Periods III & IV

Vindolanda Trust - Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Excavation blog update for excavation periods III & IV

Welcome back to the Vindolanda excavation blog, we are now in the middle of excavation period IV and almost eight weeks into what is a 23 weeks’ season of work.  Along the way we have met some smashing people, both on the excavations and at the fence: thanks to everyone for their hard work and support.

The last two teams have had a wealth of experience between them and despite the continuation of variable weather such as thunder, torrential rain and hail (see the picture below of dark clouds gathering above Vindolanda) spirits are high and the vicus excavations have re-opened for the season.

Storm clouds gather above Vindolanda and the Wall

Inside the fort the effort has been focused on uncovering the west side of the 4th century via decumana, in order to expose the original road level of the street as it was laid in c AD213. Although tough work, the team have managed to do this extremely well and found many fine artefacts along the way. These include a complete finger ring with a jet stone, knives, a rather lovely bone spindle whorl, 30 or so pot lids and a great deal of bashed 4th century pottery. The structures surrounding the road have started to become more clearly defined, the experience of walking down a road rather than in field of rubble has changed this area completely.

The period III team

Picture of the finger ring

Work has continued to take place linking the top of the street to the back of the headquarters building: in a few months visitors to the site will be able to experience for themselves what it feels like to walk along the back of the Headquarters building, straight onto the last Roman street level. A walk no one has been able to take for almost 1600 years.

Excavating the via decumana 

A very small knife blade dropped on to surface of the via decumana

Below the extramural settlement, or vicus, the team has assembled to pump out the thousands of gallons of water that filled the trenches during the winter. The weeds have been cleared out and work continues here down into the pre-Hadrianic forts. It is extremely dirty and wet work but it has its rewards. Some of last year’s trenches, which are now completed, will be immediately backfilled and the barracks, possible Headquarters building, workshops and fingers crossed, toilet from the previous season (we only found the seat, the loo itself is missing in action at the moment) will reveal themselves. Last season’s work produced 19 of the famous Vindolanda writing tablets. It is very likely that this number will be added to, as well as the number of other remarkable artefacts which survive in almost perfect condition due to the oxygen free organic preservation at these levels. The first shoe of 2015 has been recovered already and the count will doubtless reach the hundreds by the end of the summer.


 The vicus excavations


 The first shoe of 2015

Period 2

Vindolanda Trust - Friday, May 01, 2015

Excavation Period 2

The second excavation session at Vindolanda came to a close last week and it could hardly have been more different from the first, with wonderful warm sunshine every day to push the team along. Taking their lead from the previous session the excavators concentrated on the water tank feature and the roads surrounding it. They managed to complete the task of excavating the tank down to its flagged floor, removing the rubbish, fill and facing stones which had been pitched into the tank after its abandonment. These would have carried the large flag stones, partially removed in period 1, which were to eventually cover the feature entirely. This excavation area produced a great deal of animal bone, pottery and a few Roman coins which will all help to determine at which point the backfilling took place. Also found amongst the rubble and soil was a very small stylus pen, a number of bone hairpins and a complete copper alloy lock barrel (the last example being found in 1981).

Photograph of the water tank.

To the south of the water tank another Roman building started to reveal itself and this helped to define both the 3rd and 4th century western edges of the via decumana roadway. The road was made much broader in the 4th century and extended out a further 3m to the west, perhaps to accommodate the people using the later 4th century cavalry barracks.

New building to the south of the water tank

The final area of exploration involved removing a section of the via decumana’s surface to reveal the earlier Antonine (mid second century) via praetoria, or the front road of the Antonine fort (which unlike the 3rd and 4th century forts, faced south rather than north). This roadway had a fine stone cut water channel on its western side and it was hoped that a similar drain would exist on its eastern limit. Sadly this feature had been removed in antiquity, either by the Severan round house dwellers or perhaps more likely, the 4th cohort of Gaul’s in one of the rebuilds of the last stone fort. Either way, the earlier road is magnificent and it is hoped that as the excavations continue to the south, the south gateway of the Antonine fort will reveal itself. On our wish-list is the large stone building inscription that would have once adorned the gate, which hopefully remains somewhere nearby.

Picture of the via praetoria excavations.