Our Latest Discoveries

The York Archaeological Trust has been conducting archaeological investigations for 40 years. These are a few of the latest discoveries. 


Feathers and Claws: Recent Discoveries from the animal remains in Medieval Hungate

While the Hungate excavations may be almost over, the post-excavation work certainly isn’t! In the last three weeks of June, a dedicated team of volunteers from the University of York have been working with Clare Rainsford, Faunal Bone Specialist at Hungate, to identify and record some of the enormous collection of medieval animal bone recovered from Block H.

In the last week of the project, we were rewarded by finding the first ever example of golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) recorded from the City of York. The golden eagle is a bird which would rarely venture into towns of its own accord, and it is likely that this was a captive bird, kept for display or for falconry. Whoever owned the bird must have been someone of significant wealth and status. Golden eagle is known only from a handful of archaeological sites in Britain, so this is a very rare and exciting find.

Other surprises from the project included a brown bear claw – maybe originally from an imported bear skin – as well as several bones of white-tailed sea eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla). Unlike the golden eagle, the white-tailed eagle was a relatively common scavenger in Viking York, although with a wingspan of over 2 metres it would have made an impressive sight in the skies over the city.


With many thanks to Terry O’Connor and the magnificent Zooarchaeology Dead! volunteers (Kim Briscoe, Sam Briscoe, Ewan Chipping, Sophie Deller, Tristan Henser-Brownhill, Megan Hinks and Guro Rolandsen).



           Golden Eagle Bone                                                              Bear Claw


Marks left by Stonehenge builders is revealed by Yorkshire archaeologists

One of the country’s most famous and most studied historic landmarks has undergone the first ever comprehensive digital examination of the surface of its stone, by Yorkshire archaeologists. Unparalleled detailed analysis of the first comprehensive laser survey of Stonehenge has been carried out by Sheffield-based ArcHeritage (part of the York Archaeological Trust educational charity). Archaeologists have developed a brand new technique and undertaken digital analysis for English Heritage at Stonehenge, revealing monumental evidence which changes previous interpretations of the stonework and the site.

Marcus Abbott, ArcHeritage’s Head of Geomatics and Visualisation, explains that, “the real stones have several texture and surface variations which camouflage subtle features that cannot be found by the naked eye. With digital technology we are able to strip off the texture and apply new surface texture which enhances the archaeological features. Combined with using different ‘virtual’ lighting set ups and angles we could then start to see surface detail on the stones. We created new technology called ‘Luminance Lensing’ and combined it with photogrammetric data which has taken our analysis to a completely different level.”

This study tells us many new things about Stonehenge and its creators. The method tells us how Stonehenge was positioned to create visual impact for people to walk towards the monument from the valley below, designed to be approached from the north east. It also provides an indication that the stones located in the centre of the monument might have existed before the outer ring of stones was created.

It has also importantly revealed 72 new prehistoric axe carvings, in addition to the 44 carvings already known at Stonehenge before this research. This find has doubled the number found on site and makes it the largest collection of these axe head prehistoric carvings found in the UK.

The new analysis also shows important evidence that Stonehenge was complete which is conflicting to existing theories. Abbot notes, “There has been much debate surrounding whether Stonehenge was left unfinished, however, this new evidence points to the contrary. With our new technology and the detail it shows we can see that parts have actually been chipped away and stolen. This micro examination allows us also to see fragments and breakages where pieces have been removed.”

The technique developed by ArcHeritage has major potential to impact on the survey techniques used in the heritage sector. At Stonehenge, the use of digital technology has uncovered more than is humanly possible and has greatly helped archaeologists further understanding of the ancient World heritage site.

The analysis carried out by ArcHeritage is part of a much wider research project by English Heritage which started in 2007. For more information about ArcHeritage’s involvement and new research technology, please visit www.archeritage.co.uk.