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An archaeological excavation was undertaken by Field Archaeology Specialists (FAS) Ltd at Fishergate House, York in association with Mike Griffiths & Associates on behalf of Shepherd Homes Ltd. Fieldwork was undertaken between November 2000 and January 2001. The excavation encountered 452 deposits dated from the Roman period to the 20th century of which 44 deposits were sampled for assessment, yielding well in excess of 605 litres of sediment. The majority of material derived from pit features, of which F64, dated to the Anglian period, was the largest and most important but ditches, post holes, cremations, a hearth and a grübenhaus were also represented. The amount of sediment taken, which ranged from 1 to 40 litres, and its subsequent treatment, depended upon the deposit and feature type, the amount of sediment available, and the potential of this material to be informative when combined with stratigraphic and dating evidence. Dependent upon their potential and volume, samples were subjected to one or both of two processing techniques of increasingly fine recovery. As a result, samples from 45 contexts was processed through flotation in a Sir~f (water recycling) tank, and fifteen tubs from fifteen contexts were retained for further analysis due to potential preserved uncharred organic content. Six of these retained samples were subjected to more detailed laboratory assessment along with six Sir~f washovers selected on the basis of archaeological importance and abundance of charred organic matter.
The aim of the excavation was to record and characterise archaeological deposits for the purpose of data retrieval in advance of their destruction through development. The aim of the sediment analysis was twofold: to maximise the amount of data recovered from the excavated sediments and, to establish the character of the archaeological sediments in terms of the presence and preservation of uncharred and charred organic material such as plants and insects that could be further studied toward the elucidation of past diet, living conditions and building materials as well as the reconstruction of site formation processes and waste disposal management.
Sir~f flotation was used for samples with potential for waterlogged preservation of organic materials, for fine charred organic matter (such as carbonised seeds and grains) or with particularly small finds. Samples were washed down within a 1mm mesh held inside a water recycling flotation (Sir~f) tank with the light fraction washed over into a 250 micron mesh. This light fraction was kept wet, as was the heavy residue if it contained uncharred organic material. Where there was evidence of uncharred material within flotation samples, and where the original sample size allowed, c. 10 litres was retained for more detailed and thorough processing and analysis. Dried residues from flotation were screened using 2mm and 5mm test sieves, producing three fractions (<2mm, 2-5mm and >5mm),all of which were retained but only the larger two were sorted for cultural and environmental objects. Wet residues were not screened or sorted at the assessment stage. Notes were made on the abundance (rare, occasional, common or very common) and retention (discarded, sampled or kept) of these objects. The six samples subjected to more detailed assessment used the usual methods of Kenward et al. (1980) involving disaggregation and sieving but were 'washed over' and dried rather than paraffinated because of a perceived lack of insects. Plant remains and other components of the dried washovers from this process and their residues along with those from the six selected Sir~f washovers were recorded briefly by 'scanning', identifiable taxa and other components being listed directly to a PC using Paradox and Access software. A summary of the action taken on each sediment sample can be found in Appendix 1.
Samples subjected to flotation have the suffix 'flot' and to laboratory flotation 'T'. The proportions of dry residue components from flotation can be found in Appendix 2 and a summary of plant remains from these samples can be found in Appendix 4.
F64 C1120/flot (Anglo-Saxon)
Flotation of 10L produced a light fraction containing a lot of charred material including burnt grains. Detailed assessment identified these as barley. There were some uncharred plant remains and also possible insects, resulting in the retention of a 10L sample for further analysis. Within the residue, which weighed 704g, animal bone (including mammal, amphibian and small mammal) was very common while charcoal occurred frequently. Pottery, cbm, iron objects, slag and hammerscale tended to be rare.
F64 C1126/flot (Anglo-Saxon)
Flotation of 20L produced a small charred light fraction along with some modern rootlets. The residue, which mostly comprised hard clay lumps, weighed 1712g and contained occasional fragments of animal bone (including fish, bird, amphibian and mammal) while pottery, iron, slag, hammerscale, fossils, uncharred seeds and flint flakes were rare. Evidence for iron panning was observed but not retained.
