Digging Vindolanda

Tales of a volunteer excavator at Vindolanda Roman Fort

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Day Ten – under another wall

You always know when the last day of the session has arrived. There’s a sense of sadness that the fun is almost over for another year, mixed with relief that your aching muscles, creaking joints, worn fingertips and abraded knuckles are soon to get some time to recover.

The morning pep-talk from Andy on the last day of period 7

As I suspected would happen, our week two sextet was divided in two, with Judy, Carole and Maryanne finishing up in the anaerobic layers in the period 4 and 5 forts, while Pippa, Sav and I went back to the future, removing a third century wall foundation above the edge of the same trench. My understanding (which may be incorrect) is that this wall had largely been removed during the 4th century; normally, the Trust saves third century walls/buildings for consolidation and permanent public viewing.

From my end, the foundation was underlain by a hard-packed gray layer, and in one area with a set of substantial, flat flagstones that looked clearly like a floor (circled in the “after” photo above). In Sav and Pippa’s thirds it was initially less clear where the foundation ended, but after lunch Marta encouraged Pippa to go deeper and, lo and behold, a clear surface of mixed pebbles appeared, dipping down and likely joining up with the flagstone level at my end.

The last closeup before tea break, my flagstone “floor” (blue Fs), Pippa’s pebbly floor surface (yellow outline), remaining Antonine rubble Sav would have removed after tea (yellow hatching), and a new tentative wall that period 8 will have to investigate further (red outline)

The only finds from our foundation were a few sherds of pottery, including one nice base from a black pot, and a few bits of bone. However, the anaerobic trio had better luck, with an intriguing piece of wood emerging from the sticky, clay-rich muck (image below). It had elements of the right shape for a bath clog – which the Romans used to protect their feet from the heated floor in the bath house – as well as the overall size you’d expect and a nail on one side, in the position such clogs have for a leather strap. However, it was all one thickness, with no sign of a heel or the extra depth often seen in bath clogs under the ball of the foot. Suffice it to say that Marta was lukewarm on “the clog hypothesis”.

Carole’s possible “bath clog”; the imaginary, missing pieces you would need to turn it into a clog are shown in yellow dashes, a nail protruding from one side is indicated by the blue arrow

Are there any other ideas out there? If so, post something in the comments. With luck, more might be revealed when the item is inspected after a proper cleaning, but I have a feeling this one will remain a mystery, just like my “drawer handle” from day 8.

The daily tea break arrived with forebodingly dark, low clouds gathering to the west and unfortunately, after dodging numerous rain bullets for the entire period, our luck finally ran out. The occasional drop on the Birley Centre verandah at 2:40 became a steady downpour by three, so the planned, final thirty minute post-tea cleanup session had to be abandoned.

Sheltering from the rain in our last teabreak

So we returned disconsolately to the trench at three, cleaned and returned our tools, before gathering for the traditional, end-of-session roundup of progress made during the period. And then we waited, and waited, and waited in the rain, while one of the France 5 crew scurried all the way back up to the excavation centre to get a protective hood for his camera.

Some of the highlights I gleaned from the comprehensive round-up were:

  • the mysterious pair of Antonine column bases were not joined by a third, despite an expansion of the cobbled courtyard in which they seem to sit
  • the circle of posts in the SW corner also remains enigmatic; probably pre-Roman, function unclear, further analysis of some finds in it this period might help to solve the puzzle
  • the double line of wattle and daub fencing we found in days 8 & 9 forms part of the exterior wall of the Hadrianic period cavalry barrack
  • the two ovens in the area we dug in week two are associated with the early Antonine, last wood fort, along with the wattle and daub fence we found early in the week

And that’s a wrap for another year. France 5 continued filming as we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. As always, it was a tiring, intense, fascinating, and highly enjoyable fortnight for me, with the added pleasure of digging with my older sister for the first time. Sav was a great partner; I hope he enjoyed digging with me as much as I did with him – the next time I watch an Arsenal game on TV I’ll be looking for him in the crowd.

I’ll close the 2022 season blog with an image from the side of Barcombe Hill, just to the east of Vindolanda, where a mysterious circle of stones lies in the field. Pippa and I took a final evening walk up there to admire the spectacular view from the top, one last time.

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Day Nine – anaerobic on camera

Film crews are a very common sight at Vindolanda; I would guess there’s been at least one during each of my stints on site. The normal pattern is for them to be around for only a day or two, but this was our fourth day with the trio from France 5 and it seemed to be our group’s turn to be in their sights.

