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Page last updated at 14:06 GMT, Monday, 11 October 2010 15:06 UK
Hungate dig to feature on Time Team
Archaeologists at work at Hungate in York.
Hungate is the largest excavation ever undertaken in York

The Hungate excavation is the biggest ever archaeological dig in York city centre.

Highlights of the dig include uncovering part of a 1,700 year old Roman cemetery and learning more about Viking York.

The dig began in 2007 and is scheduled to take five years, at a cost of £3.3 million.

Major Viking finds from Hungate will feature in a Time Team Special on Channel 4 in October 2010.

This area of the city is undergoing major re-development and working alongside the developers are a team of dedicated archaeologists from the York Archaeological Trust.

Pete Connelly, project director for the Hungate excavations with York Archaeological Trust says:

"We are revealing the past chapters of the archaeology of the urban Hungate neighbourhood, as a new urban Hungate neighbourhood is created."

Medieval cemetery

Work started in the southern part of the site, where Pete and his team wanted to locate the limits of a medieval cemetery, which they knew extended into the excavation area.

The graveyard was part of the Church of St John's on the Marsh, which was just outside the dig area. They've now plotted the edge of the cemetery and that part of the site is left undisturbed.

They then moved over to the eastern side of the dig site and Pete describes what they've found there:

"We've uncovered a whole medieval landscape that's been massively pitted over the space of 500 years for different reasons.

"There's boulder clay, which is really close to the surface, very pliable and very clean. There are pits which are 3.5 metres in diameter and 3 metres deep and these look like clay extraction pits.

"There was a Carmelite monastery on the other side of Hungate during the medieval period. It's a bit of guess work here, but we know they had a brick and tile works.

Cellar of a Viking house from Hungate, York.
Hungate may have been on the edge of 10th century Jorvik

"There's a really good raw resource next door and we've got big pits which look like clay extraction pits. Ergo, they look like they were the clay extraction pits for the Carmelites.

"We've found them on both sides of Dundas Street. Interestingly, back in the roman period the ebor ware pottery kilns were up on Aldwalk, so it looks as if there's a continuity of clay extraction use in this landscape for hundreds of years."

Coming away from the clay pits and towards the western side of the site the archaeologists have discovered a series of springs and pits.

Between 600 and 800 years ago, wells were dug to get to the water. The sides of the wells were lined with wicker to stop them collapsing.

They did eventually collapse and they were then used as rubbish pits and people would simply cut a new well.

In the same space the medieval residents of Hungate were digging pits specifically for rubbish, but also for human cess. As Pete explains; "They seemed to be making a distinction between rubbish going in some pits and cess going in other pits, so they're kind of keeping things apart.

"What they don't do is worry that if they cut a new well whether it's cut through an earlier cess pit. We are getting an insight into the medieval mind down here, in some ways it seems very clean and organised and in other ways maybe not!"

Significant finds

Some of the pits date back to the Anglo-Scandinavian (the Viking) era which suggests they are right on the edges of the Viking town of Jorvik and they have made the most significant find of the excavation so far as Pete explains:

"We've discovered the cellar of an Anglo-Scandinavian house which dates from the mid to late 10th century, similar in style to the buildings that were found in Coppergate, they date to the same period.

"If you go to the Jorvik Viking centre and take a tour round you can see cellared buildings reconstructed and that's exactly what we've got.

"It looks like we're out to the edge of the late 10th century town. The building seems to be have been for domestic use, rather than craft working as we see within the Coppergate area.

Bead found at Hungate, York.
Many of the items found at Hungate had travelled thousands of miles

"It's really our first glance of in-situ Viking age archaeology and the technology used in it. The house has been built re-using ship's timbers and that's something we've never seen before. It gives us another great insight into Viking age life."

Another significant find at Hungate is a very small glass bead, around 1 centimetre long. It's very beautiful and was probably made in the eastern Mediterranean between the 8th and 12th century.

Similar beads have been found in Viking graves in Scandinavia, but it's a rare find in the UK. Pete says the bead raises lots of questions:

"It's travelled over 2000 miles to get to York 1000 years ago. How did it get here? How many hands did it pass through? Suddenly you've got that connection with the international trade that was happening in Jorvik 1000 years ago."

The team has also found an almost complete 13th century York ware jar. It was a fantastic find, which gave them a real insight into pottery techniques of the time and also the decoration methods.

As more and more of the site is peeled away archaeologists are revealing more and more of York's long and unique history.

There are guided tours, workshops and activities at the dig so contact the York Archaeological Trust for more information.

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