2019 Excavation Programme -  year 2 of a five-year project.    

The 2018-2022 Research excavation and project – Understanding Communities and Identities. The Severan fortlet and roundhouse complex at Vindolanda.

The ‘Understanding Communities and Identities. The Severan fortlet and roundhouse complex at Vindolanda’ project, is a seven-year research project with a five-year excavation at its foundation. Like other Vindolanda projects which have gone before it, this proposal builds on the solid successes of the previous work at the site and moves the research agenda forward in a carefully structured and proactive manner. The project targets a development at the site that remains largely enigmatic and at present remains unique to Vindolanda, taking place between c AD208-212, a crucial time in the history and development of the Roman frontier in Britain.

The excavation and research will provide the next generation of Roman archaeologists and enthusiasts with over 2500 volunteering opportunities. Volunteers will be engaged in a wide variety of activities ranging from excavation, survey, small finds analysis, curation, conservation and consolidation to education and outreach and public engagement.

In the project design, the Vindolanda Trust is very grateful to colleagues who have taken an interest and offered advice and comment on this research proposal. They include colleagues at Historic England, English Heritage Trust, Newcastle University, Durham University, Leicester University, Teesside University, and members of the Hadrian’s Wall Archaeological Research Delivery Group.  

Project Scope

The geographical scope of the ‘Understanding Communities and Identities. The Severan fortlet and roundhouse complex at Vindolanda’ project is limited to two areas of the site of Vindolanda; titled A1, A2. This is the most compact project design that the Vindolanda Trust has embarked on in the past 10 years and it has been designed so that the full resources of the Trust will be concentrated on a single area at a time. The project has started in area A1 in April 2018, and will continue to explore the Northern defences of the Severan fortlet in summer 2019.

The second location is smaller in size (A2) but likely to be stratigraphically more complex and has been allocated 3 years to complete, from summer 2020 to summer 2022.

Aims and Objectives

Vindolanda is an archaeological site of special international significance with a unique blend of preservation, site formation, landscape management and research coming together to produce some of the most remarkable archaeological results from Roman Britain in the modern era.  These have included the ever expanding catalogue of Vindolanda writing tablets and the largest and most diverse collection of Roman footwear from the Roman Empire. They also include a wide range of other objects and contexts which have transformed our knowledge of everyday life from cAD85-410 and beyond.

Of the nine distinct periods of occupation at Vindolanda, the Severan period, c AD208-212 (VIB), stands out as one of the most interesting, unique and little understood. What was built at Vindolanda during this period is without parallel on the Frontiers of the Roman Empire. The long-held pattern of a traditional fort and extramural settlement, regularly replacing earlier versions of the very same, was broken. The traditional model of military building was replaced by a squat and irregularly shaped compact and heavily defended fortlet and roundhouse complex. This has no direct parallel to other installations explored before, during or after this period in Britain or wider limes. The irregular arrangement of the fortlet utilised an unusual location for the build, situated above the remains of the earlier extramural settlement rather than using the foundations of the forts which had preceded it. At the same time, the now redundant fort platform from the previous version of Vindolanda was cleared of its buildings and transformed into a space uninhibited by fort walls, ramparts and ditches.

A seemingly orderly and regular space laid out on a clear gridded plan but with a non-traditional style and therefore perhaps unusual function. New roads and drains were inserted and between those were placed the foundations of neat rows of circular hut platforms, built in sections of 10.

The project, ‘Understanding Communities and Identities. The Severan fortlet and roundhouse complex at Vindolanda’ focus on this short and unique phase at the site. It targets a period of Vindolanda history and archaeology which may unlock information reflecting on the wider historical narrative in Britain. A period defined by internal conflict, civil war, genocide and the rebellion against Roman rule.



 Area (A1) The northern Severan fortlet ditch and extramural area.        

Severan period – cAD208-212

Situated between the modern line of the Stanegate Road and the excavated remains of the third-century extramural settlement (cAD213-280) and Severan barracks are the northern defences of the Severan fortlet. There are six key research aims and objectives for the project in this area and they are outlined below.

Examine whether or not the Severan fortlet had an associated, non-roundhouse, and therefore traditional extramural settlement to its north.

  1. To contextualise and explore the northern discard pattern from the settlement in this period in relation to the northern ditch deposits and those historically recovered from the southern defensive ditches.

  2. Understand and manage the preservation landscape processes at Vindolanda.

  3. To characterise and better understand the unusual military occupancy at the site in the Severan period.

  4. Explore the role and function of the northern extramural settlement of the mid third-century and its situation in relation to the Stanegate Road.

  5. To explore the connection between the post-medieval use of the site and modern Vindolanda.

Area A2 – the South-eastern Roundhouse complex

Severan period – cAD208-212

Situated in the south-western quadrant, directly below the remains of the 3rd and 4th century last stone fort at Vindolanda is the likely continuation of the tightly packed Severan roundhouse complex previously uncovered in 2000-2017. Roundhouses of this period were identified and explored in the excavations of 1999 and 2000 (Blake J 2001) below the remains of the southern rampart in this area. A single roundhouse was also partially explored during the excavations of the western rampart in 2006 (Birley Andrew R & Blake J 2007: 27-30) as well as in the current programme of work from 2014-2016 (Birley Andrew R & Meyer A & Green E 2016: 246).

The quadrant of the fort was selected for consideration in preference to the north-eastern quadrant for two compelling reasons: The first is that the surrounding areas of ramparts, the via decumana and road to the south of the granaries have all been excavated in recent times (Birley Andrew R & Blake J. 1999, Birley Andrew R & Blake J. 2007, Birley Andrew R. 2013). The datasets from those excavations can be seamlessly compared to the new area of research adding extra value to the project. The second is that by comparison, the north-eastern quadrant has been the subject of a series of excavations over a longer period with mixed recording techniques, first by Anthony Hedley in the 1820’s (no records), then Eric Birley in the 1930’s (limited records of material culture) before Patricia Birley and then Paul Bidwell partially excavated selected areas in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The integration of data and the different states of preservation, as a result, make this a far more challenging prospect and the quadrant is further away from the vital interface area between the Severan fortlet and the roundhouse complex.

There four main research aims and objectives in area A2 are:

1. To further explore the unique Vindolanda roundhouse complex

2. Explore the potential for a fort divided into different garrisons in the late-Roman period at Vindolanda.

3. Identify the possible location of a post-Roman market centre in this part of the settlement.

4. Explore the remains of pre-Severan buildings, particularly those of Antonine date and earlier, below the Severan circular huts.