The 2015 excavations have started

Vindolanda Trust - Sunday, April 12, 2015

2015 excavations have started.

Hello and welcome back to the Frontier in Transition archaeological project at Vindolanda.

Now we have the first two weeks of the excavation season under our belts we can offer a sensible update on the progress of the work. The usual fantastic mix of Vindolanda volunteers was complimented by up to 16 members of the defence archaeological group (DAG) as part of exercise Mars-Tablet which was itself a part of Operation Nightingale. Operation Nightingale gives former and still active serving and injured army, navy and air force personnel the opportunity to take part in archaeological research, introducing them to a different community. They are a great bunch of people, inspirational to everyone who met them and each one put in a hard shift over the two weeks. We are really sad to say goodbye to them but we hope that this will be just the start of their Vindolanda adventures. We must say a big thank you to them and the whole team for their effort, and of course a special thank you to the staff at Spade Adam Air-Force base for showing them superb hospitality and generosity during their two week stay.

The team had to put up with some horrendous weather conditions in week one with a combination of snow/sleet and torrential rain but luckily by week two each day brought warm and bright sunshine. A remarkable amount has been achieved in only a short period of time. For the first few sessions we have focused our efforts on the remains inside the last stone fort (it is still far too wet for the vicus). Here the excavators explored three areas which are marked on the plan below:

These areas included: the water tank in the north of the trench (area 1). The via Decumana and the pit and features cut through it (area 2) and the large free standing building at the south of the barracks adjacent to the south gate of the fort (area 3).

Perhaps the greatest discovery was that the water tank, which started to be uncovered at the very end of the last season, was encased in an outer wall, effectively enclosing the tank in the middle of a temple or shrine. The team focused on locating the north and south walls, defining a header tank at the east and exposing the full extent of the main tank itself to the west. The building would have been accessed from the road to the east, although one can imagine that most may have not been permitted to enter. Instead they could have obtained their water from the small header tank in front of the building and been restricted to looking into the temple to see a raised platform at the back, perhaps with the effigy of the god or goddess reflected in the water below. Eventually the temple fell out of use and modifications to the structure only retained the tank as a utilitarian water feature until eventually this too was discarded and abandoned, to be filled in with fine facing stones and rubble before flag stones covered over its form, the original purpose perhaps utterly forgotten.

Excavation of the tank and temple area.

As the excavations progresses in the next few weeks we will hope to uncover the back of the temple and continue to work to lower the floor of the tank itself, removing the tones of soil and rubble fill to see how deep the tank actually is. If we are lucky it will have a fine flagged base and perhaps some organically preserved rubbish that has been tossed inside before the Roman backfilling began in earnest. Either way this is a fine and impressive addition to the remains at Vindolanda. As we get deeper in the tank we will continue to 3D model each layer as we carefully record its contents, and an image of these 3D models will be posted in the blog as the excavation continues.

A 3D model of the water tank with its capping flagstones on top. 

Below the surface of the via decumana are the remains of the Antonine (mid to late 2nd century) via praetoria (the front street of an earlier fort) with fine stone carved drainage blocks flanking a well-mettled road surface. More of this feature will  be revealed as excavations continue and once we have a section open to view we will place some good photographs of this area into the blog.

The free-standing building to the south of the fort barracks has come along, its two major construction phases gaining definition as piles of rubble have been removed to expose the original floor levels. It is beside this building, re-used as a simple building stone, that a fine carving of a hare and hound was discovered last week. A likely source for such a hunting scene may have been a temple to Diana, the goddess of hunting.

The hare and the dog. 

We will pop up another update in two weeks time but in the meantime you can continue to follow us on the Vindolanda facebook and twitter pages as the excavations gather momentum. I hope to see you here again soon. 

best wishes,


Director of Excavations for the Vindolanda Trust

7 weeks to go and a warm welcome to the new team

Vindolanda Trust - Wednesday, February 04, 2015

7 weeks to go ….

It hardly seems possible but we have only 7 weeks to go until the start of the new excavation season at Vindolanda, which kicks off on the 30th of March. Today the Vindolanda and Roman Army Museum staff have been back in at work getting  the sites and museums ready to open their doors and to offer a warm and friendly welcome to our visitors form the 7th of February.

As the countdown continues to the start of the excavations we will be making some exciting announcements about this years dig. We will be hosting some truly exceptional people on the excavations and can’t wait to meet them and introduce them to you. Also the research has been going on while the sites were closed and the post-excavation is starting to really bring out some exciting results from the past two years of work, and we will share those results here with you as soon as they are ready to be released. 

But before we can do that we need to welcome two new members of staff who are joining the Vindolanda research, excavation and education team, Marta and Lauren. Both have taken different paths to get to Vindolanda and they have hit the ground running. I have asked them to say a few words about themselves as an introduction and I am sure you will be hearing more from them as the season progresses.

best wishes,


Andrew Birley, Director of Excavations - The Vindolanda Trust

Marta Alberti

Hi, my name is Marta Alberti and I have recently joined the Vindolanda Trust as archaeologist and assistant to director of Excavations. I graduated in 2012 from the University of Milan, Italy, where I originally come from. My BA in combined studies of Classics and Archaeology, paired up with my experience of excavation  of Late Bronze Age and Iron Age sites in cooperation with CSP (Centro Studi Preistoria e Archeologia), gave me a solid background in all things Roman, an unhealthy passion for classical literature and history and kick-started my interest in wielding mattocks and brandishing trowels. In 2013 I was awarded with distinction my MA at Newcastle University: shortly after graduation I started working as a commercial archaeologist on a number of sites across the UK, and have not stopped digging since. As a result, I have more than 4 years continuative experience of excavation, post-excavation, team management and supervision. I am a passionate field archaeologist with a keen interest in gender studies and in all transition phases: I am fascinated by changes in society and landscape over time, why they happen and how. I also enjoy digital surveying and 3D reconstruction, as well as finds’ illustration and writing, both archaeology-related and not.

Lauren Wilkinson

Hi my name is Lauren Wilkinson and I am the newly appointed Site Education officer and Museum Archaeological Assistant. My passions are discovering the past, and teaching others about it. I studied Archaeology at Newcastle University where I took part in archaeological digs, and studied various modules including Roman frontiers and artefacts. After my studies I worked at various museums across the North East in both front of house and education roles, including Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, Discovery Museum, and Great North Museum: Hancock. It was at the latter, where I worked as an Assistant Learning Officer, that my interest in Roman archaeology and teaching about the Romans grew. I planned and delivered two successful Roman based projects funded by the British Museum, as well as delivering many workshops, talks and tours for children and adults. I then went on to further my education by studying for a PGCE and becoming a qualified primary school teacher. The next two and a half years I then spent teaching in a local primary school and running an after-school archaeology club. With all the experience and knowledge I had gained, I was then lucky enough to be offered this very exciting role at Vindolanda, which incorporates both my passions. I hope to continue to grow both as an archaeologist and an educator during my time at this extraordinary site!