A Day In Archaeology at York Archaeological Trust

On 22nd July, 2019, York Archaeological Trust participated in the Council for British Archaeology’s (CBA) ‘A Day In Archaeology’ campaign, where staff from the excavation, conservation, curation and presentation departments of the York office, shared what they were doing on the day through YAT’s Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Here is what the team got up to:

The Fieldwork Team


On a very sunny Monday morning our team are making their way to sites across Yorkshire, or to the Fieldwork offices in York. In the office, Arran is putting together a project design for a forthcoming city centre excavation that he is rather excited about. There is a lot to consider, from what tools and survey equipment to take, to making sure that all relevant safety measures are in place.


Elsewhere in the office, Lily is working on some illustrations for an assessment report, a job that requires a lot of attention to detail. The drawings detail the foundations of Tower 2 of York’s medieval City Walls, where YAT carried out a small trial pit evaluation last week. These illustrations are particularly important as they not only tell us how the walls were built, but also provide information for City of York Council’s structural engineers who are investigating potential movement in some sections of the walls. As part of an ongoing project, Mary Anne is spending time researching the history of the Yorkshire Wolds and planning a series of events that will find new ways to bring people in the area closer to their local heritage.


Elsewhere in York, Archaeologist Katie is monitoring a borehole survey. An important step in determining a site’s archaeological potential, borehole surveys involve taking core samples from across a site and putting them together to build a deposit model. A deposit model gives us a broad idea of the depths of deposits from different periods across a site, and analysis of specialist environmental samples from the cores can provide detail on the levels of preservation and quantities of organic material in the soil. This borehole survey is the first step in a site-wide evaluation that will help to advise the developers regarding what levels of further investigation may be required.


At another site, Project Supervisor Becky has been inducted and begun the first day of a watching brief on the removal of topsoil. Throughout the morning, nothing has been found of archaeological interest; nevertheless watching briefs are an important part of our team’s work. Watching briefs involve working onsite with our clients to ensure that any archaeological material affected by site works is properly recorded; particularly important in an area as archaeologically rich as York.


Away from York, Project Archaeologist Amy is on a site in West Yorkshire, working with colleagues in our Sheffield office, ArcHeritage. The site has produced some interesting industrial archaeology, but with hard digging and the hot summer sun above, Amy has needed a lot of water.

Collections and Archives

YAT’s Collections and Archives team look after the thousands of finds unearthed by the Trust over the past 47 years, as well as being responsible for the archive of archaeological records produced over the same period. This is a huge task, and our collections work closely with the Fieldwork team to receive and process the finds they excavate, as well as with staff in the Attractions, Learning and Engagement teams to ensure that this unique collection can be accessed by the public.

Adam and Jagoda

Adam and Jagoda are studying a 3D model of a statue base from excavations in Rougier Street, York in 1981. This statue base is one of the more notable finds from this Roman site and features an unusual relief of a cockerel with small bags on its back, possibly associated with the god Mercury. Using photogrammetric imaging, Adam has produced an accurate 3D representation of the statue base, which can be studied more closely and reproduced through 3D printing for public presentation or use by our Learning team.


After a quick meeting discussing the selection of finds from the collection for an upcoming exhibition, Becky goes to work in the finds room marking Roman and Medieval pottery. This pottery was excavated by the Fieldwork team during a recent watching brief that took place in the centre of York. The sherds have been carefully washed and cleaned by our finds staff and volunteers, and are now ready for marking. For each one, details of the site and context are applied using Paraloid solution and India ink.


At YAT’s Archaeological Resource Centre our Curatorial Interpretation placement Caylee, a Masters student at the University of York, is returning finds that have previously been displayed in an exhibition to their home location in our stores. Meanwhile Megan, also from the University of York, is working on a research project about the Viking comb-making process using finds from YAT’s collection. A key part of the Collections team’s work is providing access to researchers at all levels who want to use the Trust’s collections in their own research.


The conservation laboratories work on all types of archaeological material, from metal-work to waterlogged organics, from terrestrial and maritime sites, both freshly excavated and museum objects.  We provide services to external clients as well as working on our own collections and excavations and look after all the objects on display in Jorvik and elsewhere at YAT’s attractions.


In the Conservation labs Mags, our senior conservator, is working on a recently excavated ceramic vessel. Finds that need particular care are sent to the Conservation team for investigation and stabilisation, before they are suitable for storage or display. Mags uses fine tools to carefully remove the soil from this fragile Romano-British vessel.

The JORVIK Group Attractions

School’s out! It’s the first day of the summer holidays for children across Yorkshire, and many families have chosen to start off the holidays with a visit to JORVIK Viking Centre, where our interactive staff are bringing York’s Viking past to life. At JORVIK, the incredible archaeology found during the Coppergate dig is presented to the public in the form of our recreated Viking street, where details including the flora and fauna (and of course the authentic Viking smells!) are all drawn directly from Coppergate’s archaeology. In the Artefact gallery, Viking staff are explaining to visitors t vhe significance of some of the incredible objects on display and what they tell us about York’s Viking age.

Nearby at DIG: An Archaeological Adventure, family groups are experiencing their own day in archaeology. Guided by our DIG archaeologists, children and parents are guided through what an archaeologist does and are given the chance to experience the excitement of archaeological discovery for themselves in our DIG pits, based on real excavations that have taken place in York.

The Learning and Engagement Teams

Fran and Erin

As the school year draws to a close, Fran and Erin in the Learning team are putting together the finishing touches to next year’s learning offer, including new archaeology-themed outreaches and visits to an upcoming exhibition at DIG. As part of this, Erin is working on a Roman workshop that will bring this fascinating period of York’s history to life for visiting school groups, as well as Loan Boxes providing schools with resources to explore York’s past in their classrooms. Today, Fran and Erin will also prepare to send two of the interactive learning team on an outreach to a local school tomorrow, where they will help a class discover aspects of Viking life from battle to beliefs and from crafting to clothing.


In the afternoon, Community Engagement Manager Jen packs resources for a workshop. This will be a planning meeting for the Yorkshire Wolds popup museum, a project which aims to get people engaged in producing creative responses to the incredibly rich archaeology of their local area. The project is part of a Heritage Research Strategy for the Yorkshire Wolds that YAT is producing for Historic England .Jen packs the essential equipment for the brainstorming and planning session that will take place – workshop materials including maps and post-it notes, recording equipment to capture the meeting and – most importantly of all – tea, coffee and biscuits, before setting off for Driffield for the evening’s meeting.

The meeting goes very well, with many exciting ideas discussed. As the attendees discuss the history and archaeology of Driffield, themes begin to emerge of the market town as a centre of networks that spread out across the Wolds; cattle drives, railways, roads and canals, sparking ideas for artistic responses to feature in next year’s pop up museum. After a long and productive meeting, the team drive back, arriving in York late in the evening.