End of excavation season round up

Vindolanda Trust - Monday, October 05, 2015

Period 10-11 and Roman Society week

Welcome back to the Vindolanda blog for what will be the last excavation update for 2015.

This season has now come to an end, with the help of the teams from period 10 and 11, as well as of our guest excavators from the Roman Society. The weather has reserved a few surprises, with showers and cold wet mist surrounding us for a good part of the day throughout these 5 weeks. However, the morale never sunk and we managed to reach all of our objectives, with some extra surprises along the way. Now the spades have been cleaned, the barrels have been locked up and the last finds are being processed up in the shed.

What a season it has been! New and exciting structures have been uncovered regularly throughout the excavation both in the fort and in the vicus, together with some extraordinary objects which will make the “best of 2015” case even better, if at all possible, than the “best of 2014”.

Without further ado, let’s go ahead on a virtual tour of what has changed in Vindolanda over the last 5 weeks.

The Fort- Antonine beauty and Severan Round houses

Period 10 was engaged in some challenging roadworks in the fort. Picking up from where period 9 had stopped, the volunteers focussed on excavating the last remaining section of the 4th century via Decumana: thanks to their incredible work, our knowledge of the 3 different arteries that run from the North to the South gate across 3 superimposed forts has much improved: underneath the latest road surface, we descended into a 3rd century road level and finally on the beautifully pebble-dashed Antonine surface, with its matching roadside drain.

In period 11 we went in search of the East roadside drain, hoping that the robbing had not interested the whole East side of the Antonine road surface: our efforts were rewarded in the North part of the excavation area, with some beautiful drain work emerging at the crossroads between the via Decumana and Principalis. As the winter approaches, the Vindolanda team will consolidate and protect this road, the fences will go down, and from next season onwards the visitors will be able to see the excavations up close, not limited by the walls of the headquarters’ building anymore.

Roadside drain to the South of the Headquarters’ building

A small detachment of volunteers in period 10 dedicated their efforts to push forward our knowledge of the Antonine fort wall un-hearted in period 7. We progressed a couple of meters towards the South Gate of the Gauls’ fort, in the general direction of what we hope will be a gateway for the Antonine fort itself. In our chase we were interrupted by a rather puzzling pit, dug in antiquity through the sandstone wall: all of the South facing, well squared, building stones were robbed out, leaving only the North facing, rougher part of the wall,  which would have been invisible when butting against the Antonine rampart. Could this be a confirmation that Antonine building materials were removed intentionally and made available to the round-house builders in Severan times?

3D image of outer face of Antonine wall with stone robbing pit dug in antiquity (probably in the Severan roundhouse period)

Part of a drainage ditch opposite our latrine block was also excavated, work that was to be picked up again in period 11. After recording the ditch, the volunteers “went to the bottom of it”, discovering the corner of a very large barrack, possibly contemporary or slightly antecedent to the ones we have been looking at all year.

The corner of our most recently discovered barrack

Whilst giving the finishing touches to the Via Decumana, we discovered how our drain sharply turned from a North South orientation to an East West one, marking the crossroads between the Antonine via Praetoria and the Intervallum road, running just on the inside of the Antonine first stone wall of Vindolanda.

We then concentrated all our fire-power on trying to find the row of five south facing Severan roundhouses that would inevitably complement the one unearthed in 2014. The volunteers’ efforts were rewarded by a stunning alignment of roundhouses, with intact flagged floors and entranceways, facing a roughly pebble dashed terrace delimited to the South by a deep drain. This part of the excavation, and indeed all of the fort, will look stunning in occasion of the next visit of Aerial Cam, which will shoot some more footage and stills of the site form the air, wrapped in the soft autumn’s light.


 A set of five roundhouses: a line of 5 had not been excavated fully since 1929

The Vicus

Excavations below the vicus were closed down for the season on the 11th of September, an auspicious Vindolanda date, the anniversary of the party hosted to celebrate Claudia Severa’s birthday (TVII-291). The final Vindolanda vicus excavation crew, made up from members of the Roman Society, consumed a cake at their tea break to celebrate the day, and with the sun shining brightly on their backs wheeled the last barrows up the excavation shed after another successful season.

Roman Society excavators

On reflection it must be said that it has been a challenging year in this area with the weather once again making life interesting over the four months of work, much of which took place well below the water table and in tightly confined spaces. The results have highlighted the excellent survival of the period III (c AD 97-105) and IV (c AD105-120) wooden fort buildings in the central range of those forts, and below and above, the partial remains of period II (c AD92-97) and V (c AD120-140) timber buildings.  It is too soon to say for certain what all of the buildings were used for, but there are very large differences between the period IV structures and all of the others, in the much greater size of the timbers used and the number and complexity of the room structures and spaces.

There are notable missing features, such as the toilet to go with the toilet seat discovered in 2014, and it is hoped that this will reveal itself to the modern world at the start of next year’s season. In 2016 the Severan rampart, to the south of the current excavation area, will be removed to explore the continuation of the pre-Hadrianic buildings below it and work will start on the final section of the Severan fortlet southern defensive ditch. This is a spectacular area of Vindolanda, a truly sealed time capsule from a time of great change and conflict in the north of Britain which has produced some remarkable results and finds in previous years of exploration in 2002 and 2004. Let’s hope that the bit in the middle will provide us with more evidence from the fortlet and its enigmatic garrison, the people no doubt tasked with supervising the round house dwellers next door.

And that is all from the excavation for 2015! We of the archaeological team wish once again to wholeheartedly thank every single volunteer who helped making 2015 excavation season such a success.

Now to a few important announcements: the veteran draw is taking place on Wednesday the 7th of October. The lucky winners will be notified via email.  If you are amongst them you have 3 weeks to get in touch with us at the email address laurenwilkinson@vindolanda.com and tell us which slot you prefer to occupy. If you have not been lucky this year, or you have just discovered the opportunity to excavate here at Vindolanda, the applications will go live at 12 am GMT on the 2nd of November. Make sure to get on the website nice and early: the North Field will be open again for excavations next year, so we will be able to welcome a higher number of volunteers. Nonetheless, we will still be pretty busy and getting online early is the best way to avoid disappointment.

We are also offering FREE post-excavation places that run alongside the excavations. Four places per period will be available. This will include washing, sorting, and categorising the bulks finds that are found in vast amounts every day at Vindolanda. This includes pottery, iron, bone, glass and building materials. Places will be available from the same date as the excavation places – 12 noon GMT on 2nd the November. More details can be found here:

or by downloading the following:

http://www.vindolanda.com/excavate/volunteer-programme or by downloading the following: http://www.vindolanda.com/_literature_137224/2016_Post_Excavation_Volunteer_Information

It has been a great ride, and as the winter approaches the staff of Vindolanda will continue working for you, as the site will stay open throughout December. We will be closed from the 4th of January to the 5th of February 2016 for necessary maintenance work and staff training, and by the time we come back, the countdown for the 2016 excavation season will have started! In the meanwhile stay tuned and keep following Facebook and Twitter!

Best wishes

Andrew Birley, Marta Alberti and Lauren Wilkinson


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