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From the trowel’s edge…

Christopher Catling

Christopher Catling Contributing Editor

CA’s Contributing Editor delves into the eccentricities of the heritage world.

The ghosts that stalk the walls of York

As you are walking along the walls of York, the ghostly figure of an armoured Roman soldier emerges from the stonework and starts talking about his life in Eboracum. Are you seeing things, becoming psychic, or suffering from Hamlet syndrome? No, you are just witnessing the latest wheeze for getting visitors to engage with the history of England’s historic northern capital. By downloading the City of York Hologram Tour app to your smartphone, you can conjure up 22 walking, talking figures from the city’s past. Apparently the holograms will even let you stand alongside them so that your friends can take a picture.

Users of the new app, which has been developed by the Yorkbased company Appeartome, with City Council backing, are reported to be attracting considerable attention. Other tourists are stopping, staring in disbelief, and taking their own photographs. How many overseas visitors will return home to tell their friends: ‘In England they may no longer have smog, but they do still have ghosts: here is the picture I took as proof’?

Empty tombs and abbeys built on air

Bess of Hardwick, and custodian of Mary Queen of Scots during her 14 years’ imprisonment in Sheffield. Except that he was not there. The vault was found to contain just two coffins – those of Gilbert, the seventh earl (d. 1616), and of Henry Howard (d. 1787). Where the other 15 are now, nobody knows, but it shows that you can’t always trust what it says on the tin (or, in this case, the inscription on the vault).

The other story concerns Bath Abbey, where it is estimated that 6,000 bodies were ‘jammed in’ to graves below the stone floors before burial in church ceased in the 1840s in favour of more hygienic burial grounds. Every slab in the building is now being lifted prior to the installation of under-floor heating, which will be powered by the city’s thermal springs. Archaeologists expected to find the footings of the Norman abbey; instead they found a honeycomb of voids, created by burials decaying and settling – one Medieval pillar was supported by fresh air. Now the voids are being recorded and filled with grout, after any human remains that the archaeologists find have been reinterred elsewhere.

Hosepipe archaeology

Archaeological textbooks are about to be rewritten in order to include the ‘short hosepipe’ technique, an innovative new addition to the battery of non-invasive technologies that archaeologists can use for finding out what lies beneath the

Mention of ghosts brings to mind the occasion on which Sherds was showing a visitor round a church and a look of horror and disbelief crossed her face as it dawned on her that the ledger stones on the floor were not just memorial stones but marked the actual graves of the deceased. ‘Didn’t it smell?’, she asked once she had come to terms with the knowledge; and yes, it most probably did – as vivid a memento mori as one could possibly imagine.

This was brought to mind by two recent stories about bodies in churches. The first concerns refurbishment work at Sheffield Cathedral, which involved opening the Shrewsbury family vault. Seventeen members of this aristocratic family are recorded as having been buried here between 1538 and 1787, including one of the most important men in Elizabethan England – George Talbot, sixth Earl of Shrewsbury, husband of

BELOW Summer may have seen a dry spell weatherwise, but not in terms of archaeological discoveries. At Stonehenge, circular parch marks indicate missing stones.

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current archaeology |

November 2013 |

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