Periods 8-9

Vindolanda Trust - Saturday, August 22, 2015

Periods 8-9 excavations

After a short holiday break in such a successful and productive season, welcome back to the Vindolanda blog! We left you with the promise of some spectacular aerial views of the site from Adam Stanford’s Aerial Cam, and here is a preview of the fine results achieved during the recording week.

Aerial picture of the site produced by Adam Stanford

Images like this make not only for excellent visual reference material, but open to us the possibilities of photo rectification and 3D modelling for the entire site, in order to make our planning of structures and plotting of artefacts more and more accurate, keeping up the pace with the advancing technologies.

Corrected photograph - Adam Stanford

Two hard working and dedicated groups have been with us in period 8 and period 9. As per usual, we will deal separately with the contributions they have given in the fort and the vicus. With only 5 more weeks of excavations to go, stay tuned for the “grand finale” of the 2015 digging season in our next blog update.

Happy reading and best wishes

Marta Alberti


Roadworks in the Fort

Period 8 and Period 9 excavators have concentrated their efforts on roads within the fort, clearing up enormous amounts of large cobble stones and, when unlucky, boulders, making up respectively 4th and possibly even 5th century surfaces.

Three main arteries make up the road system of a Roman fort, which followed the same blueprint all over the Empire: via Decumana, via Principalis and intervallum road. The via Decumana, running from the north to the south gate, has mostly been taken down to its original 3rd century level, matching with the standing walls that so strikingly welcome you when entering the site from the east gate. During its excavation, it emerged how the size of the road developed and changed through the centuries.

View of the Via Decumana

On top of the beautifully built pebble-dashed Antonine surface lies the level of the via Decumana that will be opened to the public in 2017, roughly 10 metres in width, with East West oriented barracks facing it. Later in the 4th century the road will expand, “swallowing” these barracks and reaching 10 metres in width.  A new, larger, and north/south oriented cavalry barrack will face the enlarged road through a well preserved doorway. The efforts of period 9 have provided us not only with a changed fort landscape, but with some excellent finds in the meanwhile. Keys have been the star-find of the period, with a small bronze one and a rather chunky iron one being unearthed.

Pictures of the two keys

Both period 8 and period 9 volunteers have also worked on what will be our new visitors’ access to the side of the excavation: the back side of the via Principalis, to the South of the headquarters’ building.  The goal is near, and soon the road will be fully exposed, ready to be prepared for the winter. In the process several bags of sherds and bone have been produced, keeping our post excavation team more than busy.

Picture of the bags of pottery and Liz

Finally the Intervallum road, running all around the internal perimeter of the fort within the defensive walls, minus its late Roman dress, is starting to reveal its pebble-dashed surface, with occasional cobbled patches. Period 8 volunteers have shifted a considerable amount of soil and stones, providing what will be an essential way in for the excavation of the cavalry barracks in the years to come. Finds from the area included a delicate bone gaming counter, bearing on the back what could have been the initials of its owner, “MO”, as well as a beautifully preserved small crossbow broach.

Picture of the gaming counter with 'MO'


 The 3rd and 4th century fort excavation area


Below the Vicus

Wet wet wet, has been the order of the day in the vicus excavations where the spring like volume of rain made ground conditions very challenging for the deep excavations under the 3rd century town buildings. Despite the obvious difficulties the work has progressed very well with a host of rooms, structures and spaces revealed from the heart of pre-Hadrianic fort buildings of periods II-IV (cAD 90-120) below later vicus buildings XXX to XXXII. Copper-alloy brooches, shoes and tent panels, horse gear, five ballista bolt heads, wooden combs, ten stylus tablets (and a few stylus pens) were the most notable from the host of artefacts recovered during the last two excavation periods.

Air photo of the vicus excavations – Adam Stanford

The large timber buildings of the 4th fort, cAD105-120 were gradually and carefully taken apart below building XXX to reveal very different spaces in the periods of occupation below and it was from this earlier occupation at the site that the most information has been forthcoming. It is likely that the decent from the cAD105-120 buildings into earlier structures also marked a journey through a very different use of space and associated cleaning regimes. The period IV buildings, large, spacious and perhaps public were left exceptionally clean and tidy, a stark contrast to the earlier structures which exhibited a great deal more domestic waste (pottery, animal bone, leather, and personal effects) which one might associate with domestic living spaces.

An image of the excavation area of site XXX - Adam Stanford

The most difficult period to get to grips with archaeologically at Vindolanda are nearly always the earliest, the period I and II forts. The explanation for this is partially due to the greater depths involved but also, in the case of the second fort at Vindolanda (cAD 90-97), the further one excavates to the west, very often the less there is to be discovered. At Vindolanda the natural landscape rises to the west of the settlement and earlier building foundations were shaved down to the natural clay to make way for new structures (something which did not happen to the east of the site where greater depths of archaeology exist) and the second fort (built by the 1st cohort of Tungrians) suffered the most in this process.  Therefore the team were delighted to pick up the posts and wattle and daub of the period II fort below the possible barracks of the Batavian fort above (c AD97-105). This certainly bodes well for the continuation of the work in this area for the rest of the season and could lead to some spectacular results going into the 2016 season.

A rather rare wooden spool- almost as good as new

So what is left to find? what are we doing next? We are continuing to explore below the last of the Severan fort and town buildings and have yet to locate the toilet which was associated with the star find of last years excavation, the wooden toilet seat. We are surely close to making that discovery and hope to have some positive news in the next few weeks. The last of the period IV fort structures, carefully recorded and mapped out will be removed to look at the even earlier forts and then the natural landscape of Vindolanda will be explored. The pre-Roman farmers field, and with a little bit of luck we may discover a sign of pre-Roman occupation or very early Roman activity and how it impacted the natural landscape of the site. We also hope to add a few ink writing tablets to the ever growing list of stylus tablets. Whatever happens you can continue to follow the blog, facebook and twitter to find out what happens next with the five weeks of 2015 excavations left to go. 

Best wishes,

Andrew Birley


 

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