Periods 8-9

Vindolanda Trust - Saturday, August 22, 2015

Periods 8-9 excavations

After a short holiday break in such a successful and productive season, welcome back to the Vindolanda blog! We left you with the promise of some spectacular aerial views of the site from Adam Stanford’s Aerial Cam, and here is a preview of the fine results achieved during the recording week.

Aerial picture of the site produced by Adam Stanford

Images like this make not only for excellent visual reference material, but open to us the possibilities of photo rectification and 3D modelling for the entire site, in order to make our planning of structures and plotting of artefacts more and more accurate, keeping up the pace with the advancing technologies.

Corrected photograph - Adam Stanford

Two hard working and dedicated groups have been with us in period 8 and period 9. As per usual, we will deal separately with the contributions they have given in the fort and the vicus. With only 5 more weeks of excavations to go, stay tuned for the “grand finale” of the 2015 digging season in our next blog update.

Happy reading and best wishes

Marta Alberti

Roadworks in the Fort

Period 8 and Period 9 excavators have concentrated their efforts on roads within the fort, clearing up enormous amounts of large cobble stones and, when unlucky, boulders, making up respectively 4th and possibly even 5th century surfaces.

Three main arteries make up the road system of a Roman fort, which followed the same blueprint all over the Empire: via Decumana, via Principalis and intervallum road. The via Decumana, running from the north to the south gate, has mostly been taken down to its original 3rd century level, matching with the standing walls that so strikingly welcome you when entering the site from the east gate. During its excavation, it emerged how the size of the road developed and changed through the centuries.

View of the Via Decumana

On top of the beautifully built pebble-dashed Antonine surface lies the level of the via Decumana that will be opened to the public in 2017, roughly 10 metres in width, with East West oriented barracks facing it. Later in the 4th century the road will expand, “swallowing” these barracks and reaching 10 metres in width.  A new, larger, and north/south oriented cavalry barrack will face the enlarged road through a well preserved doorway. The efforts of period 9 have provided us not only with a changed fort landscape, but with some excellent finds in the meanwhile. Keys have been the star-find of the period, with a small bronze one and a rather chunky iron one being unearthed.

Pictures of the two keys

Both period 8 and period 9 volunteers have also worked on what will be our new visitors’ access to the side of the excavation: the back side of the via Principalis, to the South of the headquarters’ building.  The goal is near, and soon the road will be fully exposed, ready to be prepared for the winter. In the process several bags of sherds and bone have been produced, keeping our post excavation team more than busy.

Picture of the bags of pottery and Liz

Finally the Intervallum road, running all around the internal perimeter of the fort within the defensive walls, minus its late Roman dress, is starting to reveal its pebble-dashed surface, with occasional cobbled patches. Period 8 volunteers have shifted a considerable amount of soil and stones, providing what will be an essential way in for the excavation of the cavalry barracks in the years to come. Finds from the area included a delicate bone gaming counter, bearing on the back what could have been the initials of its owner, “MO”, as well as a beautifully preserved small crossbow broach.

Picture of the gaming counter with 'MO'

 The 3rd and 4th century fort excavation area

Below the Vicus

Wet wet wet, has been the order of the day in the vicus excavations where the spring like volume of rain made ground conditions very challenging for the deep excavations under the 3rd century town buildings. Despite the obvious difficulties the work has progressed very well with a host of rooms, structures and spaces revealed from the heart of pre-Hadrianic fort buildings of periods II-IV (cAD 90-120) below later vicus buildings XXX to XXXII. Copper-alloy brooches, shoes and tent panels, horse gear, five ballista bolt heads, wooden combs, ten stylus tablets (and a few stylus pens) were the most notable from the host of artefacts recovered during the last two excavation periods.

Air photo of the vicus excavations – Adam Stanford

The large timber buildings of the 4th fort, cAD105-120 were gradually and carefully taken apart below building XXX to reveal very different spaces in the periods of occupation below and it was from this earlier occupation at the site that the most information has been forthcoming. It is likely that the decent from the cAD105-120 buildings into earlier structures also marked a journey through a very different use of space and associated cleaning regimes. The period IV buildings, large, spacious and perhaps public were left exceptionally clean and tidy, a stark contrast to the earlier structures which exhibited a great deal more domestic waste (pottery, animal bone, leather, and personal effects) which one might associate with domestic living spaces.

An image of the excavation area of site XXX - Adam Stanford

The most difficult period to get to grips with archaeologically at Vindolanda are nearly always the earliest, the period I and II forts. The explanation for this is partially due to the greater depths involved but also, in the case of the second fort at Vindolanda (cAD 90-97), the further one excavates to the west, very often the less there is to be discovered. At Vindolanda the natural landscape rises to the west of the settlement and earlier building foundations were shaved down to the natural clay to make way for new structures (something which did not happen to the east of the site where greater depths of archaeology exist) and the second fort (built by the 1st cohort of Tungrians) suffered the most in this process.  Therefore the team were delighted to pick up the posts and wattle and daub of the period II fort below the possible barracks of the Batavian fort above (c AD97-105). This certainly bodes well for the continuation of the work in this area for the rest of the season and could lead to some spectacular results going into the 2016 season.

A rather rare wooden spool- almost as good as new

So what is left to find? what are we doing next? We are continuing to explore below the last of the Severan fort and town buildings and have yet to locate the toilet which was associated with the star find of last years excavation, the wooden toilet seat. We are surely close to making that discovery and hope to have some positive news in the next few weeks. The last of the period IV fort structures, carefully recorded and mapped out will be removed to look at the even earlier forts and then the natural landscape of Vindolanda will be explored. The pre-Roman farmers field, and with a little bit of luck we may discover a sign of pre-Roman occupation or very early Roman activity and how it impacted the natural landscape of the site. We also hope to add a few ink writing tablets to the ever growing list of stylus tablets. Whatever happens you can continue to follow the blog, facebook and twitter to find out what happens next with the five weeks of 2015 excavations left to go. 

Best wishes,

Andrew Birley


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

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 (  - 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