Geophysics Results: ‘Beyond the Stadium’

Community Stadium logo_ArranDuring the construction of the present Huntington Stadium back in 1989, the site’s distant past as a Roman military camp was not yet known known. Construction work began and no-one was any the wiser of the site’s historic importance. Going back further, a number of earthwork sites to the north of York were mentioned in the work of 18th century antiquarians W. Stukeley and F. Drake, although precise locations of the camps weren’t given in most cases.

The first real documentation of the camp’s existence came during an aerial survey of the area by the RAF in the early 1950s. The site was clearly visible in the photographs, but would not be noticed until March 2002, when it was spotted by English Heritage archaeologists. This image taken by Anthony Crawshaw in 2003 shows the YAT excavation of the neighbouring Camp 2 nearing completion, with the earthworks of Camp 1 visible in the field below the stadium.

YAT's 2003 excavation of the neighbouring Roman camp.

YAT’s 2003 excavation of the neighbouring Roman camp.

These earthworks clearly follow the same orientation as those of Camp 2 and have the potential for some fascinating results. After completing their survey of the stadium pitch, our team of geophysics volunteers were keen to turn their attention to these remains of Camp 1 that extend beyond the stadium. While we cannot excavate this part of the camp, we can take a non-intrusive look beneath the topsoil through geophysical survey.

This area of the camp is a scheduled ancient monument, meaning that it is protected by law and will be preserved as it presently is in the ground. Lowland fortifications of this period are not common finds, the majority having been destroyed by centuries of ploughing or redevelopment – so we are very lucky to have this level of survival!

Laying out grids in high wind.

The geophysics team setting up a new grid square.

Between March 25th and 26th, our team of intrepid volunteers braved high winds and the watchful gaze of local sheep to carry out a full resistivity survey of the scheduled monument. As the team arrived on site, the earthworks were immediately recognisable on the ground. While the defensive bank only stands to around 20cm in height, the grass grows greener on its crest, making it stand out clearly.

The line of the Roman bank can be followed by the greener grass.

The line of the Roman bank can be followed by the greener grass.

This trend is even clearer with a little digital assistance. Low banks of medieval ridge and furrow ploughing can also be seen running left to right (marked red).

The bank of the Roman camp highlighted in white.

The bank of the Roman camp highlighted in white.

With the unpredictable weather of the British springtime in full effect, the team got to work. High winds and overgrowth made the task a little tricky, but a whopping 22 grid squares measuring 20m x 20m were surveyed!

Resistivity survey in action.

Resistivity survey in action.

Not even ill-placed trees could get in the way…

YAT's Jon Kenny leading the charge.

YAT’s Jon Kenny leading the charge.

With the data gathered, our community archaeologist Jon Kenny began to look at the results. Whereas the archaeology in the stadium is highly disturbed and masked by 600mm of rugby pitch, the area of the scheduled monument is in amazing condition. While it was ploughed and cultivated in the medieval period, it seems to have been used only as pasture in the intervening centuries. This means that the site has avoided damage from deep modern ploughing and the geophysics results therefore needed little interpretation!

huntres crop


The western corner of the camp is clearly visible in a high resistance response. This appears as a dark curvilinear, complete with the curved edge of the rectangle that is so typical of Roman marching camps. The high resistance response suggests compacted ground, which makes it highly likely that the dark curvilinear represents the bank of the camp as opposed to the ditch. Loose backfill material within a ditch would offer less response to an electrical current and therefore result in a lighter image. Defensive ditches almost always lay outside of the bank, whether or not the ditch is visible in a lighter response on the left side of the curvilinear bank is up to debate. What do you think?

The parallel lines running up and down the image represent medieval ridge and furrow ploughing. Overlaid on an aerial view of the site, the results make a lot of sense, sitting right where we would expect them to be.

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

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

Also appearing on the above overlay are the results from our February survey of the stadium pitch. It is immediately apparent that the responses from beneath the pitch are far more subtle. But why is this?

The overlay below includes our preliminary interpretation of the results, showing where we thought we had spotted trends that may indicate the presence of Roman defences.