F104 C1202/flot (Roman)
A 10L sample was subjected to flotation producing a small amount of charred material in the light fraction. The small residue, weighing 258g, contained occasional animal bone and cbm while charcoal and ferrous material (including hammerscale) were rare. Plaster was also present.
F125 C1239/flot (Anglo-Saxon/Anglo-Scandinavian)
Approximately 5L of sediment was floated, producing a moderate amount of charred and uncharred (including wood) material. The residue was kept wet and was not sorted, but was observed to contain animal bone.
F125 C1239/T (Anglo-Saxon/Anglo-Scandinavian)
Laboratory assessment of a 3kg sub-sample produced a washover containing charcoal and ashy concreted material as well as a single nutlet of saw sedge Cladium mariscus (L.) Pohl which could have derived from burnt peat. The dried residue, which totalled 394g, contained rare amounts of cbm, daub and charcoal, while bone and iron, slag and hammerscale were occasional.
F125 C1240/flot (Anglo-Saxon)
Flotation of a 10L sample produced a small amount of charred material and some land snails in the light fraction. The residue, weighing 812g, contained frequent fragments of charcoal and animal bone (including mammal, fish, and large numbers of amphibian). Hammerscale was occasional, while slag was also present and cbm was very rare. There were single cases of iron object and charred seed.
F150 C1287/flot (Anglo-Saxon)
Flotation of a 10L sample yielded a lot of uncharred organic material, the majority of which appeared to be modern roots. A 10L sample was retained for further analysis. Bone (including pig, eel, flatfish and herring) was common within the residue while cbm and charcoal were present occasionally. Pottery and hammerscale were rare and there was a single oyster shell.
F161 C1307/flot (undated)
The entire 10L sample was floated, producing a small amount of charcoal and some possible uncharred vegetable matter in the light fraction. The residue, totalling 734g, contained rare amounts of bone, charcoal, slag and cbm.
F161 C1308/flot (undated)
Flotation of the entire 10L sample produced a small amount of charred and uncharred organic material. Apart from frequent animal bone (sometimes burnt), the residue, totalling 840g, contained small amounts of daub, cbm, pottery, iron, hammerscale and single pieces of flint and glass.
F161 C1314/flot (11th century)
A 10L sample was floated producing a large carbonised light fraction, including burnt seeds and grains. The residue, totalling 1040g, contained frequent charcoal and animal bone along with occasional daub and cbm. Hammmerscale was rare. Detailed assessment of the washover identified ash wood among the charcoal as well as a single charred cotyledon of a probable field bean.
F129 C1317/flot (Anglo-Scandinavian)
The entire 10L sample was floated producing a moderate amount of fine charred and uncharred organic matter and a residue weighing 670g. Bone was common but other items, including daub, cbm, mortar, slag and hammerscale were rare. There were single cases of yellow glass, iron object and pottery, possibly a waster fragment.
F129 C1318/flot (Anglo-Scandinavian)
Flotation of the entire 10L sample produced a small amount of charred material and some modern uncharred organic matter. The residue, weighing 789g, yielded frequent fragments of bone (including mammal and fish), cbm and charcoal. Mortar, pottery and hammerscale were occasional while iron and slag were rare and there was a single piece of possible soapstone.
F171 C1325/flot (undated)
Flotation of a 10L sample produced a light fraction containing a small amount of charred matter and quite a lot of uncharred organic material, much of it modern rootlets along with a few landsnails. One tub was retained for further analysis. The gravelly residue was kept wet and not sorted, but initial observations suggested that it was rather sterile, containing a small amount of bone.
F175 C1332/flot (undated)
Flotation of a 10L sample produced a small light fraction containing a limited amount of charred matter and some uncharred modern rootlets. The gravelly residue weighed 1892g and contained small amounts of bone, cbm, pottery and hammerscale.
F177 C1335/flot (Anglo-Scandinavian)
Flotation of 10L produced a moderate light fraction containing charred and uncharred organic material as well as landsnails. A 10L sample was retained for further work and the gravelly, rather barren residue was kept wet and unsorted.
F177 C1335/T (Anglo-Scandinavian)
Detailed assessment identified little of interest, only a few small traces of burnt and unburnt bone. Within the laboratory assessed residue cbm, mortar, charcoal, slag and hammerscale and bone were found to be rare.
