The past beneath our feet (PDF , 4557kb) - University of York
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The past beneath our feet (PDF , 4557kb) - University of York

The past beneath our feet:the communities ofHeslington EastCath Neal and Steve Roskams

Text by Cath Neal and Steve Roskams2013Published by theDepartment of ArchaeologyThe University of YorkAll Rights ReservedNo part of this publication may bereproduced, stored in a retrievalsystem or transmitted in any form orby any means, electronic, mechanical,photocopying, recording or otherwisewithout the prior written permissionof the publisher.Text and images copyright of theUniversity of York unless otherwisestated.Copy-edited by Eva FairnellDesigned by Gavin Ward DesignAssociates ( by North Wolds Printers( 078 0 946722 23 5AcknowledgementsThe authors would like to thank theproject funders, the University of Yorkand the Heritage Lottery Fund, and thepartners, specialists and excavationvolunteers, upon whose work thisaccount is based.The professional photographs onpages 5, 13 and the back coverwere taken by Ian Martindale.Cover image © Darren Kelham.2

On the site of the new Universitycampus at Heslington East, aprogramme of archaeologicalwork has been taking place totry and understand what lifewas like here in the past. Actingon behalf of the University ofYork, which owns the land,teams of archaeologists fromYork Archaeological Trust(YAT), On-Site Archaeology(OSA) and the University’sDepartment of Archaeologyhave been investigating whatmight have happened in thetime before the land wasused for modern farming. Thecombined efforts of the Universityresearchers, commercialarchaeologists, students andcommunity volunteers havebeen directed at understandingthis piece of landscape inthe Vale of York. There havebeen fewer archaeologicalinvestigations undertaken inthe Vale than in the surroundinguplands, and also less than in thecity of York. The low-lying centralpart of the Vale in particular ispoorly understood, with manyarchaeological remains obscuredbecause they have been coveredby deposits of sands, silts andclays.The development permitted atHeslington East, on a greenfieldsite, covers a large area. Thishas provided the opportunity toinvestigate the archaeology inlarge, open landscapes, ratherthan the small explorations sooften seen in towns or the narrowstrips of pipeline developmentsseen in the countryside.The specialist work beingundertaken on the collections ofmaterial gathered from the site iscontinuing today and, when this iscomplete, a book about the resultswill be produced by the University.This booklet, funded by a HeritageLottery Fund grant, allows us toshare some of the initial findingsand the unexpected discoveriesfrom the site. These relate to thetypes of structures that werebuilt, the way people lived and thechanges that occurred over time.They also include a range of humanremains found at various locationson the site, from the prehistoricthrough to the Roman period.To read more about the general history of the Vale of Yorksee Mark Whyman and Andy Howard’s 2005 publicationLandscape and Archaeology in the Vale of York (currently availableonline period(middle stone age)Neolithic period(new stone age)Bronze Age Iron Age Roman period Early medieval period9500 - 4000 BC4000 - 2200 BC 2200 - 700 BC 700 BC -1st century ADAD 43 - 410York founded AD715th to 11th centuries AD (including Anglo-Saxon,Anglo-Scandinavian and Anglo-Norman periods)3

Shaping the Vale of YorkAbout 14,000 years ago the Vale of York was filledby a glacier moving southwards, producing a largelake of meltwater in the south of the region. Whenthe glacier stopped close to modern-day Escrick, itcreated a distinctive ridge, thus it is known as theEscrick moraine. As the glacier retreatedto the north, another moraine wasdeposited close to the locationof modern York. Thisproduced a second ridgeof higher land, forming arouteway across the Vale of Yorkduring the prehistoric period.Kimberlow Hill, on the HeslingtonEast site, is part of this east–westYork moraine, comprising sands, claysand gravels. The interface between thesedifferent deposits generated contact springs alongthe hill-side, many are still active in the landscapetoday and feed into the Heslington East lake.An elevationmodel of theYork morainelooking northeastacrossKimberlowHill (shownin white)© Jitka JizerovaThe erosion of sands from the glacial lake-bed aroundYork, during a period of cold dry weather from about11,000 years ago, resulted in some localised sandduneformation, most clearly seen in areas aroundStrensall and Skipwith. These types of landscapeprocess are also visible on a small scale at HeslingtonEast. The underlying drift geology, the weather andthe effect of the hill-slope combined have erodedthe soils, and hill-wash deposits have been formedthat seal, mask and, in some cases, protect thearchaeological features on Kimberlow Hill.The site has been ploughed for manycenturies so many archaeologicalfeatures have been cut away and onlysurvive today as faint traces. However,the parts of the site where the springsemerge have remained wet creating conditionsin which organic materials, such as wood, plants,insects and leather, have been preserved. The mostnotable of these items is the brain matter within ahuman skull, which was recovered from a water-holeto the west of the site in 2008. This has been dated tothe Iron Age period, about 2500 years ago. Analysisof the vertebrae attached to the skull indicates that,before deposition, this Iron Age man had been hungand then decapitated.Site location plan, also showing location of stone well discussedon pages 8 and 9 © Crown Copyright/database right 2013.An Ordnance Survey/EDINA supplied service.The Iron Age brainmaterial beingassessed by a specialist© Sonia O’Connor4