Geophysics and interpretation.

Geophysics and interpretation. (Yellow lines represent a modern feature.)

The subtle responses we had interpreted as camp defences now seem less likely as they don’t quite fit with the orientation of the defences seen in the latest survey. Whether these responses are from an earlier phase of activity, or the remnants of internal features, will only be known when we excavate – but it is clear that we have no clear response from beneath the pitch. There are two possible explanations for this:

– The 600mm of turf, soil, gravel and sand that make up the pitch may have hidden more deeply buried features from the geophysics equipment.

– The remains of the camp were entirely destroyed by the construction of the stadium.

Both of these possibilities are entirely plausible, only by stripping away the overburden will we find the answer. The English Heritage scheduled monument register estimates the bank to be 6-7m in width, it is likely that this will have been destroyed by the construction of the stadium. The ditch however, is thought to be 6-10m in width and potentially 2m in depth. Elements of this are more likely to have survived the 1989 works and it is the backfills of the ditch that have the most potential to tell us about what the camp was built for and how it was used.

The defences of Huntington Camp 2 under excavation in 2003. Image copyright York Archaeological Trust

The defences of Huntington Camp 2 under excavation in 2003. Image copyright York Archaeological Trust

Looking back at the excavation of the neighbouring Camp 2 in 2003, we can clearly see substantial remains of defensive ditches. Admittedly, these had never been disturbed by building works, but they had been subject to intensive deep ploughing, something we believe Camp 1 to have escaped.

So, will we find the remains of the camp? Or will the banks and ditches have been lost to the 1989 building work? We’ll have to wait until May 25th to find out!

Thanks to the wonderful work by our community volunteer team, we now know a lot more about the remains of our camp that lie beyond the stadium and as we move through the spring, we will continue to add more depth and colour to the story of this remarkable site.

See you in the trench!

– Arran


March Update

Community Stadium logo_ArranAs the days grow longer and York’s ramparts begin to disappear beneath a carpet of daffodils, the scent of spring is undoubtedly in the air and the Community Stadium excavation is drawing close!

British Railways advertisement, 1950.

British Railways advertisement, 1950.

When City of York Council and York Archaeological Trust first met to discuss the possibility of a community archaeology project at Huntington Stadium, the key focus was always to maximise the site’s archaeological and cultural value. This means getting people involved and we’re happy to report that the level of interest shown by the public has been nothing short of overwhelming!

In February, YAT archaeologist Dr. Jon Kenny led a team of volunteers in carrying out a full geophysical survey of the pitch to ascertain whether anything of our Roman camp survived the construction of the stadium in 1989. Comprising an equal mix of experienced amateur geophysicists and absolute beginners, the team completed the survey in just three days and found some intriguing results.

The Day Three geophysics team

The Day Three geophysics team

As expected, the gradiometer struggled to see through the layers of sand and gravel bedding beneath the turf, but the resistivity meter revealed some (fairly) clear responses. Whether we are looking at modern drains or defensive structures dating back two millennia will only be known for sure when the excavation begins, but the L-shaped linear feature pictured below is certainly situated where we would expect to find the camp’s south-east corner. Jon and the team will be returning to the site to survey the parts of the camp that extend beyond the stadium next week. This will put our findings into greater context and therefore make them easier to interpret. We’ll post the results as soon as they’re processed.

Reistivity survey with highlighted trends

Reistivity survey with highlighted trends.

Next week, YAT buildings archaeologist and historian Dr. Jayne Rimmer will be training a group of over thirty volunteers in how to utilise city archives and the Heritage Environment Record (HER) to find out more about a site’s historic past. The team will then begin a scheme of ongoing research to learn as much as possible about how the site has changed over the years, what different activities have taken place there and how it sits in relation to the broader history of sport in York. Hopefully the team will uncover some wonderful stories to complement the findings of the excavation and to fully understand the Stadium’s more recent past.

