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Excavation: Period 3 Anglian Settlement

Cecily Spall and Nicky Toop

Period 3 dates from the late 7th century to the mid-9th century, and dating relies principally on pottery and coins. Evidence for Period 3 activity takes the form of two main pit groups (one associated with the presence of a nearby structure), three double-pit groups and scattered features located in smaller interventions. The activity is focussed primarily at Blue Bridge Lane, where a total of thirty-one features of this date have been identified. A single pit, F64F, was defined and excavated close to the northern boundary of Fishergate House; a nearby burial previously thought to have belonged to a later medieval cemetery was radiocarbon dated to the early 8th century (see The Cemetery).

Location of Period 3 features (Interactive SVG image)


Several of the Period 3 pits cut into remnant Period 2 soil horizons or features, but dating relied heavily on pottery, coins and occasional diagnostic artefacts. The character of the Anglian archaeology was so distinct that in some cases allocation to Period 3 was possible according to the nature of the pit fills, which were often cessy, and contained distinctive animal bone assemblages.

Eight pottery types were identified (see Period 3 pottery), namely North Maxey Ware and Lincoln Fine-Shelled Ware, Ipswich Ware, Badorf Ware, imported grey and black burnished wares, two quartz sand tempered wares and an unidentified, but possibly imported, ware. The date of settlement suggested by these wares begins in the later 7th century and ends towards the late 8th century based on the scarcity of Ipswich Ware. However, a total of nine Period 3 coins were recovered (see The Coins), being seven sceatta (three continental) and two stycas. As such the coins fall mainly into the late 7th to 8th century period, but the stycas suggest some activity up to the mid-9th century. The date parameters for Period 3 have thus been established, although the nature of the ceramic assemblages, which were often mixed and included combinations of earlier and later wares, as well as the scarcity of coins and stratigraphic relationships, meant that it was not possible to phase the pits more precisely; pit groups are therefore spatial not temporal.

Problems of dating

The incidence of intrusive pottery within Period 3 was higher than in any succeeding period; in several features, multiple sherds of Anglo-Scandinavian and later medieval date were recovered from deposits, which had otherwise been considered to be Anglian; in some cases intrusive pottery outweighed the contemporary pottery. Closer analysis of the features containing intrusive material demonstrated that the intrusion had most commonly been the result of later features and deposits cutting, overlying and truncating Anglian features, although in some cases the sequence on site was not clear and had been incorrectly excavated, but was redressed during post-excavation. In addition, the accumulation of deposits within features, along with high levels of internal deposit subsidence within Period 3 feature fill-systems, meant that even the stratigraphically earliest fills were exposed in plan at the surface. Not only had the internal subsidence left early deposits exposed at the surface, but it had also resulted in depressions developing, which were found to have continued 'swallowing' overlying features and deposits into the 15th century.

Pit Group 1

This group consisted principally of a cluster of five pits located towards the eastern end of Intervention 15, and included two large pits, F458B and F557B, and three smaller pits and associated postholes, F351B, F273B F359B with F387B, F501B, F502B and F522B.

Pit group 1, post-excavation (Interactive SVG image)

With the exception of F557B, which was only partially exposed and could not be fully investigated, the pits within the group appear to have been used primarily for the disposal of cess. Evidence for their original function was manifest as clayey-silt and silty-clay basal deposits, most of which yielded faecal concretions and chewed, probably digested, fish bone during environmental assessment (see The Environmental Evidence). In addition several pits appeared to have lain open for some time, marked by subsoil collapses and occasional small vertebrate bones of frog, mice and voles (see The Animal and Fish Bone).

After initial use as cesspits, the features appear to have been filled more rapidly with a mixture of material probably representing redeposited midden material and in some cases more primary refuse consisting of ash-like deposits. The assemblage of material recovered from Pit Group 1 consisted of residual Period 2 ceramic, Northern Maxey Ware, Ipswich Ware, Lincoln Fine-Shelled Ware, sand tempered wares and intrusive Period 6 to 9 material. Craft-working waste was present in the form of split rib fragments, a bone toothplate blank and cut antler (see Bone-, Antler- and Horn-working), and hammerscale. Personal items were represented by a fragmentary bone pin, a fragment of calcined antler knife handle with incised line decoration, four conjoining sections of a composite single-sided comb with double connecting plates and incised line decoration dateable stylistically to the 8th century, and an unusually large red deer metapodial skate (see The Bone, Antler, Ivory and Horn objects). In addition, an angle-backed whittle-tang iron blade, an iron dress pin with a lead-alloy head and two sherds of Saxon glass, one with white trailed decoration were recovered (see The Metal Objects and The Glass).

Pit Group 2

A second pit group was defined towards the western limit of Intervention 15, and although more dispersed than Pit Group 1, nevertheless seemed to form a coherent group. The group consisted of two large pits, F381B and F13B, which are associated with five subsidiary smaller pits F408B/F246B, F402B, F164B and F353B. In addition, a possible small post-in-trench feature F413B, and posthole F517B, have been assigned to the group. Alongside the presence of these two small structural features, the recovery of burnt building materials, domestic, and personal items suggests nearby occupation and possibly a timber building. Raised numbers of commensal mammals were identified in central pit F381B, with raised numbers of non-commensals recovered from pits on the edge of the group, many of which possibly belonged in an alignment. Added to this, the bones of immature domesticates were rare at the site, but most often recovered from Pit Group 2 fills and include kid, piglet, kitten, lamb and calf bones.

Pit group 2, post-excavation (Interactive SVG image)

Again, the primary function of several of the pits in Pit Group 2 appeared to have been for the disposal of cess, although others were clearly excavated for the direct disposal of rubbish; in two pits evidence for lining suggests possible storage. F13B and F381B were the most substantial features; F13B was characterised by a deep central shaft and open bowl-shaped mouth and F381B by a large, but shelved form. Along with F408B, their basal fills were characterised by clayey-silts and silty-clays and again environmental assessment identified faecal concretions and chewed fish bone. Within F381B the articulated skeleton of a common frog was excavated demonstrating that it had been left open for a time, while the undercut edges of F13B and F408B suggest a period of collapse after initial excavation. Like Pit Group 1 subsequent disuse appears to have been rapid consisting of redeposited midden material. Once disused, cesspit F408B subsided and the subsequent hollow was reused as a hearth (F246B) and thus represents the only primary activity of Period 3 date.

F381B north west facing section

F381B north west facing section

Pit F388B was unique among the Period 3 features, since it appeared to have been excavated for the sole purpose of refuse disposal. Its primary fill consisted of a deposit of animal bone, which was identified as representing most of a butchered cattle torso and therefore primary butchery waste, which is consistent with the economy of the site. Once deposited, backfilling appears to have been rapid and immediate, since none of the bones showed any signs of having been gnawed.

F388B, C1856B pre-excavation

F388B, C1856B pre-excavation

Two other pits also stand out among the Period 3 features, F353B and F164B. F353B consisted of a sub-square pit cut into subsoil and may have been lined with an unspecified organic lining, or at least left open for a time to allow a 'crust' of weathered subsoil to form at its edges; subsequent backfilling was rapid and consisted of midden-like material. Similarly, F164B to the north of F353B, appeared to have been partially backfilled and then lined with clay. Both features deviate from the normal pattern of cess disposal followed by rapid disuse with rubbish and these features may have been used for storage.

Material recovered from Pit Group 2 was far more common and richer that of Pit Group 1, and included strong indicators of textile-, bone-, antler- and horn-working, and metal-working. In addition, a range of personal and food processing items were recovered, as well as preserved building materials.

