My current role within the York Archaeological Trust is as a Visitor Service Host, and so my five-week secondment to 421 was an interesting change of pace from my usual duties. It also allowed me to meet volunteers, interns and other people on placement who I would not normally have had the opportunity to meet.
The primary goal of my time at 421 was to create a database that provided a summary of information for each of the lithics within the York Archaeological Trust’s collection. Within archaeology the term lithics pertains to stone artefacts, however the main objective of the database is to provide a brief analysis of the flints within the collection. Flint is a highly crystalline form of quartz or silica, and is chemically and structurally very similar to glass and obsidian. It is usually found as large lumps or nodules, as well as continuous seams embedded in chalk.
The focus of the database is on the flints that were recovered during excavations from within York. However, there is a large quantity of lithic material that was recovered from excavations that took place outside of York by the York Archaeological Trust. These lithics would be interesting to document in the same way as it would allow us to compare and contrast lithic patterns in these different areas.
The project began with a group session run by Don Henson, who spoke to us about lithic tool technologies. As part of the session we were given the opportunity to handle some flint tools and had to determine whether these had been worked or were natural (unworked) pieces of flint.
During the first week of my placement I worked alongside Don as he taught me how to identify the difference between natural and worked flint. From the second week of my placement until its conclusion, I was able to work autonomously, using all of the skills that Don had taught me in the previous week in conjunction with an identification guide I had created, to record the flints.
Don returned for an extra day to help me identify the flints that I was uncertain of, as well as to help me finish the excel document we had created to show the percentages of flint tool types; of particular importance was identifying how many natural (unworked) flints are in the collections. From the database that was created based on the collection of flints from within York there are approximately 2,598 flints in total, with at least 990 of these categorised as ‘natural’ (unworked).
Following on from this I had begun the discard process for the natural pieces of flint. Once these have been recorded as ‘discarded’ on IADB and in the ‘green books’ (hard copy version of small finds recovered from each excavation carried out), some of the pieces will be used within a reference collection aimed at aiding the identification of different types of flint.
To go alongside this reference collection, I have also created a ‘guide to flints’, which primarily addresses the different raw material types (such as Yorkshire Wolds and Till flints), as well as the different types of tools and debitage. Alongside this I have developed a basic ‘how to’ guide for photographing flint tools.
There is still some work to do before the project is finished, due to the amount of time that is required to complete the discard process. Following the floods at the end of 2015 I have been able to return to 421 in order to complete the resilience project. During this time, I have been able to complete the discard processes for the natural (unworked) flints, and have begun to put together a reference collection of the debitage and flint tools that Don and I identified during my secondment. In addition to this I have selected a range of worked flints to be photographed by Peter Livesey, who is currently photographing the last of these.
The opportunity to undertake this resilience project has allowed me to gain experience in an area that I have not been able to experience before. It has been particularly beneficial in relation to my background in the study of prehistoric periods, as a large proportion of the archaeological evidence available comes from lithic tool technologies.
With this in mind, the identification of some of the lithic tools within the YAT collection can be photographed and used to aid the education department following the introduction of ‘prehistory’ to the national curriculum.
This secondment has been a wonderful opportunity, and has allowed me to gain an insight into an aspect of archaeology I have previously not had the chance to experience, as well as being able to work alongside the Finds team and the volunteers, all of whom have taught me a huge amount.