Due to the City Council’s commitment to providing new facilities to the City of York Athletic Club, the dates for the excavation have been moved back slightly to begin in late May. The dig will run for four weeks  and is now almost fully stocked with local volunteers. To enquire after any remaining spaces, please contact us via

A pre-excavation shot of the hallowed turf. Image courtesy of @watertowers

A pre-excavation shot of the hallowed turf. Image courtesy of @watertowers

Community archaeology projects are becoming increasingly common, as archaeologists and developers look to harness the potential benefits of their construction sites. The Dig York Stadium project will allow people from the York area to make a direct connection with their past. Whether this is through hands on, good old fashioned excavation on site or through painstaking study of historic documents in the York Explore archives, the process will encourage and empower people to be active participants in the continuing development of their community. After all, as the old cliché goes, how can we know where we are going, if we don’t know where we’ve been.

So, the waiting is nearly over. In just over two months, we’ll be beginning to solve a mystery older than the Minster and the medieval City Walls combined. Does our camp survive beneath the pitch? When and why was it built? How and when was it abandoned. Watch this space for regular updates on the latest discoveries by our marvellous team of volunteers. We’ll be live-tweeting the progress of the excavation via and putting plenty of photos and info on our facebook group at

Location of Camp 1, Camp 2 and earlier archaeology.

Projected location of Camp 1 and confirmed location of Camp 2 and earlier archaeology.

Geophysics at Huntington Stadium

Community Stadium logo_ArranThe Romans were an industrious bunch, peppering the isles of Britannia with forts, roads and villas and introducing a whole new way of life to a land that already boasted a rich and ancient culture. The story of the Roman invasion is one that still prompts heated debate between historians and archaeologists. Each year, new discoveries are made that add ambiguity to the antiquarian view of a brutal takeover. The supposed war graves of Maiden Castle and the scorched earth of the Boudican revolt contrast sharply with the friendly welcome given to the Legions by the Atrebates in modern Sussex. Clearly, something far more complex was happening in the middle of the first century AD.

The Multiangular Tower in York, the best surviving part of the Roman defences.

The Multiangular Tower in York, the best surviving part of the Roman defences.

In York, we are lucky enough to play home to a wealth of Roman archaeology. Recent discoveries at sites such as Hungate and Driffield Terrace are constantly revising our view of the period. We know that the defences of the city then known as Eboracum were imposing, but we also know that Roman York was flooded with luxury goods from across the empire. As a staging point for military forays to the north and an increasingly important centre of trade, Eboracum reveals an interesting juxtaposition of the military and economic might of the Roman Empire.

Our Roman camp , visible in cropmarks to the left of the stadium. Image courtesy of @watertowers

Our Roman camp , visible in earthworks to the left of the stadium. Image courtesy of @watertowers

The Dig York Stadium community archaeology project aims to shed new light on the workings of the Roman city of York and its relationship with its hinterlands. To the north of York, there can be found the remains of many forts and encampments, both permanent and temporary. Our excavation beneath the pitch of Huntington Stadium hopes to locate a Roman camp that has been identified by earthworks visible in aerial photographs. We hope to find out when it was built and why, what evidence remains for activities within the camp and when was it abandoned.

It will be fascinating to be able to suggest whether the camp was used to house troops moving north, or to train soliders based in Eboracum. To do this however, first we must find the fort! You need a bit of luck in archaeology. For a Roman feature to survive in the ground, it must remain untouched by the foundations, drains, ditches, pits and every other intrusion of the intervening centuries. We know that the construction of Huntington Stadium will have damaged the encampment as it was yet to be discovered when the stadium was built. Has all trace of our camp been lost? Enter the geophysics team to find out.

The Day Three geophysics team

The Day Three geophysics team

During the last week of February we were joined by a team of local volunteers to take a look beneath the pitch and find out whether any archaeological remains are present. The team braved some rather changeable weather and carried out a full geophysical survey of the whole pitch in just three days. Two types of detection were employed – a resistivity meter, which measures the response of an electrical signal sent into the soil and a magnetometer, which detects changes in the magnetic field below the ground.

The team in action, resistivity in the background and the magnetometer in the foreground.

The team in action, resistivity in the background and the magnetometer in the foreground.