Distribution of Period 3 material throughout pit groups (Interactive SVG image)

Pottery wares recovered from the group included residual Period 2 pottery, Northern Maxey Ware, sand tempered wares, black burnished ware, Lincoln Fine-shelled Ware and a sherd of a Rhenish Badorf Ware. Four sceatta (two continental dated to c.695- c.740; two English dated to c.710-60 and 737-758AD) were recovered from Pit Group 2 features and a nearby Period 6 feature yielded a residual styca of Aethelred (843/4-49/50), which probably originated from a Period 3 feature in Pit Group 2.

Bone-, antler- and horn-working waste was recovered in the form of frequent spilt ribs, cut antler including shed burrs, comb billet blanks and chopped cattle horncores. Textile-working was also indicated by the presence clay loomweight fragments, three clay spindlewhorls, two decorated and a highly polished thread-picker (see Textile-working). Metal-working was suggested by hammerscale recovered from hearth F246B, as well as frequent amorphous lead blobs, a fragment of copper alloy wire and a piece of iron sheet offcut. Perhaps most significantly, a discarded Roman intaglio was also recovered (see The Stone Objects). The base of the gem has several areas of damage, which may be the result of having been prised from its precious metal setting. This is the only evidence of precious metal-working recovered during excavation, albeit oblique. Amber-working was also hinted at by the recovery of a large lump of raw amber. This find is remarkable for its size and could represent amber-working as a craft undertaken at the site. The reason for its disposal is not clear, although the piece has a sea-worn 'crust' and could easily have been discarded mistakenly as a stone.

Personal items included a range of toilet implements including tweezers, a possible ear scoop and several comb fragments, two being unusual examples; one has a double side-plate construction and appears to derive from a single-sided zoomorphic form decorated with ring and dot ornament, the second is represented by an antler side-plate which has a concavo-convex profile and is decorated with a line of fourteen ring-and-dot-motifs, linked together by a chain of interlocking double rings. Other personal items included bone and metal dress pins, fragmentary and complete glass beads (see The Glass Objects), an unusual antler mount or buckle and iron buckles.

F381B antler comb side-plate

F381B antler comb side-plate

Domestic artefacts were also notably present and included three small iron fish hooks, several fragments of lavastone quernstones, structural ironwork, four whittle-tang iron blades and several whetstones, and the end of an iron barrel padlock. In addition a possible unfired oil lamp was recovered from F353B.

Charred seeds were recovered from Pit Group 2 fills and may relate to grain processing as already indicated by the querns, but interestingly, could alternatively indicate the presence of roofing material having been imported in thatch. Charred wheat, barley, oat and plant matter were recovered from F408B and a total of nearly 16kg of burnt daub was recovered from the upper fills of F381B; together this material suggests a timber-built structure had been destroyed by fire nearby.

Double Pit Group 1

As well as the two pit groups, three double-pit groups were identified. Two of these could have been grouped with Pit Groups 1 or 2, and a similarly associated pair were also identified in Intervention 22. The first double pit group consists of two sub-square pits, F508B and F442B, situated to the west of Pit Group 1.

F508B was identified as a truncated sub-square pit of unknown function with a single sterile backfill containing only residual Period 2 pottery. The second feature in the double pit group F442B appeared as a vertical-sided deep pit measuring up to 1.5m in depth. The basal fills of the feature were identified during excavation as cess-like, although environmental assessment did not identify faecal concretions. Subsequent backfills contained domestic and craft-working refuse including four fragments of split rib and two further pieces of worked bone, as well as three fragmentary clay loomweights, including a waster. In addition, various indicators of glass- and metal-working were recovered including an amorphous lead blob, a fragment of tuyère, a malformed green glass bead and an iron strip.

Personal items included fragments of two bone combs, a fragmentary whetstone, a fragment of Saxon glass beaker and an iron key fragment. A good assemblage of pottery was recovered and included Northern Maxey Ware, Early Lincoln Fine-shelled Ware and Sandstone-tempered Ware.

Double Pit Group 2

Double Pit Group 2 was located 2.4m to the north of Double Pit Group 1 and consisted of a truncated feature, F143B, and a more substantial pit, F241B/F225B. Double Pit Group 1 appears to oppose Double Pit Group 2, although within the confines of Intervention 15 and without further context, any grouping or association must remain tentative.

F143B was defined as a truncated sub-circular feature measuring and appeared to have been used initially for the disposal of cess, since its basal fill consisted of irregular patches of green silty-clay, although no faecal concretions were identified during environmental assessment. Mixed backfilling followed and a continental issue sceat dated to c.695 to 740 was recovered from the feature, as well as a single sherd of Period 2 pottery.

Immediately to the south of F143B were two features, a bonfire kiln F225B, which reused the contours of an underlying partially backfilled or subsided cesspit, F241B. F241B was a well-defined pit, with a steep shaft which became more gradual at the pit mouth and was reminiscent of the form of F13B. The basal deposit consisted of a yellowish-brown silty-clay, which was sampled and found to be extremely sterile and is therefore likely to represent redeposited subsoil from collapsing edges. Subsequently, the pit was filled with a series of refuse deposits containing rich assemblages of animal bone and some faecal concretions and chewed fish bone, which indicate a cess component. Material recovered from the refuse deposits included a mid-4th century coin (Constantius II, 347-48, AE4) from C1531B, Black Burnished Ware and Sandstone-tempered Ware, as well as residual Roman glass and six fragmentary loomweights, although these are likely to derive from overlying F225B.

The deposit profile within F241B suggests that the refuse deposits contained a quantity of organic material which had broken down or rotted and thus caused subsidence. This below-ground subsidence appears to have resulted in the creation of a small hollow, which was reused as the setting for a small bonfire kiln. This episode of reuse and final backfilling was allocated F225B. F225B was identified as the remains of a small bonfire kiln due to the presence of several fragmentary clay loomweights set within a small ash- and sand-filled depression. Several fragmentary loomweights were recorded in situand hand-collected, while numerous small fragments belonging to many other loomweights were recovered by fine- and coarse-sieving and flotation. A minimum number of thirty-five loomweights was identified, although many more are likely to be represented. A sceat of Archbishop Ecgberth (with Eadberht) was recovered from an overlying Period 8B soil spread, C1283B, and is likely to have been disturbed from F225B, providing a probable mid-8th century date.

F225B in situ loomweights

F225B in situ loomweights

Double pit group 3

A third double pit group was identified within Intervention 22 and included two cesspits, F427B and F437B. A posthole has been tentatively grouped with the cesspits; all three features may belong to a larger pit group beyond the limits of Intervention 22.

F427B was first identified as a sub-circular feature measuring 1.6m in diameter, which had cut and damaged a Period 2 cremation burial (Cremation 5, F394B). The feature was steep-sided, with areas of undercut suggesting that the edges had collapsed while the feature lay open. Its basal fills consisted of silty-sands and silty-clays; environmental assessment identified faecal concretions in all of the fills. After use as a cesspit, F427B was backfilled with a deposit of domestic refuse, which contained animal bone, Northern Maxey Ware and conjoining fragments of a composite decorated bone comb.

F437B was situated immediately southwest of F427B and proved to be 0.40m deep with steep, sometimes undercut, sides. The basal fill consisted of a dark grey clayey-silt with lenses of olive green sand which appeared cess-like, although no faecal concretions were identified during environmental assessment. The base of F437B was undermined, suggesting that while the basal fills were accumulating, the feature lay open. F437B was subsequently backfilled with two deposits of clayey-silt, C1943B and C1797B, which contained residual Period 2 pottery and a sherd of intrusive York Glazed Ware introduced by the digging of overlying F434B. A piece of lavastone quern and an assemblage of animal bone were recovered and considered to be diagnostic Period 3 feature fills.

