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:

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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