The geoarchaeology of urban ecclesiastical sites in coastal locations: Exeter, UK and Trondheim, Norway

Richard Macphail, John Allan, Chris Carey, Ingeborg Sæhle

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapterpeer-review


Deposits from urban ecclesiastical sites in coastal locations (Exeter, UK and Trondheim, Norway) were analysed using combinations of soil micromorphology and SEM/EDS. A variety of bulk analytical methods were also used at Exeter, e.g., ICP-MS, CO3, magnetic susceptibility and LOI. Data from the latter were PCA modelled. Two profiles, only 12 m apart, from Exeter Cathedral, below the East Cloister Walk and under the Chapter House, exposed deposits of Roman/Late Roman to medieval date (ca. 13th C). Of significance are earth- and lime-based Roman building debris, as well as medieval soils affected by constructional/artisan and garden/inhumation activities. Coprolitic material includes much fish bone in the Dark Earth, indicating that Exeter was not abandoned in the post Roman period; contemporary metal working was also recorded. An excavation at Søndre gate, Trondheim, identified Viking settlement along the shore of the River Nidelva. This was followed by a series of five wooden churches, the first probably erected in the mid. 11th century. Each church burnt down in turn and was replaced. The church plots, between their constructions appear to have been utilised as opportunistic waste disposal sites, and recorded fish processing refuse, and rare non-ferrous metal working residues. Clean sand ground-raising layers were used to ‘sterilise’ each new church construction site. After the churches (ca AD 1350), urban deposits accumulated through the 1400s, and a form of Dark Earth rich in fish waste developed, consistent with marked phosphate concentrations. These two city sites are compared and discussed in the context of urban archaeology across north-west Europe.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUrban Geoarchaeology
Number of pages15
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 1 Jun 2023

Bibliographical note



  • Dark earth
  • Exeter Cathedral
  • Fishing
  • Geochemistry
  • inhumations
  • Metal working
  • Soil micromorphology
  • Trondheim
  • Wooden churches


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