Recording and interpreting

Vindolanda Trust - Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Sometimes, when excavating a site as complex and significant as Vindolanda, you need to take a step back and look at what you have achieved so far, to decide how to move forward. This is what we do during our ‘recording week’, between the 9th and the 14th of July.

While the removal of turf, silt and clay to uncover structures and finds is exciting, what really allows us to understand the life of the communities that inhabited Vindolanda is the accurate recording of every layer removed.  At Vindolanda we use the single context planning and recording method. Every ‘event’ in the history of the site is recorded in a context: the silting up of a drain, the demolition of an oven, the dumping of a pile of rubbish in a ditch.

All these contexts are assigned their own identifying number and are described in detail in our context book. Contexts and finds within them are planned in the national grid (OSGB36) with the aid of a total station. The measurements are collected during excavations in the form of points, lines, and polygons and are associated with three coordinates: Northing, Easting and Height.  All the data is then processed in QGIS, allowing us to draw accurate georeferenced maps like the one you see below.

So far, the excavation has been successful in identifying:

A: Two stone buildings associated with the extramural settlement dated to c. 213 A.D. onwards. The most complete building, squared in shape, has been interpreted as a workshop, thanks to its bright red baked clay floor, the finds within its perimeter and its position at the north end of a row of other workshops. The outer wall of a third stone building can be seen to the left of B.

B: The first stone perimeter built for a fort at Vindolanda. This dates to the late Antonine period, between c. 180- 200 A.D. The wall is flanked to the West (left in the picture) by a series of ditches, which do not all date from the same period. The Antonine fort was in fact characterised by three phases of construction, each with its own ditch system. It is here that we found a complete set of hipposandals (see images below). These are items of tack for transport animals (either horses or, it has been proposed, oxens) which would have helped gripping difficult grounds and perhaps even protect against caltrops. Another theory is that they may have been used as hobbles: with these particular ‘shoes’ on, the horse would have pastured without being able to stray too far.


C: The location of Smith’s Chester 17th century farmyard with its main drainage system. The drain which kept the yard dry was built using recycled Roman stones, including the focus of an altar.

D: A series of mysterious features whose function is yet unknown. They have been built above the line of the Antonine wall, sometimes re-using its stones.  The feature marked by little black triangles, (which in archaeological drawing indicate incline) is the ditch were the basket mentioned in the previous blog was found.

E: The possible location of the Severan ditch (c. 200-212 A.D.).

Come and visit the in the coming weeks, to learn about the progress in areas B, E, and D. These will be the focus of the remaining 8 weeks of our excavation season.

See you by the trenches!


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