Environmental Evidence: Part 1
 

Introduction

The remains of plants and animals (both invertebrates and vertebrates) were recovered from excavated deposits at 41–9 Walmgate, York. A summary of the results of the analysis of these remains is given below. A fuller report produced by Palaeoecology Reseach Services, including details of the methodology used, can be viewed here [342KB PDF Document], as well as the assessment report [175KB PDF Document]. The assessment and analysis were carried out on a series of sediment samples and 21 boxes (each 20 litres in size) of hand-collected bone. Phases 1 to 4 and 10 to 13 were only taken to assessment stage and the results are incorporated here.

Phase by Phase Discussion

In Phase 1, samples suggest that domestic occupation, wool processing, and perhaps butchery were being carried out in Building B. A variety of fish and oyster were consumed, along with the major domesticates (sheep, goat, cow and pig), hazelnuts, and celery seed as a food flavouring. The environmental evidence from Phase 2 was less helpful, and may simply indicate the disposal of butchery and food waste after the demolition of Building F. Waste disposal continued in Phase 3 with the introduction of haddock to the diet as well as wild species such as barnacle goose. Butchery may have been carried out within the Phase 4 Building H. An unusual addition to the diet was a coastal bird, guillemot. At the end of Phase 4 the excavation area was cleared of buildings and was used as a general dumping ground in Phase 5, with activities at this time probably including primary and secondary carcass preparation, which attracted dogs and flies. Foodstuffs represented in Phase 5 included chicken, cod, figs, oats, barley, rye and hazelnuts.

Buildings were again constructed on the site in Phase 6.1, and Building M in particular may have been used for domestic activities. By Phase 6.2, occupation was of a more rudimentary nature, and various parts of the excavation area were used for the disposal of food and butchery waste. In Phase 6.3 food was consumed in a sunken work area, and some flooring or thatching associated with it caught fire. Butchery waste was a component of the material used to level off this feature and also dumps that built up at the southern edge of the excavation. An addition to the diet in Phase 6.3 was duck.

Three buildings were constructed in Phase 7, Buildings P, Q and R. The environmental evidence suggests that food was consumed within Buildings Q and R and that Building Q was regularly swept. Behind the properties, the backyard area was used for the disposal of food and butchery waste. Cockle, red deer (a sign of affluence or patronage) and crab were new additions to the diet in this phase. These buildings continued into Phase 8, with Buildings P and Q being rebuilt as Buildings T and S respectively. Evidence for food consumption was recovered from Buildings R and S, and straw may have been used as a flooring material within the latter. The backyard area continued to be used for food and butchery waste disposal, and a number of bath-shaped pits were dug perhaps as latrines and for the disposal of stable manure. The presence of manure suggests that animals were stabled close by and evidence for wool processing in the backyard was also recovered. Hygiene was not good in this phase: dogs were allowed to defecate within Building S, and human lice and intestinal parasite eggs (whipworm and maw-worm) were recovered. The widest range of evidence for food so far was recovered from deposits within this phase, including shellfish, sheep or goat, cow, pig, fallow deer, chicken, goose, crane, fish, crab, wheat/rye bran, fig, apple and blackberry. The presence of crane, ling and cod stored or stock fish (over 1m in length), and fallow deer, may also suggest a degree of affluence for the inhabitants of this part of Walmgate at this time.

The environmental evidence for Phase 9.1 was limited. A re-organisation of the properties within Phase 9.2 provided a prime opportunity for the disposal of unwanted food and butchery waste, as did the backyard area. Food may have been consumed within the southern room of Building U. Evidence for red deer was found in this phase. Unhygienic conditions, created by the dumping of food and butchery waste within a new yard area immediately south of Building V, attracted rats. A new building, Building Y, was constructed in Phase 9.3 and food was consumed in Buildings U, V, W and Y. The environmental evidence does suggest, however, that these buildings were kept clear of food waste by regular sweeping. Food and butchery waste was disposed of within construction or backfill deposits. Evidence for diet included shellfish, fish, sheep or goat, cow, pig, chicken, barnacle goose and duck. The presence of barnacle goose and duck reveals the exploitation of wild species within this phase, and the presence of a neo-natal pig indicates breeding of this domesticate within the Walmgate area of the city. The presence of a faecal concretion and cess-like concretions on some bones from deposit 1522 may suggest the use of the rubble-lined pit at the eastern end of Building Y as a garderobe or cesspit in Phase 9.4, but the microfossil squash sample did not support this evidence.

A large pit on the western side of Building Y was used to dispose of a variety of material in Phase 9.5, including butchery and domestic waste. Some large bones within the deposit had clearly been used for marrow extraction prior to disposal. In certain parts of the building complex, food waste was allowed to accumulate to a much greater extent in Phase 9.6 than in earlier phases. Clam and whelk were introduced to the diet as well as pigeon. The presence of pigeon suggests the exploitation of wild species for food at this time. Phase 9.7 produced no environmental evidence, but a large corpus of evidence was produced from Phase 9.8. In general, the environmental evidence follows similar trends and problems to those discussed in Phase 9.3. As in Phase 9.6, food waste was allowed to accumulate and food may have been prepared at the eastern end of Building V. The disposal of at least four cat carcasses may suggest the presence of a furrier within Building U late in this phase, but the evidence is slight and no skinning marks were found on the bone. A range of wild species was exploited in this phase and evidence for pig breeding was recovered. Evidence for diet included shellfish, sheep or goat, cow, pig, rabbit, chicken, goose, duck, teal, pheasant and fish. The presence of eggshell (not identified to species) in one of the samples suggests eggs may have been eaten. Phase 9.9 is characterised by the disuse of Building Y and the use of the area for dumping. A range of food sources was utilised within this phase, similar to, but not as broad as, that in Phase 9.8.

The reorganisation of the buildings in Phase 10 produced little of importance in terms of the environmental evidence, the assemblages perhaps reflecting high levels of redeposition of materials. From this phase on, redeposition makes it difficult to interpret the environmental evidence. In Phase 11, contemporary butchery waste may have been disposed of within the backfilled construction cut of a new well shaft. From this phase on, the animal bone is limited to the major domesticates (cow, sheep, goat and pig), fish and fowl, but charred oats were recovered in Phase 12. Only within Phase 13 can it be suggested that a broad range of shellfish was part of the diet, including oyster, mussels, cockle, clam and whelk.



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Phase 1 occupation and Phase 2 and 3 dumps

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Guillemot © Jón Baldur Hlíðberg (www.fauna.is)

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Excavation of Phase 6 deposits

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Building S (Phase 8) under excavation

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Barnacle goose, © Jón Baldur Hlíðberg (www.fauna.is)

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Phase 9 deposits under excavation

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Whelk © Jón Baldur Hlíðberg (www.fauna.is)

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Rubble lined pit (east end) of Building Y

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Mussel © Jón Baldur Hlíðberg (www.fauna.is)
© Copyright York Archaeological Trust 2003