Excavation season final update
So that is it for the Vindolanda excavations in 2014! The final shovel has been put away, the pump sent off for cleaning and the wheelbarrows upturned. The biscuit barrel in the shed is empty and we have even moved the excavation tool shed to a new location. It will be steam-cleaned before anyone is allowed back inside.
We want to say thank you to all of those who have taken part on the excavations, taken part in the debates about the finds on line and of course especially to those who have visited the site this year. Special praise is due to the hard working but seldom seen post-excavation team, those who have worked in the pottery and bone sheds and in the lab, processing and caring for all of the artefacts that have come from the excavations this season. We found over 1300 artefacts this year, and that is not counting the pottery and bone.
In a few weeks’ time the applications for the 2015 excavations will go live on this website, at 12noon on the 3rd of November. Before the general places for 2015 go live, we have made the veterans draw. This draw consists of all the participants of 2014 being placed into a Centurions helmet and 65 of those people being drawn out. It is our way of saying thank you to those who have supported us in the past and worked on the site, as well as giving the excavations a solid backbone of valuable experience for the next season, something which both the staff and new excavators find invaluable when they come to Vindolanda. If your name has come out of the draw you will have already been contacted and we look forward to welcoming you back next year.
A major change from this season and many of the past will be that Justin Blake, the Deputy Director of Excavations is leaving the Vindolanda Trust team to become a member of a new one, with a new and exciting role, as a police officer. We will all miss Justin and thank him for the tremendous fun we have had working with him over the years and wish him every success in his move. He has almost served his 25 years at Vindolanda (the same time as a Roman Soldier) and can retire from this role with a diploma and a plot of land in Haltwhistle (the best we can do).
It was quite the year on the excavations, a tremendous year for finds, weather and meeting a great deal of wonderful people. As a result I have taken the unusual step of making a list of the top 13 artefacts from this seasons work. We tried for 10 but there were so many good finds it was hard to narrow them down. You might well have your own favourite find of the season which is not on this list. Pop over to the Vindolanda facebook or twitter pages and tell us which artefact was special for you and why.
Thank you again for supporting the excavations this year.
The top finds from 2014 the Director of excavations pick.
In no particular order, and covering all three areas of excavation are the following superb artefacts. As each artefact finishes its conservation images of all the finds will start to appear below.
Stylus and ink tablets
19 stylus and ink tablets came from this year’s excavations, each one of them has the potential to give us a direct message from the past, each one will take months of careful conservation before they can be read. They are very rare, and give us information which we cannot get from any other means, making them priceless. Range of tablets cAD85-130.
A Vindolanda stylus tablet
Wow, the only know surviving example of a Roman wooden toilet seat form the whole of the Roman Empire? This wonderful artefact reminds us of how much we have lost, but also how the most mundane of things that we take for granted have the power to reconnect us with the past. Well-worn and out of use by AD120 it is now being lovingly conserved in the Vindolanda labs. Next we need to find the loo that went with it, watch this space in 2015 for news on this front.
The Vindolanda wooden toilet seat
Continuing on the rare front, a gold coin of Nero discovered this year was a first for Vindolanda and may well be a last. Gold coins were worth so much that the auxiliary soldiers rarely got paid with them and even then, if you did get one you certainly did your best not to lose it. The fact that it was dropped over 300years after it was minted suggests that this coin had a long history of being past from person to person before being lost at Vindolanda. I can’t help wonder what it was used to buy and how heavy the change might have been! A 4th century deposition.
Justin and Marcel with the gold coin
The gold coin of Nero
This year we had some 130 shoes from the excavations, Vindolanda has produced almost 6000 of them, but when you get a child’s shoe, especially a small one like this it is a real window into the Roman military world and a reminder that they weren’t all combat troops on the Wall. Dated to cAD85-92
Dropped into the side of a large kiln at the site, this lovely little mould would have been used to knock out Vindolanda Apollo figurines to attach to face pots. It is a lovely image, and represents failed enterprise to make our own Roman pottery wares at the site. Mid second century AD.
The Apollo mould - photographed by Adam Stanford
So….how big was a Roman Army wagon wheel? Well, thanks to this year’s excavations at Vindolanda we now know. While not complete, this year we found two sections and three spokes of a wagon wheel. cAD105-120.
Wagon wheel excavated by Gary and Anthea
Broken but still razor sharp, complete with nicks in the blade, this is one of the finest examples of a cavalry sword found on the frontier of Roman Britain. Thrown away into the foundations of a building dated to cAD105-120, before Hadrian’s Wall construction started and quite possibly owned by a cavalryman from Spain. Used or broken in anger or combat? We may never know for sure, but this blade has a story of its own to tell.
Like the sword, incredibly well preserved and in this case complete and therefore most likely ‘lost’ rather than thrown away. The spur is from a right boot, and the pin in the back - made from copper -remains bright golden in colour and wickedly sharp. Dated like the sword to cAD105-120 and located less than 2metres from the sword find.
Mini stylus pen
We had quite a few stylus pens this year, but again it is nice to get one which is so small that it was likely to have been used by a small hand, perhaps a child’s. Photographed on my own hand this pen looks like a toy. Vindolanda was an incredibly literate society for its time, and it would appear that nearly all members of its society took part in reading and writing. We have more pens than swords from Vindolanda, perhaps the pen was mightier after all. Dated to cAD85-92
Small stylus pen
Beautifully crafted and a real show of wealth, this silver brooch was one of many rather fine artefacts that came from the 2014 - 4th century fort excavations. It has helped us to appreciate that the people who lived in this part of the fort had more disposable incomes than the average frontier soldiers of the 4th century and therefore really question who they might have been. Have we found evidence for the late Roman field army at Vindolanda and not just frontier soldiers?
Three wooden bowls
Little wooden bowl, middle-sized wooden bowl and big wooden bowl all found in an Antonine (cAD150) ditch. Think Roman, think pottery, think again! Although they rarely survive these simple but rather lovely wooden bowls once again remind us of the bias of preservation and perhaps that pottery was not always king on Roman sites.
A beautifully preserved and decorated Roman seal box recovered from the bottom of an early fort ditch in the north field. Used to seal something special, perhaps a package from home or an important message to the very first garrisons at the site.
We get a great number of Samian cups and bowls at Vindolanda in the course of each year’s excavation and this is one of the best preserved examples of a late 1st century type from below the pre-Hadrianic forts.
A beautifully preserved Samian cup