F417B was situated 1.80m to the west of F427B and F437B, and has been allocated to this phase since it contained only three sherds of abraded Roman ceramic and fragments of animal bone. The feature consisted of a vertically-sided posthole with a central post-void.

Outlying pits

Several other Period 3 features were identified and excavated during the main phase of work, although they were situated within small excavation areas and their context and possible pit associations are unknown. These features include a single Period 3 pit excavated within the grounds of Fishergate House, F64F, as well as two large Anglian pits in Interventions 16 and 24 at Blue Bridge Lane (F520B and F546B respectively).


The excavated form of F64F consisted of a deep cut and, like F381B, had a shelved form with a deeper shaft towards the southern side of the feature. The basal fills consisted of grey clay and bluish-grey clays and yielded an irregular issue styca of the mid-9th century; environmental assessment identified faecal concretions and chewed fish bone in all three basal deposits and the presence of amphibian bone also suggests the pit lay open for some time while in use. Subsequently, F64F was filled with a series of bone-rich humic deposits, which contained assemblages of domestic and craft-working refuse. Ceramic recovered from F64F included Ipswich Ware, Northern Maxey Ware and a sherd of imported pottery. The assemblage was given a date of the early to mid-8th century, although the styca from a basal fill suggests the overlying material may have derived from midden material used to cap the cess deposits. Craft-working material consisted of an assemblage of bone comb-making debris, including several bone and antler tooth and side-plate blanks. A fragment of clay loomweight and a clay spindlewhorl were also recovered.


This feature was identified as a large apparently sub-rectangular pit located in the southeastern corner of Intervention 16 and disappearing beneath the southern and eastern limits of the intervention. Its excavated form consisted of a sub-rectangular pit and the basal fill consisted of a thin patchy deposit of fine greyish-green silt, although no faecal concretions were identified during environmental assessment. The feature was then filled with a series of bone-rich humic fills interleaved with dumps and thin treads of redeposited subsoil, which may derive from periodic collapse and deliberate lining or capping of the pit contents.

Material recovered from F520B was indicative of metal-working, or more specifically, lead-alloy working. Several spheres and amorphous lead pieces were found alongside fragments of lead trimming and copper alloy sheet. In addition, fragments of split and chopped rib and bone blanks from bone-comb making were recovered. A globular amber bead, a small fragment of iron pyrites, Black Burnished Ware, Sandstone tempered Ware and Lincoln fine-shelled Ware were also recovered from the feature.


Located within Intervention 24 and continuing beyond the northern limit of excavation, the excavated shape of the feature was only achieved in approximately a quarter of the feature's total area, since the total depth of Intervention 22 had reached safe limits and excavation was to stepped-in. The deposit sequence within the feature was difficult to differentiate against surrounding subsoil, but initial excavation appeared to have been followed by a period of being left open, during which the southern side of the feature collapsed inwards, as represented by sterile redeposited subsoil deposits. The feature was then partially backfilled with several backfills of bone-rich friable humic silts, interleaved with redeposited subsoil probably from episodic collapse. A large assemblage of animal bone, a piece of Roman polychrome mosaic bowland Lincoln Fine-shelled Ware were recovered and environmental assessment identified charred material, possibly bread, and hazelnut shell.

The Fishergate Trading Settlement & Contemporary Sites

Before excavations of the 1980s by York Archaeological Trust, few hints had been identified concerning the nature of early medieval activity in this area of York; it was assumed that activity would be focussed near to the postulated episcopal and royal centre in the area of the Minster. During construction of the Glassworks, workmen are reported to have found a

'small cubicle about eighteen inches square, formed of flags loosely put together, in which imbedded in the soil, which had penetrated through the crevices of the flags was a human skull and a gold finger ring or ear-ring. The skull was perfect with the exception of a deep hole in one side of the head. Near to this was also found a curious leaden medallion, about two inches across, stamped with an ecclesiastical device, and some fragments of the priory buildings'
(Spence n.d., 3; YCA Redfearn deeds)

The ring has been ascribed to the early medieval period (Tweddle et al 1999, 284-5), although the significance of this find has never been commented on and is still unclear. Some discrepancies have arisen regarding the reported context of this find; contradicting the statement above, Tweddle et al (1999, 284) state that the ring is said to have been found on the finger of a skeleton. The latter account suggests contemporary burial and possibly an Anglian church, which would not conflict with the early date of St Andrew's Church.

The discovery of Eoforwic

Excavations on the site of 46-54 Fishergate between 1985 and 1986 revealed evidence for occupation, craft-working and exchange, dating to the late 7th to mid-9th century (Kemp 1996). Features encountered included boundary ditches, postholes, stakeholes and pits, the fills of which were rich in material. These features appeared to belong to a possibly pre-determined organised settlement, with rectilinear, post-built structures, property divisions and a possible road with evidence for municipal maintenance. Material recovered attested to a range of craft activities, including bone- and antler-working, metal-working, glass-working, textile-working and possibly the processing of skins.

This activity, assigned Period 3, was sub-divided into three phases: Period 3a (first half of the 8th-century), was characterised by post-built structures, sunken-featured buildings and linear features, including a north-south ditch, interpreted as the eastern boundary of the settlement. This phase was sealed by an homogenous, charcoal-rich layer, assigned Period 3b, which separated Period 3a from a later, early-mid-9th century phase (Period 3c) (Kemp 2001, 92-3). Conjoining pottery sherds and similar finds from Period 3a and Period 3b deposits have been used to support the suggestion that the homogenous Period 3b layer derived from Period 3a occupation debris, and had been deposited in a single event (Kemp 1996, 59). Period 3c comprised a further series of rubbish pits, and a second boundary ditch running parallel to the first. Features which were outside the stratified area were allocated Period 3z, although were judged by their contents to bear comparison to Period 3a features.

Indeed, the date of Period 3 activity was determined largely by the finds. As a group, the earliest coinage provided a date of 700/5 X 735/7 (Kemp 1996, 66), and other Anglian period finds included an iron chatelaine, buckles, dress accessories and a sword pommel. The latest coins were used suggest decline or abandonment in the mid-9th century, before reoccupation almost a century later.

This site, which has come to be known by its Old English name of Eoforwic, was interpreted as a wicsite, adding to the growing number of sites identified as such from the 1980s onwards (cf Hill and Cowie 2001, 95 f). Prior to this period, only two such sites (also referred to as emporia) had been identified, at Southampton (Hamwic) and Ipswich (Gipeswic). Since then, finds at Lundenwic have added to the body of knowledge, and historical sources have been used to suggest wicor emporia sites at Fordwich, Sandwich and Sarre (Cowie 2001, 15). 46-54 Fishergate was therefore easily interpreted as Eoforwic, and readily described as 'a late 7th to 9th century trading settlement' (Kemp 1996, 64).

Interpretation of wic sites has been linked to an increasing interest in the economic mechanisms of early medieval society (cfHodges 1982), and these sites were regarded as centres dedicated to trade and commercial activities. Hodges (1982) had previously laid out a typology for emporia: Type A emporia are described as annual or seasonal fairs, frequently held on the boundaries of political territories, while Type B were defined as more permanent trading settlements. Eoforwic, as characterised by the remains from Fishergate, is likely to be classed as Type B. However, as a number of recent studies have shown (Anderton 1999; Hill and Cowie 2001), acceptance of the term wic, its definition, and the way that these sites functioned, has been called into doubt. Consideration of some aspects of current debates can shed light on the way that Eoforwic can, or maybe should, be perceived.

