entrance to the camp.

Further along the ditch, Richard and Jeanne also managed to find the base of the ditch. As the image below shows, the ditches were cut to a considerable depth, made all the more impressive when you take into account that the top metre of the ditch has been lost to later activity!

Jeanne and Richard

Jeanne and Richard

While work went on in the trench, volunteer aerial photographer David Dodwell and Community Stadium artist in residence Catherine Sutcliffe-Fuller were also on-site, getting some more great aerial views by pole and kite cam and discussing ideas for a collaborative project.

Catherine and David with the kite responsible for our amazing high level shots. See @watertowers on Twitter for more shots.

Catherine and David with the kite responsible for our amazing high level shots. See @watertowers on Twitter for more shots.

Back in the trench, there was more excitement as a sherd of pottery was recovered from the post hole in the northern gateway. Part of a Roman storage jar, specialist assessment of this object may help us to pin down the date of the feature.

Angela and her freshly unearthed sherd of Roman pottery.

Angela and her freshly unearthed sherd of Roman pottery.

The day wound to a close with a celebratory atmosphere as both Manda and Russell and Richard and Jeanne’s ditch slots were fully cleaned and photographed.

Richard, Jeanne and Pat celebrate a job well done by their completed ditch slot and post hole.

Richard, Jeanne and Pat celebrate a job well done by their completed ditch slot and post hole.

Both revealed a classic ankle breaker profile, but also a shallow channel within the very base of the cut. This appears to be a roughly excavated drainage channel and offers our first clear evidence that the ditches were maintained over a period of time. This fascinating development makes our fortifications less and less likely to have been a practice camp. With each day, the story was growing more and more complicated!

Manda and Russell in their completed ditch slot.

Manda and Russell in their completed ditch slot.

Manda and Russell’s ditch slot had another surprise in store! No fewer than eleven separate layers of backfill were observed, with initial silting being followed by a spike of organic material which suggests that the site was in use at this point. The dark rectangular patch visible in the base of the section below may be a decayed piece of timber.

Crucially, it became clear that a second spike of activity was also present. Above the upright photographic scale, a mixed deposit of yellow and grey silty clay can be seen. This represents a period of time when the bank is seemingly being allowed to erode into the ditch. Whether this represents total abandonment or a lack of maintenance may never be known, but a second layer of dark, organic material overlies this. Clearly, occupation and activity had picked up at this point and for whatever reason, it was not deemed necessary to re-cut and refresh the defences.

Manda and Russell's section.

Manda and Russell’s section.

This discovery gave us a lot to think about and caused a lot of excitement for the volunteers. Finds were few and far between, but we were still managing to gain new insights into this enigmatic site!

The week three, day four team - featuring Jane and Maddy replicating an informal Roman pose...

The week three, day four team – featuring Jane and Maddy replicating an informal Roman pose…

The swift progress of the previous day meant that the Friday of week three would be largely taken up by recording. There were a lot of sections to draw and interpret and a lot of features to add to the site survey. This gave another opportunity for the team to practice some new skills with both old fashioned and more modern techniques being applied.

Recording in full swing.

Recording in full swing.

While this was underway, more aerial shots were being taken, it really is remarkable the extra level of perspective that a little elevation can deliver!

Pole photography in action.

Pole photography in action.

Aerial view of recording work.

Aerial view of recording work.

Despite the abundance of records being created, excavation was also pressing on. Nathan had a particularly muddy day working in the dark and damp depths of one of the ditch termini. Over the course of the day he moved an impressive amount of material!

One man. One mattock.

One man. One mattock. One very big hole!

In the corner ditch slot, John, Bob and Maddy were also doing some impressive earthmoving! As they worked through the upper layers of backfilling and revealed the more organic deposits relating to the lifetime of the camp, some interesting discoveries were made.

John and Bob hard at work in the corner slot.

John and Bob hard at work in the corner slot.

The preserved bark found earlier in the week was somewhat overshadowed by the wealth of organic material preserved in the wet clays of this slot. Substantial pieces of wood were still present at the base of the ditch, in remarkable condition!

Maddy and some preserved Roman wood.

Maddy and some preserved Roman wood.

These organic deposits were heavily sampled and will hopefully add some more detail to our knowledge of the site when they are processed.

Wrapping up records.

Wrapping up records.

As week three drew to a close and the last of the open day visitors were shown around the site, the team took the time to reflect on an amazing week. Despite a damp start, we had learned so much more about the site and how it was used. There was no time to rest on our laurels however, the final week of the dig was almost here and there was a lot left to dig!

The week three, day five team.

The week three, day five team.

While the community volunteers took the weekend to relax, there was no such respite for the YAT team as the site was taken over by a wave of youthful enthusiasm – the Young Archaeologists’ Club had landed!

The Young Archaeologists' Club take over!

The Young Archaeologists’ Club take over!

A group of budding archaeologists joined Arran on site for a tour of the Roman defences and a chance to do some digging of their own. Happily, the forecast rain held off and the YAC team were able to get stuck into some ridge and furrow plough scars. It didn’t take long for the finds to start flowing as a number of interesting objects were recovered, the highlight being a post-medieval/early modern coin.

Young archaeologists celebrating a great find!

Young archaeologists celebrating a great find!

While the YAT high-vis vests may have been a bit over-sized for the youngsters, they all made a sterling effort, asking some really intelligent questions and doing some very neat troweling. The day ended with a sense of real achievement and bags of new finds to add to the assemblage, thanks to Sarah Drewell and all at YAC for joining in with the Dig York Stadium Excavation!

The YAC team.

The YAC team.

Week Four

A wet weekend meant that the final week began with a lot of bailing! Many slots were well over half full of water, making for some slippery work. Thankfully, the sun was shining and the team’s enthusiasm was unquenchable!

Norma and Elizabeth begin to clean up their waterlogged ditch slot.

Norma and Elizabeth begin to clean up their waterlogged ditch slot.

Jenny, Norma and Elizabeth took over work in the corner ditch slot, scraping away the slop and removing misleading slumps of natural clay from the ditch sides.

Jenny, Norma and Elizabeth

Jenny, Norma and Elizabeth

As the day progressed, it became apparent that the ankle breaker widens significantly as the ditch bends into the corner and that the same drainage channel seen in other slots was also present at this point.

Lisa, Joy and Roger in the NW terminus.

Lisa, Joy and Roger in the NW terminus.

At the northern gateway, both ditch termini slots drew nearer to completion, with more well-preserved organics being sampled for laboratory analysis.

At the southern end of the trench, there were vocal celebration as Maddy, Zosia and Vina finally discovered the base of the site’s most troublesome ditch slot. Now all they had to do was clear up the sides…

Zosia, Vina and Maddy.

Zosia, Vina and Maddy.