Early activityAlthough rivers have been a significant influence onhuman activity and settlement across the Vale ofYork, the site at Heslington East has an independentwater source in the form of the contact springs,mentioned earlier. Emerging where bands of sandand clay meet, they have created a mosaic ofhabitats, attracting wildlife as well as people andtheir domestic animals. The use of this resource inthe Heslington landscape has varied considerablyover time. Mesolithic (‘middle stone age’) flints froma pit near a hill-side spring suggest that this springwas first used between 11,500 and 6000 years ago.For this time period, however, there is little otherevidence of human settlement because people weremoving through the landscape and living in seasonalcamps: traces of short-lived activities are difficult toidentify. Some ‘new stone age’ features have beenidentified on the site but seem to be isolated pits;understanding the broader context of this Neolithicactivity will require further analysis.Bronze Age logs used as a well lining© OSABronze Age cobbles © OSAIn the period from 4300 yearsago, a change in technologyfrom stone to metal heraldedwhat we describe as the BronzeAge. Important social changesare witnessed for this period, forexample a move towards moreindividualised burial rites. BronzeAge features at Heslington Eastsuggest more concerted watermanagement of the spring line,starting around 3500 years ago.This involved using hollowed-outlogs in separate locations acrossthe site to maintain water-flowthrough the sandy soil, formingan early type of well. At the sametime, areas of cobbling provideda platform for access around thesprings. An extensive hollow fromthis period, filled with organicsediments, suggests that peopleused the springs at HeslingtonEast to water their livestock.Large Bronze Age pit with dark organic deposits © OSA5

A cobble- and wattle-lined well © OSAAn unlined Iron Age well © OSAWater managementAcross the site during the Iron Age and Romanperiods, the water source was managed in variousways. Some wells dug during the Iron Age appearto have been unlined and perhaps provided accessto water for only a limited time. During the Romanperiod, however, water-flow from the springs wasmanaged through ditch systems and wattle-linedchannels, and a number of cobble- and wattle-linedwells were constructed.A Roman wattle-lined channel © OSAWell lined withlarge wattles© OSA7

The final well at Heslington East,which dates to the late Romanperiod, was the most impressiveand sophisticated. Situatedtowards the top of the hill, it wasstone-lined and more than 4metres deep. Rather than beingfilled with rubbish when it wentout of use, items such as parts ofdeer and cattle and entire potswere deliberately placed within it.Detailed study of the well and itsfills suggests six distinct episodesin the feature’s development.This began with the creation of agood-quality, carefully engineeredwell in a new position high on thehill-side. A Roman roof finial incoarse-grained yellow sandstonewas incorporated into the welllining about one metre downfrom its surface, breaking up thesymmetry of coursed masonry.Moving an architectural featuresuch as this from its original heightto the depths of the well musthave been a deliberate act by thebuilders of the well.The deposit at the base of the well relates to its finalusage. This yielded several small fragments of leatheralong with a nearly complete bucket that wouldhave held about 5 litres of water. The bucket wasconstructed from 12 individual staves made of yew,held in place by two iron hoops, and a single base ofash. A local coarse-ware jar, found just above thebucket, could also have been used to draw waterfrom the well. The lowest deposit was covered bya quite different layer containing distinctive bonesand artefacts. Above this were accumulationsmade in stagnant/slow-moving water, followedby the collapse of the well’s stone lining, the finalaccumulation comprised deposits that had slumpedinto the top of the feature.The profusion of animal bonesrecovered from the well wasmuch less fragmented and erodedthan the material from the site ingeneral. The proportion of gnawedbones was also low, and burntbones were extremely rare. Thehigh proportion of butchered boneincluded a significant number ofhorse bones. There were a lot ofbones of red deer and dog andfewer of sheep and goat thanseen elsewhere on the site. Thematerial from the well is thereforevery far from being generaldomestic rubbish, a characteristicthat is mirrored in the distinctivefills of other late Roman wells inYorkshire, for example at DaltonParlours and Rudston. The bonesfrom deposits just above the finalusage were especially distinctive,comprising an immature deer, animmature dog and a calf, seeminglyselected for their age, alongsidean adult cow and the sacrificeof a large antler, which wouldhave been valuable raw material.These were accompanied by alarge cobblestone and a complete,good-quality jar. Taken together,they suggest the symbolic ‘closure’of this water source.8

