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

 

 

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