Festival of Archaeology 2020

Humber Museums Partnership - Festival of Archaeology 2020

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About Festival of Archaeology 2020

For this year’s Festival of Archaeology we are bringing the festival online. We’re celebrating Medieval Britain and Hull, looking at different Medieval crafts.

Explore some of the collections in Hull and East Riding Museum and discover how people made things in the past. There are some activities for you to try too!


Pottery was an essential part of Medieval life. Trade goods were transported in pottery containers, people used them for storage, for drinking and a variety of other uses.

At Hull and East Riding Museum there are lots of different types of pottery that were all found locally.

Some were made close by, such as Humber ware and Scarborough ware. Others came from much further away, like low countries red ware. This reflects Medieval Hull’s trading links with continental Europe, which helped to generate the city’s wealth and prosperity.

    Click here to see images in full size

  • This is part of a Medieval dripping pan. When it was complete it was 80cm long. It was placed under a spit when meat was roasting on it and caught the juices and fat from the cooking meat. It was made in the Netherlands or Belgium around 1350 AD. Its decoration is special - it has a crowned head at one end. It is known as the ‘King’s head dripping pan’.

    Part of a long, shiny, red pottery dish with a person's head as a handle at one end.
  • This is a 14th century Humber ware jug. It’s got a red fabric and is covered in a decorative olive-green glaze at the top. This type of pottery was made locally – pottery production sites have been found at West Cowick and Holme-on-Spalding-Moor.

    Pottery jug with one handle. Lower half is matte red, upper half is shiny and green

Leather work

Leather is a very useful material – it’s strong, supple and hardwearing. It’s also a byproduct of the meat industry which meant that during the Middle Ages there was a ready supply.

Hull and East Riding Museum has a significant collection of Medieval leather, including knife sheaths, shoes and a costrel (a container for liquids). The waterlogged soil of Hull and Beverley provides ideal conditions for leather preservation!

From archaeological evidence, we know leather was an important part of the economy in Medieval Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire. Beverley was an important centre for tanning, the process that turns animal skin into leather. It is likely that many of these leather hides were exported through Hull. In 1298, King Edward I declared Hull was the only Yorkshire port allowed to export hides.

Here’s a worksheet with an activity you could try at home: Medieval Leatherwork Worksheet

    Click here to see images in full size

  • The ‘birdman’ knife sheath was excavated from Blackfriargate (where the A63 goes over the River Hull). It was engraved and embossed with a winged person with leaf feet and a pointy hat. That style of hat was popular in 1350 AD which dates the sheath. Most people in the Middle Ages would have carried a personal knife that they could use to eat with. When you went to someone’s house to eat, they expected you’d bring your own knife.

    Leather knife sheath with embossed or engraved decoration inclduing a person with bat-wing arms and a leaf instead of feet
  • This lovely example of Medieval leather is a long-toed shoe called a poulaine. The toe would have been stuffed with horsehair or moss to keep it stiff. This one was excavated from a pit on the north side of Scale Lane in Hull and is about 650 years old!

    Leather shoe with long finger-like toe

Wool production and spinning

The wool industry was also an important contributor to the Medieval economy and everyday life.

Sheep could be grazed on land where crops couldn’t be grown and their wool spun to make yarn for clothes and textiles.

It could be argued that the city of Hull was founded on wool trade. In the 12th century the monks of Meaux Abbey acquired the hamlets of Wyke and Myton at the mouth of the River Hull to pasture sheep and ship out the wool. The city quickly grew into an important port. In 1193 wool for the ransom of King Richard I was being collected at the ‘port of Hull’.

For more information and an activity to try at home, have a look at this worksheet: Medieval Spinning Worksheet

    Click here to see images in full size

  • This is an oak dye vat or tub. It was used in Medieval times to dye or colour wool and cloth. We know this because inside the tub they found traces of lanolin which is wool fat. They also found yellow dye (probably made from a plant called weld). It was well used – there’s a lead repair on the inside at the bottom of it! The vat is over 800 years old and was excavated (dug out of the ground) from Eastgate in Beverley.

    Round, dish-shaped piece of wood partially buried in the ground with wood lined water channels nearby
  • Spindle whorls were used throughout time to spin wool into yarn or thread. Then the wool could be made into cloth. This spindle whorl is from the Medieval period – around 1100 AD. It was excavated from Beverley Eastgate in the 1980s.

    Brown, dome-shaped object with a circular hole drilled through its centre.


There was also a good supply of wood in the Medieval period, so many objects were made from timber.

Wood was also imported from other countries, for example Baltic oak which was used to build ships and make coffins. We have coffins made from Baltic timber on display at Hull and East Riding Museum.

We can sometimes see Medieval carvings on buildings or on old wooden boxes. It took a lot of skill to mark out the pattern and to carve it.

Find out more by watching the video or take a look at this worksheet with an activity to try at home: Medieval Woodwork Worksheet


Music was a part of Medieval life – from churches to taverns. There were lots of different instruments which developed throughout the Middle Ages, creating lots of different and wonderful sounds.

Take a look at these videos, exploring different instruments from the Medieval and Tudor periods.


Another important aspect of Medieval life are the buildings that people lived and worked in. Some of these buildings still survive.

A lot of Medieval buildings were made using a timber frame. The wood was prepared off-site and numbered. Then pieces were transported to the location of the building and slotted together, creating a sturdy structure for the building.

The gaps in the frame were filled with cheaper materials, such as wattle and daub or thin wooden strips.

If you’d like to try making your own wattle and daub, we have a worksheet for you: Wattle and Daub instruction sheet

To find out more about the process of Medieval building take a look at these videos:

We also have some Medieval buildings on display in Hull and East Riding Museum (well, parts of them!).

We have timbers from a building that was on Queen Street, in the Fruit Market area of Hull. There’s a picture of some of the timbers below, and you can find out more in this video:

There are also the George Yard timbers. These two vertical posts stood on either side of the entrance to George Yard which was on the High Street in Hull. You can see in the picture below, they were beautifully carved. To find out more, take a look at this:

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