F64 C1338/flot (Anglian)
A 10L sediment sample was floated producing a small amount of charred and uncharred matter, the latter including fly puparia and other possible insect remains.. A 10L sample was retained for further analysis. Because of the presence of uncharred organic matter, the residue was kept wet but was seen to contain glass bead fragments (one removed), bone, and loom weight fragments.
F64 C1338/T (Anglian)
Laboratory assessment of a 3kg sample produced a very small washover of charcoal. Within the dried residue cbm, daub, charcoal and coal were recorded as rare while bone was occasional.
F64 C1339/flot (Anglian)
Flotation of a 10L sample produced a moderate amount of charred material and some, possibly modern, uncharred organic matter. A 10L sample was retained for further analysis and the residue, which contained a lot of animal bone, was kept wet and not sorted.
F183 C1340/flot (Anglo-Scandinavian)
Flotation of a 10L sample produced a light fraction containing a lot of charcoal and some uncharred organic matter, leading to the retention of a 10L sample for further analysis. Detailed assessment found the charcoal to be the possible remains of roundwood and bark. The residue, which weighed 320g, contained a lot of charcoal while bone was occasional and hammerscale was present more rarely. Flint and worked stone were also present.
F186 C1342/flot (undated)
Flotation of the entire 10L sample produced a small light fraction containing charred and possible uncharred organic material. The small residue, totalling 240g, contained occasional animal bone, charcoal, cbm, and plaster/mortar while hammerscale, iron, pottery and charred nutshells were rare.
F181 C1343/flot (undated)
Flotation of the 10L sample produced a small amount of carbonised matter in the light fraction along with a residue weighing 450g. Within the residue charcoal, cbm and mortar/plaster occurred occasionally while animal bone, iron and hammerscale were rare. Slag was also present.
F64 C1344/flot (Anglian)
Flotation of a 10L sample yielded a large amount of charred matter and some uncharred organic material, leading to the retention of a 10L sample for further analysis. The residue, which was kept wet and not sorted, was observed to contain a high proportion of charcoal and animal bone. Detailed assessment found no evidence for uncharred remains in the washover while the burnt grain was too poorly preserved to be identified beyond 'cereal'. Some of the charcoal could be identified as oak.
F64 C1345/flot (Anglian)
Flotation of a 10L sample produced a fair amount of carbonised material in the light fraction along with uncharred organic matter, possibly including insect remains. A 10L sample was retained for further analysis and the residue, which was kept wet and not sorted, contained animal bone, pottery and a metal artefact.
F64 C1345/T (Anglian)
Laboratory assessment of a 3kg sub-sample produced a very small charcoal washover with mineralised concretions. These reacted with hydrochloric acid, and while organic in origin and likely to be faecal, there was no evidence for intestinal worms. Within the dried residue cbm, slag and hammerscale, charcoal, coal and glass were recorded as rare while bone was very common. Several fish bones showed evidence of having been chewed.
F184 C1346/flot (undated)
Flotation of a 10L sample produced a small amount of probably modern organic matter in the light fraction. The residue, totalling 430g, contained occasional animal bone but otherwise rare amounts of hammerscale and seeds. Slag was also present.
F64 C1348/flot (Anglian)
Flotation of a 10L sample produced small amounts of carbonised and uncharred organic matter (a high proportion of which appeared modern) in the light fraction, leading to the retention of a 10L sample for further analysis. The dried residue was rather stony and contained occasional animal bones, while pottery and slag were rare.
F64 C1349/flot (Anglo-Saxon)
A 30L sample was subjected to flotation producing a moderate light fraction containing carbonised material (including burnt grains) and some uncharred matter. The presence of this uncharred material and the interpretation of this deposit as cess led to the retention of a 10L sample for further analysis. Detailed assessment of the washover indicated the presence of mineralised material, including seeds, earthworm egg capsules and faecal concretions while hazelnut shell, oat, wheat and possible rye were all charred. The residue, totalling 1187g, contained a high frequency of bone, particularly of small fish (several of which had been chewed), and charcoal was occasional. Small numbers of charred and uncharred seeds, grains and stones as well as fragments of cbm, slag, iron and hammerscale were also present.
