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The topography of York would have made it an important node in prehistoric communication networks. The site is situated on a glacial moraine, which passes through the Vale of York, at the point at which the morainic ridge is breached by the Ouse. This ridge is known to have been exploited throughout much of prehistory as a routeway through the lower lying heath and wetlands of the Vale (Waterman 1959, 59; Radley 1974). During the Neolithic, traffic from the Wolds, possibly from the ritual complexes of Rudston and Duggleby, is likely to have crossed the Vale via York and from there across the limestone 'belt' of the Vale of Mowbray towards Thornborough, and beyond to the northwest and Scotland. The presence of a greenstone axe within a hoard of lithic objects from the gravel terrace at Holgate Beck (ibid, 11-12) testifies to trade links with the northwest. During the Bronze Age, the route was further exploited, and spot finds and barrows have been identified on the moraine; for the latter, the closest possible candidate is that of Siward's Howe near Heslington. The thoroughfare appears to persist into the Iron Age and contemporary droveways may be fossilised in the route of Green Dykes Lane (ibid, 13).
Hitherto, the main distribution of prehistoric finds in York has been weighted towards the southwest (RCHME 1972, 38), although this is extremely likely to owe itself to the intrusion into the gravel deposits caused by the construction of the 19th century railway system. Through much of the city, the route and the contours of the moraine are still visible, most notably the route of Tadcaster Road and The Mount, which became formalised from at least the Roman period. However, the area of the railway station and the route through which the railway passed was subject to vast remodelling, and the contours of the moraine are likely to have been levelled (ibid, 10). The point at which the moraine is breached is cited by Radley at the confluence of the Ouse and Foss and so the prehistoric material from Blue Bridge Lane and Fishergate House, although exclusively residual, has been examined further (see The Lithic material).
The local topography of the area of investigation consists of ground sloping from east to west from the ridge of Fishergate (c.13.20m AOD) towards the confluent rivers (c.10.90m AOD). Most areas of the site had been subject to truncation, primarily modern, although the general contours of the site are thought to be largely natural. Significant alteration is represented only in the height of the land close to the rivers, probably exaggerated by post-medieval and later land reclamation against the river flood line. These general observations were confirmed by deposit modelling based on excavation and borehole survey data. The low ground of the site appears to broaden close to the river, a characteristic created partly by the cutting in of the slope of the modern route of Blue Bridge Lane, the purpose of which is to gain access to the river. Nonetheless, the natural contours of the site appeared to boast a shallow bowl, a feature exploited evidently from early prehistory. The natural subsoil of the site consisted of a layer of weathered boulder clay overlying convoluted gravel, clay and sand deposits, which characterise the route of the moraine as it passes through the city.
No features of prehistoric date were encountered during excavation, although an assemblage of lithic material was recovered. The raw material is exclusively flint, most of which is likely to have been present in the glacial deposits at the site, and the assemblage is consistent with on-site manufacture, being mainly debitage and flakes. Once worked the material is likely to have been distributed within the natural loam of the site, which was subsequently cultivated during the Roman period; some of the material was recovered from Period 2 features, although the most substantial deposit traps appear to have been the largest of the Period 3 pits.
The earliest material included two flints of potentially Mesolithic or early Neolithic form, a well-patinated asymmetrical scraper and the proximal end of a narrow blade. Bronze Age material was also present, in the form of a triangular point with bifacial working, which may belong to a projectile or piercing tool, as well as a robust thumbnail scraper. Several pieces of debitage, a fragment of core and the reworking of old flints were also identified. Overall, the assemblage is indicative of the manufacture, curation and disposal of tools used for skin processing and hunting. While not particularly large, the assemblage of lithic tools and waste demonstrates the presence of prehistoric activity, not only on the glacial moraine, which is known to have been a route exploited in prehistory, but also of transient occupation on the Ouse/Foss terrace at the crossing point.
The presence of residual prehistoric lithic material from excavations in York is relatively commonplace, but is often not subject to specialist examination. The position of the area of investigation close to the prehistoric route and crossing point recommended the material for closer inspection, and this was rewarded with evidence for riverside activity from as early as the Mesolithic to the early Bronze Age. While this broadly confirms what has been modelled for the prehistory of the York area, it has contributed to the southeastern distribution and suggests possible riverine activity, even exploitation in prehistory. Without regular specialist inspection of lithic material from the city, little more by way of detail can or will be added to the model, nor will the bias in distribution towards the southwest be redressed. Evidence for transient occupation on the southeastern river terrace at Fishergate is a new contribution to the prehistoric exploitation of the area, albeit unsurprising on reflection; the possible Mesolithic flints in particular are an extremely rare occurrence.