Everyday Life (Part 3)
 

Music

Possible buzz-bone

A single example of one of these simply made bone objects (SF01286) was recovered from a dump. It is made from a pig right 4th metacarpal which is unmodified apart from having a roughly made central perforation. These objects have been found previously in York, sometimes in large numbers, as at Coppergate where 90 were recovered from both Anglo-Scandinavian and medieval levels (AY 17/12, 1980–81). The precise function of these objects is still open to interpretation, but one of the more plausible suggestions for their use is as ‘buzz-bones’, whereby a bone would be threaded onto a twisted cord and then spun, thus creating a buzzing or humming noise.

Recreation

Gaming

Four counters, all chipped from pottery vessel fragments (SF01467, SF01327, SF01094, SF01426), were found in Phase 5 to Phase 9.9 levelling or backfill deposits. They were cut from sherds of Roman colour coated ware (SF01467), of 11th to 13th century gritty ware (SF01327, SF01094), and of 12th century splashed ware (SF01426). SF01094 and SF01467 had some smoothing of their cut edges, but the others had been roughly chipped. The smallest of the counters (SF01467) has a diameter of 20mm; made from a Roman pottery sherd, this counter is also of a size more typical of Roman counters than those of the medieval period (Brown 1990, 696). Similar counters were found in the Roman sewer in Church Street, York (AY 17/01, 16–31). The remaining counters were probably used to play tables, a range of games involving dice, counters and a large board (AY 17/15, p.2951).

A bone counter fragment (SF01090) was found in a Phase 9.2 floor level. Turned from a plaque of compact tissue, it has multiple concentric grooves on both faces, and a central perforation. It resembles two complete examples from late 13th and mid-16th century deposits at Coppergate (AY 17/12, 7113–14). Unfortunately, the game for which counters such as SF01090 were made is as yet unidentified (AY 17/12, p.1982).

Skating

Bone skates, of which Walmgate produced two (SF01213, SF01145), have long been recognised on Anglo-Scandinavian sites in York; indeed, it has previously been speculated that these objects are typical of this period (AY 17/12, p.1987). Increasingly, however, these objects are turning up in medieval deposits, as at Walmgate, where they were retrieved from a Phase 6.3 dump (SF01213) and a Phase 8 pit (SF01145). It should be noted, however, that the same dump that produced SF01145, also contained a large antler offcut (SF01329) and a pig fibula pin (SF01146), both object types which appear predominantly in pre-Norman deposits in York, indicating that the pit contained residual material. Both the Walmgate skates are made from horse bones, one from a metacarpal (SF01213), the other from a metatarsal. Cattle metatarsals and metacarpals have also been used in the past for these objects, but on York sites, horse bones generally appear to have been preferred (AY 17/12, Table 182, p.1987). Both skates feature heel-holes, drilled longitudinally into the back of the skate, into which a strap to secure the ankle would have been fitted (AY 17/12, p.1987).

Literacy

Books

Part of a book clasp (SF01038) was found in a levelling deposit in Building S. It has lost its attachment plates, which would have been riveted to a strap that connected the front and rear covers of the book; a similar clasp survives on a book in Erlangen library, Germany, which was bound in the 15th century (AY 17/15, pp.2938–9). These clasps have mainly been recovered archaeologically from late 14th to 15th century deposits, as was SF01038. The majority of book clasps found in York have come from ecclesiastical sites, although examples from secular sites are not unknown (AY 17/15, pp.2938–9).

Trade

Balance

Part of a small balance, SF01529 is the triangular pointer which would have been attached to the beam, and which, when aligned with the suspension stirrup, indicated that the mechanism was in balance. It has broken off at the junction with the balance beam but retains a perforation through which the rivet at the lower end of the stirrup would have passed. It is unfortunately impossible to determine whether the pointer originally belonged to a beam with rigid or folding arms, or to date it; folding and rigid balances of similar forms have been found in Anglo-Scandinavian deposits at Coppergate (AY 17/14, 10405) and medieval levels at Bedern Foundry (AY 17/15, 13402). It seems quite possible, however, that SF01529 is part of a balance used at medieval Walmgate to measure out precious items or to check coins, and it may be worth noting that a continental coin, a double tournois of Eudes IV (Duke of Burgundy), 1315–59 (SF01303), was recovered from the same dump.