It was immediately apparent that a good amount of material had been stripped to accommodate a bedding layer for the pitch and that numerous drains run beneath the turf. The magnetometer produced somewhat fuzzy results, while the resistance meter detected much stronger responses.

Resistivity survey in action.

Resistivity survey in action.

The varied results of the survey actually make quite a lot of sense. If a camp is defined by banks and ditches, the backfilled ditches will contain looser material than the surrounding natural clays. As a result, water will move more freely through the ditch backfill and it is this moisture content that will allow an electrical current to pass through it with less resistance. When the readings from the whole pitch are compared, it is possible to see whether or not the responses form a cohesive pattern, such as the line of the ditch.

YAT's Jon Kenny leading the geophysical charge.

YAT’s Jon Kenny leading the geophysical charge.

By contrast, the magnetometer seeks changes in magnetic responses in the ground. While disturbed ground (i.e. ditch backfills) will have a slightly different magnetic field to intact natural material, a stronger response will be given by features containing metals, areas of burning and more substantial structures. In short, you’re generally more likely to locate a ditch with resistance survey than magnetometry.

So what did we find?

Here you can see the image produced by the magnetometer survey. As explained above our expectations of a clear and definitive picture of any archaeological remains were not high. This has turned out to be very much the case.

The magnetometer survey results

The magnetometer survey results

As luck would have it, the resistivity survey results have been significantly more illuminating. The extent of the survey across the rugby pitch can be seen below.

Resistivity survey results

Resistivity survey results

On first inspection the results of the resistivity survey look a bit fuzzy and inconclusive, but once you get you eye in the image above actually show us quite a lot. Bear in mind that what we are looking for are changes in contrast that reveal trends or patterns. The survey grid consists of squares measuring 20m x 20m. Seen below this and by far the most obvious feature is the rugby pitch itself. This is perhaps not too much of a surprise considering there is around 600mm of compact sand and gravel under the pitch! This bedding material has given a very dark response along the edges of the field, perhaps where it is more compact. The under pitch drainage can be seen as straight pale lines, mostly running across the width of the pitch (top to bottom in the picture), with one or two running the length of the pitch as well. Below you will find a couple of slightly different interpretations of the anomalies that have been  identified. One of the great things about archaeology is the scope for different interpretations and the resulting discussions you can have.

Alan Powell's interpretation of the resistivity survey

Alan Powell’s interpretation of the resistivity survey

The first image is an interpretation kindly provided by Alan Powell. Alan is from the Strensall group and took part in the site survey. Here a curvilinear trend, that for the most part stands out as two pale parallel lines, can been seen to swing across the bottom of the image. This has been highlighted in orange. Alan has also picked out a faint dark trend, this time with a green line.  Running from the top right corner of the image towards the bend in the curvilinear trend, this is of particular interest as it lies broadly in line with where we had anticipated one side of the camp to be situated. An alternative take on the survey can be seen below.

Reistivity survey with highlighted trends

Resistivity survey with highlighted trends

Here, the trends that Alan had pointed out have been extrapolated in a slightly different way. Arguably the clearest trend consists of two pale, slightly curving, parallel lines seen near the bottom of the image. Its extent is shown by the green lines and matches with Alan’s interpretation. Much less distinct is a continuous ‘L’ shaped trend consisting of faint lines, which are none the less consistently darker than the readings around them. The area where these run has been highlighted in peach. How might we interpret and understand what these results are indicating? It is tempting to suggest that this ‘L’ shaped trend might be a corner of the camp. It is certainly in about the right location and it forms a right angle, more or less. The position of this anomaly is further towards the middle of the rugby pitch than we had anticipated; one suggestion is that what we can see are the remnants of the bank rather than the camp ditch.

We know that the underlying geology is very clayey, as such it is possible that the ditch has infilled with that sort of material. The result being that there is little contrast to be seen differentiating between the infilled ditch and the surrounding clayey geological material. The curvilinear trend, highlighted in green,  looks as though it deviates around the camp, and as such this is could be taken as an indication that it is likely later than the camp. This leaves us with plenty to ponder over and aid the planning of the excavation strategy. So all in all a great result from all of the hard work done by the survey team. Many thanks for all your efforts!