Andy’s 9:30 instructions at trench-side were to go down about half a spade depth, keeping an eye out for features already seen just below our current level in the trench just north of us. After sponging out some puddles left over from overnight rain, Pippa got the day started, chunking out the first black, anaerobic clumps for sorting.

Andy’s promise of finds came true in my first bucket but unfortunately I can’t share the details. It’s something I’ve not found before, although they’re not especially uncommon at Roman military sites. Judy had a similar example twenty minutes later, and Pippa managed to spot the characteristic coiling of a four inch piece of rope.

After this banner start the “staff of distinction” wasn’t needed again, even though finds continued consistently throughout the day: we filled about one and a half of the large finds bags, primarily with large-animal bone. This included a complete horse jawbone that Andy was able to use as a prop for a trench side talk to a school group, and multiple fragments from the skull, rib cage and limbs from perhaps the same animal.

Carole beginning the second sweep of the day, finally connecting us to the same level in the adjacent section of trench to the north of ours.

By mid afternoon we’d completed a first run across the floor of the trench, leaving a 15cm wide strip that probably contains another wattle and daub fence, visible behind Carole in the image above.

A second, trickier sweep through the trench ensued, taking a few inches of soil off the top of a roughly cobbled surface. Andy came over while I was taking a turn at this with Judy, asking us to let him know if we came upon any more large items, so he could inform the film crew. As luck would have it, the tip of a cow or horse shoulder blade appeared within five minutes, so I had to halt and wait for them to set up their cameras, even though this is something we would normally just excavate without fuss or excitement. It turned out to be nearly complete; we’ll have to see if my “Hollywood moment” makes it into the final cut.

The cow or horse shoulder blade France 5 filmed me excavating, and a horse jawbone found on day 9

Late in the day, while I was trying to define the contours of yet another wattle and daub fence, the tip of the sheep or goat (apparently they are essentially indistinguishable) jawbone shown in the finds selection gallery above appeared. The film crew must have spotted me asking Andy & Marta about the excavated find, and clearly were still looking for more footage, so they hurried over and asked me to find it again, twice! Hopefully my acting – and lack of enthusiasm for the fakery – was bad enough that it won’t be seen again.

Another line of posts that appeared today, with the intertwined thin, lateral branches going around the second post from the left clearly visible.

The view at 4PM is shown below, with the second pass of the day incomplete, but showing an impressive new line of posts marking another wattle and daub fence. The forecast again looks damp tomorrow, but our luck held out again today, so hopefully we’ll get a chance to better define the two fences and complete the second pass on our final day.

End of the day view on day nine.
An evening visitor on the hill between our cottage and the fort

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Day Eight – final clearance

For the second time this week, Pippa and I left Codley Gate Cottage with rain jackets on and a light rain falling. In a repeat of day six, by the time we’d made the ten minute walk up through the fort to the Robin Birley Archaeology Centre the skies had brightened as much as our mood. Another day with no time lost.

If day seven had felt frustrating, today was anything but. Finds remained few, but progress was good, coupled with anticipation of a payoff tomorrow for the two days of hard labour.

I started the morning off as the designated “chunker”, cutting the largest complete blocks of material I could, clearing the remaining island from yesterday’s layer. By 10:30 the job was done and we could begin taking another 15cm or so layer across the whole section, bar the oven. The image below shows Carole pondering where to remove the first chunk of the new layer:

Mid-morning view, oven in red, a circular cluster of stones representing the bottom of a post-hole outlined in yellow.

We then settled into a productive rhythm of rotating half-hour stints as chunker, working our way steadily west through the trench, managing to complete the job just as time was being called at 3:55. Somewhat to our surprise the finds didn’t really pick up the pace, with some small pieces of glass, a few fragments of bone and a handful of pottery sherds. The only notable things were a near complete horse jaw and one I can’t report, that was sitting under the large whitish stone that had jutted out from the edge on the northern side of our section (centre bottom of the image above). Another likely post-hole appeared next to the oven, represented by a circle of bright red ceramic bricks that quite possible came from the oven itself.

And here’s the end of day image, as Marta finished doing a final scrape up of the “loose” for us. So what will tomorrow bring? This is the same layer that generated a shoe, an oil lamp and multiple posts on Monday, but there are no guarantees…

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Day Seven – clearing the overburden

Gold miners refer to the material above the gold-bearing layers as “overburden”, which has to be scraped away before running the ore-bearing pay dirt through their wash plant. The gold in our case is primarily leather and wood artifacts, sitting quietly among the smelly, black, anoxic soil that Vindolanda is blessed with, a couple of metres below the surface.