The slumps of natural clay that can make finding ditch edges so tricky were brought to life by some accidental experimental archaeology. Ditch sections completed earlier in the dig were now weathering and cracking. As the process wore on, large lumps of clay were detaching from the edge and falling into the base of the cut, just as they would have done in Roman times!

Slumping in action.

Slumping in action.

Week four was off to a great start!

The week four, day one team.

The week four, day one team, with added jazz hands.

By the Tuesday of week four, the corner slot of the ditch was completely excavated and ready to record.

The widening profile of the ankle breaker is most visible from above.

The widening profile of the ankle breaker is most visible from above.

Over at the northern gateway, the SE terminus had also reached completion, with Maurice and Martin doing a great job of removing the final few slumps and cleaning out the rather damp base of the feature.

Martin and Maurice and their completed terminus.

Martin and Maurice and their completed terminus.

The section of the terminus revealed an interesting pattern of infilling. As opposed to periods of use and abandonment, a far more substantial layer of organic material relating to a peak of activity was present. As the highest amount of traffic would pass through the site’s four gateways, this higher level of deposition makes good sense.

The SE terminus of the northern gateway into the camp. Note the dark organic layers at the base.

The SE terminus of the northern gateway into the camp. Note the dark organic layers at the base and ignore the field drain…

Over in the opposing terminus, Lisa, Roger and Joy weren’t far behind!

The NW terminus.

The NW terminus.

Near the corner of the ditch, Richard, Chris and Jeffer took over work on a mysterious dark patch just within the defences. Prior work on this had revealed it to be a cluster of intercutting features and it required a lot of diligent troweling to figure out the sequence.

Richard and Jeffer's cluster of features.

Richard, Chris and Jeffer’s cluster of features.

Meanwhile, in the tricky southern ditch slot, there was more jubilation as Maddy and Vina finally managed to find the ditch’s true southern edge! It had taken a lot of work to get this far, now the task in hand was to thoroughly clean the area and to establish why the ditch profile was so different at this point.

More celebrations in Vina and Maddy's ditch slot.

More celebrations in Vina and Maddy’s ditch slot.

Away from the Roman defences, the community archaeologists were also investigating later features. Wendy’s excavation and recording of a ridge and furrow plough scar gave us an idea of their date. It seems that they were in use from the 16th century at least, perhaps even earlier!

Wendy and Arran recording a slot through a post-medieval plough scar.

Wendy and Arran recording a slot through a post-medieval plough scar, complete with a 19th century field drain.

A 19th century ceramic field drain was found to cut through the centre of the furrow. If only all features were this easy to interpret…

What could it be?

What could it be?

As the team packed the tools away at the end of the day, it really felt like we had broken the back of the excavation and were entering the home straight!

The week four day two team.

The week four day two team.

With much of the excavation completed, Wednesday of week four saw another flurry of recording as the ditch sections were drawn and the contours of the earthworks were measured and documented.

Lisa planning the corner ditch slot.

Lisa planning the corner ditch slot.

It wasn’t all plain sailing however, Jeffer and Richard’s area of intercutting pits was now revealing a proliferation of post holes. Each of which needed to be half-sectioned and recorded, it seemed like we may be in for a busy end to the project!

Post holes everywhere!

Post holes everywhere!

The location of such a flurry of activity was curious, almost directly beneath the probable location of the defensive bank. Something curious was going on here and Richard and Jeffer only had two days left to solve their mystery. Happily, the pair took to their work with seemingly endless cheer and made excellent progress.

Richard and Jeffer

Richard and Jeffer

By the end of the day, a real milestone was reached; both of our remaining ditch slots were completely excavated and cleaned up for photography. In the NW terminus, Roger and Joy did a great job of putting the finishing touches to their cleaning and revealed a similar concentration of organics to that of the corresponding terminus.

Roger and Joy in the NW terminus.

Roger and Joy in the NW terminus.

To the south, Maddy’s ditch slot was finally done. It had taken some persistence, but we finally had the measure of it! A slight kink in the ditch and a broadening of the profile strongly suggests that this slot represents the beginning of a clavicula style entrance, where people entering the camp were forced through a narrow bottleneck and made to expose their vulnerable flanks.

Maddy's ditch slot.

Maddy’s ditch slot.

With work on the site’s many features now drawing to a close, much of the team’s attention turned to the results of the metal detecting survey carried out at the beginning of the excavation. Over 600 responses had been picked up and recorded with a GPS unit and it was now time to investigate them!

Maddy and Jane flagging metal detector hotspots.

Maddy and Jane flagging metal detector hotspots.

As well as offering the team a chance to hunt for lost treasures, this also provided an opportunity to offer training in a crucial part of archaeological survey: stake-out. Modern excavations take place on pre-determined trench layouts and the first task on most sites is to mark out the trench locations with a GPS unit, making this a very useful skill for the team to use in their future work.

Carol and Stuart with some of their choice finds.

Carol and Stuart with some of their choice finds.

As the responses were investigated, some wonderful finds from all periods of the site’s use were unearthed and importantly, each of these came with a clear provenance.

A fragment of a lead seal matrix.

A fragment of a lead seal matrix.

One of the most exciting aspects of the Dig York Stadium project has been the teamwork between the volunteer metal detectorists and YAT’s professional archaeologists. As each feature on site has now been assigned a unique context number, it was possible to identify which feature every metal find came from. This means that the objects have a known context and can tell us a far greater story than just the sum of their parts.

A coin dating to the reign of George IV (1820-30)

A coin dating to the reign of George IV (1820-30)

Most finds discovered by metal detectorists will have no definitive context, just a rough idea of their location. This means that a Roman coin, for example, will make a nice find, but can tell us all but nothing about the site it was discovered on. If a find is unearthed from a secure stratified sequence however, it can be used to date features and inform us about what was happening on a site and when.

A squashed, but rather lovely thimble.

A squashed, but rather lovely thimble.

As each metal find recovered on the Dig York Stadium excavation comes from a known context, this means that the assemblage has real interpretive potential. By working hand in hand with multiple disciplines, the project has provided an excellent model for future collaborations between detectorists and archaeologists.

The week four, day three team.

The week four, day three team.

As the team gathered for the penultimate day of the excavation and plans for the day were discussed over a cup of tea, the end of the project was in sight. Recording of the remaining features was well underway and a mountain of completed paperwork was steadily growing in the cabin.

The paperwork never ends!

The paperwork never ends!

As each plan and section drawing was completed, survey points were recorded and the ankle breakers of finished ditch sections were backfilled. With no injuries having occurred so far, we were taking no risks!

Maddy showing the team through survey and recording methods.

Maddy showing the team through survey and recording methods.

In the camp’s northern entrance, work was underway on a slot through the centre of the unusual linear that ran between the Roman ditch termini. Catherine and Judy’s painstaking troweling was rewarded with a very small, but utterly invaluable find – a sherd of prehistoric pottery.

