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The Post-excavation Analysis and Archiving of Outputs from Complex, Multi-period Landscape Investigations: the example of Heslington East, YorkOpen Data

Steve Roskams

Cite this as: Roskams, S. 2020 The Post-excavation Analysis and Archiving of Outputs from Complex, Multi-period Landscape Investigations: the example of Heslington East, York, Internet Archaeology 55.


This article discusses the post-excavation analysis and archiving of data generated by fieldwork undertaken at Heslington East near York in the UK. This project, stretching over two decades, involved two commercial companies and a student training and local community element, and recently concluded with a thematic publication (Roskams and Neal 2020 ). The article has twin objectives. First, on a theoretical level, it reflects on the complex challenges that arise when attempting to combine diverse stratigraphic, spatial and assemblage data from different sources to reach meaningful interpretations of an extensive, multi-period landscape. Second, on a practical level, it aims to act as an introduction to the project's archives to make them accessible to future audiences, something that is essential if we are to enable any re-interpretation of the site.

Prehistoric and Roman waterhole in the course of excavation (foreground) with associated complex of intercutting. linear landscape divisions beside it (left). ©YAT
Prehistoric and Roman waterhole in the course of excavation (foreground) with associated complex of intercutting. linear landscape divisions beside it (left). ©YAT ( Heslington East Excavation Archive)

I suggest that such archives embody a series of transformations. These comprise first the interpretation of reconnaissance and evaluation procedures, converted to generate an excavation strategy, something briefly summarised here. I then discuss at greater length: the processes of post-excavation analysis of stratigraphic and spatial data, and their relationship with the MoRPHE requirement (Historic England 2006) to select particular assemblages for detailed analysis; linking the latter, specialist reports on selected assemblages to preliminary interpretations of site evidence, an iterative process that creates more soundly based understanding; and the recasting of summaries of the most significant evidence in these secondary interpretations to fit the thematic organisation of the published report. I argue that each of these hierarchically ordered transformations needs to be understood if we are to facilitate effective re-use of site archives.

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  • Related digital archive: University of York, York Archaeological Trust, On-Site Archaeology (2013) Heslington East Excavation Archive [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor]
  • Keywords: Heslington East, York, archaeological archives, re-use, MoRPHE, PPG16, post-excavation analysis, thematic publication
  • Accepted: 5 Feb 2020. Published: 22 Sept 2020
  • Funding: The publication costs of this article were paid by the University of York, as site developer.
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Corresponding author: Steve RoskamsORCID logo
Department of Archaeology, University of York

Full text

Figure 1 : Site location plan (contains OS MasterMap® Topography Layer [FileGeoDatabase geospatial data], Scale 1:1250, Tiles: GB, Updated: 1 November 2017, Ordnance Survey (GB), Using: EDINA Digimap Ordnance Survey Service,, Downloaded: 2018-05-29 11:49:34.438)

Figure 2: Site features on the edge of glacial moraine (brown) and water access points, kettle holes, palaeochannel, and wells

Figure 3 : Schoolchildren learning to reconstruct a Roman kiln, part of an attempt to give local people a sense of heritage engagement and thus ownership

Figure 4: Definition of priority zones A1-A3 and subsidiary zones B1-B7 ©York Archaeological Trust

Figure 5 : Patterning of geophysical prospection in one part of the site, darker areas indicating less damp zones. Trial trenches (red) were then set out in relation to this patterning, rather than distributed evenly across the development area

Figure 6a and Figure 6b: Two adjacent Roman inhumations of similar date buried in the same subsoil, showing differential survival over small distances

Figure 7 : Colour-coded features plotted for one part of the Heslington site. Linear features distinguish between: major ditches (purple), subsidiary ditches (brown) and furrows (grey); and closed cuts between wells (blue), pits (lime green) and structural features (mid-green) (possible pits are in orange and a possible structural element in dark red, projections of linear features in violet)

Figure 8 : Features generating late 4th-century coins, probable Anglian finds and proposed Anglian ceramics. The linear features in red show the reorganisation of this landscape at the very end of the Roman period, or perhaps beyond

Figure 9: Well with wickerwork lining, capped with clearly re-used masonry © Onsite Archaeology

Figure 10 : Roman period bowls/dishes (indicative of food serving) plotted against jars (storage), showing changes in Heslington signatures over time and compared with other sites in the Yorkshire region (York as diamonds, military sites squares, villas triangles, non-villa rural settlements circles). Heslington data is represented by red dots, divided between 3rd, early 4th and late 4th century CE materials. Assemblages from other centuries were too small to produce meaningful statistics.

Figure 11: Profile of late Roman masonry well, indicating stages of backfilling

Table 1: Summary of faunal data for main domesticates by fragment count across main site periods

Table 2: Summary of digital archives, held by ADS, and physical archives, lodged at the Yorkshire Museum

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