Day seven began under dark, low clouds, with a frenzy of mattock swinging to remove the last remaining layer above the anaerobic material just out of reach beneath us. The hard-packed yellow/reddish soil was filled with rubble, lying just above a distinctly gray, clay-rich layer, but with an intense two and a half hours of muscle-sapping work, the six of us had cleared it all. We also had time to expand our zone south a few feet, by clearing the foundations of an Antonine wall. Here’s our section at lunchtime, ready to head down another six inches or so, to the fringes of Anaerobia.

The lunchtime view; the red area is most likely an oven that we plan to excavate as we go deeper, the blue area is a small extension we made this morning, beneath an Antonine wall.

The afternoon marked a complete change of pace, as we reverted to the “chunking and sorting” system normally reserved for processing anaerobic levels. Depending on the speed of the chunker (only one allowed at a time) we had some frustrating spells with all of the sorters sitting idle – not helped by the presence of stone and hard, iron-pan within the gray clay in some areas – so the post-lunch progress was slower than we would have liked.

End of the day, most of the overburden gone, the dark gray/black anaerobic soils coming into view.

The day ended with about 75% of the work done. Importantly however, there was a definite odour of anaerobic soil emanating from some parts of the trench – the leather and wood “gold” is almost within reach again.

Essentially nothing to report all day in terms of finds, beyond a few sheep’s teeth, fragments of bone and a handful of small pot sherds. Tomorrow should be better in that respect, as long as the predicted rain allows us time to dig.

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Day Six – anaerobic, south of the scola

Gloomy skies, steady rain at 8:30 in the morning, as well as a dismal forecast. I would not have been surprised if the day had been a washout, but we somehow managed another full day, ending in glorious sunshine.

The view over the Stanegate from outside the North wall of the fort – a glorious end to day 6 despite the gray, rainy start.

The rain petered out as we made our morning walk from the cottage up to the site, eager to hear about our new trench assignments. Sav and I joined Pippa, Mary Ann, Carole and Judy just south of the scola, working in an anaerobic level of one of the late first/early second century wooden forts. A maze of post holes had already been found in this little area (which are marked by white squares of paper attached into the post top), as well as a variety of leather and wooden objects over the last week. Below is an image from just before lunch; the area I think we’ll be focusing on for the rest of the week is outlined in yellow. The third century scola is outlined in blue.

Our new home for the rest of the week, in or just above the anaerobic layers of one of the early wooden forts (roughly 100 AD).

As usual in the anaerobic, only one or two of us at a time were actually in the trench, generating large cubes for the others to sort through by hand beside the trench. In my excitement to be working in the anaerobic again I forgot to take a “before” photo, so by the time the above shot was taken I’d already had a stint generating the cubes, when I was able to spot four more of the wooden posts (circled in green) that delineate wattle and daub walls – it remains unclear to me which these connect with.

We had a pretty good day for finds, with a classic wood comb, the sole of a man’s shoe, in addition to a lot of mostly broken, small-animal bone and more than a dozen nails. The former two items are shown below; neither are exactly museum quality but were great excitement builders for the remainder of the week.

Unfortunately, an oil lamp (which are very common finds across the Empire, but not at Vindolanda) came out of the trench in multiple pieces, but otherwise we managed to salvage all the major items intact.

The last session of the day featured a mad scramble to start clearing the last layer of non-anaerobic soil at the western end of our zone. This included an already recorded later period wall, which required an extended period of mattocking to loosen. During this hard labour I managed to recover a substantial sherd of Samian ware which Mary Ann realized was a strong match for the X-rated fragment found very close nearby last week, and posted by The Trust on social media. Seen side by side below you can see they are likely either from the same pot, or the same mold.

The closing view of the trench is below, as we tidied up before a tough day in store tomorrow, taking out a clay- and rubble-rich layer. My guess is it will take us more than a day before we’re back in the anaerobic again.

End of the day view of our zone.

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Day Five – going up the wall

The first week of Period 7 is now in the books. We managed to make it through the whole week without losing any time to rain, but only by the skin of our teeth – storm clouds gathered throughout the afternoon today and some heavy showers drenched the site shortly after four. Warm, humid conditions made it a draining day of digging and everyone seemed ready for the upcoming weekend break.