Catherine and Judy.

Catherine and Judy.

It was suddenly all so clear. The reason why the linear seemed so at odds with all of the archaeology around it is that it had been cut before any of it even existed!

Looking along the prehistoric linear.

Looking along the prehistoric linear running between the ditch termini of the northern gateway.

This feature belonged to an age when the advent of ironworking was revolutionising the way people lived. In this quiet world of dispersed farmsteads, the thought of marching camps and invading legions must have seemed very far away.

Looking down on the northern gateway and the earlier linear.

Looking down on the northern gateway and the earlier linear.

Over in Jeffer, Chris and Richard’s area, excavation work had finally finished, leaving only recording left to do. Positioned just within the ditch and practically underneath the bank of the Roman defences, the pits and post holes make little sense as a Roman feature.

Jeffer, Chris and Richard's area under excavation.

Jeffer, Chris and Richard’s area under excavation.

The tireless work of the volunteers now suggests that we are looking at a second pocket of prehistoric activity and we hope that samples taken of an ashy deposit within the pit fills may elucidate what their function once was.

Sampling possible prehistoric features.

Sampling possible prehistoric features.

Elsewhere on site, work continued on investigating metallic hotspots and a seemingly endless tide of fantastic finds was pouring from the ground!

Lisa and a freshly unearthed coin.

Lisa and a freshly unearthed coin.

From coins to pendants and ingots to thimbles, a huge range of material was being unearthed, revealing many centuries of agricultural use of the land and the odd treasure dropped by unfortunate ploughmen.

Bob and his decorative copper alloy fitting.

Bob and his decorative copper alloy fitting.

By far the highlight of the day was a discovery made in a plough furrow; part of what we believe to be a bronze Roman fibula brooch!

Joy's brooch, seconds after it was discovered.

Joy’s brooch, seconds after it was discovered.

While the object was re-deposited in a later context, it is almost certain that it would have been originally deposited during the lifetime of the camp and by being a personal adornment, it brings us that little bit closer to the people that would have garrisoned this windswept and remote encampment.

A closer look.

A closer look.

The stage was set for a grandstand finish. The hard work and dedication of the community volunteers had kept us right on schedule and a rich vein of finds was coming up at just the right time! We’d had so much fun that no-one wanted to really consider the imminent end of the excavation. Extra biscuits were going to be required!

The week four, day four team.

The week four, day four team.

The last day of the excavation dawned brightly and everyone on site was looking forward to the last hurrah. Detectorists David and Stuart were on hand to make sure we didn’t miss a find and Jorvik Group volunteer Rebecca was armed with the latest finds to show to visitors during the final open day.

Site guide Rebecca ready to welcome visitors to the trench.

Site guide Rebecca ready to welcome visitors to the trench.

Large scale excavations almost always end in a chaotic flurry of activity, but this was not the case in Huntington. Instead, the team were focused on enjoying the last day on-site and making sure all of the records were squared away.

Jeffer's masterplan.

Jeffer’s masterplan.

Jeffer’s cluster of prehistoric features were diligently planned and the final touches were put to the records of the linear in the entranceway.

The prehistoric linear.

The prehistoric linear.

After weeks of frustration, the final records of the southern ditch slot were also completed.

Done!

Done!

The metal finds showed no signs of slowing either!

Lisa's headless horseman.

A headless horseman!

Highlights included a now headless horseman and what may well be a second fibula brooch!

A second brooch?

A second brooch?

Joy proved that lightning can strike twice as she found an 18th century penny dating to the reign of George II!

Joy's latest treasure.

Joy’s latest treasure.

As the day drew to a close, there was one more surprise in store as a delicate ring, complete with a beautifully carved stone was recovered from the ground.

Our Roman(?) ring.

Our Roman(?) ring.

Possibly Roman in date, the ring makes another more personal addition to our assemblage. Its owner may have been sad to lose it, but they may have taken some comfort if they could have seen how happy it made our metal detectorist David!

A happy Scotsman.

A happy Scotsman.

As packing up time loomed and the final metallic responses were investigated, it was hard to believe that the end was finally here.

Chasing the final signals.

Chasing the final signals.

The final remaining ankle breakers were backfilled and the team made their way back to the cabins.

Karen and Lisa begrudgingly filling in their ditch slot.

Karen and Lisa begrudgingly filling in their ditch slot.

As site manager Jane doled out thoughtful gifts to her team of Maddy and Arran, everyone on site was genuinely sad to be closing the curtains on the Community Stadium excavation.

Maddy and her flowers.

Maddy and her flowers.

Community archaeology can be a wonderful thing. Over the course of the last four weeks, new skills have been gained and sharpened and new friendships have been forged.

We simply couldn’t have asked for a more dedicated and enthusiastic team of volunteers. Heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who has taken part for their hard work and excellent company.

The week four, day five team.

The week four, day five team.

At the beginning of this post, we looked back on the worry that no archaeology would have survived the construction of the Ryedale Stadium back in 1989. How wrong we had been!

Looking down on Huntington Marching Camp 1.

Looking down on Huntington Marching Camp 1.

The results of this excavation may go on to revolutionise our understanding of Roman Huntington and the broader York area.

So, what have we learned?

The northern gateway.

The northern gateway.

Long before we broke ground, we hoped to find out whether or not this encampment was a temporary practice camp or a more long-lived marching camp.

The substantial ditches, complete with highly uniform ankle breakers tell us that this was no mere method of keeping the lads busy. These defences meant business!

The corner trench.

The corner trench.

Surviving to over a metre in depth, despite having lost at least a metre to later truncations, these ditches would have been a fearsome proposition. The ingenious design of the ankle breakers would have slowed or maimed anyone hoping to attack and even if they managed the steep and slippery climb up the inner face of the ditch, they would still have had a huge rampart to scale!

The paucity of finds from the ditch may have suggested that the site wasn’t occupied for any length of time, but two other factors must be considered.

– Roman legions were disciplined, bringing everything they needed with them and packing everything away when it was time to move on. The lack of material culture suggests that a well-drilled and tidy garrison were stationed here.

– The pattern of infilling within numerous ditch slots suggests two distinct phases of occupation, with a period of abandonment in the interim. While few physical objects were recovered from the ditch, a wealth of organic material has been sampled that will hopefully tell us more about the diet, lifestyle and activities of the people within the defences. Such a considerable amount of deposition wouldn’t have occurred without a lot of activity on site!

When and why was the camp built?

Precise answers to this question may only come following post-excavation analysis, but the evidence does suggest at several credible theories. The presence of ceramics dating to early in the Roman occupation of York may suggest that the site relates to the initial founding of Eboracum in AD71.

It is easy to imagine a ring of marching camps defending the northern frontier of the new city while the fortress was constructed on the site now occupied by York Minster. The substantial defences certainly suggest that the area was very much a frontier at the time of their construction. Narrow channels cut into the base of the ankle breakers also reveal that the ditches were well maintained early in their early lifetime, with drainage being a clear concern.

