The Viking Dig at Coppergate between 1976 and 1981 drew over one million visitors, and its popularity led to the creation of the JORVIK Viking Centre, which has since welcomed over 17 million visitors through its doors. This week, York Archaeological Trust will publish the final academic volume chronicling the research which followed the dig, “Anglo-Scandinavian Occupation at 16-22 Coppergate: Defining a Townscape”.
The dig, and the long programme of research which followed, was directed throughout by Dr Richard Hall. Sadly, Dr Hall died in 2011 with this final report only three-quarters completed, but since then his wife and colleague, Dr Ailsa Mainman, has led a team of archaeologists at the Trust determined to see it through. “Richard was passionately interested in the Viking Age and devoted a large part of his career to understanding this site. It was very important to him that this work was completed, and we had to see that it was done,” comments Dr Mainman. “With the help of Trust field officers David Evans and Kurt Hunter-Mann and a number of other specialists this has now been accomplished.”
Dr Hall had left a well-advanced text with lots of notes to himself to follow up, and these became like pieces of the jigsaw to put in place in order to complete the final publication.
The Coppergate development site encompassed a total of 2.02 ha with 1000m2 of it fully excavated; in places archaeological deposits were five metres thick and spanned two thousand years of York’s history. 40,000 individual archaeological deposits, ranging from Roman to late medieval in date were recognised and amongst them were the best preserved buildings in the Viking world.
“It was possible to date the well-preserved timber buildings very precisely, in some cases to the actual winter when the trees were felled, and the results show that the pace of development in York was very fast once the Viking Great Army settled in the city. It was a bit of late 9th century town planning which just took off. York really boomed in the 10th century!” adds Dr Mainman.
A memorial conference for Dr Hall, held at the University of York last month, brought speakers from across the Viking world whose papers paid tribute to his contribution; some of them forged their careers on material recovered from the Coppergate excavations. “We hope that Richard’s legacy in this latest, and final, Coppergate research report will be to enthuse the next generation to learn more about York’s Viking past,” comments Dr Mainman. “The archive that Richard and his colleagues created will remain dynamic for decades to come, ready to be explored anew as more sophisticated techniques are developed – as indeed, has happened during the last 33 years. In the meantime, visitors from around the world can continue to explore the Viking city within the JORVIK Viking Centre.”
The book is available from York Archaeological Trust for £17.40 plus p&p, online throughhttp://www.yorkarchaeology.co.uk/resources/pubs.htm
Notes to editors:
Support for the Coppergate Viking Dig came from many quarters. Patronage by Scandinavian royalty, led by the Prince of Wales, proved invaluable while help from sympathetic banks and generous businessmen showed the breadth of its appeal.
The dig revealed, for the first time, a great swathe of the Viking Age city with backyards and pathways and the remains of thirteen houses, some found still standing almost two metres high. The soil conditions on site meant that perishable items such as wood, leather, cloth and even bugs and beetles were perfectly preserved.
The buildings, combined with other archaeologically-rich deposits including waste pits from their one-time residents, have enabled archaeologists to identify a rich and detailed portrait of life in Viking-age Jorvik, from the trades carried out by its residents to the food they ate, and even the parasites that plagued their lives.
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