– Arran and Ben

Community Stadium Project: Introduction to Research

Community Stadium logo_ArranArchaeological research is a collaborative process. It utilises numerous disciplines to locate, investigate and ultimately understand a site. With this in mind, York Archaeological Trust and City of York Council are offering another exciting way to get involved with the Community Stadium project – and there are no shovels required for this one!

To truly get to grips with the story of a site, it is important to make use of all the resources that are available to you. While the geophysics and excavation teams will be exploring the physical remains beneath Huntington Stadium, we are also looking to assemble a research team that will delve into the city archives to learn more about the site’s history.

The York Explore reading room during recent refurbishment. (

The York Explore reading room during recent refurbishment. (

We are looking for volunteers to help us see what tales of the site’s past lay hidden within the archives. To this end, York Archaeological Trust historian and buildings archaeologist Dr. Jayne Rimmer will be leading a number of free to attend training sessions, teaching the team how to access and utilise historic resources. The desk-based research will focus on the site and its immediate environs, although the Community Team will also be encouraged to broaden their research to place the site in its wider context within the city, particularly with regard to Roman York.

YAT's Jayne Rimmer will be leading the research.

YAT’s Jayne Rimmer will be leading the research.

Research will also consider the history of sport in York and associated supporters clubs. In doing so it will aim to provide historical context for the proposed community stadium, enhancing its sense of place and contributing to the development of the sports archive facility planned for the Community Hub at the proposed stadium.

After the training sessions, participants will then be encouraged to undertake further research individually throughout the life of the project, with YAT staff available to answer queries. The skills acquired by the team may then be applied to their own future research projects. This is a fantastic opportunity for members of the community to get behind the scenes of the Dig York Stadium project and to help us uncover the story of this ancient site, before the next chapter begins.

The sessions will cover:

How to research:

  • the history and development of the Community Stadium Site
  • sports and associated supporters’ clubs in York

How to use:

  • historical records in archives
  • the Historic Environment Record
  • online resources for historical research

How to understand and interpret:

  • excavation reports
  • Roman archaeology
Keith Houchen scores a late FA Cup fourth round winner for YCFC against Arsenal in 1985.

Keith Houchen scores a late FA Cup fourth round winner for YCFC against Arsenal in 1985.

Training and orientation sessions will be held at :

Explore York Archives and Local History

Monday 23rd March 9.30am-12.30pm

Tuesday 24th March 1.30am-4.30pm

Wednesday 25th March 9.30am-12.30pm

These sessions will focus on how to locate and utilise resources within archive facilities.

DIG Reading Room, St. Saviourgate

Monday 23rd March 2pm-5pm

Tuesday 24th March 9.30am-12.30pm

Wednesday 25th March 2pm-5pm

These sessions will focus on applying historic research to archaeological investigations

It isn’t essential to attend both courses, although it is recommended where possible as the material covered in each course compliments the other.

Spaces are limited and will be offered on a first come, first served basis. Please contact for bookings and enquiries. 

York Archaeological Trust and City of York Council are working together to make the Dig York Stadium project a true collaboration between professional archaeologists and the people of York. Local people will be there at all points of the project, helping us to survey, excavate and research the site. Don’t miss your chance to join the team, who knows what we’ll find!

– Arran

Join the geophysics team!

Community Stadium logo_ArranWorking with City of York Council, York Archaeological Trust are looking to involve the local and broader community at every stage of the archaeological investigation of the Community Stadium site. In late February, work begins in earnest when we will be carrying out a detailed geophysical survey of the site and we’re looking for volunteers to join the geophysics team.

The site was first identified when earthworks were spotted in aerial photographs. To a keen eye these are clearly visible in the image below, aided considerably by the oblique winter sunlight.


Aerial view of the site, January 2015. Can you spot the corner of the fort? Courtesy of @watertowers

When the earthwork is highlighted, the corner of the camp is clearly visible, a remarkable survival which has lasted for almost two millennia! On the ground, these undulations are almost impossible to spot, yet from above, they leap out from the screen.

