Excavation update period 7

Vindolanda Trust - Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Excavation update – period 7

A great deal has happened over the past few weeks on the excavations, the annual University of Western Ontario field school has finished for another year, and what a successful year they have had. The students were excellent this year, a credit to their University and alongside the regular Vindolanda volunteers they worked exceptionally hard to further the research aims of the site and build on their own knowledge of Roman Vindolanda. You can see what they thought about their experience by looking at the field school blog page https://westernclassicalstudies.wordpress.com/

The friends of Vindolanda evening was another great success and both excavation areas, and post-excavation, have produced some wonderful artefacts and knowledge about the site. It is unusual for me to be quite so excited about Roman bricks and tile, as we find so many of them, but when people leave their individual marks upon these artefacts they can be transformed from the mundane to something rather more special, a more direct and vivid connection to the people of the past.

As usual we will deal with the two excavations separately, below the vicus and the inside the 3rd -4th century fort, but we also add an update on the post-excavation from Lauren.

This week is a site recording week with no excavation taking place. We have Adam Stanford taking superb air photo’s (http://www.adam-stanford.co.uk/  - https://www.facebook.com/pages/Adam-Stanford-Photography/134553846639383) and 3D modelling. The team draws breath and re-fills the biscuit barrel in the excavation shed for the big push towards the rest of the season.

I hope you enjoy reading about the excavations and continue to follow what happens next. There are 5 sessions to go (9 weeks of excavations) and as always the best is yet to come.


Dr Andrew Birley

Director of Excavations

Picture of the Canadian field school.

Below the vicus

Here the team concentrated on three areas, under the foundations of the Severan barrack block buildings sites XXX and XXXII and under the road which separated them. Below site XXX the large wooden outer walls of the period IV (cAD105-120) wattle and daub buildings continued to emerge. Indeed, the smaller main oak uprights which had been a feature thus far were steadily being replaced with significantly larger wooden posts as the excavations continued to the south, suggesting the possibility that the back range of the building may have been structurally sound/strong enough to support a second floor. This has raised the hope that we are indeed within the walls of the period IV headquarters building and that the rooms encountered thus far were merely the western side rooms. From here, in the period V/VI demolition layers above the building a footprint was found beautifully preserved on a roof tile.

Mel with roof tile and footprints and birdprints

Under site XXXII to the east a similar picture started to build, larger posts from the cAD105-120, timber clad floors and walls and some wonderfully preserved pottery, Roman shoes and copper alloy artefacts. Here the team encountered large Roman ovens from the level above their target building (period IV) and this slowed the work down a little as the necessary recording and careful excavation took place. The picture of industry, from Hadrianic times into the Antonine period, found elsewhere in the surrounding structures continued to show a strong presence, reaffirming Vindolanda as a place where things were made and mended during these periods.

Below the Severan roadway, so carefully cleaned and recorded in previous weeks, the very large and extremely fine via principalis (main street) of the period IV fort (cAD105-120) running east/west with large northern roadside drain was carefully excavated. The drain produced more fine pottery and a wonderful, beautifully preserved and still working copper alloy brooch. The exploration and fixing the position of this road was important as it helped to contextualise the surrounding buildings and reaffirm their central position within the extremely large period IV fort (which was at least three times the size of the last stone fort).

Picture of the brooch.

Inside the 3rd – 4th century fort

Roads, ramparts, walls and more roads were the themes of the past few weeks of excavation inside the fort. Big archaeology in a big spaces. The team focused most of its attention on the southern rampart defences of the last stone fort, re-examining an area which was partially excavated in 1999-2000 when the fort wall was originally examined in this area. After the removal of the heavy clay rampart took place (to examine the area for clay ovens, rampart pits and construction debris for the cAD213 fort) the excavators deepened the trenches to look for the earlier stone forts southern defences near the toilet block on the south eastern corner of the fort. This was to prove to be a difficult task as the Antonine fort wall had been securely buried below several metres of boulder clay and turf for the re-building of the stone fort in the 3rd century. The work was to prove to be successful and the earlier fort wall started to emerge, bashed by later building work, but still an impressive structure. The depth is now 4metres below the turf from the post-Roman to Antonine in this area. There are five Roman forts to go below the Antonine levels and it will be interesting to see if we reach new and exciting levels of preservation in this area due to the unprecedented volume and depth of clay that has been used to build up the landscape at this point.

Antonine fort wall excavation - before and after excavation period VII  


Elsewhere inside the fort at 3rd and 4th century network of roads to the south of the headquarters building moved another step towards being re-opened for the first time in 1600 years. The final post-Roman structure on top of the via decumana (south street) was removed so that the road levels below can be explored and other members of the team worked inside the officers apartments to the south of the commanding officers house. This final area will receive a lot of attention in the coming weeks and months as the excavations of this area reach a crucial juncture, to a point where consolidation briefs can be drawn up for the future preservation and enjoyment of these buildings.

3D model late Roman or post-roman building on the via decumana

Although the artefacts from the later levels of the site are generally not as well preserved as those from earlier periods the excavation of the ramparts produced another wonderful tile, one with a dog print and a carved inscription of Fidelis on it. Perhaps the name of a slave? Or even the dog that left the footprint on the tile? Who knows. But either way a welcome animal and human intervention.

