March 2020

A new multi-purpose excavation and post-excavation facility at Roman Vindolanda.

In 2018 the Vindolanda Trust embarked upon a project to help secure, for the first time in the Trust’s history, a permanent on site base for both excavation and post-excavation at Vindolanda. The vision was to remove the collection of increasingly dilapidated temporary wooden sheds and replace them with a building which would not only be fit for purpose but also a building that would add to and not distract from the archaeological site that was adjacent to it. Another important factor was that the new building would not be able to have foundations, and the footprint would be restricted to an existing concrete pad.

The wooden sheds were removed from the site in October 2019. 

Our design brief for the building was inspired by the former Nissen Huts that were used for education purposes in the 1970s. These vernacular buildings, many of them still dotted around the Northumberland landscape, sit at ease in their surroundings and became our obvious choice for our new building.

 Aerial view of Vindolanda showing the original nissen huts at the bottom of this image.

Fast forward to September 2019 and after commissioning Green Unit to manufacture our new centre and securing planning permission the production of our specifically modified ARCII building commenced off-site in Oxfordshire. The Green Unit ARCII is a modular building with a stunning, curved design that mimics organic forms found in nature. The building is made up of five pods – each one has been custom modified to give the Trust a building which is fit for purpose. As well as being a base for volunteers during the excavation season the new facility also has an office space and the main room is also where the post-excavation processing of bulk finds takes place. Either side of the excavation season, rather than being locked down like the old sheds were, the new centre will be used for more post-excavation activity, courses and a space to give schools and groups their site talks in adverse weather conditions (we get those days!).

The new archaeology centre was built off-site in a factory-controlled environment and along with visiting the Oxfordshire base to see how production was progressing we also received weekly updates from Green Unit with photographs and videos of the progress. The off-site construction was not hampered by the weather and back to back storms over the winter period as it was constructed in a giant hanger with all the construction taking place in Oxfordshire it also meant our own site was not disturbed by construction traffic.

On Monday 9th March 2020 the ARCII was loaded onto five HGV’s to make the overnight journey from Oxfordshire to Northumberland. On Tuesday 10th the delivery of the individual units was made with clockwork precision. It was quite a sight seeing the pods arriving down the narrow single track Stanegate Road adjacent to the site. With only inches to spare on either side of the vehicle each one made their way without any complications. We have to give thanks and credit to Green Unit, the five HGV drivers and the crane driver and team for ensuring everything went exactly to plan in less than ideal weather conditions. As the last pod was lifted from the HGV there was beautiful sunshine, after a day of strong winds and rain!

Green Unit have on the 15th March 2020 officially handed over the building to the Vindolanda Trust. On Wednesday 1st April the Trust celebrates its 50th anniversary and our new building will be opened and named as the Robin Birley Archaeology Centre. We are incredibly grateful for everyone who supported our fundraising campaign towards the centre which raised nearly £25,000 towards the £300,000 investment.

We look forward to welcoming you back to Vindolanda as soon as we can.