Drawn sectionof the well andthe depositsthat filled it©HelenGoodchildThe baseof the wellThe challenge of excavating a deep wellThe top of the well9

18.0mwaterholeA116.0m14.0m12.0m16.0m14.0m12.0mcremationenclosureA2Roundhouse under excavation © YATPlan of the Iron Age landscape to the west of site © YATThe Iron AgeThere is evidence of Iron Age human settlementon the margins of the Vale and in the surroundinguplands, but our knowledge of settlement in thecentral part of the Vale at this time is patchy. Thebest evidence comprises a sequence of enclosuresand associated roundhouses at Crankley Lane,Easingwold, interpreted as being indicative ofsummer grazing of livestock in the Vale landscape.In addition, aerial photographic evidence for areas tothe south and west of the site at Heslington suggestIron Age field systems and possible enclosures, butthis has not been tested by excavation. At HeslingtonEast itself a series of field systems, enclosures androundhouses can be dated to the Iron Age. Theseincreasingly complex field boundaries are paralleledby the roundhouse enclosures towards the westernedge of the site, revealing a highly organisedlandscape typical of Iron Age farming communities.Importantly, this system may have continued in useat Heslington into the 2nd century AD, well within theRoman period.Reconstructiondrawing© Ed ClarkThe earliest buildings identifiedon the site were roundhouses, asevidenced by gullies and ditches(most of the internal features hadnot survived), situated in positionsclose to the ancient spring line.Some houses were set withinditched enclosures and rebuilt onsuccessive occasions. A possibleview is shown here from thecurrent lake position lookingnorth-east over Kimberlow Hillduring the late Iron Age/earlyRoman period.10

Roman occupationWhen the Ninth Legion foundedthe Roman fortress at Eboracum(York) in the late 1st centuryAD, this had a significant impacton the local economy andlandscape. The evidence forthis is well documented for thecity and important settlementsof Roman date have beenidentified in the south of the Valeat Shiptonthorpe, Hayton andHolme-on-Spalding Moor, plusthe town of Isurium Brigantum(Roman Aldborough) to the north.Evidence for Roman occupationelsewhere across the Vale,however, remains somewhatpatchy.© OSASome distinctive elements at Heslington East date to the early Romanperiod, including features dated by well-recognised pottery types suchas amphorae and Samian ware. The most compelling evidence foroccupation during this period, however, comes once more from activityaround the spring line. A number of substantial oak timbers were usedto construct a framed structure within one spring. These timbers havebeen tree-ring dated (dendrochronology) and so provide quite a securedate of AD 53-89. Although timber might be felled at a certain date andreused later, it seems likely that this abundant water source was beingcontrolled from the very start of the Roman period.© OSA© OSA11

Hexagonal stone roof tileMasonry building looking eastCeramic tile with dog pawprint © Jane McComishLate Roman kilnSeveral rectangular buildings,situated upslope from the springline, were constructed after theroundhouses had gone out ofuse, set within a newly definedlandscape bounded by east–westtrackways and north–southditches. The good-qualitylimestone foundations of onestructure reveal a Romanised wayof living, with remnants of anunderfloor (hypocaust) heatingsystem and associated furnace.The remains of a collapsed Roman stone roof wereevident nearby, the absence of later developmentallowing it to survive in good condition. This wasmade up largely of hexagonal sandstone tiles, someof which still contained the fixing nails. Other tilesfrom nearby included box flue tiles with decorativecombed finishes and a brick with dog paw print.We can compare the size and type of the tileswith those found in Eboracum (York) to see wherethey might have been produced and how buildingconstruction changed over time.Finally, at the very end of theRoman period, there is evidencefor specialised production in thenorth of the site, including somemetalworking waste, crop driersand a kiln.Plan showing the changing useof space over time12