As seen in the ditch fills discussed above, a second phase of occupation deposited material over a now infilled ankle breaker. The fact that the defences were not re-cut may suggest that the area was suitably pacified to not require refortification. Perhaps the old marching camp was re-instated to house overspill from a muster of troops prior in York prior to a new northern campaign.

A number of prehistoric features have revealed that life in Huntington didn’t start with the Romans. A growing body of pre-Roman finds suggests that the area had already been settled for millennia.

As post-excavation work begins, we will expand on these theories and hopefully add more colour to the site’s long and fascinating history. Watch this space for updates!

Goodbye from the Dig York Stadium excavation team!

Goodbye from the Dig York Stadium excavation team!

So for now, that’s it. Work will now begin at YAT HQ on producing a full report that will be published in due time.

We’ve had four amazing weeks on site and met some wonderful people. Special thanks must go to David Dodwell (www.twitter.com/watertowers) for his awesome aerial photography, the education team from the Jorvik Viking Centre for their great work on school visits and open days and to City of York Council and the Community Stadium team for putting together such an engaging and forward thinking project.

Most of all, we must once again thank each and every one of our volunteers. It seems that community archaeology is alive and well in York and we couldn’t have done it without you!

We’re looking forward to sharing our post-excavation discoveries with you all. On behalf of Ian, Jane, Maddy and myself, thanks for reading!

– Arran

Cheers!

Jane, Maddy and Arran

 

 

Site Diary: Weeks 1 & 2

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The earthworks of Huntington Marching Camp 1 lay unnoticed beneath quiet farmland north of York for the better part of two millennia. The turbulent times of the Roman invasion and consolidation of power in the north of England came and went and, as quickly as the multitude of camps and forts sprang up around York, the vast majority disappeared. Untroubled by Viking incursions, unaffected by the Norman harrying of the north, overlooked by two world wars and only slightly damaged by the construction of the Ryedale Stadium in 1989, the banks and ditches of the encampment patiently awaited the keen eyes of an aerial photographer who happened to pass overhead in 2002. Only then did our site step into the history books.

SE facing view of the NE ditch. Image courtesy of @watertowers https://www.flickr.com/photos/22260522@N06/

SE facing view of the NE ditch. Image courtesy of @watertowers https://www.flickr.com/photos/22260522@N06/

The community excavation has felt a long time coming, and following a flurry of volunteer-led research and investigation the project is now finally underway!

On Monday May 25th, our first team of enthusiastic volunteers arrived on site. The mood was one of excitement and anticipation. The line of the ditch was clear in the ground, but did it survive to any depth? Would any internal features remain preserved within the defences? Would any dateable material be recovered?

Boots and hard hats were donned and trowels distributed, it was time to find out!

The week 1, day 1 team.

The week 1, day 1 team.

The first task in hand was to clean the SE section of the camp’s defensive ditch and something of a reality check was quickly administered – this would be no easy task!

Work begins on day one.

Work begins on day one.

There is one word that can strike fear and trepidation into the heart of even the most dedicated archaeologist, a word synonymous with adversity and heavy work.

Definition of clay in English:

noun

1[MASS NOUN] A stiff, sticky fine-grained earth that can be moulded when wet, and is dried and baked to make bricks, pottery, and ceramics:the soil is mainly clay’
2 A right royal pain for archaeologists.
The geology underlying the topsoil of our site is one of firm, yellow brown clay. While the warm dry weather of the previous week had allowed us to make good progress during the machine strip of the pitch surface, the clay had now baked hard and was riddled with cracks. This made for some hard troweling!
Troweling hard clay.

Troweling hard clay.

Thankfully, our community volunteers are a hardy, enthusiastic bunch and the difficult task of cleaning up the ditch and defining its edges was met with a steely determination by the team. It wasn’t long before the feature was ready to be photographed and the first of our slots into the ditch backfills could be set out.

While the majority of the team jumped straight into the troweling, other volunteers tried their hands at some different tasks. On top of the Roman defences, the field is riddled with plough furrows and field drains and as we are using a single context recording methodology, each of these will need to be individually recorded. This process involves the assignment of a context number for each archaeological event that we identify. Each context is then photographed, surveyed and described in detail on a context card prior to excavation, leaving us with a detailed record.

Heather and Tom surveying field drains.

Heather and Tom surveying field drains.

The survey element of this process is being carried out predominantly with a Leica GPS unit that records three dimensional points to an accuracy of millimetres. More complex features are hand drawn using arbitrary survey points that are then geo-located using the GPS. As we have hundreds of features to record, there’ll be a lot of survey to carry out throughout the excavation and as many of our volunteers are archaeology students or members of amateur societies, these new survey skills will be really useful for them in future projects.

The week 1, day 2 team.

The week 1, day 2 team.

Elsewhere on site, a team of metal detectorists began a complete survey of the trench, using flags to identify strong responses. These responses have been used to inform the locations of our slots through features and to maximise finds recovery.

Metal detectorists in action.

Metal detectorists in action.

As the week progressed, the team split into smaller groups and began work on various features. Close to the corner of the camp, Tonnie and Andrew excavated and recorded a brick-lined drain or culvert. Dating to the 18th or early 19th century, this feature is all that remains of an agricultural building, perhaps a lambing shed.

Tonnie and Andrew exposing an 18th century brick culvert.

Tonnie and Andrew exposing an 18th century brick culvert.

Numerous discrete features within the camp were investigated by half-sectioning. By excavating half of the backfill, we are able to view the deposits in section and to quickly work through features. As the site has been agricultural land for much of its history, many of these features are heavily root-damaged, making their edges difficult to define. It’s taken a good deal of persistence and postulation to get the measure of many of them!

Investigating a Y-shaped feature.

Investigating a pit.

The lowest point of the site sits just outside the corner of the camp, beneath the running track of the athletics ground. Naturally occurring ground water collects here, providing a useful (if somewhat muddy) place to fill watering cans. By giving the areas being excavated a good soak, the hard clays can then be made to be far more manageable.

Kerry mucking in with some 'hydro-engineering'

Kerry mucking in with some ‘hydro-engineering’

A main aim of the project is to investigate the defences of the camp. While the bank was entirely destroyed by the construction of the stadium, the ditch appears to be quite well-preserved. By Tuesday May 26th, the first slots into the ditch were well underway.

Breaking out the mattocks!

Breaking out the mattocks!

The term ‘slot’ in this case refers to an exploratory trench being dug through the ditch backfills. As the ditch runs across a huge area, we cannot hope to excavate100% of it. Instead, the team are excavating regular 2m wide slots through the ditch, exposing the profile of the cut and looking for evidence of how long the feature remained open and how it was eventually  filled in.
Maddy, John and Meryl troweling over the dark, silty upper layer of the ditch infill.

