Thursday, 10 July 2014

We have moved

We have moved this blog to its new and natural home at and we hope that you continue to enjoy the updates and information from the main Vindolanda website. Thank you for following and supporting the Vindolanda excavations.

best wishes,


Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Session 4

Excavations within the 3rd-4th century fort

Another session on the excavations has flown past and the relentless march towards the southern defenses has really gathered pace. The team have uncovered a wide cobbled area to the south of the last remaining barrack block of 4th century date in the south eastern corner of the fort. Here they have found all manner of artefacts stuck tightly between the cobble stones where they have waited for almost 1600 years to be discovered by the excavators. It is unclear whether or not this was a wide social area or stockyard, perhaps a place to park the wagons and baggage trains associated with the troops and their dependents in the nearby barrack buildings.  There is a very large build up of topsoil in this part of the site, over 70cms deep in places, which has helped to preserve some of these areas from later plough damage. Before long it will be possible once again to walk down and around the intervallum road and through the toilet door on the southern corner tower of the fort although it will take a while longer before the loo is once more open for inspection.

The fort team have moved an incredible volume of topsoil over the past fortnight, carefully checking it all by hand to make sure no Roman or post-Roman material got through without inspection. Well done to everyone here, you have made a huge impact on transforming the look of Vindolanda back to where the inhabitants left it.

Looking to the east inside the fort, the last patch of grass starts to be removed to show a cobbled yard to the south of the final 4th century barrack block. 

Under the Vicus

While wet weather is never much fun, when deep excavation is involved below the water table it is very difficult to make significant headway and this has been the frustrating tale of the past two weeks below the remains of the 3rd century extramural settlement. However, despite the difficulties of the British summer the team worked hard to show up a very fine Severan drain running through the foundations of site XXXII and to the west of this the line of a main road, probably the Via Principalis of the periods IV - V forts (which is currently over 5m wide). Both areas are expected to really make headway in the coming weeks with fingers crossed for buildings to the south of the road. Shoes, scraps of leather and a range of fantastic pottery have come from these levels, BB1 and carinated bowls, the mixture of the last vestages of pre-Hadrianic mixed with the start of the Hadrainic period of occupation at the site.

Drains to take away the British summer excess, thankfully operational once more after careful excavation.

The pre-Hadrianic high street, to the south of the 3rd century road and working as a field drain due to its cobbled construction. Sloppy work, but fun work. 

Friday, 16 May 2014

Week 6 - session 3

Inside the 3rd and 4th century fort:

For the past two weeks the fort team have battled with the storms and torrential rain and have finally come through to some good weather which has helped them uncover a range of buildings and artefacts. More arrowheads, weapons, lots more beads, and two possible roundhouse foundations (Severan in date) have been the highlights. A great deal of work has been done on reducing the very high levels of topsoil next to the south eastern corner of the fort to show up the ramparts and intervallum road. This will make a big visual impact to the site allowing visitors to eventually get access to the toilet block on the south eastern corner without the aid of a high viewing platform. Over the next two sessions, if the weather holds, the teams in this area aim to reach the south fort wall giving us a splendid view of this quadrant of the fort from the back of the commanding officers house all the way to the south fort wall which will be a fantastic achievement in only six months of excavation by hand.

Rampart mound of clay and rubble with the viewing platform for the toilet block being dismantled in the background.

Rubble roads everywhere, a mass of post roman streets and surfaces covering the end of Roman Vindolanda

Under the vicus:

Below the foundations of the 3rd century stone vicus the weather conditions made for especially difficult excavations. Each morning the team was faced with two large lakes instead of trenches, or a director of excavations firmly attached to a pump trying to get the water away so that work could take place. Despite this, some real steps forward have been made and it is now clear that the teams here have landed on the via principalis of the period VI/V forts, a very large cobbled street running east/west through the centre of the timber forts with a wattle and daub drain on its northern side. The first show was found lying next to the street yesterday (needless to say a woman or child's shoe)  and today we will hopefully get into the roadside drain itself to see what sort of rubbish has been tipped inside. The pottery from this area is a mixture of carinated bowls and BB1 pottery, showing the transition from pre-hadrianic into the Hadrian's Wall building era on the site. We can expect some major buildings on the south side of the road as the season continues, all we need are a few weeks of no heavy rain and this area will really come alive.

 Battling the mud and water at the side of the via principalis of periods VI/V. 

The next trench to the east, and the road getting deeper as it terraces down the hill.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Excavation week 4

The 3rd / 4th century fort

Excavation proceeding extremely well in the fort with over 160 artefacts recovered including many small beads made from glass and jet and some horse gear. Large late 4th century barrack walls continuing to appear as we head towards the south wall of the fort. Every now and then the excavators are bathed in warm golden sunshine and things are looking good. Over the top of the 4th century barracks are a series of later walls, floors and surfaces which can only be post-Roman and we continue to find the remains of post pits later than those, dug through the Roman layers, for timber buildings which covered this part of the site in the 5th and 6th centuries.

A great deal of late 4 century pottery is coming from the last Roman layers, but unlike last season very few arrowheads thus far. This is possibly due to the high levels of disturbance in this area from later stone robbers making it tricky to piece back together all of the clues about the use of the later Roman walls and surfaces.