Storm clouds gathering over Barcombe Hill as the digging team relaxed in the shade during break.

The week ended with a different focus for Sav, Alastair and I, as we shifted our attention to the 4thC wall that currently defines the northern extent of the courtyard. The beginnings of an earlier, Antonine period wall lay on a very similar line, just underneath it; our job for the day was to remove the 4th C wall, and reveal how far the Antonine wall extended – does it actually form the border of the courtyard? The shot below shows how things were before we began shifting the 4th C stones:

The fourth century wall outlined in blue, Antonine wall (which is contemporary with the cobble courtyard) outlined in red.

The fourth century stones were all gone in about five minutes and I set to work at the eastern end (top of the photo above). After initially struggling to make sense of some Antonine rubble – the crumbly yellow sandstone degrades easily and covers everything – the northern face of the wall finally emerged. By lunchtime however, it was clear the wall did not extend more than a couple of meters, more or less matching the stub just to its south:

Lunchtime view showing the emergence of an Antonine period wall, forming the corner of a building.

Like Sav, Alastair saw no sign of wall stones, but extended the cobble area I found well under where the fourth century wall had been. The afternoon did provide a variety of interesting finds for me, a pleasant change from the last couple of days. These included several pieces of very thin glass from a delicately curved vessel, a much larger fragment from a square glass bottle, a substantial sherd from a well-made pot and a piece from a box flue tile (which carried heat from an under-floor system into the walls):

The afternoon had a slightly anti-climactic air to it, as the Antonine wall fizzled out and both Sav and I struggled to locate a convincing cobbled surface. The end of day view is shown below.

Close of play view of our section of the trench: the area we cleared down to the cobbled courtyard is framed with a dashed blue line.

Indications are this will be the last we see of “our” courtyard. A large-scale rotation of the team around the trench is apparently in store for tomorrow, so I’m hoping this means a chance for me to move into the anaerobic levels beneath the scola. I’ll wrap up this up with a shot from our day trip yesterday up to Bamburgh, when the bright sunshine melded with a storm cloud to produce a magnificent double rainbow.

Bamburgh Castle, Northumbria

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Day Four – pot washing & the cobbles return

Something that never ceases to amaze me is just how much material is collected every single day of the excavation, all of which has to be cleaned, logged and further analyzed. A tiny fraction of it is unusual enough or especially archaeologically useful in some way (eg: shoes, writing tablets, copper alloy artifacts etc) that it merits getting a unique identifier, it’s own ziploc bag, and its exact find spot recorded in 3D space. However, the remaining 99% – primarily pottery, bone, glass and nails – goes into one finds bag for the specific “context” of that part of the trench. For example, the context number for the area Sav and I are digging is V22-75, which corresponds to the Antonine “courtyard” level in 2022.

In seasons past there would be four or five volunteer slots set aside specifically for initial processing of these bulk finds, but this year the task is being shared by the entire volunteer excavation crew. As you will no doubt have guessed by now, today Sav and my number came up, so we spent the morning discussing the recent – and not so recent – history of Arsenal and Leeds United, as well as washing a substantial amount of pottery.

My morning’s work – a tray of washed bulk finds.

One of the two trays I generated from just one finds bag (which I ran out of time to complete) is shown above. It contains a typical mix you get from many non-anaerobic levels at Vindolanda: some amphorae (A), Samian ware (S), mortaria (M), bone (B), nails (N) and various black wares of multiple types (unmarked, left side of the image). Once the finds are all completely dry they’ll be weighed and bagged by type; the pottery will later be sent to a ceramics expert so we can get a more complete picture of the specific types of pottery, their likely production dates and therefore a better understanding of the overall activities going on (and when) in that particular context.

A shot from the first five minutes of the day – the dry cobbles above the yellow line are yesterday’s, the darker area below the line is what appeared when I removed the “wall” of stones… more cobbled courtyard!

After lunch it was back to the trench and time to find out whether the courtyard cobbles would continue under the rubble and gray silt we revealed yesterday. In five minutes the answer was a resounding “yes” – (n my side of the trench anyway), as shown in the image above.

The sea of gray silt beyond the false wall of larger stones also proved to be hiding what I predicted in yesterday’s post – more cobbles – that stretched all the way back to the 4th century wall that delimited the area we’ve been working in all week. Unfortunately, the same was not true on Sav’s side. He did get some areas of cobble, but there were also some spots where it was either dipping lower, or had been taken out by later activities in the post-Antonine periods. The view at the end of the day is below. The area marked in red hasn’t been completed, much of it is probably sitting above more cobbled surface.

