Environment and Living Conditions at Two Anglo-Scandinavian Sites


list of authors
A. R. Hall
H. K. Kenward
D. Williams
J. R. A. Greig
list of contributors
Y. Z. Erzinclioglu
A. K. G. Jones
J. Phipps
Is Part Of
The Archaeology of York [Series]
The Past Environment of York [Volume]
Council for British Archaeology for York Archaeological Trust
Date Copyrighted
Date Available
Digitally available on 20 October 2023
The results of biological and pedological analyses of series of samples from richly organic deposits from two Anglo-Scandinavian sites in York are described. The deposits at 5-7 Coppergate were represented by 18 samples from four 'columns' cutting through layers seen only in section in a builder's trench. Those at 6-8 Pavement were represented by 65 samples taken from various points in a layered sequence in four trenches; here, the excavations revealed a series of timber and wattle structures. Both investigations took place under difficult circumstances in cellars.

Plant remains in general and insects and some other invertebrates have been examined, and provide the basis for reconstruction of many aspects of ecology and human activity. The assemblages of both plant macrofossils (mainly fruits and seeds) and insects (mainly beetles) have proved superficially uniform throughout both sets of samples, although systematic variation in the insect assemblages permitted provisional interpretations to be made. Pollen and the mineral component of the deposits were also essentially uniform in the limited numbers of samples examined. Where deposits built up, there was rotting plant and animal matter and, in particular at 6-8 Pavement, large quantities of leather. The deposits appear to have been rather moist and foul out of doors. While there were abundant habitats for rotting-matter insects indoors, conditions there may not have been too unpleasant. There is not yet good biological evidence to show whether people worked or lived (or both) in the structures at Pavement, or whether accommodation was shared with livestock, although beasts seem to have deposited their dung nearby. Meat was important in the diet, with some fish, shellfish and birds; cereals, fruits and nuts were also consumed. A coprolite gives the clearest evidence for cereals in the diet as well as for infestation by gut parasites belonging to two species of nematode worm. Charred cereal grains occurred regularly but at low concentrations in the deposits. The remains of food — bones, shells, fruitstones, nutshell — found their way in some quantity into general accumulation layers; whether this was because refuse was thrown directly on the ground, indoors and out, or whether these durable remains were redeposited from pits and middens, could not be established for the present sites.

The nature of the material has placed serious constraints both on the way the results could be treated and on the conclusions that could be drawn, but the investigations have proved of great value in developing practical and analytical techniques for use in further investigations of urban archaeological deposits. It is concluded that, with rare exceptions, 'environmental' investigations will be much more useful when carried out on sites excavated by open-area techniques and recorded in great detail. Biological information may, however, be gathered in abundance from relatively poorly provenanced material, providing dating is good.
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York Archaeological Trust
CC BY 4.0
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