Deeper into the ditches

Vindolanda Trust - Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Vindolanda excavation season has almost reached its halfway point, as period 6 transitions into period 7.

Much has changed in the excavation area from our last trench-side update. Below the level of the foundations of the two extramural settlement building mentioned in our May blog (, a trench has been sunk to locate the position of westernmost Antonine ditches as well as the edge of the Severan one.  The Antonine Fort, dating between c. 180- 200 AD, is a complex one. Its characteristically orange sandstone wall stretches North-South across the excavation area, cut mid length by the East West oriented Severan ditch (date c. 200-212).  The earlier fort is also connected to an annex (a fortified enclosure). The trench sunk by the volunteers reached an impressive 3 meters of depth, showing the curve of a wide turf bank, but only a hint of ditch edge may have been identified so far.

A few finds have made all the hard work worthwhile. At the bottom of a smaller, later ditch, which has appeared in the easternmost corner of our excavation area, the team found a beautifully preserved patterned basket, containing three keys. The function if this feature is still unclear and will be investigated in the coming weeks.

The Severan ditch excavation is now in full swing, and has regaled us with 10 shoes, of which one is a child shoe, and the first Vindolanda stylus tablet of the 2018 season. Stylus tablets differ from the ink ones because they are much thicker and have raised margins which would have contained bee’s wax. The wax would have been scratched with a stylus, a metal pen, and a temporary message would have been left. These tablets are recyclable: the wax could have been wiped clean and a new message could have been impressed on it. The remnants of many leftover messages impressed on the wood make them far more complex to read.

As we delve deeper into the Severan period, and underlying Antonine period, we hold our breath in the hope to repeat 2017’s sensational cache of tablets or 2016’s crowded shoe count.

If you would like an exclusive tour of the trenches, with an in-depth discussion of both structures and finds, as well as current interpretations, why not join the Friends of Vindolanda? On the 30th of June we will be holding a special Friend’s evening ( to thank them for their continued support and show them the progress first hand.  This is a yearly occasion: if that sounds like something you would enjoy, think about joining us next year!


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