2014 Post-excavation work begins at Vindolanda

Vindolanda Trust - Tuesday, April 22, 2014
This week marks the start of five months work by a team of volunteers at Vindolanda. Volunteers work in teams of three or four, many of them for up to six weeks, or whatever time commitment they can make.

Joyce Fisher getting to grips with the first pottery finds of the 2014 season!

The post-excavation volunteers' work is not done in the excavation trenches. They work quietly in the processing shed, often out of sight of the visitors. However, their labour on the pottery sherds, CBM, Roman glass and other bulk finds are the first vital steps in building an understanding what the people who lived a Vindolanda used in their everyday lives, how they used (and often re-used) their ceramic objects, and how much pottery people might have had access to at Roman Vindolanda.

The first task is a bit like doing the washing up at home, but minus the washing up liquid! The photo below shows the typical washing-up kit, that consists of basins, rubber gloves, scrubbing brushes for stubborn dirt, toothbrushes and picks for more gentle cleaning of finer vessels.

When all the washing is done you need somewhere to lay out the finds. The blue trays in the photo below are lined with newspaper and each tray must contain a label to identify the context which the finds came from. This way we can keep a close eye on where the finds came from and develop an understanding of the types of vessels coming from different parts of the site.

It can take up to two weeks for all the finds to dry out properly, but once they do, the work of sorting, categorising wares, counting sherds and weighing can begin. We follow guidelines developed by the Study Group for Roman Pottery and this makes it possible to compare our pottery to pottery recorded in a similar way from other sites in Roman Britain. It takes a bit of practice to get this part of the process right and there needs to be space and a bit of peace and quiet for the volunteers who do this work. Their workspace is shown in the photo below. Good light is essential so that features of different categories of Roman pottery can be distinguished!

Once the sorting and quantification of material from each context is done a paper record is made. The files are in the big box in the photo above! This record is transferred onto a spreadsheet and across the 2014 season a cumulative record builds up. Last year we excavated about 460 KG of pottery from stratified contexts across the site! We are prepared for similar quantities this year.

The finds are bagged after quantification and there is a temporary space for the bagged up material. After bagging, the finds are taken down to the museum pottery workshop, where further detailed specialist work can take place. The temporary storage space is shown below.

As the season goes on, blog posts from the post-excavation area will profile progress and interesting highlights from among the finds. There will also be profiles of more typical vessels. However much, much more can always be seen by visiting us at Vindolanda on site and perusing our museum, as well as getting close to the soldiers themselves at the Roman Army Museum.

Kate Sheehan-Finn
Excavation Supervisor and Research Assistant.

Potty about Roman Pottery?

Vindolanda Trust - Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Life behind the scenes in the pottery processing shed at Vindolanda isn't glamorous, but it is always a lot of fun! For me, archaeology is all about getting to know people in the past by studying the places they inhabited and the things that they owned. 

There is no artefact more common than pottery on a Roman site like Vindolanda. Pottery is the stuff that people used every day for preparing, cooking, serving, eating, drinking, storing things, and even playing with. The soldiers and civilians at Vindolanda had oodles of it and, luckily, they left an enormous amount of it around for us to find among the buildings, roads and ditches on the site!

Drag. 37 bowl, Stamped on the rim by Satono, Lezoux, Central Gaul, AD 160-200

This summer, a team of volunteers will be at Vindolanda helping out with the preliminary post-excavation work of washing, drying, sorting and recording a multitude of amphorae, mortaria, samian ware, grey wares, black-burnished ware. Dishes, bowls, platters, cups, beakers, lids, flagons and  jugs  are common enough finds and they all need to be sorted, counted and weighed.

A Dressel 20 amphora drying in the foreground during the 2013 excavation season - Olive oil anyone?

Throughout the 2014 season I will feature some of  the pottery finds from the site here on the Blog. But you can visit us to see much, much more at Vindolanda as we work out on site. We will be there, Mon-Fri, until 4.30 pm, in the trenches and at the post-excavation shed, from Monday 7th April, 2014. 

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Kate Sheehan-Finn
Archaeological Supervisor
Posted by Kate Sheehan-Finn at 9:37 pm