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Altared Images – Presenting a Roman Altar in York

3547 © The Friends of St. Mary’s Bishophill Jnr. York
 
On Saturday 5 August 2017 Wessex Archaeology was invited to address the Bishophill History Group about our recent investigations at the former Oliver House, 20 Bishophill, York. We were invited by Graeme Thomas who is also a church warden at St Mary’s Bishophill, which was the venue for the talk. St Mary’s boasts a Saxon tower and contains impressive fragments of early medieval carvings and is well worth a visit. Attendance was good with 69 people filling the pews, which is a credit to the strength of interest in the area and to the hard work of the Bishophill group.
 

3549 © The Friends of St. Mary’s Bishophill Jnr. York

The archaeological work on the site comprised a series of watching briefs and the excavation of three trial trenches. The most recent watching brief recorded the foundations and cellars of Victorian housing which had previously occupied the site. The trenches went deeper and passed through what was probably the garden soil from the medieval Holy Trinity Priory, down into Roman layers. A series of ‘robber’ trenches were recorded where Roman building materials had been removed for reuse. This removal probably occurred in Roman times. Several surfaces were also seen which probably represent a yard or possibly a road. Finds including glass and painted wall plaster were recovered which were exhibited on Saturday. The construction of new dwellings on the site is underway and the construction project has been designed not to impact the buried archaeology, which is preserved in situ on the site.
 

3546

However, the star of the show was a Roman altar recovered from the backfill of a Victorian cellar where it was mixed with other rubble. The altar has already been featured on the Wessex Archaeology blog and the attendees were impressed to receive a demonstration of the specialist RTI photography which had revealed carvings of a jug and a libation dish known as a patera. The altar has had a deep bowl carved into the top which probably represents adaptation into a bird bath or planter, perhaps in Victorian times.
 
Wessex Archaeology is grateful to the Bishophill History Group for the chance to share our results with the public and also to the developer who commissioned the work via CgMs Consulting.
 
By Ashley Tuck
 
 
 
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