Matthew Lester

Matthew Lester

Matthew moved to York in 2013 from the Republic of Ireland and started working for the York Archaeological Trust shortly after.  Matthew was educated in University College Cork Ireland and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Archaeology and History, Master of Arts in Human Osteoarchaeology and a Postgraduate Diploma in Education.  Matthew works across the JORVIK Group’s attractions as a Visitor Services and Learning Programme Host.

Zooarchaeology Rationalisation Project

One of the best things about working for the York Archaeological Trust is the diversity of placements and secondments that staff members can become involved in.  These opportunities are an incredible way for staff to get involved around the Trust and gain a better understanding of the work being done behind the scenes in the heritage industry.  Getting to work alongside the experts allows Visitor Services Hosts like myself to develop and expand our archaeological skills and experience which we then bring back into our roles across the JORVIK Group.

Between June and September 2015 the Trust carried out a Zooarchaeology Rationalisation Project aimed at sorting and cataloguing the animal bone finds from the H2 section of the Hungate excavation.  The small team worked context by context identifying the animal species present and the ratios of each species in the individual contexts.  Every bone fragment was also analysed for interesting marks, inclusions and wear patterns.  The most common markings identified included evidence of butchery and jointing, and the chopping of long bones to expose the marrow within.  Many items had extensive chew marks where some of the dogs of Hungate had been snacking.

The project identified a wide range of animal species and showed diverse animal species in the local environment.  Large amounts of Cattle, Sheep and Pigs were found along with the occasional Goat and Horse.  These species where of course expected as part of the diet alongside more domesticated species like Dog and Cat. Red Deer and Fallow Deer were represented in the assemblage but in small numbers.  Interestingly some of the sheep skulls recovered were from four horned sheep which have become increasingly rare in the United Kingdom. Animals from the surrounding area were also represented with Polecat and hedgehog uncovered.  Some very large Canid metapodials where recorded which may possibly have been from a wolf.  One particularly odd possible identification came in the form of a baculum from a Seal which may have been caught for its hide.


Chicken and Goose had the highest representation of bird bones found during the rationalisation, but some other fascinating species were identified.  Crane was identified and continues to be a seasonal visitor to the United Kingdom travelling here for the summer.  Coastal birds like the Puffin and possibly Razorbill/Guillemot have been found in the H2 section of the Hungate material and would have had to have been brought to York from coastal areas.  Scavenging carrion birds like the Redkite and Raven were found as well as more predatory species like the Goshawk and Sparrowhawk.

With such a large amount of material being excavated from the site there was bound to be a few small finds that where over looked in the initial excavation process.  Some of the more interesting finds recovered during this project were socketed Cattle metapodials (Cow feet bones) and worked deer antler (Predominantly Red Deer).  Possibly the most spectacular item recovered was a worked horse metapodial.  This item was socketed at the proximal end and worked to a tapered point at the distal portion.  The base of the item had been worn flat and smooth to a polished like finish.  This item was interpreted to be Viking Age ice skate and can be added to the collection of such finds found by York Archaeological Trusts excavators.  Another very interesting piece was a bone fragment with carved knot work which may have been part of a larger decorative item or possibly a trial piece for a craftsman honing his skills.

The Rationalization project allowed for the in-depth analyses of the animal bone recovered from the Hungate excavation, and built toward resilience.  Materials recovered of a significant nature are being retained for posterity and future study.  The experience gained during this project by my colleagues and I has proved to be of great value.  The information and practical experience has furthered our knowledge of zooarchaeology and this has been brought back into our roles across the Trust.

David Scott