A Roman way of lifeAlthough Iron Age communities living in Britanniatraded items with the Romans, it was not until afterthe Roman invasion that we find evidence ofa distinctively Romanised way of life. At Heslington,situated close to the road from Eboracum to Petuaria(Roman Brough-on-Humber), we can recognise anumber of important changes to how people lived.Some relate to movement through the landscape,for example the establishment of the cobbled tracksand ditched boundaries mentioned previously.There is also a change in the type of dwellingsconstructed and the materials used, including theuse of stone and ceramic roofs and underfloorheating systems. At a more everyday level,however, artefacts indicate Roman ways ofdoing things and changing trade patterns.Fragment of a mortariumImported Samian ware© Fiona HarveyRoman coinCoinage was introduced in theRoman period, with most of thecoins from Heslington East fromthe 3rd and 4th centuries AD.Also clear is the trade in finepottery ware, some of whichhad been imported from Franceand Germany, contrasting withthe cruder, local types of pottery.The preparation and consumption of food in aRomanised way is evidenced on the site by therecovery of amphorae, used to transport andstore olive oil and wine and perhaps fish sauce, andfragments of a range of mortaria, used by Romansfor grinding foodstuffs, particularly herbs and spices.The presence of ‘cheese squeezers’ suggests thatdairy products were being processed in new ways.Roman brooch as found,and after conservationLastly, changes to the personal habits of localcommunities can be seen, for example by thepresence of a copper-alloy cosmetic spoon.This is probably part of a ‘toilet set’, an indicationof Roman attention to personal hygiene.Roman cosmetic spoon13

Five Roman infants were buried on the site nearthe buildings, although these remains have survivedpoorly and had been frequently disturbed. Elsewhere,two burials were inserted beside a boundary ditch,an adult female formally laid out alongside a maleof a similar age. These burials were situatedtowards the top of the hill, by the ditch, signifyinga connection with the land and perhaps reinforcinga claim to this area.Cobbled tower foundationAlthough truncated the tower showsevidence of coursingA geophysical survey revealeda rectangular feature. When excavated it was foundto be the cobbled foundation of a probable tower,placed beside a trackway running east–west alongthe hill-side. Substantial architectural blocks fromthe top of some other features on the site mayhave originally come from this tower and indicatespecialised Roman building techniques, includingopus quadratum, a way of coursing large blockswithout the use of mortar. Beside the tower, tothe east, were two burials laid out west to east.Nails had been inserted around the skull of onebody, an unusual burial rite.Finally, a crouched adult male appears to havebeen placed in a shallow ditch just to the west of thehypocausted building described previously. Analysisof his skeleton revealed a life of physical labourand an early death caused by spinal tuberculosis.He would probably have needed care from hiscommunity in order to survive into adulthood.A disturbed Roman infant burialFemale skeleton formally laid outTwo graves excavated to the east ofthe tower foundationSkull with nails around itAdult male skeleton found close to themasonry building14

After the RomansAfter Roman activity ceases onthe site there was no evidenceof later structures or settlement.However, a suite of distinctiveobjects, dated to the 5th and 6thcenturies AD, seems to representitems that would be found withburials of the time. The Anglo-Saxon period, during which thenearby settlement called Eoforwicwas developing, may thus berepresented at Heslington Eastby traces of a lost cemetery onthe top of Kimberlow Hill. Similarcemeteries have been found atthe Mount (Heworth) and nearbyat Lamel Hill (The Retreat).A 5th century broochA bone comb showing dimpled decorationDuring the medieval period thesite at Heslington East appearsto have been predominantlyan agricultural landscape, withevidence of field boundaries,some of which were long lived,and widespread indications ofplough furrows, often intrudinginto earlier archaeological levels.There may also have been somequarrying activity at this time,although this has been difficultto date conclusively.Distinctive funerary vesselA wrist clasp of this period15

Community involvementLocal people have volunteeredto help with the excavationsand many more have lookedround the site during open daysor local history group visits.A Heritage Lottery Fund grant in2010 enabled children from threeschools to participate in the sitework; this grant also enabled usto produce information boards forthe new campus and to producethis booklet.A landscape painting inspiredby the site and created bylocal artist Selina Wells16

The involvement of local people in the project hashelped to shape it in various ways: the communityhave not only contributed to the physical work,but have told us what they want to know about thearea they live in. Their insights and local knowledgehave had an impact on how we understandthe evidence generated by the excavation:it is a two-way process of learning.In particular, childrenfrom Lord Deramore’s, BadgerHill and Archbishop Holgate’sschools have worked with us,undertaking geophysical surveys,excavations and the recording offeatures. They also made a replicakiln and fired some Roman-stylepots. This experience gave theman appreciation of how we ‘make’history, leading them to thinkabout the types of evidence, otherthan documentary, that can beused to understand the past.17

