Digging Up Fun in Coppergate! | JORVIK Viking Centre

Explore the Jorvik Group

Explore the Jorvik Group


The Coppergate Shopping Centre, the site of one of the most famous archaeological digs of modern times, will be transformed into a hands-on archaeological adventure this week to celebrate the annual Festival of Archaeology.

Back in the 1970s the Coppergate dig in York was heralded as one of the most important archaeological excavations in modern times. A site that literally re-wrote the book on the importance and impact of the Vikings on York and the UK as a whole, with over 40,000 artefacts uncovered throughout the 5 year-long dig. It also led the way for the creation of the now world-famous JORVIK Viking Centre, which would be constructed to display and interpret these artefacts and bring the Viking-age back to life.

“It is hard to imagine that there was a time when York wasn’t known as a ‘Viking city’ but before the Coppergate dig there was no real understanding of the importance and impact of the Vikings. Thanks to the work of the archaeologists we now know so much about the lives of these Norsemen and women, from the food they ate, with 5 tonnes of animal bone and huge quantities of Oyster shells discovered on site to what they wore, with the only known woollen sock from the Viking period discovered and preserved in JORVIK and the construction and layout of the buildings. It is these insights that helped move the stories of the Vikings forward and inspired the next generation of archaeologists.”

Commented Nicola Harkess, Events and Festivals Manager for York Archaeological Trust, the parent charity of JORVIK Viking Centre and the organisation who undertook the Coppergate excavation in the 1970s and 80s.

Indeed, it is this legacy that the team behind JORVIK Viking Centre are looking to showcase to the next generation of ‘little diggers’ at their ‘Archaeology in Coppergate’ event taking place from this Thursday in Coppergate Square.

“The event will transform the modern Coppergate Shopping Centre back to an archaeological dig, with replica dig pits, soil sifting and even the chance for our visitors to dress up like real archaeologists. Our staff will be on hand to show the importance of archaeology in telling the stories of the past in a fun and hands-on way.“

Continued Nicola.

Visitors to Coppergate will also be able to share their experiences using #ArcheoSelfie at JORVIK’s special ‘Selfie Booth’ in Coppergate.

Archaeology in Coppergate is running 10am to 4pm daily from Thursday 27th July to Monday 31st July in Coppergate Square, just outside JORVIK Viking Centre.  The event is free to attend but there will be a small charge for some activities. JORVIK Viking Centre is open 10am to 5pm (last admissions) 7 days a week, admission £10.25 for adults, £7.25 for children and £8.25 for concessions. For more information please visit www.jorvikvikingcentre.co.uk or call 01904 615505.



Notes to Editors

A selection of images can be downloaded here: https://we.tl/YuqmWFrIog

About Festival of Archaeology – 15-30 July 2017

The Festival of Archaeology – coordinated by the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) – encourages everyone to explore the archaeology of their local area, watch experts at work, and experience archaeology for themselves.

Dig visits and open days give the whole family the chance to try their hand at techniques such as digging and identifying finds and experience the excitement of archaeology.

Enjoy farm and woodland-themed activities, talks on the latest discoveries and expert-led walks. Tours of sites and buildings from recent centuries bring our industrial past to life – you can walk in the steps of Robert Stephenson and visit a coal mine.

Experience life as a Roman, Greek and Egyptian, with living history, warfare demonstrations, food tasting and mosaic making. Learn about the technology behind archaeology and have a go at geophysical and topographic surveys, or take part in mini-excavations or excavate a prehistoric and Romano-British site.

As ever, the Festival kicks off the summer holidays with hundreds of activities.

For more information please visit www.archaeologyfestival.org.uk


About the Coppergate Dig

Until the 1970s the only archaeological finds from this Viking-Age period were items dug up by chance. This changed in 1972 when small trenches below Lloyds Bank in Pavement were excavated.

This small excavation by York Archaeological Trust identified three new and exciting facts:

In this area of York there is up to 9m of archaeological layers which mostly date to the Viking Age. This great depth is highly unusual.

These layers are both moist and peaty and so preserve the organic remains of timber buildings, textiles from clothing and leather shoes; things which rot away to dust on most archaeological sites.

The moist peaty layers also preserve seeds, insect remains, plants, animal bones, human parasite eggs and pollen; providing evidence that gives us information about past climate, diet, health, the countryside and other features of the ancient environment.

The dig extended 1000 square metres which meant that between 1976 and 1981 archaeologists were able to trowel their way through over 1,000 years of history.

During the next five years, York Archaeological Trust identified and recorded around 40,000 archaeological artefacts.


What Was Found?

In total the site produced:

  • 5 tons of animal bones – mostly the remains of food eaten here over the centuries;
  • vast quantities of oyster shells – until recently a cheap and common food
  • 1000’s of Roman and medieval roof tiles; the Roman tiles were sometimes re-used for other purposes in the Viking Age
  • woven wattles, used as building materials to make walls, pathways, and screens
  • timber used for building materials in both the Viking Age and Medieval periods
  • metal working slag – vital evidence showing technology over the centuries
  • a quarter of a million pieces of pottery; pieces that can be used for dating, showing where the pots were made and what they were used for
  • several tons of soil were sieved through to recover tiny objects and microscopic environmental evidence, 2500 soil samples were recorded for further analysis, and 1000’s of timbers were conserved for long-term preservation
  • In total 40,000 individually interesting objects were unearthed during and after the dig


The Findings

From this single exceptional site we discovered:

  • The construction and layout of the buildings in which townsfolk lived and worked.
  • How the people of Jorvik made a living by making and selling goods.
  • What the people of Jorvik ate.
  • Even how they spent their leisure time

The objects, remains of houses, plants and animals discovered in the Coppergate excavation have given us unmatched detail about how people lived in the Viking Age and laid the groundwork for the creation of JORVIK Viking Centre, which opened to the public April of 1984.


About JORVIK Viking Centre

JORVIK Viking Centre is owned and operated by York Archaeological Trust, a registered Charity in England & Wales (No. 509060) and Scotland (SCO42846).


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Paul Whiting

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01904 543433 / 07432 694176

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