Maddy, John and Meryl troweling over the dark, silty upper layer of the ditch infill.

If the ditches contain one or only a small number of fills, this will suggest that the camp was short-lived and may indeed represent a practice exercise. After all, it wouldn’t be wise to create a ready-made fortification in what could be enemy territory and leave it for others to use. Practice camps like Huntington Camp 2, which now lies beneath the Monks Cross M&S, were quickly and deliberately destroyed shortly after their completion. The ditches were well-laid out, but highly irregular in depth and profile, suggesting that they were dug by various groups with somewhat contrasting work ethics.

Our camp appears to be more substantial in plan, with a consistent width along the run of the ditch. This may suggest that it did serve as an active marching camp, but we’ll need to do a lot more digging to prove this!
Maddy and Norma recording a shallow pit cut.

Maddy and Norma recording a shallow pit cut.

As work progressed on a number of possible pits and post-holes, it became apparent that much of their extent had been sheered away during the construction of the stadium. While some turned out to be nothing more than tree-boles (disturbances in the ground that reveal the location of ancient trees), some did have convincing edges and have been interpreted as possible refuse pits.

At times, a good deal of chin-stroking and pondering was required to resolve more difficult edges…

Using our archaeological imagination...

Using our archaeological imagination…

As week one drew to a close, supervisors Jane, Arran and Maddy were delighted with the progress made by our volunteers. Numerous ditch slots were underway, the site survey was coming together and a number of other features were already fully recorded.

The week 1, day 3 team.

The week 1, day 3 team.

The week 1, day 4 team.

The week 1, day 4 team.

The first Friday of the excavation was somewhat marred by heavy rain, but all was not lost as the team retreated to the cabin for a masterclass on identifying and dating pottery. On-site, a small number of enthusiastic visitors braved the weather to attend the first open day of the dig.

The week 1, day 5 team.

The week 1, day 5 team.

Away from the trench, York Archaeological Trust fieldwork manager Ian Milsted led a study session on Roman and prehistoric York at the nearby Huntington Memorial Hall. This session gave people a chance to learn more about the distant past of the area as well as shelter from the rain!

Week Two

With site manager Jane away on holiday, Maddy and Arran were joined by project manager Ian for the week. As the edges of the ditch had been cleared up in week one, it was now possible to take a more aggressive tack with the excavation of the backfills.

Ian leading the mattocking charge!

Ian leading the mattocking charge!

Mattocks and shovels were used to lift the backfills from the ditch, and wheelbarrows of spoil were sifted for finds before being taken to the spoilheap. Finds haven’t occurred in abundance, but this is is typical of marching camps as they were never permanently occupied. One sherd of what appears to be second century Ebor Ware was however recovered from the upper fill of the ditch. This gives us a date after which the ditch was backfilled, although the heavy wear on the ceramic suggests that it was around for some time before being deposited in the ground.

Clive and Brian investigating a possible base to their ditch.

Clive and Brian investigating a possible base to their ditch.

Work in a neighbouring slot was also coming along well, as Clive and Brian made excellent progress following the sloping edges of the ditch. As the ditch cuts into yellowish-brown natural clays, there is a clear contrast between the natural and the grey-brown backfills. Difficulties began to arise as the middle fills of the ditch were exposed as they were far more mixed and contained a lot of re-deposited natural clay. This mixed layer actually tells us quite a story as it is now all that remains of the defensive bank that occupied the inner edge of the ditch.

As the Roman soldiers that originally excavated the ditch cast up huge amounts of earth, this was used to create the bank. Much of the material they dug through will have been untouched natural clay and when the bank eventually slumped into the ditch, the clay went with it! This makes it more difficult to distinguish between ditch fills and the edge of the feature as they are effectively made of the same material!

The week two, day one team.

The week two, day one team.

Overnight rain on the Monday of week two meant that the site was somewhat waterlogged the next morning. To allow the half-excavated ditch slots time to drain, the team turned their attention to the NE ditch of the camp, cleaning along its edges and starting three new slots including one through a ditch terminus at an entrance into the camp.

Cleaning up the NE ditch.

Cleaning up the NE ditch.

As the team cleaned around the two ditch termini that define the north-eastern entrance to the camp, a number of interesting features on an unusual alignment began to appear. These may be contemporary defensive features or later intrusions and will be investigated later in the excavation.

Features within the NE entrance to the camp.

Features within the NE entrance to the camp.

By the end of the day, the site was far more workable and it was good to have opened up a second front. We were even treated to a visit by the site cat!

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‘Draw me like one of your French girls…’

The week two, day two team.

The week two, day two team.

By midweek, the site was back to its usual baked hard self and the sun was shining again!

The sun returns

The sun returns

As work resumed on the ditch slots to the south-east, a fascinating discovery was made in Chris and Russell’s slot! What had been thought to be the base of the ditch was now clearly a ‘false bottom’ (classic archaeological terminology…) and there was still more fill to excavate. As this material was peeled away, the angle of the ditch edges changed abruptly, becoming far steeper – we were looking at an ankle breaker.

Chris and Russell's newly discovered 'ankle breaker'

Chris and Russell’s newly discovered ‘ankle breaker’ under excavation.

Ankle breaker ditches are a classic feature of Roman fortifications and they frequently prompt fierce debate. Some believe that they are primarily defensive, some that they aid drainage, others believe that they are purely a product of ditch bases being repeatedly cleaned out. The truth of the matter is likely to be a combination of all three.

Chris and Russell celebrate their discovery.

Chris and Russell celebrate their discovery.

As a defensive feature, ankle breakers are delightfully macabre in their simplicity. Anyone attempting to charge the defences would be forced to run to the base of the ditch before climbing the bank. With an ankle breaker at the base of the ditch, it would be all too easy for your foot to slide into the base and wedge in place while your forward momentum carries your body to the other side of the ditch – at this point you would be likely to hear the gruesome crack of breaking bone…

Even if you were to adopt a more cautious approach, your reduced speed would make you a far easier target for defenders!

The discovery of this style of ditch is quite telling. Whether the feature was cut for drainage or defence (or both!), our defences are clearly more substantial and considered than at the neighbouring Camp 2. Could we be looking at a more long-lived defensive position? Needless to say, the day ended on a high note!

The week two, day three team.

The week two, day three team.

Thursday of week two saw more exciting developments! At the southern extreme of the site, a ditch slot close to the trench edge was proving difficult to pin down. Ian asked Clive and Chris to step into the base of their slots to provide a reference point over distance and as they did so, it appeared that there is a slight kink in the line of the defences. It is possible that another defended entrance into the camp may lie close-by, as work progresses on the southern ditch slot next week, we hope to solve this riddle.

Looking along the line of the ditch.

Looking along the line of the ditch.