...and again with the earthworks highlighted.

…and again with the earthworks highlighted.

The aerial photography has allowed us to identify the site and hazard a guess as to the fort’s size and function. We can compare its form to other such camps in the region and start to piece together the story of the site; but this is just the beginning!

Even on temporary fortifications, the Roman legions would construct substantial defences. These banks, ditches and palisades can leave scars on the landscape that, if we’re lucky, can remain visible through the ages. What can only rarely be inferred from these wonderful photographs is what was happening inside the fort. There are countless potential features that could be found within a Roman camp; refuse pits, latrine trenches, post-holes, trackways, storage pits, ritual deposits (that old chestnut!) and many more. There could also be features that both pre-date and post-date the camp which have as yet gone un-noticed. This is where the geophysics team come in.

A community geophysics team on the North York Moors.

A community geophysics team on the North York Moors.

Using both resistivity and magnetometry, our team of volunteers will work alongside experienced professional staff to provide us with a sneak preview of what lies buried beneath the hallowed turf of the Huntington Stadium. The results of the survey will inform the upcoming excavation on areas of potential importance.

The geophysical survey will take place on the 23rd, 24th and 26th of February, with the possibility of some extra sessions to be announced at a later date. No experience is required to join the team, YAT staff will be on hand to offer guidance and instruction. Sensible clothes and sturdy footwear are recommended.

The South Ainsty Archaeology Society worked with YAT's community team to investigate a possible Templar site in Copmanthorpe.

The South Ainsty Archaeology Society worked with YAT’s community team to investigate a possible Templar site in Copmanthorpe.

This is a fantastic opportunity to learn new skills, make new contacts and to work alongside experienced archaeologists and geophysicists. Mainly it is an opportunity to help us make the very first new discoveries of what is shaping up to be a fascinating community project.

To join the team, contact

Spaces are limited, so get in touch ASAP.

Dig York Stadium begins here!

– Arran

Dig York Stadium needs you!

Community Stadium logo_ArranSince 1989 Huntington Stadium has played home to countless sporting events. The old ground has seen the triumphs and tribulations of York City Knights RFC and the many achievements of the City of York Athletic Club. The story of the site however, goes back far further…

Aerial view of Huntington Stadium courtesy of @watertowers

Aerial view of Huntington Stadium courtesy of @watertowers

Throughout every night of floodlit drama, a secret has been hidden beneath the turf, a secret dating back to York’s very beginnings. This year, York Archaeological Trust aim to find out exactly what was happening here almost two millennia ago – and we want your help!

York was a very important place in the Roman period. Around AD71 it was founded by the Legio IX Hispana (9th Spanish Legion) and effectively formed the north-western frontier of the Roman Empire. By the second century, the ever expanding city of Eboracum acted as the staging point for Roman forays into the north. Away from the grand palaces and intimidating fortifications of the city, the area north of the city was peppered by the temporary forts and encampments of the now incumbent Legio VI Victrix (6th Victorious Legion). Examples have been investigated at Cawthorn, Bootham Stray and most recently, Huntington.

The defences of Huntington Camp 2 under excavation in 2003. Image copyright York Archaeological Trust

The defences of Huntington Camp 2 under excavation in 2003. Image copyright York Archaeological Trust

The fortification known as Huntington Camp 2, to the south east of Hungtinton Stadium, was excavated by YAT in 2003, yielding some fascinating results (see our earlier posts for further info). It is becoming increasingly apparent that these sites have many similarities, but just as many differences. We are revealing a landscape of military training grounds, short-term encampments during large musters and the temporary forts of armies marching north.

Location of Camp 1, Camp 2 and earlier archaeology.

Location of Camp 1, Camp 2 and earlier archaeology.

Crop marks and geophysical survey have revealed another camp (Camp 1) beneath Huntington Stadium. Our excavation aims to find out when the fort was built, how long it was occupied for and how it was used. We will also delve even further into the past, to see if the site was occupied prior to the Roman invasion.

