Excavations in the Praetentura: 9 Blake Street


list of authors
R. A. Hall
list of contributors
H. E. M. Cool
A. Kershaw
P. J. Ottaway
E. Paterson
S. Vaughan
Is Part Of
The Archaeology of York [Series]
The Legionary Fortress [Volume]
Council for British Archaeology for York Archaeological Trust
Date Copyrighted
Date Available
Digitally available on 3 November 2023
In advance of redevelopment, York Archaeological Trust excavated a two hundred meter squared area within the praetentura of the Roman legionary fortress in 1975-6. The nine month campaign was funded by the Ancient Monuments Inspectorate. A small adjacent trench dug by York Excavation Group is also reported. Constraints of time and money required the tight prioritising of research objectives; it was therefore decided to concentrate attention on strata dated before c.11OO. In practice, machine clearance proceeded to a late Roman horizon over half the available area, whereas elsewhere an uninterrupted sequence of deposits extending back in time from c.l300 was left in situ for excavation.

The earliest evidence for human activity on the site dated to the Flavian period, which accords with the commonly accepted date of AD 71-4 for York's foundation. This preliminary activity is represented by a series of ditches, scoops, cuts and other features, perhaps consonant with the remains of a temporary encampment.

During the late 1st century a series of timber buildings was erected. Surviving traces consist of infilled slots, post- and stake-holes, materials for various types of foundations, floors and walls, tiles, nails and associated fittings. Within the slots were vestiges of vertically set wooden posts; there is some evidence that they helped to support a wall infill of clay which was 'whitewashed' with plaster, presumably to strengthen and waterproof it. Some of the buildings may also have been decorated with painted wall-plaster.

These buildings were replaced in the late 1st or early 2nd century by a second phase of timber structures of basically similar form in broadly the same layout. The function of these structures cannot be identified with any certainty by their plans; associated artefacts indicate that they were used for a variety of purposes, including writing, craft/industrial activities, food preparation and storage. This range of functions would not be incompatible with their interpretation as barracks. A notable concentration of lamps, all dated c.90+, may indicate that one structure incorporated a shrine or a ritual deposit.

Ceramic and vessel glass data suggest that there may have been a break in occupation on the site c.l20--60, after which the area was redeveloped with stone structures. These include the extreme ends of two addorsed barrack buildings arranged per strigas and backing on to a street. On the other side of the street stood a building in which a service range on the street frontage was separated by a passageway or corridor from a higher-quality range and adjacent courtyard. This composite structure was erected in the mid 2nd century. Later 2nd century alterations subdivided the main room into four smaller units.

There was not much evidence for 3rd century activity, apart from resurfacings of the street, but occupation continued in the service range until at least the mid 4th century. The main range and the areas flanking it were largely cleared of upstanding walls by the early 4th century, and sealed below dumps of clay. This represents a major re-arrangement of the area, although the precise reason for it is unknown. Machine clearance had truncated virtually all stratification later than the clay dump except for those features which had been cut into it.

In the later 4th century the street was covered by a succession of loam layers, and there was also equivocal evidence for the erection of a structure on the street line. The nature of the strata in the narrow range also changed, indicating new and different patterns of occupation/ activity. The time span of this latest Roman or sub-Roman phase cannot be measured precisely. There was no evidence for any Anglian occupation or even of Anglo-Scandinavian occupation before the late lOth or early 11th century, and just a handful of pre-Conquest artefacts were recovered in layers dated after c. AD 1000. In the medieval period the area was largely open ground.
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York Archaeological Trust
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