With Chris and Clive’s ‘false bottom’ now removed, their slot was nearing completion. Cleaning out the narrow base of the cut without leaving bootprints was proving tricky, so Ian lent a hand with an unconventional technique…

Careful now!

Careful now!

The completed section revealed not only a second ankle breaker, but also an interesting sequence of infilling. All told, five fills are visible. At the base of the ankle breaker, a layer made up of thin lenses of clay and silts represents the ditch being open to the elements and natural processes of erosion creating the first event of infilling. Overlying this is a thin layer of dark, organic material which is particularly interesting as it most likely relates to the use of the camp. The organic nature of the soil could derive from decayed refuse thrown into the ditch by the inhabitants of the camp. An environmental sample of the deposit may tell us more about what was happening inside the camp.

Clive and Brian's ditch slot.

Clive and Brian’s ditch slot.

The mixed yellow and brown layer above the dark deposit show the camp being deliberately slighted as the legionaries abandoned the site. The bank was clearly pushed into the ditch to avoid the camp falling into enemy hands. Finally, with the ditch at this point in time only a shallow depression, the feature appears to have slowly filled in with naturally accumulating grey-brown silts over a long period of time.

All of the above is strong evidence that the camp was not a short-lived practice camp and may have served a genuine strategic, if short-term purpose.

Emma recording her pit cut.

Emma recording her pit cut.

Inside the camp, the team continued to investigate a number of features. Emma completed work on a truncated pit cut with a rich, black backfill. The feature would have originally been around a metre deep before being heavily damaged by later ploughing and the stadium construction. The organic fill suggests that we may have come across one of the camp’s cesspits. Again, this deposit will be an excellent candidate for an environmental sample and could even shed new light on the diet and lifestyle of the legionaries.

Imogen and Maddy cleaning up another cut feature.

Imogen and Maddy cleaning up another cut feature.

Another nearby pit had a similarly organic fill and as we excavate more of these features, we hope to learn more about how the camp was organised.

The week two, day four team.

The week two, day four team.

Week two ended as busily as it began, with work continuing in various features. As each of these were completed, more and more recording was required, all of which kept the team very busy!

Maddy and Manda surveying in another feature.

Maddy and Manda surveying in another feature.

It wasn’t all recording though, as several new features were started, including what appears to be another cesspit.

Pam and Heather take a break from excavating their cesspit.

Pam and Heather take a break from excavating their cesspit.

Slots were also started through two of our ridge and furrow plough scars, revealing an interesting assemblage of post-medieval pottery.

Emma and Patricia excavating a plough scar.

Emma and Patricia excavating a plough scar.

As packing up time arrived, we had officially reached the halfway point of the excavation. Two fantastic weeks of archaeology have revealed that the camp may be more than a simple practice exercise. We have substantial ditches with a uniform ankle breaker profile and possible evidence of cess and waste disposal on the interior. There is clearly more to this camp than meets the eye!

As we enter the second fortnight of the excavation, we must thank all of our volunteers for their fantastic work! Dig York Stadium has been set up to engage local people from day one and it’s been wonderful to see the story of the site begin to come together.

The week two, day five team.

The week two, day five team.

We’re on-site for another two weeks with open days each Friday, so make sure to visit the site if you’re in the area! We also post daily updates via Twitter and Facebook.

There are more discoveries to make yet so watch this space.

Onwards and downwards!

– Arran

Moving the Goalposts: Machine Excavation at Huntington Stadium

Community Stadium logo_Arran

On May 19th 2015, YAT archaeologists Jane McComish and Arran Johnson broke ground at Huntington Stadium. Lifting the first bucket load of turf was a big moment for all of the Dig York Stadium team as it marked a culmination of many months of hard work and research and offered a chance to answer questions that date back much further. The day had finally arrived when we could find out once and for all whether the Roman encampment that we know once occupied the site had survived the 1989 construction of the stadium.

But what led us to suspect that the camp was here?

Looking down on the Monks Cross area in 1953.

Looking down on the Monks Cross area in 1953. Image courtesy of English Heritage.

Back in 2002, an English Heritage aerial reconnaissance team flew over the area and noticed a series of rectangular earthworks beneath them. This moment of serendipity triggered renewed interest in the area and a trawl through the archives revealed that this was not the first time the site had been photographed from above.

In 1953, the RAF were coming to the end of an aerial survey of post-war Britain and had created a huge archive of photographs. When the EH team tracked down their shot of Huntington, the defences of Camps 1 and 2 were both clearly visible.

RAF_540_613_LN1216_5009 ROman camp previously excavated

The same image with the earthworks highlighted.

Both enclosures had survived many centuries of agriculture, but by 2003 Camp 2 was under threat from redevelopment and Camp 1 was half buried beneath Huntington Stadium.

Aerial view of YAT's 2003 excavation of the neighbouring Roman camp.

Aerial view of YAT’s 2003 excavation of the neighbouring Roman camp.

In advance of the expansion of the Monks Cross shopping centre, Camp 2 was excavated by YAT in 2003 and details of the excavation can be found at https://digyorkstadium.wordpress.com/2014/11/12/dig-york-stadium-archaeological-background/

The undisturbed half of Camp 1 (visible below the stadium in the image above) became protected as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The rest of the camp would spend 26 years lying in wait beneath the stands and turf of the stadium, its secrets remaining firmly intact, until now!

YAT's Jayne Rimmeer leading an archive research session.

YAT’s Jayne Rimmeer leading an archive research session.

Since February, the Dig York Stadium team and our army of local volunteers have been investigating the history of the site. Archives, site reports and old maps have been scoured for information and a geophysical survey of the site has been carried out.

When the geophysics results were processed, a distinct contrast was immediately apparent. Outside of the stadium, a clear response revealed the classic playing card shape of a Roman marching camp, under the pitch however – very little. After much squinting, head scratching and postulating, two distinct possibilities emerged:

1. The 600mm of gravel, sand and topsoil that make up the pitch was rendering the underlying archaeology invisible to the survey equipment.

2. The archaeology had been destroyed when the stadium was built in 1989.

Geophysics results overlaid on a Google Earth view of the site.

Geophysics results overlaid on a Google Earth view of the site.

With this in mind, it was with some trepidation that Jane and Arran led a pair of 32 ton mechanical excavators and four dumper trucks over the turf. After all this research, were we really going to draw a blank?

Excavation begins!

Excavation begins!

As the various materials that make up the playing surface are going to be re-used during the community Stadium development, the excavation had to be done in stages.

De-turfing in progress.

De-turfing in progress.

First, strips of turf and topsoil were lifted and stockpiled, then the underlying sand and finally the base of gravel. Only when these three layers had been removed could we begin to see what survived beneath the pitch.

20th century field drains beneath the pitch.

20th century field drains beneath the pitch.

