Coppergate

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York resident and regular contributor. Fascinated by this historic city and always keen to promote local, independent businesses. The man taking the photographs and tweeting from @Jorvik

York Pass

CoppergateCoppergate, an almost hidden find, leads off from a small opening in Nessgate to where York’s modern and popular shopping complex, with high-street names, department stores, boutiques, art galleries and specialist stores buzzes with browsers and buyers, locals and tourists alike, all year round. However, Coppergate has added attractions.

The shoppers are hardly likely to imagine the Viking-age equivalent of the modern Coppergate shops, but in Jorvik – Viking York – there were many traders offering their wares and making and repairing goods, much like today. It has been established that Coppergate held a good majority of them.

Multiple Viking remains were discovered here in advance of the erection of the new shopping centre; the excavation of numerous Viking houses and finds of everyday objects are now displayed and brought to life in the now famous Jorvik Centre, which sits on the site of the 1970s archaeological dig and is housed in the Coppergate Centre.

York was known to be a very important place once the Vikings became established in the city. Prior to 1970 any archaeological finds from the Viking-age period were dug up purely by chance. In 1972 small trenches underneath Lloyds Bank in Pavement were excavated by York Archaeological Trust, identifying some innovative details. Up to 9m of archaeological layers, mostly dating to the Viking age was found; such a huge depth is unique. Due to a moist and peaty environment excellent preservation of organic remains of timber buildings, textiles and leather was revealed. These layers also preserved seeds, insect remains, plants, animal bones, human parasite eggs and pollen disclosing evidence of past climate, diet, health, the locale and the ancient environment.

York city council then proposed a major redevelopment of Coppergate and due to the Pavement findings agreed that further excavations could be undertaken in the interim. And so in May 1976, from below some modern basements, the Viking age once again emerged to tell its story with rare traces of Viking-age timber buildings being revealed. Between 1976 and 1981 archaeologists, students and local amateurs explored over 1,000 square metres unearthing a mass of finds from every era of York’s development; the most remarkable and revolutionary being those of the Viking age.

Finds included vast quantities of food remains such as animal bones and oyster shells; Roman and medieval roof tiles, the Vikings often recycled Roman tiles; timber and woven wattles, used as walls, pathways, and screens; metal working slag – showing technology over the centuries; a quarter of a million pieces of pottery useful for dating, origin and purpose, and 20,000 individually fascinating objects.

Coppergate gave up its secrets to reveal the construction and layout of the buildings in which the Vikings lived and worked, how they made a living, the foods they ate and their pastimes. Viking-age Coppergate comes to life at the Jorvik centre complete with authentic sounds and smells.

A rare find also from Coppergate, the Coppergate Helmet (also known as the York Helmet), is an 8th-century Anglo-Saxon helmet discovered hidden in a well in Coppergate in 1982. Made of iron with brass ornamentation work containing 85 per cent copper it is particularly well preserved and is one of only four such helmets of that period ever discovered. The helmet carries a Christian inscription. It is on display in the Yorkshire Museum, York.

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