Periods V -VI excavation updates

Vindolanda Trust - Monday, June 15, 2015

Periods V and VI: excavation updates

Halfway through period VI, it is time for our usual catch up on the developments of the excavations here at Vindolanda.

For the past week the regular volunteers have been joined on the excavation by some well-known and always welcome faces - Dr Beth Green and Dr Alex Meyer who are leading their 9 students’ strong field-school team, from University of Western Ontario in Canada. If you want to know more about them and read their take on the Vindolanda excavation, have a look at their blog, updated daily by the students:

The Vicus

The vicus excavation has progressed steadily from the last blog post: more of the double wattle-and-daub wall has been uncovered in the central trench. It remains to be defined what type of building would have been delimited by such a sturdy and well-made perimeter, as the excavation in this area is set to continue towards the south end of the trench. Only centimetres to the east of the double wall, another, this time single, partition has been uncovered: within the space (probably a barrack block) delimited by this wall, a projectile point in excellent state of preservation was retrieved.

The trench is being carefully lowered, Antonine walls and drains recorded and lifted, in order for us to land on the dark and soft Hadrianic demolition layer. This week, with the sun shining bright on us, a fresh start was made in the vicus, as the team lead by Profs. Green and Meyer, together with Lauren, started removing the gravel and picked up the excavation from where it was left in 1972-73. Just under the level reached a beautiful flagged floor, pertaining to the Antonine annex (cAD160-200) and what appears to have been an industrial area, with abundant charcoal and evidence for ovens. In this area a complete Samian cup was found, bearing a clearly legible potter’s stamp.

Professor Meyer with his first find of 2015 and a Ballista head from the vicus excavations

As the digging continues we expect to reach the Antonine drainage ditch visible underneath the industrial area: this was partially excavated in 2014 and produced 3 stunning wooden bowls, currently undergoing conservation.

Inside the 3rd and 4th century fort

As far as the 3rd and 4th century fort excavation are concerned, good progress was made by the period V team, including a significant initial effort on the rampart, the partial removal of the 4th century surface of the via decumana and the newly discovered and excellently preserved cavalry barrack at the westernmost edge of our SMC (sic! No further western expansion until 2017 here, but we can always go south, under the wheelbarrows and the stone pile, hunting for the Antonine gate). Part of a new Severan roundhouse was also exposed, next to the one highlighted in the second excavation period. The search for the set of 10 houses (5 facing north and 5 facing south) continues.

Pic of the via Decumana looking north

4th century barrack wall to the west of the street

The work of the small but strong team of period V has been picked up by those present in period VI, whose larger numbers have allowed us to operate on several different fronts.

At the northernmost edge of our excavation area, behind the headquarters building, two teams have been working together. While the first team de-turfed and removed the 4th and 5th century demolition layer just underneath the grass (uncovering part of a portable altar in the process) the second removed carefully the 4th century road surface discovered by the former. Soon the pebbly, well-made 2nd century road surface laying underneath will be ready to welcome again, after 1600 years, the visitors' steps.

  (Photo from Western@vindolanda Blog)

In the middle of our excavation area, an all Canadian detachment has been furthering the removal of the 4th century via decumana, highlighting the camber of a much deeper and better laid surface.

Finally, at the southernmost edge of the fort's excavation area, the protective rampart standing between the fort walls and the intervallum road is steadily being removed. Two main features have emerged underneath all the stubborn clay: a pre-hadrianic ditch running North-South and a dark soft fill running east-west along the fort walls. The latter is probably linked with the cutting of a construction corridor by the still mysterious Antonine garrison, which employed this space to be able to face the task of building of their first stone walls both from the inside and from the outside.

Stay tuned for some more excavation news, and for almost daily updates do not forget to check out our Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Best wishes, Marta Alberti


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