F177 C1350/flot (Anglo-Scandinavian)
Flotation of a 10L sample produced a moderate light fraction containing carbonised and uncharred (including modern rootlets) organic matter. Another 10L sample was kept for further analysis. The residue, weighing 503g contained occasional animal bone while cbm, pottery, charcoal and slag were all rare.
F177 C1350/T (Anglo-Scandinavian)
Laboratory assessment produced a small washover containing traces of charcoal and some mineralised material. The unfractioned dried residue contained rare amounts of cbm, mortar, charcoal, slag and hammerscale within a matrix of sand and cobbles.
F64 C1352/flot (Anglo-Saxon)
Flotation of 10L produced a small light fraction containing charred and uncharred (some modern) organic matter. A 10L sample of this cess deposit was retained for further analysis and the residue was kept wet. Bu for its greenish hue and presumed faecally nature, the unsorted residue appeared rather barren.
F64 C1352/T (Anglian)
Laboratory assessment of a 3kg sub-sample produced a very small washover of charcoal and mineralised material which also contained a large amount of amphibian and fish bones (several of which had been chewed). The dried residue largely comprised of olive coloured concretion in which bone was rare to occasional, charcoal occasional and vitrified fuel ash rare.
C1401/flot (14th century+)
A 10L sample was floated and produced a small amount of charred material in the light fraction. The residue totalled 619g and contained a high frequency of cbm and plaster/mortar. Bone, pottery and charcoal were present occasionally, while iron nails and hammerscale were rare.
F214 C1404/flot (11th century)
Flotation of a 10L sample produced a light fraction comprising a moderate amount of carbonised matter and a small amount of uncharred organic material. The residue, weighing 640g, contained occasional animal bone (including fish and small mammal), pottery (dark grey and buff), mortar, iron and hammerscale while charcoal and slag (glassy and non-magnetic) were rare.
F216 C1456/flot (Roman)
Flotation of the entire 10L sample produced a large amount of charred organic in the light fraction, including burnt grains and seeds. Detailed assessment of the washover identified a large number of charred barley grains, as well as evidence for oat, possible wheat and traces of weed seeds. The residue, totalling 1930g, contained a very high frequency of fired ceramic fragments most likely to be loom weight wasters. Cbm, bone, hammerscale and slag were rare.
F215 C1490/flot (11th century)
The entire 10L sample was subjected to flotation and yielded small amounts of carbonised material and modern uncharred organic. The residue, weighing 1024g, contained occasional animal bone, cbm and charcoal, while pottery, mortar, hammerscale and mussel were rare.
F242 C1493/flot (11th century)
Flotation of a 10L sample produced a small light fraction containing a small amount of charred material and some possible uncharred organic matter most likely to be modern. The residue, totalling 928g, contained occasional fragments of animal bone (including pig but mostly unidentifiable) while cbm and hammerscale were rare. There were single cases of snail shell and pottery.
C1501/flot (Roman 1st-2nd/ 11th century+)
The entire 10L sample was floated producing a small amount of charred material in the light fraction. The dried residue contained a large number faecal concretions but bone, iron nails, slag, hammerscale and flint were otherwise rare.
F267 C1511/flot (Roman)
A 10L sample was floated producing a small light fraction including carbonised and charred material. The small residue totalling 369g contained occasional cbm, bone and charcoal while corroded iron objects, pottery, carbonised seeds and hammerscale were rare. Slag was also present.
F267 C1512/flot (Roman)
Flotation of a 10L sample produced a residue containing a large number of greenish faecal concretions and there was also a high frequency of small burnt bone fragments. Hammerscale was present occasionally while pottery was rare.
F263 C1514/flot (Roman/13th century+)
Flotation of a 10L sample produced a moderate amount of charred and uncharred material in the light fraction. The residue, totalling 816g, contained occasional mortar, charcoal, bone (including herring and mostly rounded) and cbm while slag and hammerscale were rare. There was also two fragments each of flint and pottery and a single mollusc.
F282 C1529/flot (13th century+)
Flotation of the entire 10L sample produced a small amount of charred and uncharred material in the light fraction. The residue, totalling 900g, contained occasional fragments of cbm and bone while iron fragments and hammerscale were rare. There were single bits of pottery and fossil and a two pieces of slag.