At first, the results weren’t particularly thrilling. Gravel filled drains associated with the laying of the pitch were the only features to be immediately apparent in a desert of natural grey and yellow clay. To add to Jane and Arran’s woes, it then began to rain.

All, however, was far from lost. Not far from the steel stanchions of the north-east goal posts, a sudden change appeared. As the machine cleared away another strip of gravel, the clouds parted and the clear line of a substantial ditch appeared, precisely where we had hoped it would be!

The NE ditch of Huntington Camp 1 is revealed!

The NE ditch of Huntington Camp 1 is revealed!

As the machines continued to carefully remove the layers of overburden, more and more of the feature was revealed and it quickly became apparent that not only had our camp survived, but it was in wonderful condition! Later in the week, Arran and Jane were joined by Dave Dodwell, one of our Dig York Stadium volunteers. A keen low level aerial photographer, Dave used a telescopic pole and a kite to produce some wonderful views of our new discovery.

SE facing view of the NE ditch. Image courtesy of @watertowers https://www.flickr.com/photos/22260522@N06/

SE facing view of the NE ditch. Image courtesy of @watertowers https://www.flickr.com/photos/22260522@N06/

Criss-crossed by field drains and medieval ridge and furrow ploughing, the ditch survives to almost 3m in width and stands out beautifully from the natural clays. A gap in the defences, visible above the left hand goal post in the above image, marks the position of an entrance into the encampment.

As work progressed, we captured more and more fantastic images of the camp as it was exposed.

A kite's view of the camp defences courtesy of @watertowers https://www.flickr.com/photos/22260522@N06/

A kite’s view of the camp defences courtesy of @watertowers https://www.flickr.com/photos/22260522@N06/

Within the ditch, a number of features survive that may represent the remains of a timber palisade, pits and post holes, giving us a lot of archaeology to investigate in the coming weeks.

Overlaid on the geophysics, it is clear that the pitch surface had almost entirely hidden the remains of the camp. However, the combined results have allowed us to see the whole outline of the fortifications for the first time in almost two millennia.

Excavation and geophysics results combined.

Excavation and geophysics results combined.

So, the pitch has been lifted and we now know that we have some amazing archaeology to investigate and a lot of questions to answer. Unlike Camp 2, which was somewhat irregular in its shape and construction, our camp is neatly laid out to a classic design. The ditch is larger and its backfill is dark and organic – this suggests that it filled up over some time as opposed to being deliberately backfilled.

Arran and Jane monitoring machine excavation.

Arran and Jane monitoring machine excavation.

If Camp 2 was a constructed as a practice exercise, was our camp a true marching camp? Did soldiers stop off here while marching beyond the frontier of Eboracum to the ‘barbarous north’? How long was the site occupied for? When was it built and demolished? Does any evidence of what was happening within the defences survive?

Over the next four weeks, the Dig York Stadium team will aim to provide some answers to our many questions about the site. We will post regular updates and detail each discovery as it is made, so you can follow us every step of the way!

None of this would have been possible without the hard work of our community volunteer team and all at YAT are happy to report that we are going to be rewarded with some fantastic archaeology. This will be a major excavation, shedding light on a period of York’s history that remains shrouded in mystery. This coming Monday, Dig York Stadium is go!

See you in the trench!

-Arran

Ian, Jane and Arran. 3/4 of the Dig York Stadium team.

Ian, Jane and Arran. 3/4 of the Dig York Stadium team.

Study Sessions & Open Days

Community Stadium logo_ArranAs the old adage goes, archaeology is a mongrel discipline. Putting down roots in an era of 18th and 19th century antiquarian fervour, the practice was tempered by the application of more rigorous methodologies and scientific advances over the course of the past century. This progression eventually left us with the collaborative, inter-disciplinary process that we know today – a process that excavation is just one small part of.

The site as it presently appears. Image courtesy of @watertowers https://www.flickr.com/photos/22260522@N06/16660780832/

The site as it presently appears. Image courtesy of @watertowers https://www.flickr.com/photos/22260522@N06/16660780832/

At York Archaeological Trust, field archaeologists work alongside an array of specialists, from conservators and bio-archaeologists to ceramics experts and architectural historians. This not only allows us to extract as much information as possible from the material we deal with on-site, but also to consult as many resources as possible to help us consider the site in its broader context.

Throughout the Dig York Stadium community archaeology project, we have endeavoured to reflect this collaborative approach by involving our volunteers in each and every stage of our investigation of the site. From days spent carrying a magnetometer across a rugby pitch to trawling through old maps in the  Explore York archives, local enthusiasts have been integral to the process and we’re happy to announce an exciting new opportunity to get involved with the project.

On each Friday of our four week community excavation, we will be opening up the site to visitors between the hours of 11am and 3pm. The site can be accessed via the car park between the Waterworld site and the F1 karting building and tour guides will be on hand to show you our latest discoveries. 

Google Earth view of the site, the visitor entrance is marked in red.

Google Earth view of the site, the visitor entrance is marked in red.

In addition to this, archaeologists and specialists from York Archaeological Trust will be holding a series of study sessions on each Friday afternoon during the excavation. These will take place at the Huntington Memorial Hall (http://www.hmh.org.uk/) between 1.30 and 3.30pm and have been designed to introduce people to the different ways archaeology can be discovered and analysed and some of the many ways that the findings of surveys and excavations can be presented.

The sessions will complement the Community Excavation but can also be enjoyed separately from it by anyone who is interested in learning how to research the past and tell new stories about it.

Session 1: 29th May 2015

Discovering archaeology: reconnaissance and landscapes

Exploring the Prehistoric and Roman archaeology of Monk’s Cross

Ian Milsted

Ian will introduce you to the techniques of discovering new archaeological sites and tell the story of how the Roman camps at Monk’s Cross were re-discovered. After a break, he will show how these camps fit in the wider Prehistoric and Roman landscapes of this part of York and introduce the research questions that inform the current excavation.

Session 2: 5th June 2015

Finding things: identifying artefacts in archaeology

Pottery and small finds identification and analysis

Anne Jenner, Nienke Van Doorn

Anne will introduce you to the Roman pottery of York and the region, looking at how and where different pottery types are made and used and what it can tell us about life in the Roman period. Nienke will introduce you to the different types of small find typically found in York and look these are identified and handled during the excavation process. These sessions will be run twice concurrently with a break to allow everyone to see both presentations.

Session 3: 12th June 2015

Putting together the story: archaeological analysis

Analysing archaeological information spatially and in sequence

Karen Weston, Gary Millward

Gary will introduce the process of taking all the carefully recorded information from the excavation and organising it into a sequence, He will then describe how we use dating and spatial information to understand this sequence and put together the story. Karen will introduce how to understand archaeological information spatially, using traditional methods and GIS to put together drawn records with the evidence from pottery and other finds and understand how the site may have worked.

These sessions will be run twice concurrently with a break to allow everyone to see both presentations.

