York Festival of Ideas

York Festival of Ideas 2017 runs from 6 to 18 June. It includes over 150 FREE events to educate, entertain and inspire. Full programme available here.
Some highlights:

A Date with History: Did You Say Europe? Friday 9 June: Brings together leading historians from France and the UK, providing historical perspectives on Europe. Throughout the day, panel discussions will address the question of Europe’s identities, migrations, and Franco-British relations. Speakers include Roger Chartier of the Collège de France, Chris Clark of the University of Cambridge, Jean-Frédéric Schaub of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) and Maxine Berg of the University of Warwick.

Vampyres: Genesis and resurrection Thursday 8 June
Christopher Frayling has spent 45 years exploring the history of one of the most enduring figures in the history of mass culture – the vampire. Join Christopher as he discusses vampires in literature, from the folklore of Eastern Europe to the Romantics and beyond. Find out about the historical and imaginative implications of vampire mythology in the arts, from the medieval Count Vlad to President Ceaucescu.
The Historic Mystery of Old St Oswald’s, Fulford, Saturday 10 June
Why was a piece of tenth-century stone cross found in a wall of old St Oswald’s Church at Fulford? The discovery raises questions about the origins of the church and its remote riverside location. Why is the church by the river and not in the village? Who was St Oswald? What did stone crosses represent? Come along to our conference and site visits to find out more.
Lenin the Dictator: An intimate portrait, Saturday 10 June
Join author Victor Sebestyen as he casts new light on one of the most significant figures of the 20th century – Lenin. Victor tells the intimate story of the man who loved nature and whose closest ties and friendships were with women. Learn how the long-suppressed story of his ménage à trois with his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, and his mistress and comrade, Inessa Armand, reveals a different character to the cold figure of legend.
Stalin and the Scientists: A history of triumph and tragedy 1905–1953, Sunday 11 June
Author Simon Ings discusses the thrilling history of Soviet Science. The Soviet Union’s sciences were the largest and best funded in history – and were both the glory and laughing stock of the intellectual world. Join Simon to find out what happened in the early 20th century when a handful of impoverished scientists, entrepreneurs and charlatans bound themselves to a weak and failing government to create a world superpower.
Istanbul: The story of a city from Roman times to the Ottoman conquest, Monday 12 June
Built on the ruins of Constantinople, the legendary city of Istanbul became the powerful capital of the Ottoman Empire. Located in a strategic position between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, the city controlled the trade with Europe, Central Asia and the Far East. Roberta Marin, an expert in Islamic art and architecture, examines the origins of Istanbul and the different phases of its long history.
Why the English Sailed to the New World, Wednesday 14 June
Almost half a million people left Britain to cross the Atlantic during the 17th century, most from England. It was the ‘Great Migration’ of the English which shaped North America and the world. As migration still does. In England today most of those who move are arriving: viewed as immigrants. But not that long ago, a far greater number were leaving the country: emigrants. Why did they risk so much to go? Join historian James Evans to find out.
Martin Luther: Catholic dissident, Wednesday 14 June
Author Peter Stanford presents a new appraisal of theological firebrand Martin Luther on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Luther issued a blunt challenge to the Catholic Church to reform from within which precipitated a religious and political upheaval across Europe and divided mainstream Christianity. Peter considers Luther’s aims and enduring legacy – and where he might fit within the modern church.
The Disappearance of Émile Zola, Thursday 15 June
Author Michael Rosen’s latest book The Disappearance of Émile Zola presents the little-known story of the world-renowned novelist Émile Zola’s time in exile. Join Michael to learn about the significance of the year Zola took on the highest powers in France with his open letter ‘J’accuse’ and lost, fleeing from Paris for London. Prepare to gain some intriguing insights into the mind, loves, politics and work of the great writer.
Real and Unreal: Recreating a lost past, Thursday 15 June
Learn about the University of York’s cutting-edge work with cathedrals and other clients to recreate the lost past by digital modelling and augmented reality. Join the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture team as they demonstrate how original academic research can be used to recreate the lost buildings, richly colourful interiors and fabulous objects of the medieval church.

