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From Aug 2006 - Nov 2013 WeDig provided a live forum for diggers & fans of Vindolanda. It has now been mothballed and will be maintained as a live archive.

Here you will find preserved 7 years of conversation, photos, & knowledge about a site many people love. Vindolanda gets under the skin. (Figuratively and literally as a volunteer excavator!) It's a place you remember, filled with people you remember!

Thanks for 7 great years!

Vindolanda Period I

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Currently visible Period VII-X fort & settlement structures


Dates: c. AD85 to c. AD92
Garrison: 1st Cohort of Tungrians
Garrison type/size: Part-mounted infantry cohort of 500/1000
Visible remains: None

Color Coding

Teal: Ramparts of fort-proper (conjectural)
Grey: Known defensive ditches
Black: Known roadway to presumed western gate
Purple: Stanegate road

Hover your mouse over the image to compare this fort to the archaeology currently visible on-site today. (What's currently visible is mostly Period VII-IX, but with bits of Period VI-B and X.)

In AD43 the Romans invaded Britain. Their ultimate goal quickly became clear -- the utter conquest of the island. Over the next decades, with some setbacksthe most well-known being the Boudiccan revolt of c. AD60-61, in which London & Colchester (among other new cities) were burned to the ground, their reach expanded ever farther. By about AD80 Gnaeus Julius Agricola, then governor of Britannia, was able to lead his legions northward against Caledonian tribes in modern Scotland. It was the farthest north the Romans had yet reached. Agricola won a stunning victory at the battle of Mons GraupiusThe site of this battle is still unknown. Evidence suggests it was in Perthshire, or perhaps even Aberdeenshire, in northeast Scotland. in about AD83. The last cohesive resistance was crushed, and the way to complete subjugation had been opened. But the paranoid emperor Domitian, fearful of Agricola's growing reputation, quickly recalled him from duty. The northern campaign was abandoned, and Rome lost its best chance ever for bringing all of Britain into its fold. The first known fort at Vindolanda, established about AD85, can be viewed in this context. After Agricola's recall, the army set up a frontier across the Tyne-Solway isthmus, populated by various forts (including Vindolanda), and connected by a long road, now known as the StanegateSections of this road still exist today. The narrow lane that you drive in as you approach Vindolanda lies directly on the old Roman road.. A 400-plus-year epic story thus begins in the aftermath of a frustrating -- & no doubt humiliating -- retreat to a defensible frontier line.

No buildings of Period I date have ever been excavated. The fort lies nearly completely under the much-later visible Period VII-X fort, and digging through so many layers of later archaeology will be slowThe depths at which Period I evidence is buried -- possibly 5+ meters down -- combined with the intense waterflow problems of the site, would make any such dig extremely problematic at best. -- if it is even possible given regulations. All the information gained about Period I has come from its defensive ditch system, mostly the western and parts of the southern sections. (Slumps in later buildings within the visible fort also give hints about the early ditches lying deep underneath.) It can be said with some certainty that the fort was a turf-and-timber fort, with a large earthen rampart topped by a wooden palisade. The earth for the rampart would have been dug from in front of the fort, thus creating the defensive ditch at the same time. Archaeology has shown that at least in places, there were 3 western ditches in a row, making the western (and most vulnerableThen as now, narrow river valleys on the northern, eastern, and southern sides created natural barriers & protection in those quarters.) side of the site secure. Period I's defenses are thus among the most secure of any period, which stands to reason in a freshly-conquered area with local tribes of questionable loyalty.

Dating Period I is inexact, but AD85 is certainly close. Firstly, envisioning the string of forts as a consequence of Agricola's recall puts them shortly after AD83-84. But the very best clue comes from the pottery, particularly the samian wareThe Digger's Guide has a page on samian types commonly found at Vindolanda, with some more background.. Samian is the beautiful, glossy, red-orange fine ware so typical at sites all over the Roman world. Its styles -- and its makers, who often stamped their products -- can sometimes be dated to within a year or two. A shipment of dozens of unused samian bowls & plates was found in the lowest level of the fort ditch. They had all apparently been jostled & cracked en route from their source in southern Gaul. One can imagine the conversation between the trader and the garrison's quartermaster! At any rate, such a loss for the garrison was a boon for archaeologists. The samian includes none of the older Form 29 decorated bowls found in Agricolan (c. AD80) camps in Scotland. Instead, they consist of the "new" Form 37s, c. AD85+. The makers' stamps show them to be extremely early Form 37s, putting them almost certainly in the year or two following Agricola's recall.

So even minus any structures, archaeologists have managed to make some very impressive finds in the fort ditches. In addition to the samian, they uncovered a complete shipment of unopened oysters. They had probably been found inedible and tossed in exasperation. More importantly, a couple of the prized Vindolanda writing tablets were found in the western fort ditch, naming the 1st Cohort of Tungrians as the fort's first garrison. In addition, the probable main western roadway has been found as a large cobbled causeway built over the ditch, with a culvert installed under it for drainage. The causeway suggests the location of the fort's western gate (now buried under the later visible western fort wall). And a second, much smaller causeway was found to the south, suggesting a secondary postern gate. Beyond these few hints, nothing else is known of the fort-proper.

To date, no evidence anywhere on the platform suggests that the garrison in Period I had a bath suite, or a temple district, or anything that spoke to leisure or permanence. That said, the ditch has shown that they (some at least) ate off of high-quality tableware, and could enjoy the occasional bit of seafood shipped in from the coast. So creature comforts weren't entirely lacking. Still, Period I was no doubt an era of tension. A newly settled landscape; poor or no infrastructure or communications routes -- at least early on; probably hostile, or at least unfriendly, native tribes in the area; not to mention the cold, damp weather. And all of this with the growing realization, year after year, that the last assault on the North was not forthcoming, and the opportunity of all opportunities was slowly slipping from their grasp.

Things of Note for a Digger
  * Period I evidence can be 5.0+ meters below modern ground level. Not likely to uncover much of this level.
  * The slumping of walls/floors in later buildings can give clues for earlier ditches/walls like Period I's, deep underneath.
  * Organic material will survive in excellent, sometimes pristine condition.
  * Fragile organic small finds like bone hairpins and wooden combs/kitchen implements are known. Dig carefully.
  * Fragile wooden writing tablets are known. When excavated, they're the consistency of a wet paper towel. Dig VERY carefully.
  * Well-preserved textiles are known at this level. If found, note to supervisor right away. Must be taken quickly to conservation.
  * Almost any leather at this phase will be pristine & sturdy.
  * Coinage usually pristine. Mostly silver of excellent quality (17-20mm) & large copper-alloy pieces (25-35mm). Occasional small copper-alloy coins.
  * Pottery includes local greywares and large amounts of samian ware.
  * Samian ware mostly deep red with orange fabric, South Gaulish. All seems to post-date early 80s AD.

Vindolanda Excavations Reports: 1994, 2001-'02
Tacitus. Agricola

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