YORK archaeologists have been shortlisted for an award after unearthing a mass grave of Cromwell’s soldiers in Fishergate.
The mass grave from the Siege of York in 1644 at the former medieval All Saints’ Church site at the junction of Kent Street and Fawcett Street is one of five finds nominated for magazine Current Archaeology’s Rescue Dig Of The Year in its Archaeology Awards.
The award is for archaeological survey and excavation carried out in areas revealed or threatened by development, or preventative measures taken on a previously unexcavated site.
On-Site Archaeology, which made the unexpected discovery in 2007, is up against the finding of a rare, low-status Anglo-Saxon settlement in a quarry in Northumbria, a drowned Mesolithic landscape off the coast of the Isle of Wight, the largest coin hoard found in a single pot in Britain, called The Frome Hoard, in Somerset and archaeological endeavours in Ireland.
The 11th century church of All Saint’s was documented in York, but previously there had been no physical evidence of it, let alone the mass graves with 113 members of Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentary force who are believed to have died from disease – as archaeologists found no battle injuries.
The excavation found the skeletons tightly packed and neatly arranged in parallel rows, with most laid face-down in the dirt or on their side, but no buckles, buttons or jewellery were discovered. About 87 of them were male and most were aged between 35 and 49.
Site manager Graham Bruce said they were very surprised to find the graves. “It’s certainly a very unusual one, especially the mass graves.
“There are very few parallels in Britain of mass graves from the English Civil War era. There’s a mass grave at Towton, but that’s a known battle site.
“It has certainly got to raise the profile of the company and archaeology in York. That York is big for archaeology is relatively well-known, but some people say ‘you’ve been digging for so long in York, don’t you know everything?’ I’ve been digging for over 20 years but we’ve still only really scratched the surface.”
The winner will be announced at the Current Archaeology Live conference at the British Museum on Saturday, February 26.