F283 C1531/flot (Roman)
Flotation of the entire 10L sample yielded a moderate light fraction containing uncharred organic material. The large residue weighing 1558g contained frequent pieces of corroded iron, at least some of which appear to be hobnails. Charcoal and cbm were more occasional while a along with a single piece of mortar, pottery, glass (two fragments), bone (including fish and amphibian), and carbonised organic matter (including grain and twigs) were rare.
F284 C1534/flot (Roman/12th-13th century)
The entire 10L sample was subjected to flotation producing a small light fraction comprising charcoal and a very little uncharred organic matter. The residue, totalling 988g, contained occasional cbm, pottery (including Samian and a waster fragment), charcoal, bone and hammerscale. There was a single iron object and a fossil.
F288 C1543/flot (13th-14th century)
Flotation of a 10L sample yielded a small amount of charred and uncharred organic material in the light fraction. The residue, weighing 803g, contained occasional fragments of bone (mostly animal, but also including human teeth and radius fragment), while cbm and hammerscale were rare.
F297 C1561/flot (Roman)
A 10L sample was floated and produced a small charred light fraction. Within the residue weighing 614g, bone (including burnt mammal), charcoal, cbm, iron and hammerscale were rare while there were single cases of a flint waste flake and colourless glass.
F327 C1608/flot (Roman 1st-2nd/ Anglo-Scandinavian)
The entire 20L sample was subjected to flotation producing a light fraction rich in charcoal and also containing a small amount of uncharred modern organic material. The residue, weighing 1337g, contained frequent fragments of calcined bone (including a human deciduous molar) and of charcoal. Both hammerscale and iron were present occasionally, and may have included hobnails and fitting fragments. Unburnt bone (including small mammal) was rare, as were pottery, cbm, charred seeds (two) and slag (one fragment).
F321 C1615/flot (undated)
The entire 2L sample was floated producing a small amount of charred material. The residue, weighing 240g contained frequent corroded iron fragments but bone, pottery, cbm and hammerscale were otherwise rare.
F230 C1619/flot (undated)
Flotation of the entire 1L sample produced a small amount of charred material in the light fraction. The tiny residue, weighing 14g, contained no artefacts.
F319 C1620/flot (Roman)
Flotation of the entire 2L sample produced a light fraction comprising a very small amount of charred material. The residue, weighing 155g, contained occasional pottery while bone ad faecal concretions were rare.
With so many samples from different feature types and periods, it is difficult to succinctly summarise the data from flotation. One overall trend was the generally poor state of organic preservation from most features. This has already been commented upon by O'Connor (1993) in regard to deposits from 46-54 Fishergate, where bone was similarly well-preserved and organic material equally poorly represented. Here O'Connor suggested that organic matter was deliberately collected for manuring local fields, and indeed, from Fishergate House, there were very few deposits that from their colouration and texture could have been argued to have contained a high proportion of organic matter; rather, many deposits seem to be more clayey or gravelly. The organic material that was present was frequently mineralised and found in association with the olive green soils likely to derive from faecal deposits. However, if organic material was removed for local manuring, which is perhaps not improbable given the peripheral location of the site, then it was done so throughout each period of occupation. Other reasons for a lack of organic material could relate more to preservation, where, despite being so close to the river, features may not have reached the water table, or, were periodically waterlogged, with such intermittent wetting and drying actually encouraging the decomposition of organic matter. Alternatively, the fact that many of the deposits are likely to have developed as middens before being redeposited into pits could mean that a large proportion of exposed organic rubbish could have decomposed prior to final burial. O'Connor also mentioned that the deep foundations of the Gilbertine priory could have served to drain nearby features.
Further limitations to the potential of material from Fishergate House is the matter of deposit recycling as indicated by residual pottery. Indeed, many of the Anglian features are dated not so much by contemporary pottery, but more so by the absence of later pottery and the presence of residual Roman sherds.
