Vindolanda excavations - July

Vindolanda Trust - Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Inside the last stone fort

As we head into the middle of July the team inside the fort are moving their efforts to finish the final part of the southern section of the quadrant and a detachment of excavators have made a start hunting for the via Decumana to the west of the 4th century barrack buildings. Whilst no more gold coins have been found small and bust up fragments of moulded and carved stones have started to appear in the rubble covering the buildings and it cannot be too long before a fragment or better of an inscription will be found in this area.

Late road surfaces continue to show that they have been blocked by the foundations of timber structures – many of which were undoubtedly post-Roman in date and the whole area is covered with a small forest of post-Roman post holes, indicating that there had been a steady continuation of occupation carrying on well after the last ‘official’ Roman garrisons had departed or changed into something else.

In terms of small finds, beads, counters, brooches, spindle whorls and the occasional tool are the most prolific of the finds. The last Roman levels are covered in broken vessels of Huncliffe ware, thought to have come to the area cAD370 +.  Once the front of the 4th century buildings have been located beside the main road we will have an almost complete picture of this quadrant of the fort in that period, one which is entirely different to all of the other quadrants of the fort. The question remains, who were the people barracked in this quadrant? Part of the 4th cohort of Gaul’s or a very different group? Hopefully the coming weeks will provide the answer.

A big view inside the last stone fort

Below the Vicus

The remains of a large period IV building (cAD105-120), built to the immediate south of the via principalis are the most impressive of the remains in this area, situated below the foundations of two very large stone buildings and their associated street which were originally used as barracks for a Severan fortlet before being converted into town buildings in after cAD213.  As the work has continued here a real sense of the shape of the building is beginning to form, its northern and western walls (built out of timber and clad in wattle & daub) standing over 50cm high in places. The floor of the building has produced some remarkable finds including several writing tablets or letters – made of wood. The team was excited to find a partially preserved wagon wheel, half a Roman cavalry sword and some other very well preserved brooches and artefacts, many made of perishable goods like timber and leather (such as tent panels and shoes). The period IV buildings purpose remains at present a mystery, but it could be the remains of either the headquarters building or a hospital – both of which are at present missing from our plans of this fort and which should be situated in the central range which is exactly where the excavations are taking place. We will know more once the plan of the structure fills out over the coming months of excavation.

Seeing the team in action

A new Dog for the Vindolanda collection of Roman Dogs

The new face of Vindolanda from the Antonine period

Under the foundations of this building are the battered remains of two more timber structures and they in turn have been built onto the natural clay soil of the farmer’s field that was here before the Roman army arrived. To make up the ground for the Roman fort buildings a great deal of Roman military rubbish was packed under the floors of the buildings. This material has included a very large collection of leather, textiles and bone. The bones are from deer, cattle, pigs and dogs and sheep/goat and mixed amongst them are a great number of well-preserved oyster and shellfish shells. These shells shine brightly in the dark anaerobic soil, shining light flecks of silver in the ground and remind us that even from the very beginning of the occupation of the site the Roman army managed to supply the garrison with the very best of the foods that were available, from both locally sources supply and the heart of the Empire itself.

Partial wagon wheel under excavation

Each day brings a new and exciting find from this area and as always by coming to the Vindolanda excavation blog you will hear it first.

Vindolanda excavations continue

Vindolanda Trust - Saturday, June 21, 2014

Inside the fort

The big news is the press release from the Vindolanda Trust this week of the first gold coin found at Vindolanda (ever). This is an incredibly rare event and the result of millions of hours of careful excavation. Gold coins are not the normal currency dished out to auxiliary soldiers and their associated communities in Roman Britain. The reason? You would be hard-pressed to find a merchant with the right change for a gold coin, making it very difficult to spend. Gold generally is a rare find on Roman military sites, partly due to rank restrictions on wearing gold (in the 1st and second centuries), but also for the same reason as above, the exchange rate. Also, gold artefacts tend to be things that once dropped are looked for a little more carefully than some of the other more normal day-to-day finds. We salute the finder Marcel, someone who has dedicated years of effort to the excavations and being a Gaul himself (like the garrison on Vindolanda at that time) an extremely worthy finder of this coin.

The gold coin of Nero

Context is the key, as with all artefacts. Here in the south eastern quadrant of the fort we have a lot of very late Roman remains, barracks, open spaces and metal working once having taken place on the rampart mounds (traditionally the site of the bread ovens). The team over the past few weeks have been moving forward at a rapid pace, linking up the two trenches in this area to reveal the whole quadrant of the fort. The next task will be to move west and to locate the via decumana and the front of all the buildings alongside it. Let’s hope each barrack has had a fine building inscription telling us who the builders and the occupants were. 

The excavation area inside the last stone fort - looking to the west

Below the vicus

After months of struggling with the rain and water problems the excavations of pre-Hadrianic Vindolanda below the foundations of the 3rd century town (Vindolanda before Hadrian’s Wall) have really started to gather pace exposing some very fine wattle and daub buildings on the south side of a large road inside the pre-Hadrianic forts, most probably to the south of the via principalis. From here we have our first possible writing tablet, boots and shoes, leather tent panels, a dead dog, horse (mule) and a host of both organic and inorganic artefacts. The building that the team is now getting to grips with could be any one of a range of structures that we are looking for, it will take time before we know for sure, but headquarters or the rest of a hospital partially examined in 2003 now seem the most likely candidates at the moment. The walls that have been encountered thus far are not massive enough to have been part of a granary complex, fingers crossed there will be firmer news on this front in the coming weeks. For those excavating in this area, it is a chance to experience some of the best archaeological conditions from the Roman Empire, a chance to find their first Roman shoes. Shown in the pictures his week are Helen and Ashly, both Vindolanda veteran excavator and both with their first Roman shoes, most likely not their last Roman shoes!

Excavations taking place below the floor of the vicus buildings in thick black soil.

Helen and Ash with their first Roman shoes