THE Coppergate dig of the 1970s, which uncovered a lost Viking city beneath the streets of modern day York, made headlines around the world.

Between 1976 and 1981, hundreds of amateur archaeologists helped out. And more than a million people came to see the dig for themselves.

When Jorvik reopens on April 8 after its long, post-floods refit, it will include at least one entirely new exhibit. The memories of some of the leading figures in the dig have been recorded, and together with old photographs and video footage will be used to bring the excitement of the dig itself to life.

But Jorvik wants to do more. It wants to hear from the amateur archaeologists who helped out on the dig - and even some of the people who came to see it. Their memories - together with their photos - will be collected together on Jorvik’s website to provide a permanent record of those heady days in the 1970s when Viking York became famous the world over. Some of the best stories may even be collected together in a book.

York Press:

The Coppergate dig. Photo: York Archaeological Trust

If you have great memories or stories to tell of the dig, or your own special photographs, Jorvik want to hear from you. Get in touch by email, at

To get you started, we spoke to the man with perhaps the best memories of all - the York Archaeological Trust’s first ever director, Dr Peter Addyman...


York Press:

Dr Peter Addyman at home today

YOU could argue that the Jorvik story began deep beneath Lloyds Bank on the corner of Piccadilly and Pavement.

It was the early 1970s, and York Archaeological Trust director Peter Addyman had been given permission to excavate the bank’s underground vaults.

He’d suspected there would some Vikings deposits preserved in the waterlogged peaty soil down there - and he wasn’t disappointed. Archaeologists found timbers from a Viking building, as well as textiles from clothing and leather from shoes.

It gave Dr Addyman the chance to deliver an immortal line to the bank’s manager. “I said ‘you have some extremely interesting deposits in your vaults’,” he recalls, more than 40 years later.

Armed with evidence that there really were interesting Viking remains preserved in the moist peat deep beneath York’s streets, the archaeological trust began looking around for another site to excavate.

When the city council proposed a major redevelopment at Coppergate - on a run-down site occupied by a pub and the old Craven sweet factory - they found it. In May 1976 a team led by dig director Richard Hall lifted the floor of an old cellar - and struck paydirt.

York Press:

The former Craven factory in Coppergate in December 1975. The Viking city of Jorvik was discovered under this site

“We went straight into a well-preserved Viking house,” Dr Addyman says.

“The first thing we found was six-foot-high walls made of timber.”

Other artefacts were found - bits of Viking clothing, and bronze pins that had been preserved in the wet peat and were as shiny as new.

The dig site was extended. Magnus Magnusson, the Icelandic TV presenter, became interested. The archaeological trust decided to launch a fund-raising campaign to allow the dig to continue, and it was decided that a top archaeologist was needed to act as patron. Dr Addyman remembered that Prince Charles had studied archaeology at university. “I said ‘He’ll do!’” he recalls.

York Press:

Prince Charles at the dig with left, site director Richard Hall and right, Peter Addyman

The prince agreed. Then Dr Addyman contacted Princess Margrethe of Denmark, with whom he’d been at university. “I said ‘can you join the Prince of Wales on the team?’ She said ‘can I come and see the dig? and I said ‘of course you can’.”

She came, was hooked, and was soon on board. And she persuaded the other crowned heads of Scandinavia - the King of Sweden, the Crown Prince of Norway and the President of Iceland - to join up too. The search for Viking York was off to a flyer.

Soon, more fascinating finds began to emerge - stuff that had never been seen before. There was coin-making equipment: dies, and bits of metal that had obviously been used as trial pieces. “We had seen Viking coins in hoards before, but this showed that Vikings in York had their own mint.”

Then there was a mass of squashed, twisted straw that had been preserved in the peat. To their astonishment, archaeologists realised it was a beehive. “It had fallen over and been buried,” Dr Addyman recalls. “The bees inside were squashed as well.”

York Press:

Peter Addyman shows a leather Viking shoe to the Lord Mayor of York, Coun Jack Archer, in June 1976

The archaeologists were beginning to build up a picture of the Vikings not just as fearsome warriors and raiders but as settled, industrious people: they kept bees, and struck their own coins for trade.

Then there was the Viking sock. It had been made using a process like crocheting - and it actually had a hole in the toe. It made it suddenly possible to picture in your mind the Viking who might have worn it: and the story flashed around the world. It even prompted the reader of a local newspaper in Australia to write a poem, Ode to a Viking Sock.

Magnus Magnusson made a TV documentary about the dig. And the growing excitement was captured in a Yorkshire Evening Press bill which, to this day, hangs in Dr Addyman’s downstairs loo: “Major Find: Lost city unearthed in York.”

Enter Ian Skipper, the Lancashire owner of a string of Ford dealerships. Dr Addyman got a call one day from a man speaking in a broad Lancashire accent. “I’ve seen your progress. I want to come and have a look for myself.” Dr Addyman readily agreed.

“So he came in a very new Rolls Royce, with two smart children, a luscious wife and a pair of very highly polished shoes,” Dr Addyman says. Before long, he remembers, this elegant family was “fossicking around” in the mud of the dig. Soon, an enthusiastic Mr Skipper had brought his businessman’s nous to the job of organising the dig and making it profitable - an idea that was almost unheard of at the time.

The huge site was surrounded by a hoarding, with the legend The Viking Dig written large upon them. The archaeological trust began charging £1 for entry. “And we had queues of people waiting to get in,” Dr Addyman recalls.

York Press:

At work on the Coppergate dig. Photo: York Archaeological Trust

Mr Skipper went further. “He said ‘we’ve got all these visitors? What can we sell them?’” Dr Addyman thought for a bit - and hit on the idea of oyster shells. The Vikings enjoyed oysters the way we eat fish and chips, he says. And they left heaps of oyster shells behind - tens of thousands of them turned up during the dig. “Right,” Skipper said. “They’re £2 each!” A note of awe creeps into Dr Addyman’s voice. “We sold them all,” he says.

The dig ultimately lasted for five years. Twelve professional archaeologists were involved, as well as a host of enthusiastic local amateurs, students - and even prison inmates on day release.

The team uncovered almost 40,000 artefacts, including timber houses, fences woven from wattle, shoes, clothing and beehives all miraculously preserved in the peat. Then there were the hard objects - antler combs, pieces of pottery, and evidence of metal-working.

By the dig’s end in 1981, the lost Viking city beneath York was world famous. Jorvik, the underground recreation of the lost city deep beneath the new Coppergate shopping centre on the site of the excavation, opened to international acclaim in 1984. And the rest is history...

  • If you have memories or photos of the Coppergate dig you'd like to share, email Jorvik at