Sediment samples were assessed from a total of eight contexts from six features, including two post holes, a gully fill and the rest cremations. Rare amounts of slag and hammerscale were present in most cases, even in the cremations, but charcoal was present in only four contexts (only one from a cremation) and only common in post hole backfill F180 C1342. Bone was present in all deposits, but mostly rare in cremation features. Cremations F319 and F321 contained large amounts of burnt daub or clay fragments, very similar to the loom weights found at Blue Bridge Lane, but it is possible that they represent some sort of rudimentary urn, but more likely, clay objects that had been placed on the pyre.
Eight contexts from F64 were sampled all of which were artefactually poor with very little in the way of pottery or iron work although slag/hammerscale, likely to be 'background noise', was present in small quantities in most. Bone was again present in most, but was very common only in C1120. Faecal concretions, mineralised seeds and crushed fish bones in basal deposits C1345, C1349, C1352 suggested that F64 had originally been dug as a cess pit, while a concentration of amphibian bones in C1352 implied that the cess deposits had accumulated quite gradually acting as a pitfall trap into which these creatures had inadvertently fallen.
Eight contexts from six features, including three pits, a hearth, a posthole and a grübenhaus were assessed through flotation producing results broadly similar to those from Anglian contexts. The definition of F177 as a grübenhaus could not be confirmed through the environmental evidence as while F177 C1350 contained mineralised material, none of the contexts from pits seemed to contain much evidence for faeces, either in the form of fishbone (with the exception of a little from F125) or concretions. Nor was there much evidence for charred or uncharred plant remains, being restricted to single cases from two contexts. Instead, several features contained evidence for fuel materials, including hearth F183 and pit F125, the latter suggesting the burning of peat. The presence of a concentration of amphibian bone in F125 would again imply that this feature had been left open to accumulate sediment more slowly. It would appear that the nature of activity in the Anglo-Scandinavian period as indicated by the environmental material was slightly different to that of the Anglian, with little evidence for processing of cereals/ thatching materials and even less for faeces. It is possible that night soiling as well as removal of vegetable matter may have taken place, but it is also possible that the organisation of the site may have meant that cess pits were not contacted during the excavated area. The few features of this date assessed from Blue Bridge Lane again appeared to indicate little in the way of faecal content.
A further twelve contexts were dated from the 11th to 15th centuries. These indicated an increase in the use of non-organic building materials (cbm and mortar) while pit F216 C1456 contained a concentration of burnt clay fragments, similar to the shattered loom weights recovered from Blue Bridge Lane. This deposit was also significant in containing a large amount of grain (mostly barley) and weed seeds. Metal artefacts were rare or absent (in the case of copper), but little building or industrial activity would be expected considering the use of the area as a cemetery.
Overall, the sampling strategy implemented at Fishergate House has been successful at maximising the efficiency of the recovery of dating and environmental evidence, as well as the collection of a host of smaller artefacts and products pertaining to various activities on the site. This has left a large number of residues which, having been sorted, contain little more than gravel and fine fragments of cbm, charcoal, fragmentary unidentifiable bone and concretions likely to be of faecal origin. As such, it does not seem to be of any great value to retain this vast quantity of inert material. While further analysis of the faecal concretions may prove valuable in the identification of worm eggs, detailed assessment indicated that in the majority of cases the results were likely to be disappointing. There are also a large number of washovers from Sir~f flotation which are currently kept wet. It would be worth drying out these (for greater ease of storage) and, although they are likely to contain burnt grain, seeds and fishbone, actual further work on them is only likely to be valuable within the framework of a specific research objective, for example, tracing the progressive development of pit fills as a means of reconstructing site formation processes; otherwise, detailed assessment indicates that we can expect to accumulate more similar data. Further clues useful in the elucidation of site formation processes are likely to be found during the analysis of the fish and small vertebrate assemblages.
The near absence of uncharred or unmineralised organic material would preclude the necessity for further flotation, although in certain cases where dating evidence is sparse or in particularly bone rich contexts, it may be worth coarse sieving material. It may also be of value to dry out and sort those samples that have been kept wet particularly those from Anglo-Scandinavian features in order to test whether the limited evidence for faecal material is more a reflection of the state of sorting than actual deposition. Finally, a small amount of charred and mineralised vegetable matter was sorted from samples. A cursory examination of this material by a palaeobotanist would be of value in both further identifying exploited plant species but also in identifying deposits with mineralised, and therefore probable faecal, content.