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Archaeological Fieldwork and Historical Discoveries in Yorkshire

Yorkshire Archaeology

Archaeological fieldwork is undertaken by individuals and organisations for a variety of reasons. In some cases it is commissioned in response to planning applications and professional archaeological contractors or consultants are employed.

The Council for British Archaeology hosts an online forum for those involved in community archaeology. Their website also provides advice on how to set up a community project and where to archive your finds.

Neolithic

In the Neolithic Period, people began to farm and domesticate animals. The evidence for this has been recovered from pits, artefact spreads and monumental structures.

The Neolithic is also characterised by a renewed phase of ceremonial monuments, known as henges. South Yorkshire has never been particularly noted for its henge monuments, but recent investigations at Hallam Moors suggest that this is changing.

The Neolithic finds include antler frontlets, which were probably used in ritual practice, along with a number of inhumation and cremation burials. There were also crouched burials and a hearth. These finds indicate that the site was of significant importance to its inhabitants.

Bronze Age

The Late Neolithic / Early Bronze Age in South Yorkshire is a notoriously difficult period to study. Pottery is absent, and chipped stone largely unreliable as a proxy for building material culture. The only class of artefact that can be attributed to this phase is copper alloy, typically in the form of a spearhead or a looped or socketed axe head.

Developer funded archaeology, however, has added new information to the picture through investigations of cropmark features at Wombwell and Goldthorpe in recent years. These have included the potential ring ditches of round barrows at both, and pits in which Middle Bronze Age pottery and Grooved Ware has been recovered.

Iron Age

The Yorkshire Archaeological Society began in 1863 with the aim “the examination, preservation and illustration of the History, Architecture, Antiquities, Customs, Manners and Arts of the County of York”. The Society has an active programme of lectures and visits and publishes a journal called the Bulletin for section members.

At Roos Carr in East Yorkshire, carved wooden figures were discovered with detachable accessories like paddles and shields. Radio carbon dating shows these curious creations date from the late Bronze Age, or Early Iron Age. They may have been votive offerings or even depictions of important community members. At Pocklington excavations have revealed an amazing Iron Age chariot burial.

Roman

The Roman period is one of the great strengths of South Yorkshire archaeology. Artefacts are found in a wide range of contexts, from formal excavations to finds from metal-detecting. Many questions remain unaddressed, such as the relationship between rural settlement and forts or vici.

A good example is the series of six contiguous sites at Balby Carr excavated by three different organisations. Each employed its own reporting methods but observed overall South Yorkshire Archaeology protocols. One could not have made much progress without the co-operation of the different groups.

Medieval

Archaeology of the medieval period covers a broad spectrum of study from the end of the Roman period to the Reformation, covering settlements and landscapes as well as buildings, artefacts, religion, social structure, trade, economy and culture.

Pottery assemblages can provide chronologies for rural and urban sites, although care is required to avoid constructing simple narratives of change without the endorsement of more formal dating techniques. Bulk assemblages, such as those of animal bones, can also be used to examine changes in livestock rearing and culling regimes and diet. Evidence of the exploitation of marine species can also be interpreted. Such changes in cultivation and husbandry practices reflect wider environmental trends.

Modern

Archaeological evidence for the late Roman period and the early medieval period remains sparse in Yorkshire. There are a number of cemeteries dating to the Saxon and Viking periods but settlement hierarchies remain unclear.

The society publishes the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal which can be accessed in Leeds libraries. It also has seven special interest groups which can be joined without membership of the main YAHS.

Anyone undertaking archaeological work within the council area is encouraged to contact the heritage services team and record their discoveries. This will help to build up our knowledge of the region’s archaeology. The University of York is also running an online course about the mesolithic site at Star Carr.

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