The History of York Archaeological Trust

Founded in 1972, as an independent charity and headed up by a Board of Trustees, York Archaeological Trust was set up to help preserve the vast collection of archaeological deposits that lay within 2,000 years of York’s history in response to threats posed to the City’s archaeological heritage at the time.

Coppergate dig 1976One of the first excavations the Trust carried out was a small excavation under Lloyds Bank, near Coppergate in York. At this site, 9m of archaeological layers existed which were moist and peaty, meaning organic layers could be preserved over a vast period of time. When the city council proposed a major development of Coppergate on the site of the old Craven’s sweet factory, this gave the Trust’s archaeologists the opportunity to excavate an area of 1000 square metres through 2,000 years of history over 5 years.

In total 40,000 Viking-Age artefacts wereThe ride at JORVIK Viking Centre excavated, ranging from Viking houses, weapons, a coin dye, ice skates and even a sock! When the extent of these exciting discoveries was realised, plans were created to put these remains on display. The result being JORVIK Viking Centre,which opened to the public on 14th April 1984, located on the very site of the Coppergate dig. For more information on the Coppergate dig and JORVIK Viking Centre, please visit the JORVIK website.

Children digging for artefacts at DIGIn 1990, the Trust opened the education attraction, ARC (Archaeological Resource Centre) in the church of St Saviours’ on St Saviourgate, in York. This housed many of the finds unearthed by the Trust’s archaeologists and served as a great out-of-school learning resource where visitors were actively encouraged to touch artefacts and further their understanding of archaeology following a visit to JORVIK Viking Centre. In 2006, following the growing demand for increased access and a more hands-on approach to archaeological experiences, ARC was transformed to DIG. For more information on DIG please visit the DIG website.

Excavating Driffield TerraceDuring 2004-5 the Trust excavated 80 burials at Driffield Terrace, York. This site was part of a large cemetery on the outskirts of the Roman town of Eboracum, across the river from the legionary fortress. The burials displayed evidence that so intrigued the archaeologists that further investigation was needed. Early research suggested that these people could have been a group of gladiators, who lived and fought in York during the Roman occupation.

An image from the Gladiators exhibtionFurther analysis is beginning to tell us more about the lives and deaths of these individuals. Were they, in fact, a group of specialist fighters or had they had been executed but given a decent burial? Or was this evidence of a group of people who had unusual views on religion or burial practices? This intriguing find gained massive worldwide interest and so we decided to build an exhibition based on this demand called Gladiators: A Cemetery of Secrets, which after being on display in York, then spent a year as a touring exhibition in Durham. For more information on the Gladiators exhibition and other Touring Exhibitions we can provide please click here.

Arial view of the Hungate Excavation2006 also saw the Trust starting excavations at Hungate; an ongoing archaeological investigation that offered a rare and exciting opportunity to look at a slice of 2000 years of York’s history, ahead of redevelopment. The Hungate excavation was the biggest developer-led excavation in the country and was funded by Hungate (York) Regeneration Ltd, a joint venture between Crosby Lend Lease, Evans Property Group and Land Securities Group PLC, as part of the work being carried out to create the new Hungate urban neighbourhood. For more information on the Hungate excavation please visit the website.

The great hall at Barley HallIn 2007 the Trust added the medieval townhouse and former residence of the Mayor of York, Barley Hall, to its portfolio of attractions. The Trust was behind the original discovery and restoration of Barley Hall in 1984, when it was lovingly restored to replicate the conditions of life in a merchant’s home at the end of the Middle Ages. Barley Hall is now a successful visitor attraction, providing a venue for a range of events including historical re-enactments, craft fairs, cultural events and private functions. For more information on Barley Hall visit the website.

3D mapping of Micklegate BarTo extend the scope and reach of its activities into Yorkshire, the Trust merged with the Sheffield archaeological unit, ArcHeritage, which brought with it a new skill-set in the form of Digital 3-D laser scanning. For more information on our digital 3-D laser scanning service please click here.

In 2011, following the successful merger of ArcHeritage, the Trust became even larger with the inclusion of Northlight Heritage in Glasgow and Trent & Peak Archaeology in Nottingham now under its ownership. The inclusion of these units, each with its own particular strengths and contributions, resulted in the Trust becoming an extraordinarily resilient organisation, now able to spread its expertise across Northern Britain.

RIII & HVII Battle2011 also saw Micklegate Bar Museum opening in April. This has since been redeveloped and rebranded the Henry VII Experience at Micklegate Bar to coincide with the launch of YAT’s fifth and latest attraction, the Richard III Experience at Monk Bar. For more information on the Henry VII and Richard III Experiences please visit the website.