The wic place-name element

The term wic, which forms the suffix of place-names such as Eoforwic and Hamwic, is an Old English term, with parallels in other early Germanic languages, and occurring in Continental place-names such as Quentovic. Although primarily associated with trading settlements, the term actually has a much wider meaning. Old English wîcis borrowed from the Latin vîcus, meaning 'a row of houses, a street, a city district; a collection of dwellings' (Rumble 2001, 1). A range of interpretations of the Old English usage have been suggested. Smith (1956) suggested that the name refers to 'a dwelling, a building or a collection of buildings for a special purpose, a farm a dairy farm' (Rumble 2001, 2). As such, this could refer to a vast range of settlement types. Ekwall (1964) justified the use of the term as meaning 'town' or 'port', and listed the examples at Southampton, Ipswich, Norwich, Fordwich and Sandwich (Rumble 2001, 2). In discussing the known, excavated 'wic' sites, Rumble states that there is 'adequate reason for thinking that in these few cases the word signified "a major market-place with facilities for international trade"' (Rumble 2001, 2). This does not, however, allow for the fact that wic names may not refer solely to trading centres, in spite of there being examples when it is clear (Campbell 2003, 15); nor can it be assumed that all wics are necessarily the same.

Archaeological evidence for wic sites

There has been a considerable amount of recent debate about the way that wics can be identified archaeologically (Cowie 2001; Hill 2001). Archaeological investigations have been carried out at only a small number of wic sites, and discussion is therefore dominated by the extensive finds at Southampton, Ipswich, London and York (Andrews 1997; Wade 1988; Vince 1990; Kemp 1996; Malcolm and Bowsher 2003). Large-scale, open area excavations at Southampton and London have proved particularly successful in determining the nature of settlement in these sites. At Six Dials, Southampton, for example, 68 buildings and a network of roads were revealed; in London, at the Royal Opera House site, 63 buildings were identified in fixed plots divided by streets (Cowie 2001, 18).

There are restrictions in viewing these settlements as a single group; sample size, location of excavations, chronological distribution, extent of preservation, recovery method and competence of excavators have all been highlighted as factors that will have skewed interpretation (Cowie 2001, 17-18). Samson (1999, 77) has criticised strongly the circularity of definitions applied to emporia or wicsites. A number of presumed wicsites have been excavated (London, Quentovic, Dorestad, Haithabu) and the results have been drawn together to shape or reshape definitions of the model emporium(Samson 1999, 77); 'Anything excavated from Ispwich, Southampton and Haithabu is now taken as evidence of what really happened at ports, small towns and royal manors' (Samson 1999, 80).

Evidence from a number of other sites is starting to emerge, and a valuable gazetteer of possible and likely sites has recently been published (Hill and Cowie 2001). Dover and Sandtun are examples of smaller sites that have produced archaeological evidence of Middle Saxon activity, with finds indicating international trade and continental imports (Cowie 2001, 15). Notably, at Fordwich, outside the Roman town of Canterbury, Middle Saxon pits have been excavated during work at St Augustine's Abbey and St Martin's church (Cowie 2001, 15). This provides a particularly appropriate site for comparison with York, being established on the outskirts of a major royal episcopal centre of the early medieval period situated near a former Roman town.

Cowie (2001, 17) notes the common characteristics of the four best-known and extensively investigated wic sites in England. All are undefended ports on navigable rivers, with evidence for long distance trade, crafts and industries, and all but York are located on or near political boundaries. It is also noted, however, that these characteristics are shared with other settlement forms (Cowie 2001, 17). In particular, the topographic locations noted are similar to those identified for monastic or minster settlements of the same period (Morris 1989; Blair 1992). In summarising recent developments in the study of wics, Hill has suggested that seven characteristics can be used to define wic sites, providing a very general classification for what is a relatively loose group of sites (Hill 2001, 75-6, 84):

Hill notes that archaeological evidence is often too weak to place sites in Hodges' Types A and Type B groups; the evidence for permanent settlement is frequently ephemeral or lacking (Hill 2001, 79). Instead, he suggests a distinction be drawn between sites established de novo(Class I), and those that developed outside Roman centres (Class II). The important factor influencing Class II sites would not be the pre-existing Roman remains, but rests on the assumption that these towns would have been commandeered as centres of power in the Middle Saxon period. York, as a centre of Northumbrian power, thought by some to have been contained within the Roman walls, would have required trading and craft-working facilities; these might have been provided by design at Fishergate.

Function ofwic sites, and their relationships with wider settlement

The relationship with other foci of power, whether royal or ecclesiastical, seems to be an important aspect of wic sites in general, as suggested by Hill's Class II. Hodges has seen the prime motivation behind emporia as the need of the elite to control power and access prestige items (Hodges 1982). Within the well-established kingdoms of Middle Saxon England, therefore, these would have been the preserve of royalty, an ecclesiastical elite or the upper echelons of society.

This concept is demonstrated in proposed models relating to the nature of Anglian York. Palliser (1984) suggests that Anglian York was a polyfocal settlement, with urban or proto-urban nuclei on the east bank of the Ouse (around the Legionary fortress), and on the west bank (around a putative Roman and Anglian episcopal church near the forum of the colonia). Morris (1986) subsequently suggested that nuclei would have been located in the legionary fortress (following Palliser), and around a putative monasterium on Micklegate. The finds on Fishergate were added into this model, and the settlement was seen to represent a third nucleus, situated near the confluence of the Ouse and Foss (Kemp 1996).

The polyfocal nature of early medieval settlement has been drawn upon by Biddle for Hamwic (Hill 2001, 79). He has suggested that Hamwic, rather than operating as an independent settlement, would have been closely related to the royal seat at Winchester; the two are said to have shared the function of a town. This concept appears to have considerable value for research into wic sites (Hill 2001, 80). Although York is referred to in early medieval times as Eoforwic, derived from the late British Evoroc with the suffix 'wic' (Cramp 1967, 1), the name Eoforwicceastre was also used in the 9th and 10th century, in translations of Bede's Ecclesiastical History and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Kemp 1996, 65; Fellows-Jensen 1998, 230). Kemp (1996, 645) suggests that these names reflect two settlement elements; the fortress with royal and administrative functions, and the east bank trading area. Similar place-name evidence has been noted for London (Lundenwic, outside Lundenburh), and Southampton (Hamtun and Hamwic). Early medieval York is therefore suggested to comprise various, dispersed elements which would have functioned together as a royal, ecclesiastical and economic power centre.

'Why not accept the obvious? Traders traded all over the place and most particularly in cities' (Samson 1999, 79, 82). Trading appears to have been a significant activity within the wider settlement of York, and references to commerce and traders occur in several contemporary documentary sources (Kemp 1996, 65). Alcuin refers to the city in Roman times as a 'general seat of commerce by land and sea alike'; a comment probably more pertinent to the 8th century than the 1st and 2nd (Rollason 1998, 130). Altfrid's Life of Saint Liudger reveals the presence of a colony of Frisian merchants in or near York (Whitelock 1955, no. 160, 725). Samson notes the unsurprising nature of the discovery that emporiaoccur at sites of London and York, which he describes as 'big towns' (Samson 1999, 77) (although the nature of settlement in other areas of Anglian York is not well attested). Trading would not have been the only activity at such sites, and evidence from many wics suggested that they operated as centres of craft-working and settlement, with links to a wider hinterland.

The size of the settlement

Hill (2001, 76) has suggested that, to qualify as wicsites, settlements must be 'large', and by Middle Saxon standards, the majority of sites referred to as wics cover a broad area. Hamwic, for example, has an estimated size of 45-50ha, Ipswich or Gippeswic 50ha, and London or Lundenwic 60ha (Cowie 2001, 17).

Initially, Kemp (1987, 263) suggested that the Fishergate site represented the western edge of larger area, covering some 25 hectares, based on the assumption that occupation occurred in the same density from the Foss to Walmgate Bar. Excavations beneath the Walmgate section of the walls had found pits and structures beneath an 11th-century rampart, and a coin of Eanred (AD810-841) (Kemp 1996, 5; Tweddle et al1999, 263). Early activity was also postulated from excavated finds from Walmgate, although the work did not fully investigate Anglian deposits (Tweddle et al 1999, 259).

