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

Session 4

Vindolanda Trust - Tuesday, June 03, 2014
Excavations within the 3rd-4th century fort

Another session on the excavations has flown past and the relentless march towards the southern defenses has really gathered pace. The team have uncovered a wide cobbled area to the south of the last remaining barrack block of 4th century date in the south eastern corner of the fort. Here they have found all manner of artefacts stuck tightly between the cobble stones where they have waited for almost 1600 years to be discovered by the excavators. It is unclear whether or not this was a wide social area or stockyard, perhaps a place to park the wagons and baggage trains associated with the troops and their dependents in the nearby barrack buildings.  There is a very large build up of topsoil in this part of the site, over 70cms deep in places, which has helped to preserve some of these areas from later plough damage. Before long it will be possible once again to walk down and around the intervallum road and through the toilet door on the southern corner tower of the fort although it will take a while longer before the loo is once more open for inspection.

The fort team have moved an incredible volume of topsoil over the past fortnight, carefully checking it all by hand to make sure no Roman or post-Roman material got through without inspection. Well done to everyone here, you have made a huge impact on transforming the look of Vindolanda back to where the inhabitants left it.

Looking to the east inside the fort, the last patch of grass starts to be removed to show a cobbled yard to the south of the final 4th century barrack block. 

Under the Vicus

While wet weather is never much fun, when deep excavation is involved below the water table it is very difficult to make significant headway and this has been the frustrating tale of the past two weeks below the remains of the 3rd century extramural settlement. However, despite the difficulties of the British summer the team worked hard to show up a very fine Severan drain running through the foundations of site XXXII and to the west of this the line of a main road, probably the Via Principalis of the periods IV - V forts (which is currently over 5m wide). Both areas are expected to really make headway in the coming weeks with fingers crossed for buildings to the south of the road. Shoes, scraps of leather and a range of fantastic pottery have come from these levels, BB1 and carinated bowls, the mixture of the last vestages of pre-Hadrianic mixed with the start of the Hadrainic period of occupation at the site.

Drains to take away the British summer excess, thankfully operational once more after careful excavation.

The pre-Hadrianic high street, to the south of the 3rd century road and working as a field drain due to its cobbled construction. Sloppy work, but fun work. 

Posted by Andrew Birley at 8:14 am