End of the day, showing our section as the area delimited by the black line. The red area is probably sitting over more cobbles (?).

Finally, as we were doing a final careful cleaning of “loose” from the surface (partly in anticipation of heavy rain overnight) I realized that an area in my section where the cobbles seemed harder to find (top right corner of the red area in the image above) was quite likely to be a post hole, driven through the courtyard perhaps by the 4th cohort of Gauls as they constructed the second stone fort in 213, or a later group. It has quite a sharp “edge” around part of it (marked in blue in the closeup image below) and contains stones that project well beneath the cobbled surface. I’ll have to confirm my interpretation with Penny, Andy or Marta tomorrow.

A possible post-hole cutting into our courtyard?

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Day three – cobbles gone… or have they?

The spoil heap with Barcombe Hill beyond on a perfect day at Vindolanda.

As you can see from the photo above, it was a glorious day for digging: a decent breeze, not too hot and a mix of blue sky and cloud.

Andy gave us the green light to be ruthless with the rubble pile blocking our access to the cobbled courtyard beneath, so Sav and I got stuck in. However, after about an hour of very satisfying expansion of the cobble zone we started hitting a concentrated line of more organized classic yellow, crumbly Antonine sandstone. Was it an extension of the Antonine period wall directly opposite? Although it started as somewhat wall-like, it soon devolved into a disorganized mass of multi-period stones that extended through much of our section – clearly not a wall.

The lunchtime view, with nice new cobbled area in blue, unexpected wall-like feature in yellow.

Although it should not have been a surprise that the trench was not doing our bidding, we were nonetheless disappointed that the rapid progress we’d anticipated didn’t materialize.

On returning from lunch I got started on continuing our push northward above the stone jumble, aiming to reach the 4th C wall behind us. Within a few minutes I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon a veritable treasure trove of pottery sherds, after finding virtually nothing the entire morning. They were clearly all from the same, delicately thin, black vessel with flecks of yellow on its inner face.

Although I will need to do some more research to determine its type, the thin wall and overall quality suggests it’s more likely from an earlier period. It seemed likely I had the majority of the pot in about fifteen fragments, and the urge to begin trying to join the pieces was strong. However, this is a task best left until after cleaning, so into the finds bag they went; hopefully someone else will take up the challenge during post-ex processing.

As we continued moving northwards (left on most of my images of our area) the rocky “wall” degenerated into smaller stones among looser brown soil, so these came out, revealing a layer of gray silt beneath. My bet is that this is the same silt we’d found sitting just above the cobbles on the other side of the “wall”, but that will have to be determined tomorrow.

Sav doing final cleanup as we prepare to leave for the day.

By the end of the day we’d almost reached the 4th century wall found by the period 6 team, with the gray silt extending all the way towards it, other than the “wall jumble” midway through. I’m hopeful we’ll have a substantially expanded cobbled courtyard by lunchtime tomorrow. But the archaeology gods don’t like it when you make predictions like that, so we shall have to wait and see!

No visit to Vindolanda is complete without at least one pilgrimage to visit the Wall itself near Steel Rigg. My favourite spot is to the west of the car park, climbing up to the highest point of the whole wall. Despite the magnificence of the views in all directions, my best shot on our late evening walk might not include Hadrian’s monumental construction – instead a horse seemed perfectly positioned on a distant ridge, with a backdrop of the other side of the Tyne Valley.

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Day Two – cobbling it all together

With a second day of digging under our belts, a theme has become clear: cobbles. Whenever Romans needed to create a hard wearing, long lasting surface a common solution was to pack thousands of small stones tightly into clay. They made thousands of miles of road like this, not only within forts but also to enable carts (and armies) to move easily from one town to another.

By the end of the day yesterday I had at least three distinct levels of cobbled surface staring back at me. Two of these were inherited from period six – one, apparently contemporaneous with the fancy column bases, composed of small, smooth pebbles (blue area circled in the image below) and another, later surface a few inches higher, formed from fragments of red ceramic building material (CBM), circled in red below. By contrast, I had troweled down onto a rather mixed, less convincing cobbled surface that seemed to be not only above both of these, but was also in a larger type of stone that therefore matched neither of the pre-existing two surfaces to the south of me. This is illustrated in the image below:

Cobbles everywhere. See text for details; former northern edge of the 4th C drain shown as a dashed yellow line.