Prof. John Collis receives prestigious French award

Congratulations to Prof. John Collis, emeritus professor of archaeology at the University of Sheffield, who has been honoured for his work uncovering Bibracte, a fortified hill town which played a key role in the Roman conquest of Gaul.

John was made Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for his contribution to archaeology in France. The medal was awarded this week at a special ceremony in Burgundy.

YAHS Prehistory Research Section has congratulated John, a supporter of section activities over many years, for this recognition of his sustained efforts to improve an understanding of Later Prehistory on both sides of the Channel.

The mysterious Dr Beach

Sorting through old YAJ volumes while preparing to digitise, some unexpected packaging material appeared. Here we have Dr Beach’s working cards, eccentric even by the standards of his time.

For some reason separate questions are given for boys and girls. Not that the male ones appear any more or less manly, though perhaps some strength is needed in order to
Find by practice what weight 1,017 times 2 tons 6 cwts 3 qrs will amount to
and the girls’ question
Reduce 3 elephants 6 horses 2 cows 6 sucking pigs 2 hares 2 rabbits to rabbits
probably makes sense only in producing really unpalatable gravy.
Ah, how we miss imperial measures. Even the good doctor himself confuses square with linear measurements in one of his questions. Pity the poor scholars.
Paul White, who found this gem, has located a Dr Fletcher Beach (1845-1929), specialist in children with psychological or learning difficulties. Paul speculates that some of Beach’s patients may have been children traumatised by his cards.


Presentation to Judith and Dawit

A lovely event at Joseph’s Well yesterday, marking Judith and Dawit’s leaving. Judith was presented with a flowering plant and Dawit with chocolates. Both also received a cheque, the sum of YAHS members’ generous donations.

We’re so grateful for everything they’ve done for us over the years. Judith has worked for the society since 1969 and is a life member. Dawit has been a great support as Claremont caretaker.

A lot of old friends came along for the occasion. And somehow – how did we manage this? – no one seems to have taken photos….

Sheffield and York archaeologists uncover ‘huge Viking camp’

A huge camp which was home to thousands of Vikings as they prepared to conquer England in the late ninth century has been uncovered by archaeologists.

Vikings reparing their boats at the side of a riverA scene from the virtual reality experience showing Vikings repairing their boats at the camp

Established in Torksey, on the banks of the River Trent in Lincolnshire, the camp was used as the Vikings’ defensive and strategic position during the winter months.

The research, conducted by archaeologists at the Universities of Sheffield and York, has revealed how the camp was used by thousands of Viking warriors, women and children who lived there temporarily in tented accommodation.

They also used the site as a base to repair ships, melt down stolen loot, manufacture, trade and play games.

Professor Dawn Hadley, who led the research from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Archaeology said: “The Vikings’ camp at Torksey was much more than just a handful of hardy warriors – this was a huge base, larger than most contemporary towns, complete with traders, families, feasting, and entertainment.

For the rest of the University of Sheffield news release, see here.

Old YAJs – please can you help?

We’re searching for specific volumes of the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal to fill gaps in our office set.

  • We need volume 30, missing from our bookcase run.
  • Also volume 15, first published as four parts, 57-60, either bound in a volume or in parts, is required for digitization (a non-destructive process, but possibly with minor adverse effects).
  • And if anyone has early parts, from before 1880, those could be very useful too.

Can you help? Donations gratefully accepted, or we’d be willing to negotiate loans or terms.

Prehistory section dates for 2017-18

Note the re-arranged PRS dates for autumn and spring:

1. To avoid YAHS congestion in Swarthmore and to allow us to use the ground floor lecture room (no stairs!), we’ve adjusted next season’s dates for our usual PRS meetings to Sat 2nd December 2017 and Sat 24th March 2018.


2. We also hope to arrange a joint meeting with The Prehistoric Society in the Leeds City Museum on the afternoon of Saturday 30th September – with a speaker on the important excavations at Must Farm, near Peterborough.

Details of speakers and of a likely section field trip to be circulated later.

