Early August update

Vindolanda Trust - Sunday, August 07, 2016

Welcome back to your monthly Vindolanda excavation blog, packed full of information and developments straight from the trenches' edge.  This time we also have some exciting news from the curatorial and education team: Arts Council England, through its Resilience Fund, has chosen to award us with a £105,000 grant, which will be employed for the redevelopment of our two open-air museum buildings, as well as the creation of a multi-media mobile facility. To learn more about this, see our press release here: http://www.vindolanda.com/_blog/press-releases/post/arts-council-england-supports-vindolanda-venture/ . We are very grateful to ACE and thrilled to start on this project:  We cannot wait to share the results with you!

While the works in the office begin, let us go back to the trenches and explore what volunteers from period 8 and 9 have been up to.

The fort: moving north - Marta Alberti

Inside the fort, the opening of the passage between two large East-West oriented cavalry barracks has immensely improved our capabilities to excavate the northern part of the quadrant. With the excavation of the Antonine toilet completed, and the individuation of most drains feeding it done and dusted, the area only needs some gentle landscaping to be readied for consolidation. A new Antonine building has recently emerged during such works: it is oriented North South and appears to be flanked on both sides by thin, finely carved drains. Will it be another watertank? Only further investigation on the location of its easternmost boundary will tell.

Fig.1 A new mysterious Antonine building.

The chase of the Antonine Wall (180-200 AD) continues from where we left it in 2015, running up towards the South Gate of the fort, which from now on will be closed to the public. The chase has in fact pushed so much westwards that, after some more de-turfing, work has commenced on the 3rd and 4th century via Decumana: there is high hopes that, underneath those layers, a gate to the Antonine fort wall will yield the building inscription we have all been looking forward to.

Fig.2 Hard at work on the Via Decumana, 

Fig 3. Excavation of the roundhouses under the south wall of the fort to show the Antonine fort wall.

In the northern side of the quadrant, floors, doors, drains and items of the everyday life of the 3rd and 4th century garrisons are gradually being revealed. During the excavation of the debris above and between the cracks of a 4th century barrack floor, a beautiful copper alloy Apollo bust has been unearthed. The keenest followers will remember when, in 2014, a mould representing Apollo was found in the North Field. We are currently working on comparing the two figures and learning more about the making of such beautifully crafted objects.

Fig.4 Apollo.

As more 3rd century barrack walls and roadside drains emerge, the maze of stones becomes more intricate. Luckily, we just had the first of two annual visit by Adam Stanford's Aerial Cam to help us see things from a different point of view. We will share his magnificent work and aerial pictures as soon as we can.

In the northeastern corner of the excavation area, just as you head down from the fort excavation to our museum, you will be able to observe a rather posh and well-built system of under floor heating. Lacking the traditional brick or stone pillars, which characterise bathhouse hypocausts, a curvilinear channel capped by large flagstones would have run underneath the floor of a 4th century junior officer's private apartment. Just as we type the furnace room is been uncovered, few centimetres under the gravelled path were visitors use to stroll.

Fig.5 the under floor heating system keeping us warm on a cloudy day

Vicus – Andrew Birley

Welcome back to the vicus- and the areas of the site which lies below the third century extramural settlement. An active month of work has seen this area progress well, with large block foundations appearing from houses and domestic spaces as well as several cremation urns from around a building which could have been a family tomb. The remains have yet to be analysed but it is possible, looking at the small size of surviving bones and teeth that in one of the urns we have recovered the remains of a juvenile or infant burial.

Vicus excavations

Image of an Urn being excavated at Vindolanda

The majority of the 3rd century structures continued to slip into the large early third century southern Severan fort ditch. The ditch appears to have been kept clean for most of its life, only to be used as a rubbish dump by the community before they left Vindolanda cAD212. After a short time of abandonment which may have only lasted a few months, the 4th Cohort of Gauls and their associated population filled in the top of the ditch with rubble and clay and build their new homes/buildings on top, creating the perfect preservation conditions for the rubbish levels below.

The Severan fort ditch  under excavation

The evidence for a clean and well maintained ditch system can be seen in the dark matter from a reed bed which lined the fort wall (or northern) side of the ditch. The excavation of this layer has provided very little in the way of rubbish, pottery, glass, bone or leather, despite it being the most accessible section of ditch from the rampart side. Above this clean material, and stretching across the entire length of the ditch is a layer of mud and rubbish (again very organic) which constitutes the main fill of the ditch. From this area over 250 boots, shoes, slippers, sandals and other items of footwear have been recovered. Wooden artefacts such as barrels staves, spoons and mug staves have also been found in this layer. This ‘active zone’ represents deliberate filling and discarding into the ditch and we believe it represents the final clearance of rubbish from the nearby Severan fortlet barrack buildings before the regiment moved out. What is significant is that the footwear represents all styles and ages and sexes. From baby boots, children’s, teenagers, men and women, all are represented here. This is a time when there was not recognisable adjacent town, making it very likely that the shoes represent the Severan fort population. Over the next few weeks, we expect that the shoe count will rise significantly, perhaps giving us more than one shoe per person from this period.

A very fine Severan period Shoe

A small Severan period child's shoe

Hello from post excavation! - Lauren Bearpark

Over the past month we have had more great teams of volunteers working in our post excavation shed. Some of the post excavation volunteers also attended a pottery course to help them gain more knowledge and understanding of the different types of pottery we have on the site.

The course ran over two days and included looking at each type of pottery in more detail, where it came from and how it was made. They also looked at the different forms of each type of pottery (plate/bowl/jar), and tried their hand at recording the pottery in more detail.

volunteers during course

sorting the pottery

sorting the pottery

recording the pottery

looking at Samian pottery

looking at Huntcliff pottery

Overall it was a very enjoyable and productive few days which left the team ready to head back to the post excavation shed and put all their newly acquired knowledge to good use.

Best wishes,



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