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,
198081). 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.
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, 1631). 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, 711314).
Unfortunately, the game for which counters such as SF01090 were made is as yet unidentified
(AY 17/12, p.1982).
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).
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.29389). 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.29389).
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), 131559 (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 11th13th century horseshoe. SF00745 comprises a
single branch and is probably 14th15th century.
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.
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, 774144). 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.
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 4149 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.
Pottery counter SF01327
Pottery counter SF01467
Bone counter fragment SF01090
Bone counter fragment SF01090
Bone skate SF01145
Book clasp SF01038
Book clasp SF01038
Balance pointer SF01529
X-ray of iron horseshoe SF01259
X-ray of iron arrowhead SF01580
Lead alloy object SF01002
Lead alloy object SF01002