However, excavations in Paragon Street, prior to construction of the Barbican Baths in 1987, revealed only limited evidence for activity of this period. A Roman well was excavated, into which wattle and daub had collapsed, with a quantity of domestic waste. From this debris, an 8th-century enamelled cross brooch, and two coins of Eadberht (AD 737-758) were recovered (YAJ1974, 146; Kemp 1996, 5; Tweddle et al 1999, 252-3). Also on the site of the Barbican Leisure Centre, a pit was excavated which produced Anglian finds, including four combs and a copper alloy strap end (Medieval Archaeology 1988, 291; Tweddle et al 1999, 263). However, further work in the area failed to produce evidence for activity of this period, apart from a single stycaof Aethelred II (Tweddle et al 1999, 266-7).

Archaeological evidence for the possible extent of contemporary settlement along the banks of the Ouse is notably scarce; evidence of the type found on Fishergate has not been produced at other sites, and suggestions rely heavily on individual finds. Finds from Castle Yard, to the north, included 7th-century hanging bowls (Waterman 1959, 61), tentatively suggested to have come from a cemetery in the vicinity. Sherds of Ipswich Ware have been recovered from sites on Skeldergate, Micklegate, Wellington Row, Bishophill and Parliament Street (Tweddle et al 1999, 351-267); notably, these sites do not occur far from the banks of the Ouse, which may support an idea that activity was focused along the river.

Some limited evidence for Anglian activity occurs to the north of Fishergate. Although settlement at Coppergate is generally considered to have begun in the 9th century (Ottaway 1992, 457), finds from a pit 'dated to the Anglian period but backfilled in the Anglo-Scandinavian period' included Ipswich ware, glass studs, a finger ring, a sword pommel and various pins, attributed to the Anglian period (Ottaway 1992, 460; Tweddle et al 1999, 258). The same context was suggested for the wattle-lined pit which contained the Anglian helmet, and which also contained a weaving sword and other craft-working debris. At Leadmill Lane, finds which had previously been assigned to the Anglo-Scandinavian period (MacGregor 1982, 72) have recently been reconsidered, and Riddler (2001, 66) has suggested that some of the evidence for bone-working may belong to the Middle Saxon period. Finds from nearby Clifford Street included a large fragment of Ipswich Ware, coins and pins which suggest also the possibility of Anglian activity in this area (Tweddle et al 1999, 281-2).

However, there is little secure evidence which suggests that settlement of the nature identified at Fishergate extends further to the north. It has therefore been suggested that, while evidence for sporadic scattered activity may be widespread, significant levels of settlement would not have extended far (Tweddle et al 1999, 263). Kemp (1996) suggests that settlement did not extend in any density beyond the Fishergate area, but clung to the river banks, possibly centred on the line of Fawcett Street. The postulated area would cover only 10 ha (Kemp 1996, 75). If considered as part of a wider settlement, however, this need not be problematic; Hall (2003, 50) notes that Eoforwic might have operated differently to other wicsites. It is possible that, as an inland site, the role of long distance trade in York was less important than for the coastal wics found further south.

The examination of the Roman landscape has much to offer to the understanding of the Anglian landscape, and particularly the size of the wic. Areas of the mixed Roman cemetery have been postulated for Period 2, according to the distribution of what appears to be redeposited funerary material. The intensity of occupation encountered at 46-54 Fishergate, characterised by the trading settlement, the early church and medieval priory, provide the reason for the lack of intact burials, which were anticipated by the 1980s research agenda, but not found (Kemp 1996, 6). Just as the proven areas of cemetery disturbance provide an indication of the intensity of activity of following periods, the areas of intact burial indicate spaces not occupied with such intensity in the interim. It is perhaps for this reason that the Fishergate House Roman burial enclosure is so important.

The level of preservation within Fishergate House provided a hint that the Anglian settlement had not extended that far to the south, and may have all but petered out in this area. Alternatively, it now seems possible that this area was, at least intermittently, reserved for burial (see The Cemetery). No preordained southern boundary to mark this change was identified, unless the route of Blue Bridge Lane had removed it, to match the shifting eastern boundary of Kemp's predetermined allocation of land (Kemp 1996, 67). To strengthen this observation, it can be noted that the intensity of occupation implied by the number of features at 46-54 Fishergate dies off dramatically between there and Blue Bridge Lane, becoming increasingly weak the further towards Fishergate House one travels. Admittedly, modern truncation should be considered a factor in the preservation of features such as stake and postholes, but on sheer feature distribution, it seems clear that less activity was present to the south. As discussed, some of this at least can be related to levels of truncation at Blue Bridge Lane, but the in situRoman deposits at Fishergate House would seem to suggest a genuine absence rather than subsequent loss. It seems possible that the true limit of eastward activity detected by Kemp was influenced more by the Roman thoroughfare, which may still have been in use, than by any municipal settlement planning. The pattern of decreasing activity towards the south seems much more organic and also calls into doubt the level of settlement predetermination.

Although Kemp proposed a ribbon settlement marked by nodes of occupation reaching from Fishergate to Fulford, there are still no firm indicators, in the form of spot or chance finds, for this model. Instead, the indicators now suggest a settlement representing something closer to 4 hectares, rather than 10 or 25 hectares, with a core at or near 46-54 Fishergate, and dispersing radially from this point, bounded to the east by a feature of the relict Roman landscape. When compared to the suggested areas of comparable settlement at Southampton (44 hectares), London (60 hectares), Ipswich (50 hectares), York is clearly much smaller and does not sit so comfortably within the wic group. The settlement at York now seems to extend for an area closer to four hectares, and pales when compared with forty hectares of early medieval settlement contacted in Southampton, the equivalent area of medieval York.

Settlement Organisation

Layout of wicsites

As noted, the archaeological remains at 46-54 Fishergate were interpreted as belonging to a planned settlement; to the east of a series of post-built structures (some of which were only tenuously identified) and a curvilinear ditch were thought to represent the easternmost boundary of the wic. Analysis of environmental samples from the primary fill of the latter feature found evidence for aquatic deposition, and a complete absence of synanthropic species. This has been used to suggest that, little if any, human activity occurred in the vicinity following its creation, thereby suggesting that this was a planned settlement, with the limits having been laid out well in advance of the occupation of the site (Kemp 1996, 21-2). Secondary deposits in the ditch included latrine waste and animal bone, demonstrating habitation in subsequent periods (Kemp 1996, 22-3). The lack of features identified to the east of this ditch, and a parallel feature dated in Period 3c, have been used to suggest that this formed a long-lived boundary for the settlement.

A pebbly deposit to the southwest of the Fishergate site was found to be flanked by a north-south ditch, c. 1m wide and 0.6m deep, interpreted as a thoroughfare and possible drainage ditch (Kemp 1987, 263; 1996, 25). In Lundenwic, excavations on the site of the Royal Opera House produced much more substantial evidence for a gravel road, which had been remetalled at least ten times, with flanking timber drains (Blackmore et al 1998, 60). Smaller alleys ran from this main road, separating ranges of buildings of clay and timber construction (Blackmore et al 1998, 60-1). Though comparable, the evidence from these sites is much more substantial.