Fort excavations- looking west
Vicus - earlier forts

In the vicus, below extramural buildings XXX and XXXII things are also progressing well but here we have encountered over a metre of rubble, boulder clay and a suspended water table making it extremely hard work getting to the earlier Roman remains. However, as you can see from the pictures below we have encountered a well made Antonine road and yard, complete with a wide drain running through its middle, and below this surface we have managed in one section to cut down to the earlier Hadrianic surfaces below, another street with a wattle and daub lined drain. Here most of the artefacts consist of potter and a huge volume of animal bone, beautifully preserved by the anaerobic conditions. I expect we will encounter our first wooden artefacts and leather shoes shortly. Below this level, we may have to excavate a further 2-4m before we find natural clay.

Antonine street level below the foundations of the Severan barracks of XXXII

Getting down to the Hadrianic levels - and the water - below XXXII

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

2014 Post-excavation work begins at Vindolanda

This week marks the start of five months work by a team of volunteers at Vindolanda. Volunteers work in teams of three or four, many of them for up to six weeks, or whatever time commitment they can make.

Joyce Fisher getting to grips with the first pottery finds of the 2014 season!
The post-excavation volunteers' work is not done in the excavation trenches. They work quietly in the processing shed, often out of sight of the visitors. However, their labour on the pottery sherds, CBM, Roman glass and other bulk finds are the first vital steps in building an understanding what the people who lived a Vindolanda used in their everyday lives, how they used (and often re-used) their ceramic objects, and how much pottery people might have had access to at Roman Vindolanda.

The first task is a bit like doing the washing up at home, but minus the washing up liquid! The photo below shows the typical washing-up kit, that consists of basins, rubber gloves, scrubbing brushes for stubborn dirt, toothbrushes and picks for more gentle cleaning of finer vessels.

When all the washing is done you need somewhere to lay out the finds. The blue trays in the photo below are lined with newspaper and each tray must contain a label to identify the context which the finds came from. This way we can keep a close eye on where the finds came from and develop an understanding of the types of vessels coming from different parts of the site.

It can take up to two weeks for all the finds to dry out properly, but once they do, the work of sorting, categorising wares, counting sherds and weighing can begin. We follow guidelines developed by the Study Group for Roman Pottery and this makes it possible to compare our pottery to pottery recorded in a similar way from other sites in Roman Britain. It takes a bit of practice to get this part of the process right and there needs to be space and a bit of peace and quiet for the volunteers who do this work. Their workspace is shown in the photo below. Good light is essential so that features of different categories of Roman pottery can be distinguished!

Once the sorting and quantification of material from each context is done a paper record is made. The files are in the big box in the photo above! This record is transferred onto a spreadsheet and across the 2014 season a cumulative record builds up. Last year we excavated about 460 KG of pottery from stratified contexts across the site! We are prepared for similar quantities this year.

The finds are bagged after quantification and there is a temporary space for the bagged up material. After bagging, the finds are taken down to the museum pottery workshop, where further detailed specialist work can take place. The temporary storage space is shown below.

As the season goes on, blog posts from the post-excavation area will profile progress and interesting highlights from among the finds. There will also be profiles of more typical vessels. However much, much more can always be seen by visiting us at Vindolanda on site and perusing our museum, as well as getting close to the soldiers themselves at the Roman Army Museum.

Kate Sheehan-Finn
Excavation Supervisor and Research Assistant.

Monday, 14 April 2014

End of Week 1

After the 1st week of excavations, and a few missed days because of the rain, the teams have done extremely well both inside the fort and below the vicus. In the fort the excavations have rolled back another 5metres of turf and have started to uncover the remains of the late 4th century and post-Roman buildings, you can catch up with this work and our other activities on a daily basis through Justin Blakes twitter feed. Below the vicus buildings the team has worked hard to remove the 1970's gravel and into the foundation clay and packing below. Here they have discovered a mixture of Antonine foundations and heavy packing for the Severan buildings above. In places this packing is over 50cms thick and difficult to move. It will however have done a fantastic job of keeping out the oxygen from the layers of archaeology below, giving us great hope that as this excavation progresses there will be a great chance of anaerobic conditions.

As week 2 progresses expect more of the 4th and 5th centuries to come alive inside the fort and we may just find out by the end of the week how good the organic preservation is below our vicus buildings.

Excavation of the vicus building site XXX

Excavations below site XXXII, the deep clay and rubble packing

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Potty about Roman Pottery?

 Life behind the scenes in the pottery processing shed at Vindolanda isn't glamorous, but it is always a lot of fun! For me, archaeology is all about getting to know people in the past by studying the places they inhabited and the things that they owned. 

There is no artefact more common than pottery on a Roman site like Vindolanda. Pottery is the stuff that people used every day for preparing, cooking, serving, eating, drinking, storing things, and even playing with. The soldiers and civilians at Vindolanda had oodles of it and, luckily, they left an enormous amount of it around for us to find among the buildings, roads and ditches on the site!

Drag. 37 bowl, Stamped on the rim by Satono, Lezoux, Central Gaul, AD 160-200
This summer, a team of volunteers will be at Vindolanda helping out with the preliminary post-excavation work of washing, drying, sorting and recording a multitude of amphorae, mortaria, samian ware, grey wares, black-burnished ware. Dishes, bowls, platters, cups, beakers, lids, flagons and  jugs  are common enough finds and they all need to be sorted, counted and weighed.

A Dressel 20 amphora drying in the foreground during the 2013 excavation season - Olive oil anyone?
Throughout the 2014 season I will feature some of  the pottery finds from the site here on the Blog. But you can visit us to see much, much more at Vindolanda as we work out on site. We will be there, Mon-Fri, until 4.30 pm, in the trenches and at the post-excavation shed, from Monday 7th April, 2014. 

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Kate Sheehan-Finn
Archaeological Supervisor