COPPERGATE today is a busy shopping centre that just happens to have a Viking city buried beneath it.

Everyone who lives in York - and indeed anyone who loves this city - knows the story of the Coppergate Dig, and how that Viking city was discovered.

We're less familiar with the story of how the dig came about - and how the shopping centre which now stands on top of the world-famous Jorvik Viking museum was built.

Our series of photographs today - most of them dug out of a dusty Press archive - may just help to put that right.

The name Coppergate is old Norse for 'street of the cup makers'. But it turned out that the Vikings who lived there made far more than just cups. The famous dig in the 1970s also turned up evidence of metalworking and comb-making, as well as jewellery, cups, bowls and items of footwear and clothing all made by Viking craftsmen.

Before the mid 1960s, however, and despite the street's name, Coppergate wasn't particularly associated with the Vikings. It was better known for the Craven sweet factory, which had stood there since the middle of the 1800s.

The city centre site appears ultimately to have become just too cramped for a flourishing sweet factory, however. In 1966, the factory was demolished when Craven moved to Poppleton. Plans were developed for a major new shopping centre at Coppergate. But first, archaeologists from the York Archaeological Trust were allowed to move onto the site.

What they found astonished them - and, ultimately, the rest of the world.

Between 1976 and 1981 they discovered beneath this undistinguished corner of York evidence for an entire Viking city.

The remains of wooden Viking buildings were laid out along the street. And the wet, spongy earth had also preserved much more: a host of everyday items from leather boots and clothing to grains (giving an idea of what the Vikings might have eaten) and even preserved Viking poo. There was also evidence of widespread Viking craftsmanship - everything from cup and bowl-making to jewellery and exquisite bone combs. Taken together, it enabled archaeologists to build up a vivid picture of ordinary Viking life.

The Coppergate dig - which became something of a public spectacle, with guided tours and viewing galleries - lasted for five years, until 1981. The Jorvik Viking Centre itself then opened in 1984, to international acclaim, not to say wonder.

But the museum was just a part of the much bigger Coppergate development - the commercial shopping centre which had prompted the dig in the first place.

The new shopping centre was built in just a few years between the early- and mid-1980s. And it is that development which our pictures today mainly show.

We have a photo of the old Craven factory before it was demolished, and another picture of the Coppergate dig itself. The rest of our images show the shopping centre, based around St Mary's Square, slowly taking shape.

Plans to extend the shopping centre in the early 2000s into the castle car park next to Clifford's Tower were rejected at a public inquiry by a government planning inspector.

Today, there is a new masterplan for the regeneration of the whole castle and Piccadilly area. But the original Coppergate shopping centre - and the extraordinary Viking museum that opens beneath it - still stands as a monument to that decade of excitement, discovery and development from the mid Seventies to mid Eighties that took place right in the heart of York.

Stephen Lewis