Archaeologists Discover Medieval Artifacts Ahead of Bridge Demolition in England

Found during a construction project near the railway station in York, the trove includes pottery and bones

Researchers discovered broken pottery in a medieval ditch beneath a bridge in the city's center. York Archaeology

Archaeologists have discovered 800-year-old trash discarded by medieval residents of York, England. Unearthed beneath a bridge in the city’s center, the animal bones and pieces of glazed pottery occupied large drainage ditches dating to the 13th and 14th centuries.

Researchers from York Archaeology were excavating around the Queen Street Bridge, which is set to be demolished ahead of renovations to a nearby railway station. The site had been buried for about 150 years.

“This is an area that has been substantially disturbed by building works during the Victorian era,” says project manager Mary-Anne Slater in a statement from York Archaeology. The mid-1800s brought large-scale urbanization to the area, culminating in the York Railway Station. At the time of its 1877 opening, the station was the largest train hub in the world.

Excavations took place below the Queen Street Bridge, which is set to be demolished and replaced by a permanent ground-level road. York Archaeology

During the recent dig, researchers found large patches of Victorian brick that once paved paths to the station; these were accompanied by drainage ditches from the 19th century, reports BBC News’ Emily Johnson. The blueish-gray “scoria” bricks are composed of recycled industrial waste. According to York Archaeology, the blocks were cut from slag—a stony byproduct of smelting ore in a blast furnace, which was an important component of English industry in the 1800s.

Below the Victorian drainage ditches, researchers discovered medieval trenches dating back between 700 and 800 years. As the York Press’ Stephen Lewis reports, they contained pieces of green glaze pottery and animal bones.

“This area outside the city walls was agricultural land during the medieval period, and the ditches may have been used for dumping rubbish from the medieval city,” Slater adds.

Large patches of Victorian-era brick roads were found beneath layers of earth. York Archaeology

Even earlier, the site was home to a Roman cemetery. Researchers found “disturbed bone” in part of the trench, which may have surfaced from greater depths due to farmers tilling the soil. Still, archaeologists have “yet to excavate any skeletons comparable with those found previously at York Station” in 2020.

“From previous work in the York Station area, we know that there is a high possibility of Roman burials being present,” says Pete Kilbane, deputy leader of the City of York Council. He adds that conducting an archaeological survey ahead of construction is especially vital in York, as the city has been continuously inhabited for 2,000 years.

Excavations will continue in the area below the bridge even after the structure has been demolished (and before a new permanent road is set into the ground). As the York Press writes, “There may yet be more finds to come.”

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