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Archaeologists excavate medieval timber hall at Skipsea site in Yorkshire

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A team of archaeologists at the University of York have returned to Skipsea in East Yorkshire to excavate the remains of a medieval timber hall uncovered near the site of a Norman castle.

Archaeologists and first year archaeology students will be excavating the site throughout May.

The heritage of Skipsea was highlighted almost a decade ago, when archaeologists, Dr Jim Leary and Dr Elaine Jamieson, discovered that a huge mound – 85m in diameter and 13m high – was in fact Iron Age in origin – read the report here: Extending Histories: from Medieval Mottes to Prehistoric Round Mounds – Skipsea Castle, East Yorkshire (

It was initially believed to be first constructed around 1086 by Drogo de la Beuvrière, but radiocarbon dating revealed that the earthen mound that lay at the heart of the later motte predated the Norman Conquest by 1,500 years.

Skipsea mound in the East Riding of Yorkshire.
Photograph: University of Reading
Recent excavations of the surrounding area, where only the motte now survives, has revealed a long timber hall, likely older than the castle, and substantial in size at 5m wide and 16m long, surrounded by a ditched enclosure.
Rare find
The site of the building is marked out by post holes, which show the size and shape of the hall, but further excavations this month are likely to reveal that it was an area of some importance, given its size, and perhaps a place where lords greeted visitors and feasts were held.
Dr Jim Leary, from the University of York’s Department of Archaeology, said: “The unearthing of timber buildings dating to the period between the collapse of the Roman Empire and the arrival of the Vikings, a time often referred to as the Dark Ages, is an incredibly rare and significant find.
“The discovery at Skipsea is particularly interesting because we know that the area was in the hands of the last Anglo-Saxon King of England, Harald Godwinson, and then later, after the Norman Conquest of 1066, it became the estate centre of the Lords of Holderness.”  
Freshwater lakes
Skipsea was once home to three freshwater lakes, Skipsea Bail Mere, Skipsea Low Mere, and Skipsea Withow Mere, linked to the River Hull through a network of tributaries. These lakes, long-vanished now, began 10,000 years ago, in the Mesolithic period, and continued into the medieval period.
The lakes have always been a magnet for people, as well as drawing in archaeologists, antiquarians, and locals alike with their prehistoric and later remains. Discoveries of Mesolithic stone tools, animal bones, and bone harpoons within them, along with Neolithic and Bronze Age structures and pathways at their fringes, offer intriguing insights into the past environment and our interactions with it.
Local warlords
Dr Elaine Jamieson, from the University of York’s Department of Archaeology, said: “This era, characterised by a general lack of written records, saw the rise and fall of local warlords free from Roman influence or control.
“The discovery of these structures provides a unique window into this little-known period of history, underscoring the importance and excitement of our ongoing excavations.”
Archaeologists will be excavating the site throughout May, and first year archaeology students from the University of York will be joining the team to uncover more of its history.
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