Session 4: 19th June 2015

Telling the story: public interpretation of archaeology

Reviewing what we have discovered and exploring how to present it

JORVIK team, Ian Milsted

The JORVIK team will introduce the different ways in which archaeological stories can be presented to the public and will invite the group to start thinking about how to present the information from the excavation. Ian will present a brief summary of the discoveries made during the excavation along with the information gathered by the geophysics and documentary research sessions already undertaken.

These sessions will be free to attend, but spaces are limited and in high demand. Please contact digyorkstadium@yorkat.co.uk to book a place.

Members of the Dig York Stadium geophysics team

Members of the Dig York Stadium geophysics team

We began this post by looking at the many different areas of research that make up modern archaeology. The Dig York Stadium study days are an opportunity to learn more about how these specialisms come together to bring us closer to the lives of the people who lived, worked and died in York before us.

Once again, spaces will be limited so get in touch with us at digyorkstadium@yorkat.co.uk to get involved!

The YAT team will be on-site next week machine excavating the pitch and exposing the archaeology. From May 25th onwards, the shovels, hoes and trowels of our community volunteers will be called into action as the excavation begins. We will be putting detailed site diaries online at the end of each week and tweeting each discovery as it is made via https://twitter.com/digyorkstadium 

Watch this space for updates!

– Arran, Jane, Ian and Toby

The Dig York Stadium Team

Setting the Scene: Archive Research Sessions

Community Stadium logo_ArranHow has the area to the south of Huntington developed over time? What archaeological work has already taken place there? What do we know about the history of sport and supporters’ clubs in York? These are some of the many questions that a bright and eager group of York residents, students, professionals, and local history and archaeology enthusiasts set out to investigate in the Introduction to Research sessions organised by York Archaeological Trust as part of the Community Stadium project in March 2015.

Held in association with York Explore Library and Archives, City of York Council, and JORVIK DIG, the aim of the research sessions were to provide workshop-based training in archive study, online historical resources, and the Historic Environment Record for York. By looking at the broader history of Huntington and the wider context of sport in York, we also sought to expand our current knowledge and understanding beyond the area of excavation, and to enthuse and encourage the public to get involved in the project through documentary and archaeological research. The sessions were fully booked up and attended by 30 people over three days.

The archive sessions were held at the newly-refurbished York Explore Library and Archives and provided the opportunity for participants to explore historic maps and plans, written records dating to the 19th century, and photographs which detailed the history of sport in York.

The research team hard at work in the York Explore archives.

The research team hard at work in the York Explore archives.

Training was also given on how to use the local newspaper archive held on microfilm and online through The British Newspaper Archive.

Computer research at York Explore.

Computer research at York Explore.

York Archaeological Trust’s newly-created archaeology library at JORVIK DIG presented the ideal venue for the investigation of the historic environment in and around Huntington Stadium.

Researching the site's archaeological background at Dig.

Researching the site’s archaeological background at Dig.

Training was provided in how the Historic Environment Record database for York (a system recording information about monuments, historic landscapes and buildings) can be searched and interrogated for known archaeological activity in and  around the site of the new Community Stadium.

Previous YAT site reports provided some valuable background information.

Previous YAT site reports provided some valuable background information.

A number of themes and avenues for further examination emerged during the research sessions. In studying the historic maps and identifying landscape features and buildings, it became clear that the new Community Stadium is located in an area known historically as Huntington South Moor, which was characterised by open fields and scattered farms.

DSCF1705

Part of the 1852 OS map showing the Huntington Stadium site.

The current field pattern probably dates to 18th- or early 19th-century enclosure, though ridge and furrow dating to the medieval and post-medieval periods suggests long-term ploughing in the area. A number of lanes providing access through the landscape: New Lane, Jockey Lane, Brecks Lane and Butters Lane.  The 1852 map indicated that New Lane was formerly known as South Lane – an discovery which has important implications for any future historical research into the area. Huntington Grange, a listed building dating to the 18th century, is one of few surviving historic farms in the area.

In comparing the historic maps with aerial photographs taken in the 1930s, 1950s and 1980s, it became clear that the character of the area to the south of Huntington has changed significantly in the last 30 years. A high number of archaeological investigations have recently taken place ahead of new residential, commercial and industrial developments. Jockey Lane was extended in the 1980s to link New Lane and Malton Road, and to facilitate the busy out-of-town commercial area of Monks Cross.

Aerial view of YAT's 2003 excavation of the neighbouring Roman camp.

Aerial view of YAT’s 2003 excavation of the neighbouring Roman camp. Jockey Lane runs along the left side of the image.

The aerial photographs also showed the surviving Roman archaeology of Camp 1, and its relationship with the present field boundaries. A number of questions were raised about the Roman road network and possible routes between the fortress and the two camps identified in Huntington. Groves Lane, the suggested line of a road from the supposed north-east gate of the Roman Legionary fortress (Porta Decumana) has survived as a modern street and runs in a north-easterly direction, seemly towards the two camps.

The newspaper articles shed some light on the history of sport in York, along with a box of records in York Explore Archives relating to York City Knights and the Huntington Stadium.  The Huntington Stadium (formerly known as the Ryedale Stadium) was built in 1989. The York City Knights had previously occupied a stadium in Clarence Street in central York. Among the records were a series of photographs taken in the 1980s which documented the construction of the new stadium and showed one of the last games played at the former ground in Clarence Street . These relatively recent images captured an important moment in the club’s history, as well as showing how the location of sporting grounds in York has changed over time.

In addition to the historical and archaeological records , further information about the development of the Huntington area was identified by members of the group who had either lived there for several years, or knew the area well. Personal recollections shed light on former buildings such as the brewery on New Lane, which was built in the early 20th century and demolished to make way for the new housing development. Brewery Cottages on New Lane were purportedly built to house the employees of the brewery and now represent the final vestiges of this industry.

The archive and research sessions have highlighted the power of group research. This was shown in the sheer amount of information that was unearthed in a small timeframe, but also in the volume and sophistication of questions asked of the evidence, and the unique insights brought by a group with a broad knowledge-base and wide-ranging backgrounds.  Everyone who took part in the research sessions brought a fresh pair of eyes to the historical and archaeological evidence, which will in turn prove invaluable in assisting with the analysis and interpretation of the archaeology uncovered in excavation.

We’d be interested to hear from anyone with information about the development of Huntington South Moor, the history of sport in York, or with any memories or recollections of the area. Please get in touch: digyorkstadium@yorkat.co.uk

Jayne Rimmer

Further information:

York Historic Environment Record (HER):

http://www.york.gov.uk/info/200584/sites_and_ancient_monuments/446/sites_and_ancient_monuments/2

York Explore Library and Archives:

https://www.exploreyork.org.uk/client/en_GB/default/

JORVIK DIG:

http://digyork.com/