Alignment of pits

At Blue Bridge Lane the only indicator of settlement organisation was present in a possible alignment of pits, which included F353B, F164B, F388B/402B, F408B, F508B, F359B. These features appeared to follow a rough WSW-ENE alignment across Intervention 15. Many of the features were originally sub-square in plan, and were reasonably evenly spaced. While the features appeared to be associated, their identification as a group must remain tentative, since what appears to be a genuine distribution of features within an arbitrary area of excavation cannot be secure. If the alignment reflects a genuine pattern, it seems to be set tangentially to the route of the Roman road as suggested by the flanking ditch. The alignment does not necessarily indicate the presence of a physical boundary, although they may have been dug deliberately at the limits of a property, a phenomenon observed at other contemporary British sites.

There is an element of uniformity in the spacing and the dimensions of these pits which would suggest they are indeed more than a perceived alignment determined only by virtue of the size of the window excavated. The aligned pits at 46-54 Fishergate are described as 'between 4.5m to 5.5m centres and ranging in size between 1.2m and c.3m in diameter and between 0.35m and 0.90m deep' (Kemp 1996, 23). These characteristics are shared by the possibly aligned pits at Blue Bridge Lane, but unlike 46-54 Fishergate, no slot was identified clearly linking the pits together. A further contrast exists between York and Southampton, where pit alignments consisted of densely intercutting pits, whereas in the Blue Bridge Lane alignment, only two intercutting pits were present. This is further indication, if any were needed, that intensity of occupation as well as settlement extent differs substantially.

Stratigraphic relationships were extremely rare, suggesting that occupation areas were not densely occupied and space was not at a premium. It may be significant that the two pairs of intercutting features belonged in Pit Group 2 and one of only two pairs of intercutting features from Period 3, F388B and F402B, belong in this alignment. In addition, F408B, reused as F246B, also belong within the alignment. These rare stratigraphic relationships are the only suggestion of density of occupation at the site and may also suggest some perpetuation of the postulated boundary. Some suggestion of internal boundaries and therefore organisation may be implied by tentatively identified aligned pits, which could betray the presence of a property boundary. This division of land into plots, however, does not prove external control or predetermination. Such alignments have been used to make the case for property boundaries at Fishergate (Kemp 1996, 24) and at Southampton, where pit alignments were identified and were thought to congregate at the extremes of a property (Andrews 1997, 179).

Pit Groups

The phenomenon of pit clusters is yet another characteristic shared with the northern site sample (Kemp 1996). The Blue Bridge Lane pit groups have been surmised by two apparent clusters within Intervention 15, initially on the basis of their proximity to one another, although other factors would also seem to confirm their grouping. The contents of Pit Group 1 versus Pit Group 2 suggest that the origin of the Pit Group 2 contents derived from more immediate domestic occupation than Pit Group 1. The reasons for this interpretation are threefold: the proportion of lost personal items is greater in Pit Group 2 than in Pit Group 1, the distribution of preserved building materials and structural features is heavily weighted towards Pit Group 2, and the numbers of small commensal mammals (house mice) and neonatal animal bones from central Pit Group 2 features suggest more proximate human occupation.

The grouping of pits, and the distribution and concentration of certain find types would appear to be real, although some truncation, and therefore distortion, of the features and distribution should be taken into account. The insertion of concrete stanchion-bases, as well as a water tank and a small cellar, completely removed any potential for archaeological deposits and features within their footprint, while other modern features tended to truncate archaeology horizontally, but not obliterate it.


Examination of the taphonomy of pit fill systems has been used in the absence of stratigraphy in an attempt to identify equivalent site-wide clearances indicative of a level of municipality detected at 46-54 Fishergate. The largest pits all appeared to have started life as cesspits, with primary cess fills accumulating slowly, accompanied by episodic collapses and an occasional trapped frog, mouse or vole. This was a common feature of many of the deeper pits at both 46-54 Fishergate and at Hamwic (Andrews 1997, 174-179). After use as a latrine pit finished, the pits then appeared to have been filled more rapidly (with less evidence for collapsing sides) with humic midden-like bone-rich material. Underlying cess deposits appear to have continued settling, not only creating 'pocks' of subsidence, which were still apparently being filled in the 15th century, but also creating the distinctive dipping meniscus profiles of the primary cess deposits. Notably, in two pits (F64F and F381B), the profile of the cess deposits was so marked that they appeared to have been recut, and remarkably, the cess represented the basal primary fill of the feature, but was visible in the pre-excavation plan of the pits, which measured well over a metre deep.

This pattern of cess deposition, followed by rapid midden clearance, may indicate a 'tidying up' episode equivalent to Period 3b to the north; it may also reflect more localised house-keeping influenced by habit more than a higher authority, and without better environmental preservation and dating evidence, this cannot be established. Evidence for seasonality was sought but not found, which was also the experience of the excavators of Hamwic (Andrews 1997, 184-187).

Anecdotally, the sequence of deposits within cesspit F381B can be compared to the Periods 3a to 3c encountered at 46-54 Fishergate. The primary deposition of cess within pit F381B was well-dated by a continental sceat dated to c.695 to c.740 (coincident with the late 7th to early 8th settlement foundation), and following use as a cesspit the pit was then filled with primary refuse deposits. Fill-system subsidence followed, and its ghost was then topped up with the large dump of daub, also well-dated by a sceat of Eadberht dated to 737 to 758AD (and therefore possibly equivalent to the later 8th century Period 3b deposit); the backfilled pit was subsequently cut by a further Anglian feature (possibly equivalent to Period 3c). This sequence could be seen to reflect the general date and nature of occupation-clearance-occupation of 46-54 Fishergate, although as an isolated and unusual group, the observation remains superficial. No Period 3 feature had a better dated internal sequence and in the absence of an equivalent Period 3B layer further phasing has not been possible, making comparison difficult.

At 46-54 Fishergate too, for several features, allocation to Period 3a, b or c was not possible, and such features were allocated to a Period 3z. Some Period 3z features had characteristics which allowed them to be considered as Period 3a features; those characteristics might therefore permit most of the Blue Bridge Lane group to be considered equivalent to Period 3a. The latest coin date within the assemblage derived from the backfilling of cesspit F64F, and suggests a date of the mid-9th century for the decline of occupation in this southern area (provided by an irregular issue styca). The dearth of later coins and pottery might also suggest that the reoccupation after the early 9th century hiatus detected at 46-54 Fishergate, was not as intense at Blue Bridge Lane. The securely dated mid-9th century feature, F64F, at Fishergate House appears to be positioned very close to the early 8th century burial suggesting either that burial of the early phase of the settlement had ceased or that definition of the cemetery bounds was fluid and not rigorously demarcated, allowing the encroachment of such features.

Craft activity and zonation at wic sites

Within the settlements identified as wics, archaeological work has revealed a range of evidence indicative of specialist craftworking and production of commodities. Similar finds to those from Fishergate have been recovered from other wicsites. A 'comb factory' has been postulated at Ipswich, with evidence for weaving/textile industry, and leatherworking (Wade 1988; Blinkhorn 1999, 17). In Lundenwic, evidence has been produced for smelting, smithing and copper alloy-working and cloth production (Cowie and Whytehead 1989, 714). The Royal Opera House site produced evidence for the production of bone and antler artefacts, including combs, spindle whorls, handles and needles, and cloth making, in the form of over 500 loomweights, some of which had remained in position having fallen from the loom (Blackmore et al 1998, 62).