Picture of Sarah with her tile.

Post-excavation update

Now we are past our half-way point of excavations this season, I wanted to give an update on what is happening post-excavation.

The post-ex volunteers are similar to the excavation ones, and join us in the excavation shed for two week periods.

The season so far has seen some very dedicated volunteers work tirelessly and thoroughly to wash and categorise the bulk finds coming from both excavations areas.

They work with all types of pottery found at the site, but also glass, brick and tile, iron, slag and bone.

Once the finds are washed and dried, they then sort them in to categories, count and weigh the sherds, and then bag them according to those categories. This enables us, and any others, who wish to look at certain aspects of the collections, or distribution, find what they need much more efficiently.

(Finds being washed and dried)                (Finds being categorised)

One of the most exciting parts of post excavation is finding stamps or graffiti, or even small finds that were missed when the find was first excavated (usually as it is covered in mud!) Here are some of the hidden gems that appeared once the washing and drying process was completed.


      (Partial spindle whorl)             (Tile with a paw print)    

(Stamp on an amphora handle)

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank all the post-ex volunteers that I have had the pleasure to work with so far for their hard work. It is an essential and important part of the excavation process and I look forward to what the rest of the season may uncover!

Best wishes,

Lauren Wilkinson

Periods V -VI excavation updates

Vindolanda Trust - Monday, June 15, 2015

Periods V and VI: excavation updates

Halfway through period VI, it is time for our usual catch up on the developments of the excavations here at Vindolanda.

For the past week the regular volunteers have been joined on the excavation by some well-known and always welcome faces - Dr Beth Green and Dr Alex Meyer who are leading their 9 students’ strong field-school team, from University of Western Ontario in Canada. If you want to know more about them and read their take on the Vindolanda excavation, have a look at their blog, updated daily by the students: https://westernclassicalstudies.wordpress.com/

The Vicus

The vicus excavation has progressed steadily from the last blog post: more of the double wattle-and-daub wall has been uncovered in the central trench. It remains to be defined what type of building would have been delimited by such a sturdy and well-made perimeter, as the excavation in this area is set to continue towards the south end of the trench. Only centimetres to the east of the double wall, another, this time single, partition has been uncovered: within the space (probably a barrack block) delimited by this wall, a projectile point in excellent state of preservation was retrieved.

The trench is being carefully lowered, Antonine walls and drains recorded and lifted, in order for us to land on the dark and soft Hadrianic demolition layer. This week, with the sun shining bright on us, a fresh start was made in the vicus, as the team lead by Profs. Green and Meyer, together with Lauren, started removing the gravel and picked up the excavation from where it was left in 1972-73. Just under the level reached a beautiful flagged floor, pertaining to the Antonine annex (cAD160-200) and what appears to have been an industrial area, with abundant charcoal and evidence for ovens. In this area a complete Samian cup was found, bearing a clearly legible potter’s stamp.

Professor Meyer with his first find of 2015 and a Ballista head from the vicus excavations

As the digging continues we expect to reach the Antonine drainage ditch visible underneath the industrial area: this was partially excavated in 2014 and produced 3 stunning wooden bowls, currently undergoing conservation.

Inside the 3rd and 4th century fort

As far as the 3rd and 4th century fort excavation are concerned, good progress was made by the period V team, including a significant initial effort on the rampart, the partial removal of the 4th century surface of the via decumana and the newly discovered and excellently preserved cavalry barrack at the westernmost edge of our SMC (sic! No further western expansion until 2017 here, but we can always go south, under the wheelbarrows and the stone pile, hunting for the Antonine gate). Part of a new Severan roundhouse was also exposed, next to the one highlighted in the second excavation period. The search for the set of 10 houses (5 facing north and 5 facing south) continues.

Pic of the via Decumana looking north

4th century barrack wall to the west of the street

The work of the small but strong team of period V has been picked up by those present in period VI, whose larger numbers have allowed us to operate on several different fronts.

At the northernmost edge of our excavation area, behind the headquarters building, two teams have been working together. While the first team de-turfed and removed the 4th and 5th century demolition layer just underneath the grass (uncovering part of a portable altar in the process) the second removed carefully the 4th century road surface discovered by the former. Soon the pebbly, well-made 2nd century road surface laying underneath will be ready to welcome again, after 1600 years, the visitors' steps.

  (Photo from Western@vindolanda Blog)

In the middle of our excavation area, an all Canadian detachment has been furthering the removal of the 4th century via decumana, highlighting the camber of a much deeper and better laid surface.

Finally, at the southernmost edge of the fort's excavation area, the protective rampart standing between the fort walls and the intervallum road is steadily being removed. Two main features have emerged underneath all the stubborn clay: a pre-hadrianic ditch running North-South and a dark soft fill running east-west along the fort walls. The latter is probably linked with the cutting of a construction corridor by the still mysterious Antonine garrison, which employed this space to be able to face the task of building of their first stone walls both from the inside and from the outside.

Stay tuned for some more excavation news, and for almost daily updates do not forget to check out our Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Best wishes, Marta Alberti