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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 VI

Period V    *    Back to Forums    *    Period VI-A
Currently visible Period VII-X fort & settlement structures


Dates: c. AD140 to c. AD160
Garrison: Unknown
Garrison type/size: Unknown
Visible remains: Possible roadside mausoleum

Color Coding

Teal: Location of fort-proper (SW section known, rest conjectural)
Grey: Western defensive ditches (set of 3)
Yellow: Path of original main road
Orange: Extramural blacksmith shop/stable
Pink: Romano-British temple possibly of Period VI date
Green: Possible industrial & religious area
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 AD138 the Emperor Hadrian died. Almost immediately, his eponymous frontier died with himThat, at least, was the plan in the heady days of 138-140, despite later events to the contrary.. His successor, Antoninus, needed to make a name for himself. The oldest, surest way was swift military victory. So Antoninus (who never actually visited Britain himself) quickly ordered an advance beyond Hadrian's Wall to claim more of Britain for the Empire. The army pushed 100 miles north, to the tip of the modern Scottish Highlands, and created a new boundary, the Antonine Wall. Many of the old forts on Hadrian's Wall were mothballed, or flat-out abandoned, for the next 20-some years. Not Vindolanda. In fact, Period VI Vindolanda likely owes its existence to the new Emperor's grand plans; exactly how it fit into those plans is still a mystery.

Period VI represents a transition between the invisible & the visible at Vindolanda. Its dimensions anticipate the 3rd-4th Century forts to come (the currently visible Period VII-X stonework). The earliest visible remains anywhere at the modern site most likely date from this period. However, in its construction & appearance the similarities evaporate. In those regards, it faithfully continued traditions first established all the way back in Period I.

The Period VI fort at Vindolanda was designed as a turf-and-timber fort, like all its predecessors. (Stone buildings may have existed inside, but none are yet knownOutside the fort there is evidence for stone foundations at two locations (see below). Within the fort, the most likely spots for stonework would be the foundations of the granaries, principia (the garrison HQ), and praetorium (the commander's residence). Future excavations will no doubt shed light on this..) First, the enormous Period IV-V fort was demolished to the ground. Its remains were covered by clay and turf, its topography levelled out. The perimeter of the new fort was then marked out by a bed of birch & alder branches. Next, large turves were cut from surrounding fields and stackedrather hurriedly and sloppily from what excavations have revealed up to 4 meters high on this bedding. A wooden palisade would have spanned the top of this turf rampart. A surprisingly robust series of three defensive ditches were dug on the exposed western side. A causeway over these ditches led to the fort's western gate (a simple structure without tower, located a few dozen meters south of the currently visible later fort gate). All in all, it was likely an impressive & imposing fort complex.

At the moment, very little is known of the fort's internal layout. However, excavations in the SW corner of the fort have revealed two distinct phases. In the first phase, this area seems to have included a wooden barrack-like buildingWhen excavated, this building was found to have been almost completely demolished. Judging by domestic-type small finds & its location, it most likely was a barrack block., and a simple but effective wooden drainway running along one of the fort's major internal roadways. The drainway emptied into a sluiceWhen the sluice was uncovered in 2006 the softwood planks and timbers were in remarkable condition, especially considering they had been repeatedly overlain by later drainage systems running on the same course for the next two centuries! that shuttled the dirty water under the western rampart into the inner ditch. All the known structures from this phase were built of softwood planks and rough-hewn logs. After some period of timeNot enough dating evidence exists yet to know exactly when, though it was surely sometime reliably within Period VI's framework. There is some talk as to whether this renovation should be proclaimed yet another new period at the site. So far the consensus is to leave the current system as is. the fort (at least its SW section) went through heavy renovations. The ramparts were extended farther outwardExcavations in 2006 showed beautiful evidence of the original roughly-laid turf layers overlain by a much neater & more orderly stack, complete with its own foundation "raft," this time of squared oak logs.. The gate was rebuilt with large stone-block footings. The original wattle-and-daub drain was replaced by a stone drain. Behind it, the presumed barrack block was replaced by a new, sturdier wooden building with a large oak double-doorway. The newer drain eventually became choked by iron pan (an incredibly hard concrete-like substance made from rusted iron-rich sediments), so this new building may have been a metal-working facility. All told, the changes seen in the SW corner of the fort from early-to-late Period VI are significant. If this occurred across the rest of the fort as well, it could be a sign of a new garrison mid-way through the period.

Outside the fort, very little can be said for sure. Beyond the western ditches, an industrial area with a stone building, a set of 3 heavily used clay ovens, and a curious semi-circular drain system has been identified as a probable blacksmith's shop. Just north of the building lay another enclosure that, when excavated, had a preserved mound of horse dung piled against one of its walls! It was likely the stable for the blacksmith. Farther to the northwest, on the approach road to Vindolanda off of the Stanegate, a stone-built Romano-British temple/tomb was discovered in 2001. It had been obliterated to near its foundations, so dating proved difficult. But it may have been a roadside mausoleum set up (or at least refurbished) at this time. Lastly, at the far west of the site, a large area was known to have held an enormous timber hall in Period IV/V, followed by religious & industrial areas in Period VI-A. It's likely to have seen use in Period VI as well. But the evidence was too fragmentary & battered to know for certain.

The big question is, just what -was- Vindolanda at this time? For the whole of Period VI, the northern frontier was 100 miles to the north. Yet the fort wasn't made redundant. It survived, and if anything, thrived, with formidable defenses and increasingly sophisticated infrastructure. Unfortunately the historical record of Britain (especially northern Britain) is extremely limited at this period. The good news is that most of Period VI's archaeological secrets remain to be discovered. And what's been uncovered has been exciting. The levels at which the fort-proper are now buried are often anaerobic. Wood, leather, and other organic materials have survived remarkably well. Writing tablets that shed light on the period may too survive. Those lucky enough to be exploring the levels associated with Period VI could help uncover remarkable things.

Things of Note for a Digger
  * Period VI evidence varies in depth, from about 1.5-2.5 meters down on the platform of the later forts to very near the surface on the western fringe.
  * Period VI extramural activity is known. Area heavily damaged by later construction. What little remains is hard to identify & make sense of.
  * In the fort-proper, much woodwork survives in excellent condition, as well as the ramparts showing each layer of turf exactly as it was laid.
  * This is the latest likely period to find Roman bracken "carpeting" surviving on top of floors. Such carpet is a dead giveaway that a room was used as living space.
  * Fragile organic small finds like bone hairpins and wooden combs/tent pegs are known in fort-proper, but poorly preserved on western fringe. Dig carefully.
  * Fragile wooden writing tablets could very well exist at this level. When excavated, they're the consistency of a wet paper towel. Dig VERY carefully.
  * Almost any leather at this phase is well-preserved & sturdy in the fort-proper. On western fringe, little will survive.
  * Coinage can be well-preserved. Mostly silver of good to excellent quality (17-20mm) & large copper-alloy pieces (25-35mm). Occasional small copper-alloy coins.
  * Pottery includes Black-Burnished I ware (hand-thrown), Colchester/Corbridge mortaria, some local greyware, and much samian.
  * Contemporary samian tends to be orange, Central Gaulish. Residual/heirloom pieces deeper red with orange fabric, South Gaulish.

Vindolanda Excavations Reports: 1994, 2001-'02, 2003-'04, 2005-'06

Page created by Harold Johnson