Viking Age Town Planning
A talk by Peter Connelly, of York Archeological Trust
19th June 2014
Hungate - the street of bad repute?
My second Jorvik DIG attended talk was led by Peter Connelly on the theory of some kind of town-planning, organisation or structure in Viking Age York. The prime archeological source for his thoughts and theories is the fairly recent Hungate excavation site found further along Stonebow and not far from the original Coppergate site.
Hungate is found within the elbow of the River Foss and due to its enviornmental location it provides deeply stratified urban archeology.
Due to the planned urban redevelopment of the area Hungate had to be excavated in blocks and Block H is the biggest ever excavation area in York and is proving to be the longest with the financial crisis halting the developers plans and thus giving archeologists more time.
In this talk I learnt that in Post-Roman times Hungate is fields and pasture land due to excavation showing plow marks and the earlist Viking age deposits & finds being located above a thick layer of natural soil.
There were signs of land division and plot development in the 10th Century - evidence for wicker post holes found under the old medieval street. The actual path of the Hungate street forms from the traffic in and out of the city from the River Foss - so people, cattle & carts unloading and loading tradable goods.
Some of the first building/structures excataed within Block H showed vivid signs of industrial activity - tiger stripes within the soil - layer of burning and then layer of soil then layer of burning etc. Always found directly beneath the stone hearths. The material found within these burnt layers is mainly fragments of bone and industrial waste such as broken bits of metal, pot, or other objects. Leading to the idea of supposed multiple workshops turning into multiple rubbish burning huts. Which makes more sense as it is located on what was the former edge of town.
This then allowed Gillian Fellows-Jensen to investigate the origins of the name Hungate from a different approach - as in maybe it doesn't have anything to do with Hounds or Dogs although Gate/Gata is certainly the norse name for street - but perhaps this is a derogatory name or a street of bad repute. After all - the people who would have to work at burning the rubbish would certainly be placed at the bottom of any social heirarchy due to their job and the effects of - i.e. smell & dirt.
In the late 10th Century more buildings develop around 970 just before Erik Bloodaxe is killed as the last king of York - except these buildings are homes as they have no hearths and the other significant difference is they are sunken buildings with entrances usually a dug-out slope.
Building 1 reused old clinker planks from an Anglo-Saxon boat in the south-east wall. The archeologists could tell it was Anglo-Saxon and not Scandinavian as the wood has been tested to find its origins come from the south-east of England and the clinker building processes uses wooden pegs, not iron nails like the Vikings.
This evidence suggested Building 1 and others of the similar sunken structure type could be basement warehouses used to store materials, produce and food stuff. As the environment inside would be kept cool during summer heat and would not be so easily frozen during winters.
A lot of these structures were found within ditched plots of 16 x 5 metres and those dimensions can still be found within modern day developments - such as Dutton's for Buttons - if looked at on a map fits those dimensions exactly - potentially hinting a long history of use on one plot of land.
Another fascinating discovery made in the Hungate dig is that there was strong industry of comb-making in the area. As within one pit archeologists discovered hundreds of pieces of antler bones both unconditioned, partially made, broken and even complete combs. Most unusual to find peices that could have been useful let alone completed pieces. Which begs the question why was it all diposited in such a mix? Why would such resources be thrown away? Was it done in a hurry? This is also evidence of industry zones - after all Coppergate is responsible for cupmaking and cupmakers, Hungate in later life became the place to go for the comb trade.
However by the year of the Norman Conquest these buildings were either filled in, collapsed (one actually has evidence of an attempt to burn it down along one side wall) and material rubbed out or reused to left to fade invisible.
Having said that if it was for the Norman invasion and the new Norman lords damming the Foss to flood the motte around Cliffords Tower and form the Kings Pool 1100-1300AD the water table wouldn't have risen naturally enough to preserve what archeology has been found.
Thus concludes the fascinating knowledge I learnt from this one talk.
My next post continuing 2014 as my Year of the Viking steps up a notch as it is the 'Unlocking the Vikings' Conference held at Nottingham Univeristy and featuring the very exciting conclusion to the Language, Myths & Finds Project run by several PHD students at the University which covers 5 different areas of the country. So I'm giving you an early warning - it will be a very LONG blog post and thus might take me more than an afternoon to write it up as there is lots to share and tell. I intend to give highlights of each talk otherwise it could easily turn into a novel length post if I went into detail.
Hope you can join me the.