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. 

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