CBA’s autumn showcase for local archaeology

Here’s a great idea from CBA Yorkshire – a new event principally aimed at Yorkshire’s thriving Community Archaeology sector. The group’s chairman Steve Bence writes:

This new event, to be known as our ‘Autumn Showcase’, is part of a wider attempt on our part to reach out to our colleagues in the county’s many and varied Community Archaeology groups, both to celebrate their achievements and to find practical ways in which to assist them. If successful we would hope to make our ‘Autumn Showcase’ an annual event, complementing our long-established ‘Annual Symposium’, which will continue to be held each spring.

It’s in York on Saturday 4 November. See the call for papers – and note the tight deadline for responding.


Zooarchaeology: short courses coming up in Sheffield

Here’s a message from Sheffield University. The courses aren’t aimed at professional and/or experienced zooarchaeologists. “We would be grateful if you could spread the news, as you may know of people who may be interested… these courses are not run for profit but as educational tools. If any income is generated is reused to enhance our facilities, which are fully available for the use of the general public, at no charge.”
The Zooarchaeology Team of the Department of Archaeology would like to let you know that there are still some places available for Understanding Zooarchaeology II and Exploring Palaeoenvironments short courses.

The Understanding Zooarchaeology II short course (11-13 September 2017) will be ideal for those who already have a basic knowledge of zooarchaeology (and/or have attended our Understanding Zooarcaheology I course) and want to learn more. The aim of this advanced course is to give participants direct experience in analysing and recording faunal assemblages from archaeological sites. It will also provide participants with experience in slightly more specialised topics, such as the identification of sheep and goat, as well as cervids and bovids. Sessions will include brief theoretical classes, followed by practical activities. At the end of the three days, participants are encouraged to write a zooarchaeological report based on the material analysed during the course, on which they will receive feedback from experienced zooarchaeologists.

The Exploring Palaeoenvironments short course (14-15 September 2017) will run for the second time this year and is the result of the joint efforts of zooarchaeologists, archaeobotanists and geoarchaeologists from our department. The course will introduce participants to the different approaches and types of analyses employed by specialists of these related sub-disciplines. Each session will include theoretical lectures and case-studies; in addition, practical classes will provide direct experience of handling, analysing and interpreting the material evidence that archaeologists usually deal with.  The Exploring Palaeoenvironments short course is directed to students, professionals and enthusiasts alike and does not require any previous knowledge of the disciplines covered.

Prices are as follows:
Understanding Zooarchaeology II:
GBP 200 (standard rate)/GBP 140 (student/unwaged rate)
Exploring Palaeoenvironments:
GBP 180 (standard rate)/GBP 120 (student/unwaged rate)
Understanding Zooarchaeology II + Exploring Palaeoenvironments:
GBP 350 (standard rate)/GBP 240 (student/unwaged rate)

Further information here, or email

The wonders of Elsecar

I know I bang on about Yorkshire’s hidden gems – though that’s our job, isn’t it? This one really did amaze me. Elsecar has potential to be as recognised and revered as Saltaire or New Lanark.

Thinking I should get out more, I signed up for last week’s early engines conference there, expecting to see an 18th-c Newcomen-type steam engine. Which I did. What I didn’t expect was (in various states of survival and re-use) an ironworks, canal basin, railway line with steam locos, some John Carr cottages and later miners’/ ironworkers’ cottages, a quite astonishing miners’ lodgings block, and sites of collieries, inclined plane, coke ovens, capped shafts etc etc just crying out for archaeological investigation. Not forgetting a pristine 1930s park with bandstand. And just over the hill is the palatial Wentworth Woodhouse, a 365-room mansion recently acquired by a preservation trust, known as the largest private house in Europe.

Barnsley Council is at last pumping (pun intended) some serious money and intent into Elsecar village. The site’s been removed from HE’s buildings at risk register. Small businesses – really interesting ones – are filling the ironworks site. Potential for archaeology is enormous – because it’s some way out of town, new building hasn’t spoiled it. Most of all this is a living breathing place inhabited by friendly people, a couple of miles from the M1, south of Barnsley, set in fabulous wooded countryside.

Here are views of the beam from inside the engine house, and an external shot. The engine, installed in 1795, was substantially updated in 1836-7 and remained in service until 1923. It has been carefully and sympathetically restored by volunteers, retaining as much as possible of the early versions. And it works!