Tuesday, June 18, 2013

2013 excavations so far

There are some detailed descriptions of the current excavations in the links I've included in the right side column, but it might be useful to try and summarize what's happening, to the extent that I can figure this out from 3,000 miles away. :-) I should emphasize that this summary is my own interpretation of information contained in the various blogs and tweets linked to the right.

There are two places being investigated this year, the southeast quadrant of the fort (yellow rectangle on image, right), and the North Field.

Fort, 2013
In only 10 weeks, more than half of the yellow rectangular area has been taken down about a foot, into the level of the last Roman/post-Roman occupation. Walls/floors from a variety of buildings have emerged, one of which was most likely housing soldiers at one point, another appears to have been domestic. In the late Roman period (and certainly post-Roman) the governing systems put in place by the Romans gradually broke down throughout Britain, and forts began to be used by locals in various non-military ways. So it wouldn't be surprising at all to find civilians living in the fort, even in the 4th century, before the Romans officially left Britain to its own devices in 410. These buildings likely date from the 4th and 5th century, built on top of and reusing stone from earlier forts that had not been properly maintained.
       An annoying feature this year is a very large "robber trench", where all the building stone was taken, probably to build one of the nearby farmhouses in the 18th or 19th centuries (there are two just off the edge of the photo); fortunately the robbing seems to have stopped just above the early 3rd century fort level (built 213 AD). The robbers were only interested in the stone, so there were many small finds in this area, but their usefulness as dating material was limited because the soil was so disturbed. Many small finds of all kinds have emerged from the Fort, as usual, but not the leather and other "soft" finds that are preserved in the deeper, anaerobic layers that Vindolanda is famous for.

North Field, 2013
Excavations over the last five years or so have produced tantalizing evidence that the first fort at Vindolanda may have been in an adjacent field. Ditches and small finds dating from the pre-Hadrianic period (ie: late 1st C/early 2nd C) have been discovered; this is the area where I was digging in 2010 and 2012. It is hoped the trench this year will provide more clues as to what was in the field and when it first began to be used. A fort here would have been constructed of timber, so there is hope that some of the main structure may eventually be found, permitting an accurate date to be determined.
       This year's trench hasn't revealed any timbers, but it has produced at least two distinct ditches, an area that looks to have been used as a hearth, and a pit of unknown function. One ditch has pottery dating from the latter part of the 2nd century, at a time when a fort on the main site had already been in use for decades (and by then had been rebuilt several times over). The vast majority of the excavation here has been done by students from the Vindolanda Field School (which is run by faculty from Western University, Ontario, click here for their excavation blog), but they are being joined by regular volunteers already so Sean and I could be digging alongside them. The Field School students will be leaving midway through our two weeks on site, but the two faculty (Beth Greene and Alex Meyer) will remain to continue the trench into August with a full crew of volunteers.

We don't know where we'll be assigned to dig until we arrive and I'm torn about which to hope for. Both previous times I've been in the North Field (with Beth Greene supervising in 2010 and 2012 and Alex Meyer in 2012), so it would be great to be posted there with them again, but there's so much happening in the fort as well...!

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