Sunday, July 7, 2013

Robber Trench II - Day five

Like an unwanted sequel to a bad movie, Friday saw the arrival of an unwelcome archaeological development on any excavation: a "robber trench". An unusually large one was discovered in the trench in late May, but it was depressing to discover another one. Robber trenches can result from the thieves seeking many different prizes, but in both cases here it looks like it was the stone they were after: all the larger ones useable for building are missing. Its hard to say when the robbing took place (pre 1850 anyway, when ploughing stopped and the site was finally receiving some protection), but the walls of one of the several farmhouses near the fort is very likely to be where the stolen goods ended up. However, the thieves were apparently only interested in the stone, because all the various kinds of Roman artefacts typical of Vindolanda remained in the mixture of soil and rubble of robber trench 1, and the same seems to be true of the new one. We're hoping they have simply removed a back wall of our building and not the floor, which may hold the best dating evidence for the structure.

Some time during the morning Sean was cleaning around a decent-sized but very thin piece of stone when he found there was a hole beneath it, not the hard-packed orangish-brown soil we had been seeing all week. Andy came to take a look and was instantly crestfallen, seeing the telltale signs of recently disturbed loose material that indicate the presence of a robber trench. At that time I had been working at the far eastern edge of my zone, but as soon as I moved westward a little way the same rubble/brown soil mixture became very apparent. It appears at the moment that the eastern edge of the robbing may be in my zone, the western edge perhaps ten yards away. With hindsight I had just stopped short of hitting the northern edge of it myself on day four, and the southern end of it may well still be hidden under the grass, judging by the similar rubbly appearance of the surface that runs right to the edge of the trench. Here's a shot of what we're hoping is the eastern edge of the robber trench (yellow arrow), and roughly the northern edge (blue arrows), southern edge of the trench visible at the top of the image:

Confirming that there are still finds to be made, here's a good example of a nail and Sean holding the "staff of recognition" while his first small find of the week is being logged (unfortunately in the category I can't describe):

I also pulled a broken piece of roof tile (stone) out of the robber trench rubble; a complete one might have been kept/recorded, but Justin asked to keep it to use for one of his many daily talks to visitors. I caught his arm in the shot while he described a different style of roof tile (lower, lighter coloured) without the hole mine had:

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