The Archaeology of Yorkshire

From Iron Age chariot burials to square ‘round barrows’, abandoned medieval villages and Roman coin hoards, archaeologists have discovered some truly remarkable things in Yorkshire.

The Resource Assessment aimed to demonstrate that patterning in archaeological data holdings can emerge even at a very regional level, and suggest a number of research directions and projects for Yorkshire.

Archaeological sites

The archaeology of Yorkshire has a long history, with an active programme of excavation and fieldwork. The region is home to a number of specialist archaeological research groups, and there are numerous museums and archives which hold collections of historical artefacts.

A discovery in east Yorkshire has revealed evidence of lost Roman and medieval settlements. The traces were found in the form of pottery fragments, animal bones and charred organic material. The sites were abandoned hundreds to thousands of years ago because of coastal erosion and sea level rise.

The vexed issue of how the integrated Resource Assessment database should relate in future to the holdings of diverse HERs across Yorkshire still needs to be resolved. However, with more time and resources it is possible that much could be teased out of the dataset in the longer term.


Yorkshire’s karst landscape contains many caves, some of which contain evidence of human activity. At Victoria Cave in Craven, bones of late Ice Age animals show tooth-marks, indicating that they were gnawed by large carnivores – probably wolves. Recent re-examination of assemblages from this cave has revealed that cut marks on these bones are consistent with a wolf cleaver, and this, together with other evidence for the presence of wolves in this area, supports a model of hunting and culling by these predators after the retreat of the last glacier.

The oldest archaeological journal devoted to the history of Yorkshire, the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal publishes scholarly reports on new discoveries and research, reinterpretations and syntheses of knowledge, edited source material, and reviews relating to all periods of prehistory and later history in the county. It is available in print and gold open access. It is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of Yorkshire.


The industrial archaeology of Yorkshire has been transformed by a shift in emphasis, embracing not only conventional categories such as ferrous and non-ferrous metals, coal and quarrying, but also landscape setting, environmental impact, transport and the archaeology of elite and religious power, class and migration. The new agenda has prompted more comprehensive archaeological investigations, such as those at Wharram Percy deserted medieval village and excavations of Saxon salt-making settlements at Loftus and Dalton Parlours.

Meanwhile the distinctive caves of Yorkshire’s limestone uplands are like time capsules, preserving deposits from each of the last four times northern England was covered by glaciers. These have yielded a remarkable collection of artefacts, revealing details of the region’s Ice Age ecosystems and long-extinct animal species. They have also shed light on the lifestyles of Ice Age hunter-gatherers who lived in these remarkable environments. This evidence supports the view that the transition to sedentary agriculture was more rapid in Yorkshire than elsewhere, with a significant increase in ceramic production occurring at the same time as monumental burial and other large feats of construction such as cursus monuments.


The limestone uplands of Yorkshire act like time capsules, preserving sediments from the last Ice Age. These reveal a landscape of staggeringly rich ecosystems, now-extinct animals and the hunter-gatherers who lived there.

A bleak windswept day on the edge of the Vale of Pickering and you would never guess that archaeologists are working here. This is a quarry site and excavation, but not just any quarry – it’s part of the historic landscape characterisation project.

Historic landscape characterisation is a way of understanding how historic processes have helped to create our modern landscapes. It moves the focus away from site-based archaeological investigation and towards a wider landscape view. This is achieved through a variety of techniques and approaches, such as geoarchaeology, historic environment recording, landscape history, and the use of GIS. It is a partnership project between Historic England and the two Hull and East Riding of Yorkshire local authority unitary authorities. It builds upon and adds to the Humber HER (historic environment record). Its final product is a map layer and database.

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