First excavation blog of this 2016 digging season

Vindolanda Trust - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Hello everyone and welcome to the first excavation blog of this 2016 digging season.

It has been four weeks now since the beginning of excavations, when we first ventured out in our new and bright red Vindolanda t-shirts. The weather has been at times challenging, with cold downpours of rain and even a bit of hail. Still our teams worked extremely hard and some wonderful progress has been made. With more than 100 small finds recorded since the beginning of period 1, and all of our strength focussed inside the perimeter of the 3rd and 4th century fort, many changes and developments are already noticeable.

Fig.1 The Vindolanda Excavation t-shirts, fresh from delivery

Starting from the East gate of the Fort, let us explore the discoveries made by period 1 and 2 volunteers. Immediately to the South of the East Gate lies a large squared Decurion’s apartment, only partially investigated in 2013-2015.  A consistent part of its flagged floor has been removed, to reveal the underlying 3rd century wall of an East West oriented barrack. Next to it run a cobbled road and a large drain. During the process of excavation of the floor of the apartment, a wealth of material culture including iron blades and coins, but also a jet hairpin and a complete cooking pot, has been recovered. This pattern is consistent with finds from a similar building, excavated at the beginning of 2015 season and located in close proximity to the South Gate.

Fig.2 The Decurion’s apartment, with the underlying wall and road surface.

Walking towards the West gate, a new visitors’ path has opened: you can now walk to the south of the Headquarters Building and look at the excavators at work from even closer than before. This gives you a great view of the large NS oriented wall and multi layered road surface that is currently being uncovered. Along the way we have found a beautifully made bone comb, used most likely in textile production and located in close proximity to some pottery spindle whorls.

Fig.3 Period 2 volunteers working hard on the road and barrack wall on a very sunny day.

Looking West from this wall, the South facing row of roundhouses uncovered in 2015 has now got a matching north facing row. This is consistent with the unique pattern found at Vindolanda, which sees blocks of 10 roundhouses divided each in two rows of 5. These structures have been carefully demolished and swept, and our hard working teams warmly welcome even the tiniest sherd of pottery yielded from their floor contexts. On the other hand, close to the south gate and partially cut by the later fort walls, are a row of much larger roundhouses, currently undergoing excavation: some of them have been badly damaged by the subsequent rampart and rampart buildings, but thanks to their size and position, they still make for an impressive sight.

Fig. 4 Rows of roundhouses appearing both in the middle of the excavation area and along the south wall of the fort .

Just to the North of what would have been our 3rd century rampart, a small L-shaped wall was starting to appear in 2015. The combined efforts of period 1 and 2 volunteers have turned this into the tallest standing Antonine building in the fort, with 11 courses of masonry still preserved in certain areas. The function of this structure, cut by the later 3rd century toilet block, is still puzzling the team. May it be the earlier Antonine toilet block, bolted onto the turf rampart of the first stone fort? Only more excavation can confirm this!

Fig. 5 Tallest standing Antonine building at Vindolanda (apart from the fort walls), with up to 11 courses of beautifully crafted masonry

The post excavation teams have also been very busy, trying out a new and improved digital system to record the numerous bags of pottery excavated every day. The most productive context washed and recorded in period 2 has yielded more than 1000 sherds of pottery, weighing more than 14 kilos. With all these exciting news and changes in the landscape of the Fort, we are looking forward to a spell of dry weather long enough to allow us to open the Vicus excavations as well. Our next blog update will be at the end of period 4, so stay tuned on Facebook and Twitter not to miss our daily and weekly finds and news.

 Marta Alberti- Site Archaeologist

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