Working with City of York Council, we want to invite members of the public to help us solve these ancient mysteries.

Between April 13th and May 22nd 2015 (Monday-Friday), we will be carrying out a six week community excavation, getting beneath the turf of the old stadium to locate the defences of Camp 1. Members of the public will have the opportunity to work alongside a team of professional archaeologists and to carry out the excavation and recording of the fort. At the end of each week, there will be site tours and the chance to take part in specialist sessions on subjects such as York’s Roman past, stratigraphic analysis and a guide to pottery dating and identification in the field.

Archaeology Live! trainees working on Roman features on Hungate.

Archaeology Live! trainees working on Roman features on Hungate.

Numbers will be limited, so get in touch with us at to book your place on the team. Please let us know which dates you would like to be on-site. Spaces will operate on a first come, first served basis – we will do our best to accommodate everyone. Local people will be given priority, although we will also accept some people from further afield.

People of all ages (16+, 14 if accompanied by a parent/guardian) are welcome and no experience is necessary – YAT archaeologists will be on hand at all times to offer guidance and support.

Personal protective equipment (PPE – Hard hats, high-visibulity vests, etc.) will be provided. A small number of safety boots will be available, although we recommend that you bring your own if possible. Steel toe-capped boots can be bought for around £20 from outlets such as Shoe Zone and Sports Direct and are a must for any budding archaeologists.

Possible Bronze Ages pits, half-excavated (Camp 2, 2003)

Possible Bronze Ages pits, half-excavated (Camp 2, 2003)

At York Archaeological Trust, we firmly believe that the thrills and excitement of archaeology shouldn’t be kept behind closed doors. Projects like Dig York Stadium and our Archaeology Live! training excavations ( aim to get as many people as possible on-site and in the trench. This is an opportunity for you to add your own pieces to the endless puzzle that is York’s past!

We’ll see you on site!

– The Dig York Stadium team

Dig York Stadium – Archaeological Background

Community Stadium logo_Arran

The Dig York Stadium project was launched today, November 12th 2014, with an event at the Mansion House, York that was attended by lots of interested people from the city.

Jon Kenny briefs the troops at the Mansion House.

Jon Kenny briefs the troops at the Mansion House.

It’s a good moment to present a summary of the archaeology at Huntington Moor, where the Community Stadium dig will take place. This is a brief introduction to what we know and what we hope to discover. As we move closer to the dig, we will post more detail about the different periods, features and research questions we could be dealing with.

What we already know about concerns two main areas: Prehistory, and the Roman period. The evidence is in the form of aerial photographs, geophysics, previous archaeological excavations and antiquarian records.

Location of Camp 1, Camp 2 and the earlier archaeology

Location of Camp 1, Camp 2 and the earlier archaeology


Prehistoric activity was identified on Huntington Moor during excavations in 2003. Evidence for activity in the Neolithic (c.4000BC to c.2000BC), Bronze Age (c.2000BC to c.1000BC) and Iron Age (c.1000BC to c.AD40) was uncovered.

A couple of large round pits were found, one of which contained Neolithic pottery. These may have been used for cooking or for storage. Other little pits and stake-holes may also be from this time but were difficult to understand as the following 4000 years had removed most of the landscape these features would originally have been part of.

A long row of 15 large, square pits was also discovered. This was thought to be Bronze Age, as it closely resembles similar features known from elsewhere. The pits measured around 2-3m across and up to 90cm deep, and were arranged in a fairly straight line from north-west to south-east. At the south-eastern end, these pits may have been dug through to create a ditch on the same line, perhaps in the Iron Age. The pits and later ditch probably represent a boundary, but for what purpose is not known. Small pieces of Roman pottery in the very top of the soil filling these pits suggests that this boundary may have survived in some form for over 1000 years.

Other features included two circular ditches about 4m across, interpreted as hayrick gullies or small livestock enclosures. Taken together, a rough picture of prehistoric settlement emerges, but it is difficult to describe in detail without looking at a bigger area.