Horse and Riding Equipment

SF01348 is an iron buckle with rotating arm, a type thought to be used for horse tack from the 12th to the 16th century. A large iron buckle pin (SF00658) may also be part of a horse tack buckle. SF00738 is one arm of an iron spur, to which are attached two double-hooked fittings, one of which has a buckle linked to it. The object is probably 14th to 15th century.

There are three pieces of horseshoe. SF00648 is too fragmentary for comment. The largely complete SF01259, found in a Phase 3 dump deposit, exhibits the wavy outer edge and countersunk nail holes typical of an 11th–13th century horseshoe. SF00745 comprises a single branch and is probably 14th–15th century.

Weaponry

Arrowheads

SF01516 (Phase 9.2) and SF01580 (Phase 5) are small socketed arrowheads, probably 12th to 13th century in date (Ward Perkins 1940, LMMC Type 2); SF01516 is residual in its context. SF01575 (Phase 6.3) is a small arrowhead with short barbs (Ward Perkins 1940, LMMC Type 13), typical of its context date in the late 13th to 14th century.

Miscellaneous

‘Spacer’

An antler object of uncertain function, SF00846 was found in a Phase 11 pit backfill. This type of object was recorded at Coppergate, where four examples were retrieved from early 10th to later 11th century contexts (AY 17/12, 7741–44). They were termed spacers, but their function could only be speculated upon, one possible interpretation being that they were part of composite handles for knives (AY 17/12, p.1996). As the examples from Coppergate appear to be the only others known, it seems likely that SF00846 is contemporary with them, and is residual from Anglo-Scandinavian activity on the site.

Socketed point

As with the ‘spacers’, the function of this bone implement (SF01464) is uncertain. It has been formed from the proximal end of a cattle metatarsal, being socketed at one end, and with a rough point formed at the other. SF01464 was found in a Phase 3 dump; elsewhere in York, such points have also tended to be recovered from Anglo-Scandinavian contexts, although a few have turned up in early post-Conquest levels (AY 17/12, p.1989).

Lead alloy object

SF01002 is a lead alloy object recovered from a Phase 9.3 pit backfill. It has a slightly tapering shaft with one end hammered to form a flat circular head with the edges bent down, and with a countersunk and tapering perforation just below which transversely pierces the shaft. The other end of the shaft has been hammered and the sides bent upwards. Although similar to a hammer head, this function seems unlikely owing to the relatively soft nature of the metal; moreover, it has been suggested that the perforation is not wide enough to have contained a piece of wood of sufficient strength to hold the head. It is perhaps more likely that this object acted as a hanging weight.

One of the striking features of the artefactual assemblage associated with the personal lives of the inhabitants of 41–49 Walmgate is the relatively large number of objects which date from the Anglo-Scandinavian period but were mainly recovered residually. The craft debris indicated some ironworking, shoe-making and some textile working at this period, and many of the other artefacts appear to belong to those living and working at this time. These include the quern fragments, the steatite bowl fragment, the decorated strips and mounts, the bone dress pins, the polychrome bead and amber pendant found during the Time Team excavations, the composite comb fragment and the skates. In comparison to these items, many of which are very decorative, the medieval element of the assemblage appears largely functional, most of the dress accessories and other personal items being largely undecorated, and comprising a few belt fittings and mounts, dress pins, lace-ends, a single brooch and a few gaming counters. These items, which presumably belonged to the metalworkers and their families, suggest a life of little personal wealth, although one exception to this must be the ivory comb, made of an exotic and presumably expensive material. The lock and keys also suggest that some belongings were considered worth protecting, while the recovery of several coins indicates that money certainly changed hands on this site.



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Pottery counter SF01327
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Pottery counter SF01467
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Bone counter fragment SF01090
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Bone counter fragment SF01090

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Bone skate SF01145

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Book clasp SF01038

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Book clasp SF01038

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Balance pointer SF01529

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X-ray of iron horseshoe SF01259

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X-ray of iron arrowhead SF01580

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Lead alloy object SF01002

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Lead alloy object SF01002
© Copyright York Archaeological Trust 2003