Work has been undertaken to assess whether activities within wicsites took place within designated zones. In 1991, Clarke and Ambrosiani stated that no zonation could be identified at Hedeby, following observations by Ulbricht that no comb-makers' quarter could be identified (Riddler 2001, 62). Similarly, at Lundenwic, scholars have identified 'no evidence of exclusive specialization at any site' (Cowie and Whytehead 1989, 712). At Ipswich, however, kiln waste was identified in one particular area, on the south side of Carr Street, where it is suggested that mass production of pottery would have taken place (Cowie 2001, 18), and evidence for bone-working was confined to two main areas (Riddler 2001, 61). At Hamwic, three major zones of antler- and bone-working have been identified through consideration of the deposition of waste (Cowie 2001, 18; Riddler 2001, 61). Antler and bone waste was found associated with pit clusters, which have been suggested to belong to individual properties, and a possible link has been made between one particular group and comb handle production (Riddler 2001, 63). Differential techniques of sawing and splitting bone have been identified within one area (Chapel Road) which has also shown a higher presence of foreign material. The best parallels for the techniques are stated to be at Dorestad (Riddler 2001, 65), and it has therefore been suggested to represent intense mercantile activity, or a foreign enclave.

As at 46-54 Fishergate, craft-working activities were identified, albeit a comparatively limited range, and no clear patterns or concentrations were detected in intra-site finds distributions. The excavation of a new sample of the settlement, however, suggests there are broader trends that might suggest areas of specialisation or greater intensity among crafts.

Craft at Blue Bridge Lane


Unlike at 46-54 Fishergate, the evidence for metal-working was largely mundane, with evidence for small-scale smithing, possibly only from repair and maintenance of existing iron tools and objects. Lead-alloy working was detected alongside a quantity of potential scrap material, particularly amorphous pieces of iron and copper alloy sheet scrap and wire. Unlike 46-54 Fishergate, no direct evidence for precious metal-working was encountered, although it may have been obliquely referenced by the presence of the Roman intaglio from cesspit F381B. The intaglio joins a growing number of similar gemstones discarded in early medieval workshop contexts (Spall forthcoming, Ewan Campbell pers. comm., Melander 2001) and its presence is likely to relate to the trade and recycling of Roman antiques as a source of metal. It also joins a group of Roman antiquities from Fishergate, amongst which are the emerald bead and onyx gem from 46-54 Fishergate; a second intaglio is noted from Fishergate by the Royal Commission survey. Additionally, the two 4th century Roman coins found in Saxon or later deposits at Blue Bridge Lane are more likely to have arrived at the site in the 8th century than in the 4th, since contemporary Roman occupation of the period was scarce. The source of the precious metal at the site would seem to be Roman antiquities, of which there appears to have been a healthy supply.


Very little by way of glass-working activity was identified at Blue Bridge Lane and Fishergate House, although both sites produced examples of possibly malformed glass beads and a glass droplet. While not enough on their own to indicate glass-working on any scale, alongside the malformed beads from 46-54 Fishergate (Rogers 1993, 1386), it would seem that glass was worked, if only casually.


Blue Bridge Lane did have strong indicators for textile-working, principally in the form of clay loomweights, a few spindlewhorls, needles and a highly polished thread picker. The number of loomweights recovered (over fifty) is higher than at 46-54 Fishergate, though the figure is skewed by the presence of loomweight bonfire kiln F225B. Even without the weights from this feature, the numbers are higher than at 46-54 Fishergate, where only three partially complete weights were found; the sheer presence of on-site loomweight manufacture is noteworthy. These figures, however, pale into insignificance in light of the fact that a minimum of 226 loomweights were recovered from Lundenwic (Goffin 2003, 116-222) and 200 from the Middle Saxon settlement at Flixborough (Loveluck 2001, 99). No iron comb teeth were found, however, and the number of spindlewhorls is also lower. It seems that more processing and spinning of raw wool was undertaken at 46-54 Fishergate, whereas weaving and finishing garments was the emphasis at Blue Bridge Lane. The animal bone assemblage also detected comparatively raised numbers of ovicaprid bones suggesting a greater reliance on these animals, possibly because of their secondary products, but whether even these broad comparisons would bear further scrutiny in terms of reflecting any level of craft organisation is doubtful.


Bone-working was well-represented at Blue Bridge Lane and Fishergate House, although yet again, pales in comparison to the evidence from 46-54 Fishergate. Assemblages of medullary waste tissue, side-, tooth- and billet-plate blanks were recovered from most pits, with concentrations in the major cesspits F381B and F64F. Assessment of the waste demonstrated that shed antler, cattle and horse long bone, and cattle horncores supplied the raw material. Clearly, bone, antler and horn were being regularly worked, and the products appear to have been mundane commodities, principally combs and possibly plain pig fibulae-type pins. A total of over 1400 antler fragments were recovered from 46-54 Fishergate suggesting greater intensity of this craft to the north.

Economy of Wic Sites

The role of wic sites as centres of trade within a Continental sphere has been stressed, and focus has often been on the imported materials. At Fishergate, evidence was produced for Mayen pottery from the Rhineland, black and grey wares from France and the Low Countries, lava querns (believed to have been traded through Dorestad), vessel glass from northern France or the Rhineland, and two Frisian sceats, and a decorated comb case or mount of possible Continental origin (Kemp 1996, 73). From within Britain, a small quantity of Ipswich ware was recovered, with sceattas from south of the Humber. Stone objects reflect the import of resources in Yorkshire, the Pennines, the Lake District and Wensleydale or Swaledale (Kemp 1996, 72). Such commodities are common, and frequently occur on wic, and other, sites (Blackmore et al 1998, 62). A considerable amount of work has therefore been undertaken to understand how wics would have operated in terms of international trade leading to recent scholars stressing the need to consider the immediate hinterlands of wic sites, in order to understand them within a more meaningful context. The riverine location of Eoforwic is frequently emphasized; its position close to a Roman road, which would have provided inland communications, has not. The coastal focus of other sites has often led to their relationship with other, inland sites being overlooked (Hill 2001, 81).

In the case of Dorestad, it has recently been suggested that the redistributive role of the site within the wider Northern Sea world was not as significant as previously thought (Van Es 1990, 72 in Anderton 1999, 2). Van Es suggests instead that the settlement would have been more concentrated on its immediate, local area, and would have sold goods as close to home as possible. A similar suggestion has also been made for the site at Ribe (Anderton 1999, 2). Ipswich has been used as a case study to assess the 'zone of influence' of wic sites, through the mapping of Ipswich ware, which dates to c. AD 720 to 850. This has shown that a vast majority of examples were found within a relatively confined region in East Anglia (Blinkhorn 1999, 5; Newman 1999, 41). Examples further afield, at Carlisle, York, and Wharram Percy, are linked to an expansion of trading networks in the second quarter of the 8th century (Blinkhorn 1999, 10).

'Traditionally, Ipswich ware was seen as an indicator of high site status. Whilst this to a certain extent true, especially on the fringes of the distribution [i.e. York], it generally occurs on all categories of settlement; emporia, royal vills/palaces, nucleated rural settlements with a significant ecclesiastical component ('ecclesiastical settlements'); and, rural farming communities ('rural sites')'
(Blinkhorn 1999, 5)

The role of these centres as part of international networks may therefore have been overemphasized; their goods would indicate that significant influence may have been more local. Their role as centres of production of prestige items might also have been exaggerated: Hinton (1999, 28) notes that the metalworking at Hamwic was not of a particularly high quality, and that these sites did not have a monopoly on metalworking, illustrated by evidence of metalworking from a range of ecclesiastical centres (cfDaniels 1999). Their significance may have been more localized.

Blinkhorn (1999) suggests that interaction with the local economy would have had significant consequences for rural sites, using the examples of Riby Crossroads, Lincolnshire, and Pennyland, Buckinghamshire. Middle Saxon finds from these sites include lava querns, Ipswich ware and Frisian coins, indicating access to wider networks of exchange. During the Middle Saxon period, these sites show a marked increase in organization, and an increased emphasis on property division. Blinkhorn (1999) suggests that this reorganization can be attributed to wider changes in economy; the intensification of farming would have been required to provide sufficient food to support proto-urban economies, such as Ipswich. The growth of non-farming centres, as evidenced at wic sites, would have resulted in a need for more intensified agricultural production, which in turn would have had a knock-on effect within rural society as a whole. The catalyst for this change was the 'necessity to facilitate movement of goods such as food, cloth, glass and metal to the emporia as provisions, trade items or raw materials for the manufacture of utilitarian goods' (Blinkhorn 1999, 20).

