Louis joined YAT fresh from his studies at the University of York. His passion for making archaeology accessible to all served him well in his educational role. He has given countless tours of Dig and Hungate, worked with the events team to engage the public with the past, and presented workshops and outreach visits on an eclectic variety of subjects, from medieval medicine to vertebrate evolution. Over the past year, Louis has had the privilege of taking part in the recent Rationalisation and Resilience projects being run by the Trust.
Animal Bone Retention Scheme
This project aimed to create a catalogue of the bones collected across the vast Hungate site, with the intention of allowing the zooarchaeologists to decide what material would be kept, and what would be discarded.
To do this, our teams tirelessly worked our way through each and every context of the site, sorted the amassed jumbles of bone, recorded their type, number, and condition, then photographed them all for the marvel of posterity.
Our assemblage came from an urban area, heavily utilised throughout the later-medieval period as a dumping ground. If this conjures an image of intense disposal of cow bones into toilet-pits, then the collection we studied would validate your fancy. There was a seemingly endless supply of cess-encrusted bovine bones; with just enough pig, sheep and horse to keep things interesting. The best part of a dog or cat would often add variety to our experience, and the birds, fish, and occasional human bone would keep us constantly on our toes. I had the good fortune to witness some of the past’s faunal diversity with the discovery of not only a crab claw, but also the penis bone of an as of yet unidentified marine mammal. Another personal highlight came when I identified some knot-work, carved into an abandoned rib with a centuries old artistic flourish.
While the end of the project arrived all too quickly, I have since had the good fortune to take up the position of Archive Intern, and that shall be the subject of my next reminiscence…
Welcome back for this second entry in my online journal. A brief glance up the page will refresh your memory on my previous work with animal bones. Now we move on to further thrilling adventures, exploring the labyrinthine depths of the YAT archives.
In September 2015, a team was put together to sort and maintain all the records gathered since YAT was established in 1972. The project began with Giulia Gallio and I becoming Archive Interns, and we were later joined by Adam Raw Mackenzie who would concentrate on digitising our collection.
Gaining control of the YAT archive is no small task. The amount of paperwork created by even the smallest archaeological site can be considerable, and members of the York Archaeological Trust have been working tirelessly on such projects for what is only a little shy of half a century. These years have seen monumental changes to both our discipline and our way of life, and these changes are reflected in our collection. While recent records can be easily called up on modern databases and network drives, the archive holds plenty of material contained by floppy-discs of unusual size, video-tape formats that were not lucky enough to become as well known as VHS or Betamax, and a round, flat tin containing a reel of thirty-five millimetre film. Rumour has it that there is even a wax phonograph cylinder somewhere among the shelves which contains the Trust’s first ever visitor-attraction audio-commentary, though others argue that this is probably somewhat apocryphal.
With such a rich resource, there was no shortage of work for us get our teeth into. We began by familiarising ourselves with the collection, which years of occasional relocation had scattered across our various sites. We tracked down piles of paper that had been hidden under distant desks and atop crumbling shelves. We forced our way into abandoned rooms and deciphered coded, shorthand instructions in our quest for total information awareness. Calls were sent out to those no longer with the Trust, and they responded by returning yet more boxes. In time, we were sure we had gathered all we could, and so set to work creating a catalogue of everything we had found.
Accessibility is among our highest priorities, and in time this catalogue will be made available to all who wish to search through our archives for themselves. We have already scanned thousands of images in the creation of a digital image catalogue, and we hope to one day have an archive database that contains our entire collection of records. The road to such ambition is made of smaller steps, however, and in the meantime we organise our efforts between continuing with this cataloguing and answering requests from both internal and external customers. Texts have been based upon records pulled from our acid-free boxes. Reports have been illustrated with images picked from our towering filing cabinets. Museum displays have been compiled from our diverse range of video footage. If anyone wants anything from our archive for any reason, then we will set out to find it.
In April 2016, Giulia and I were given the role of permanent Archive Assistants. This has allowed us to continue working with the archive, our wonderful volunteers, and everyone else in the Trust. We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but are relishing the opportunity to make the archive all it can be. Return to this page in the future, and I can tell you all about it…