Prehistoric archaeology has been found in increasing quantity around York in recent years and we shall explore the early landscapes around the city in a later post. The Dig York Stadium project will strip quite a large area of soil, which will increase our chances of identifying prehistoric features, so hopefully we will add to the early story of the place that became York.

Possible Bronze Ages pits, half-excavated

Possible Bronze Ages pits, half-excavated


The headline attraction of this project is the known location of a Roman camp. Aerial photos taken by English Heritage in 2002 discovered two camps on Huntington Moor, revealed as earthworks and ephemeral earthworks in the fields around the Monks Cross shopping area.

This instantly doubled the number of known camps from York, adding to the two that were already known of on Bootham Stray. Writing in the 18th century, antiquarians William Stukeley and Francis Drake (not that one) suggested that 7 or 8 camps existed in the moorland around York at that time, so increasing the known number to 4 is significant.

We will be digging within Camp 1, which mostly lies under the pitch of the existing Huntington Stadium, where York City Knights ply their trade. It is the transformation of this facility into the new York Community Stadium that will give us the chance to dig the archaeology beneath it.

Camp 2 was identified just to the south-east of the stadium and was excavated by York Archaeological Trust in 2003. This appeared as a spectacular cropmark when the field was ploughed, showing how major new discoveries can be made at any moment, often when least expected. We will post more detail about the work done here when we look more closely at the Roman landscape in a later post, but the following summery shows what we might expect to find next spring.

Detailed plan of the Camp 2 archaeology

Detailed plan of the Camp 2 archaeology

Camp 2 was found to be a near perfect rectangle measuring 133m X 118m, or 450 X 400 Roman feet (a Roman foot equates to 11.5 inches, or 29.4cm). The corners were rounded but the sides were arranged at precise right-angles and had clearly been laid out by capable surveyors.

The ditches were less carefully made. They appeared to have been dug by different gangs and were very variable in width, depth and shape. Inside the camp, an earth bank or rampart had been made using the earth dug out of the ditches. Two entrances were identified, each with a short section of ditch dug about 11m in front of it as a possible defence.

The camp was only used for a brief period in the early-mid 2nd century AD (100-150AD). Late 1st/early 2nd century pottery was found on the surface sealed beneath the rampart, providing an earliest possible date for the construction of the camp. The ditches had begun to silt up, but were then deliberately filled in with the soil from the ramp. Pottery of the 2nd century was found in this material. Finally, the shallow remains of the ditch gradually silted up, during which time more 2nd century pottery found its way into the soils, along with a tiny amount of later Roman material.

The only features found inside the camp were the prehistoric ring-gullies and postholes that were already there before the Roman soldiers arrived to build their camp. The lack of internal Roman features, and the apparently brief life of the camp ditches, suggests that it was a temporary structure and not intended for long-term use.

Camp 2 ditch: 4m wide slots excavated through it at regular intervals

Camp 2 ditch: 4m wide slots excavated through it at regular intervals

What do we hope to discover?

We hope to reveal and define the remains of Huntington Moor Camp 1, and possibly identify features relating to the earlier, prehistoric landscape. In uncovering the Roman camp, we will try to address the question of what these features were used for.

Examples of these camps are known across the country, and besides those at Bootham Stray, there are others known locally at, for example, Cawthorne Camps. There are several interpretations of this type of feature, which I will state briefly here and explore further at a later date.

  • Were they ‘marching camps’, set up by troops to use periodically on regular marches from fort to fort?
  • Were they ‘labour camps’, build to house labourers on specific construction projects?
  • Were they ‘practice camps’, constructed by teams of soldiers and surveyors to learn and practise the techniques of camp-building, and in particular specific skills such as survey and defensive design?
  • Were they ‘temporary camps’, or one-off structures, used to accommodate troops during a particular campaign?

Huntington Moor Camp 2 was tentatively interpreted as the last of these, and associated with the movement of troops from the south, though Eboracum (York) on their way up to Hadrian’s Wall in the early-mid 2nd century. It may be that a combination of the above interpretations will emerge at Camp 1, or indeed something entirely new.

What do you think?


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