The provision of food and commodities from elsewhere has been highlighted as a defining characteristic of wicsites (O'Connor 2001). It has been suggested that food would have arrived through systems of redistribution, consistent with the control of the settlements by an elite (Kemp 1996, 73; cfHodges 1982, 138). O'Connor's comparison of wic and non- wic sites has led him to argue that 'the low diversity of resources at wicsites arose because the settlements were provisioned by redistribution and did not provide their own supplies' (O'Connor 2001). At Hamwic, the high quantity of animal bone from older, tougher animals has been used to suggest this deliberate provision of the settlement by an external body. At Fishergate, an absence of wild fauna and game, and a high dependence on cattle, has been used to suggest a restricted supply of food; this has been contrasted with an increased abundance of such goods at Coppergate, possibly indicative of a later rise of a consumer economy (O'Connor 1994). Some local procurement of foods has, however, been recognized at wic sites, depending on local resources. At Lundenwic, for example, local rivers appear to have been fished, mainly for eels, and oysters and mussels were gathered from the Thames (Cowie and Whytehead 1989, 714).

As a means of politically controlling trade, it has been suggested that the acquisition of trade tolls was actually more important than the goods themselves. 'Grouping craftspeople and traders in a single place, whether wic or monastery, allowed easy access for merchants to the market-place and, perhaps more significantly, facilitated collection of trade tolls. This may also explain why there appears to have been strict controls on how and where trade should take place' (Blinkhorn 1999, 20).

Site subsistence and trade at Blue Bridge Lane

The following objects were items possibly derived from trade: the eight sceatta and styca; Niedermendig lavastone quern fragments, schist and sandstone whetstones, and the lump of raw amber; Ipswich, Lincoln-Fine Shelled, Northern Maxey, Badorf Ware pottery, black and grey burnished and sand tempered wares; seven sherds of glass vessels. The general dearth of material of this nature is notable compared to the quantities of similar items at the other sites. The excavation area was smaller than that of 46-54 Fishergate by some measure, and by comparison with the area of Saxon Southampton, Ipswich and London, smaller still. Accumulatively though, the wealth of the material assemblage recovered from York to date suggests that the intensity of such trade does not compare with other sites, and the indicators for York being a dominant international commercial centre remain weak.

The similarities in the profile of the animal bone assemblage and, therefore, site economy is perhaps the only convincing similarity between York and other wic sites. The Blue Bridge Lane subsistence economy was dominated by the presence of mature cattle, brought into the settlement on the hoof and butchered on-site. The deposit of cattle bone within pit F388B was similar to a number of bone-rich assemblages encountered at 46-54 Fishergate, where large parts of individuals, with some elements articulated, were excavated and found to be typical of on-site butchery waste (Kemp 1996, 26). Nonetheless, some differences were detected, and slightly raised numbers of ovicaprids, domestic fowl and juvenile individuals were contained within the huge bone assemblage from Blue Bridge Lane. These differences were clearly not enough to indicate rural function, and it would seem that the Anglian settlement at York was supported with redistributed resources, possibly food rents.

Excavations of Middle Saxon sites since the excavations of 46-54 Fishergate in the 1980s, however, have provided more opportunities for examination of subsistence. Zooarchaeological analysis of the late 8th century animal bone assemblage from Flixborough reflects the profile of York and other sites, i.e. raised numbers of adult or sub-adult cattle slaughtered, with few juveniles represented. Significantly, Flixborough during the late 8th century was apparently a rural settlement, and the fact that craft-working evidence is strongest during this period of the Flixborough settlement is also noteworthy.

York clearly boasted a riverine settlement engaged in the production of commercial commodities during the 8th and 9th century. It had access to continental goods, and has previously been thought to have been the redistributive portal for these commodities (Hall 1988, 128), though no clear evidence exists that these were not imported to more coastal destinations at the mouth of the Humber estuary and redistributed inland (Loveluck 2001, 95). The food base reflects that of Southampton, but also sites such as Flixborough. In addition, the imported goods do not necessarily reflect highly luxurious items, but are found on a wide range of site types, including monastic houses, royal vills and rural settlements. Finds of metalwork including coins and pottery from Cottam (Haldenby 1990 Richards 2003), North Ferriby (Metcalf 1984, 68-9) and Wharram Percy (Hurst 1984, 82) suggest that many types of sites in the Humber region were engaged in trade both international and regional.

The Fishergate settlement is not sited on a territorial boundary and, therefore, need not be considered a 'gateway' community. It is also the only inland riverine wic site excavated to date, and probably belongs to one of many nodal Humber trading points. The craft-working and items of local and international trade are those that are found on many types of Middle Saxon settlement within the 'Humber zone', and are not particularly remarkable (Loveluck 2001, 95-96). Clearly, York was involved in the North Sea trade interface of the Humber region, but it certainly did not appear to dominate it and its role as a redistributive portal for rare commodities remains unproven. Due to the on-going reappraisal of the wic type-site and the doubt cast on its economic function or dominance, York should be considered more carefully amongst the group of wic sites to which it is so often compared.

The end of the wics

Kemp suggests that the site at Fishergate was abandoned in the late 860s and 870s, and that settlement shifted northwards to Coppergate (Kemp 1996, 82-4), and the available dating evidence from Blue Bridge Lane does not contradict this picture. Similar patterns have been observed elsewhere; at Lundenwic, for example, a settlement along the Strand, which had thrived since the early 7th century, declined in the 9th, and occupation favoured the defended city (Vince 1988, 91-2; Cowie and Whytehead 1989, 716). The trading element of the settlement as a whole appears to have declined; between the 9th and 11th centuries very little imported pottery reached London (Cowie and Whytehead 1989, 716).

Hamwic is said not to have continued because 'King Alfred did not need it' (Hinton 1999, 28). Goods, particularly precious metals, may have been exchanged within the country, whether from the church or brought with Scandinavian incomers, and the main role of Hamwic as a source of incoming prestige items was no longer required. 'The wic was never sufficiently structured into Middle Saxon society for its near abandonment to leave more than a few ripples' (Hinton 1999, 30).


The Period 3 activity at Blue Bridge Lane has added to the ongoing refinement of the nature and extent of the Fishergate settlement, and the role that it would have played in international and regional trade. Previously, much interpretation was based the available comparanda of Southampton, Ipswich and London, focusing on aspects of imported goods and maritime contacts. Recent work, however, has demonstrated the need, not to focus on how Eoforwic would have operated as a specific wic site, but its role within a local and regional context.

The size of the wic appears to have been much smaller than originally thought. Since the 1980s, the estimate has gradually been whittled down from over 25 hectares, and now, early medieval Fishergate appears to have been focused on an area closer to 4 hectares. Clearly, this does not compare with the much larger settlements of the coastal wics which, by virtue of their location, would have drawn much more focus and therefore control as centres for importation and craftworking. The imports that reached York, rather than being viewed as distinguishing the site as a major trading settlement, should be viewed as part of wider networks of exchange along the Humber and within a wider hinterland. The settlement was subject to some form of fiscal administration, probably controlled by a royal or episcopal power, and the exertion of taxes meant that the settlement could be provisioned through redistributed supplies drawn from wider areas. These networks provide a context for the occurrence of what have been previously been perceived as luxury goods on rural settlements.

apc > monographs > blue bridge lane & fishergate house > excavation: anglian settlement