Author: Marta Alberti, Vindolanda Archaeologist, July 2019.

One of the most spectacular outcomes of excavating in oxygen-free layers is the chance to look at wooden foundations and fittings of buildings that were constructed, used and demolished centuries ago.

During the 2018-2019 excavations the archaeological team, helped along by hundreds of volunteers, gradually brought to light the foundations of one such building. Both visitors and volunteers have been very curious as to what those beautiful timber posts sticking out of the ground are. Here is what the archaeologists have concluded so far:

1)      The timber posts were sunken though soft organic material and their base is stuck into natural boulder clay. This is the hard material that the Romans encountered in A.D. 85, when they first established the fort at Vindolanda.

2)      The clay is cut into a wide u-shape. This is the defensive ditch outside the first fort of Vindolanda (AD 85-90). The posts are not outside the u-shape, but inside it.

3)      The ditch was cut, and filled, before the posts were inserted. The middle fill of the ditch (the one put there on purpose, as opposed to the natural silt that can be found at the bottom), dates to AD 105. Therefore, the posts must date to around or after AD 105. Period IV- the first period in which the ditch is not in use anymore- dates between AD 105-118.

4)      10 posts have been brought to light so far, in two parallel rows of five. All of them are made of silver birch. We can easily identify the wood, because the bark is still on it. The average diameter of the posts is 20cm.

5)      The presence of a large post-hole north of the two rows of posts and aligned with the third line across, seems to indicate that the east-west oriented building would have extended further to the north. The other post holes of this possible ‘extra-row’ have been cut or damaged by 2nd and 3rd century feature, as has the floor of the building.

6)      If we accept that there were only two rows of posts, and perhaps a porch, the building had an inner surface of 30 squared meters. If we, on the other hand, accept the possibility of a 3rd row of posts to the North of the two visible ones, the building becomes 60 squared meters. In both cases the sides would have been over 11 meters long.

7)      Because of the lack of floor surface, it is hard to say what the building would have been used for. At the moment, we are inclined to say it could have been a storage facility, such as a timber granary just outside period IV fort.

Timber buildings, however, are not the only wooden feature of the Vindolanda excavations. Watch this space for more information on wooden artefacts from the 2019 season or come witness the excavations in person.