Heslington East campuslandscape takes shapeby Jilly LovettAs the archaeological workdescribed has progressed, thelandscape of Heslington East hasbeen developed to accommodatethe campus expansion. Today thedominant feature of the landscapeon the Heslington East campus isthe lake. Eighteen metres awayfrom the formal planting aroundthe main cluster of HeslingtonEast buildings, naturalistic swales(modern water courses) take thewater to wetlands, ponds andthe lake, which are surroundedby large expanses of grasslandand hedgerows characteristicof a nature reserve. The areais dramatically improving thebiodiversity of the former arableland. Bird-life in particular isexpanding, with the arrival ofmany new species, includingrare ground-nesting birds suchas the little ringed plover.The new lake, which occupies justunder 10% of the 116-hectaresite, is already home to anabundance of wildlife. Groundsmaintenance manager GordonEastham, who has led the projectto landscape Heslington Eastover the last 4 years says, ‘Thebroadleaved pond weed, which isa very good species to have, hasestablished itself well.’ His teamare introducing drifts of lily padsthat will provide a good habitatfor small fish and discourageCladium mariscus is a saw-sedge, this would havebeen common in the Vale before drainage © Allan Hallalgal growth. However, Gordon is prepared to bephilosophical when things do not go according toplan; he concedes that ‘The landscape is dynamicand evolving and you won’t beat nature: it will findits own equilibrium.’The area surrounding Heslington East has several richbreeding communities of birds, so wild waterfowlsuch as tufted duck, goosander, goldeneye andpochard have now joined the familiar mallard duckand barnacle, Canada and greylag geese. Waderssuch as jack snipe, knot and sandpiper have beenattracted to the lake margins. Less than 3 km fromthe campus is Heslington Tillmire, a designated siteof special scientific interest (SSSI) with nationallysignificant species such as golden plover, treesparrow and yellowhammer, some of which havealready been recorded visiting Heslington East. Anecological consultancy firm has carried out surveysand resident ecologist Andrew Walker has monitoredthe birds every 2 weeks over the breeding season.18One of the most exciting migrantbirds to find its way to HeslingtonEast is the little ringed plover,which has nested on the shallowscrapes (gravel banks) for 2 yearsnow. Its range stretches fromEurope to the Far East, but forjust 4 months around 1000 pairsbreed and nest in the UK, duringwhich time it has legal protection.Students from the University’sEnvironment Department are alsomonitoring the site, recordingthe plants, birds and aquaticinvertebrates in and around thelake and wetlands, as well astesting the water quality andeffectiveness of the reed-bedfiltration system. This will becomea yearly monitoring programmeas part of their degree course.A typical Vale birch wood © Allan Hall

© EnglishHeritage 2011‘The plans are to put somepond-dipping platforms andboard-walks around the wetlandsarea behind the main lake, witha fully accessible path from theroad. This will allow better accessfor students wishing to studythe aquatic environment andenable us to bring school groupson to the site to see some of thefantastic aquatic wildlife that hasalready colonised the area,’ saysSarah West, Research Associateon the Open Air Laboratories(OPAL) project at the University’sStockholm Environment Instituteat York. ‘We also hope to raisefunds to build a small, off-grid,outdoor field classroom nearthe small lake which will giveus somewhere to teach studentsand school children whateverthe weather!’There is no doubt that the lake, woodland andwetlands of Heslington East have enhanced thebiodiversity of the area with the introduction ofnew habitats for wildlife, and created a fascinatingenvironment for students, staff and the localcommunity to enjoy. Under its Jubilee Woodsproject, the Woodland Trust aims to plant 6 millionnative trees across the UK, providing a lasting,living legacy to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s reign.York’s Diamond Wood is located on Kimberlow Hill,one of the highest points in the York area, withuninterrupted views of York Minster, the WhiteHorse at Kilburn and the Yorkshire Wolds to theeast. So far, the University has planted 55,000 treeson Heslington East, all native to the British Isles, ofwhich 23,000 form the Diamond Wood. The trees arefrom a wide range of species, including field maple,alder, hornbeam, ash, wild cherry, oak, mountainash, yew, lime, hawthorn, holly, crab apple andblackthorn. Together they will form mixed deciduouswoodland that will attract a broad range of insectandbird-life, and develop an interesting woodlandflora and fauna.19

Supported by:This publication describes many of thearchaeological discoveries from the new campusdevelopment at Heslington East. Far from beinga solely agricultural landscape in the past,research on the site has found thatIn partnership with:communities were active and livinghere from the Bronze Age throughto the early medieval period.ON-SITEARCHÆOLOGYPublished by the University of YorkISBN 078 0 946722 23 520

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