I started the day tasked with shedding my section of some these larger “cobbles” that Andy felt were just rubble packing, needed to provide a flat base for a new, later 3rd/4th C flagstone floor; one of those flags remains just to the left of the green circle area, so they would have to come out as well.

After a morning and afternoon of labour with my new trench-mate and Arsenal fan, Sav, we had a modest area of smaller, pebbly cobbles that seemed to match those in the Antonine courtyard, (although, confusingly, a couple of inches above it), and a largely cobble-free area that gradually sloped its way back up to the much later-period flags. Definitely not what we’d hoped for. Time for the pro’s to step in!

Andy and Penny both felt we needed to go lower still, so Andy started troweling with some gusto, rather quickly getting beneath some gray, silty material that contained assorted chunks of both yellow Antonine sandstone and other smaller rocks, to a very satisfying and definite layer of cobbles. The ring of his trowel blade as it ran over the cobbles was music to our ears, and the sudden change from the silt to this tightly packed, hard surface was obvious. What was also clear was the reason we’d struggled to find it – the real surface slanted downwards rather quickly, hiding it from our less-experienced hands. A closeup, showing the gray silt in section above the cobbles is shown below.

The “real” cobbles finally revealed (yellow), and the gray, silty soil above them illustrated in blue.

The remaining 40 minutes of the day turned into a distinct reminder of last season, when I had discovered the pleasure of troweling down onto a definite floor. Bucket after bucket of the rocky, gray silt rapidly came out as I expanded the new, and true, cobbled surface northwards and westwards. The task for tomorrow now seems much clearer and progress should be rapid.

Again, precious little in the way of finds today. An early spurt of black burnished ware fragments – quite possibly from the same pot – wasn’t maintained; a heavily encrusted, six-inch iron spike just before lunch was the only find of any note for me. I found it possibly in situ, driven more or less vertically downwards, perhaps serving as a marker as they constructed the later drain.

The end-of-day shot for Sav and my section is below, I’m optimistic it will look noticeably different after tomorrow.

Our section of the trench as day two ended

Pippa, Mary Ann and Alastair beside us endured a tough day of mattocking through demolition rubble with few finds of any kind, and the anticipated oven seems to be less certain; still looking like “a something”, but failing to commit to being anything in particular. Perhaps it just needs another day to make its mind up.

An oven, or not?

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Day One – in the courtyard

Period 7 of the 2022 season kicked off this morning in glorious sunshine and after an hour of induction and guided tour of the trench as a whole we all learned our fate. My sister, Pippa, and I have been posted to an area very close to an intriguing pair of elaborate, stepped, column bases. These were first reported on by the Trust a couple of weeks ago and are thought to be associated with the first stone fort at Vindolanda, which was built in the Antonine period, roughly 140-160 AD. Over the past couple of weeks a large area of cobbled courtyard around the bases has been revealed, but it remains a mystery what kind of structure they’re associated with, and whether there are more bases to be discovered. These are the questions my sister and I will be helping to answer over the next two weeks.

The courtyard area with Antonine fort column bases. Our work areas are outlined with red or blue dashes; stones from a 4th C drain are identified with a black arrowhead line.

Pippa had a satisfying first ever day in an archaeological trench, in the area indicated with red dashes in the image above, exposing more of a stone structure that might be an oven. A set of connected stones is appearing there, but it remains uncertain what it is. I began the day in the blue dashed area with Alex (a professional archaeologist), removing a now fully recorded 4th century drain and nearby roughly flagstoned area, with the goal of dropping down onto the same, cobbled, courtyard level on which the bases sit. After lunch Alex was called to assist another group working in an anaerobic level below the 3rd century scola (dining hall for soldiers), so I was left to complete the job on my own. A stylus tablet came out of the muck after she arrived there, but there were no other small finds to my knowledge anywhere in the trench today. Here’s a shot of the area at the end of the day:

Our little piece of the trench at the end of the day, Pippa’s in red, mine in blue.

No major finds for us to report: about a couple of dozen pottery sherds from a range of periods, including some Samian ware and a fairly substantial pot fragment that I forget to get a shot of and a few, very corroded nails. I managed to remove about half the depth of material remaining from a four foot by ten foot area beside the 4th C drain; with luck the rest will go tomorrow and Pippa’s structure will make itself more clearly understood.

In the end, a solid if unspectacular first day under our belts. After dinner we had plenty of time for a peaceful, quiet walk on the road above the fort, serenaded by willow warblers, wrens and chaffinches.