Bones Abroad: Adventures in York

Following my romp across the Welsh countryside, I was off to York. York is a city of historical layers, and during this trip I had the opportunity to explore those layers a bit. If you get the opportunity to visit York, there are many fantastic things for you to explore and do.

Ruins of an old chapel in York, located on the edge of a lovely park

Ruins of an old chapel in York, located on the edge of a lovely park

The city of York was founded by the Romans in 71 CE, and they named it Eboracum. It became the capital of the Roman province of Britannia Inferior. Following the end of Roman occupation, it slowly became occupied by German migrants, and evolved into the seat of the kingdom of Northumbria. As the Vikings began invading England, York maintained its important role and was renamed Jorvik. During the Middle Ages, it remained important for its role in wool trading, and finally as retained this important role in being the northern capital for the Church of England. In sum, York has been an important hub of activity for hundreds of years. Due to this, it has a rich archaeological history.

Jorvik Viking Centre: In the 1970’s, an archaeological excavation was done within the city walls of York that revealed a well-preserved Viking settlement known as Jorvik. After years of excavation and research, the outcome is the Jorvik Viking Centre- a Disney adventure ride that uses archaeology as its inspiration; think Pirates of the Caribbean or the Haunted House but this time you’re riding through a mid-9th century Viking settlement. You start by learning about the excavation itself, as well as the broader context of the Viking world. Then you hop into a small cart and are given an audio-tour as you physically move through the interpretation of the settlement. They do a fantastic job of interpreting the archaeology and presenting it in an accessible manner despite the creepiness of some of the wax figurines. Following this, you get the chance to see some of the skeletons found at the site- which of course was my favorite part. You can also learn about the artifacts found there, and how these led them to have a better understanding of the people at Jorvik. Despite the smell throughout the centre (meant to replicate how it would have smelled in the past, honestly just smelled like bad burnt chocolate to me), it is a really great experience for any archaeologist of any age.

An interesting and colorful memorial in York Minster

An interesting and colorful memorial in York Minster

York Minster: There are many things I could say about the Minster, it is incredibly beautiful and fantastic, however I’m just going to mention a few things that stand out for archaeologists and those with interests in the dead. First, when you’re walking through the Minster, look at the floor and the walls. They are covered with the stories and histories of the wealthier families and revered individuals who lived and died in York. Some of them features individuals who are stoic, some are more romantic, and a few are a little odd and out of place. It is the burial place of Osbald, King of Northumbria, numerous archbishops, and important donors and supporters of the church. But what interests me even more, is what is below the Minster- the Undercroft. In the 1970’s, York Minster was falling apart- the current structure had been built upon older foundations that couldn’t support its weight. New foundations and support needed to be constructed below it. This meant that an archaeological survey needed to be done. They found layers of history beginning with a Roman fort occupation, then an Anglo-Saxon church, which was demolished for creation of a Norman church that was expanded over the centuries to larger more grand iterations of the Minster. The exhibit shares the history of the excavation and the Minster with stunning 3D recreations and displays. Most important- there is a fantastic game that allows you to recreate the burial of Archbishop Walter De Gray.

Computer simulation that allows you to put De Grey's coffin artifacts back in and fix his burial!! Awesome!!

Computer simulation that allows you to put De Grey’s coffin artifacts back in and fix his burial!! Awesome!!

Also, don’t forget to visit some of the haunted pubs like the Golden Fleece, and if you get the chance visit Archaeology Data Service at the University of York- fantastic digital people there!

2 responses to “Bones Abroad: Adventures in York

  1. Just as a side note I was at York Minster 25 years ago and was told that previously, can’t remember the year, there was a fire that required large volumes of water to extinguish it. They feared the worst with water damage, but discovered the old Roman drainage system had done its job. I can’t vouch for the information; interesting all the same. Enjoy reading your blog.

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