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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!

"modern" archeology of Twice Brewed
I love the Internet. Check it out, a fairly full account including pics -- though the cause of the crash isn't completely clear. Remarkably, the depression in the ground where the bomber hit is still visible today. http://www.acia.co.uk/crashsites/area1/dornier-1182.asp At the moment I can't quite picture that track or the exact location in my mind, though it seems clear that impact was up on the high ground on one side or the other of Peel Gap.

- Harry

Earliest scientific account of Vindolanda
As northern England emerged from centuries of Anglo-Scottish border wars and chaos in the 17th Century, many antiquaries came to walk the Wall (Camden, Horsley, Warburton, Stukeley, etc.). Many also stopped at and noted Vindolanda (known by a variety of names over the centuries). But it wasn't until 1840 that anyone compiled & published a fairly comprehensive report of Vindolanda. John Hodgson and some co-collaborators finally did so in "The History of Northumberland."

Whilst of course some of the information has been outdated by modern digs, there is a surprising amount of good information to be found in the pages of this book. And thanks to modern technology, it can now be read in its entirety at http://www.archive.org/stream/ahistorynorthum01tynegoog#page/n243/mode/2up. (I highly recommend www.archive.org as an excellent source for high-quality scans of antiquarian and out-of-print books on most any topic!)

Following is a long excerpt from the text, omitting the thorough discussion at the end of the more substantial inscriptions and altars. In it are descriptions of the large bath house outside the fort (with a colourful local fairytale to boot!); the commanding officer's private bath-suite inside; digs at some of the fort towers and stretches of wall; tantalizing descriptions of potential treasure-troves still not yet excavated to this day; and poignant memories of recent destruction and carelessness that still resonate. A good read!

VINDOLANA, or Little Chester, has been also called The Bowers and Chester-in-the-Wood. The high heath-topped hill of Borcum [sic] frowns over it on the south-east, and a mile to the north the basaltic ridge of the Roman Wall. It was the station of the fourth cohort of the Gauls, and stands about 100 yards to the north of the Roman road which ran between Cilurnum and Magna, through Newbrough, and was formerly called "Carlilestreet," and here still bears the name of the Causeway. [nb: Hence the name of the thatch-roofed "Causeway House" to the west of the site today - ed]

Its site is on a plot of rich flat ground, on a turn on the right bank of the Chineley-burn, which is here steep and picturesque. Under the east wall of the station this bank is trodden into narrow paths or terraces by cattle, and bears the singular name of Skelf-me-delf. The station was plentifully supplied with water by a channel cut in large stones from a copious spring, about a furlong to the west. Mr. Hedley, in 1832, found several roods of this gutter stone lying quite perfect, and near the surface. Vindolana is 34 miles from each end of The Wall, and has nine stations to the west, and eight to the east of it.

That the antient name of this station was Vindolana, the united testimony of the Notitia and inscriptions most decidedly prove. Some call it “Little Chesters,” to distinguish it from the next station that goes by the name of Great Chesters; and it is in reality not only less than Great Chesters, but than most of the other forts on the Wall. It is only seven chains long from north to south, and four broad from east to west, and so does not contain three acres. The ramparts are visible quite round, and very large, and the ditch is still visible. The town or out-buildings here have been chiefly to the west and south-west of the fort.

There have been two hypocausts to this station—one within and one without it. Dr. Hunter, in the Philosophical Transactions (No. 278 ; Abrid, ir., 666) says—“Some years ago, on the west side of this place, about 50 yards from the walls thereof, there was discovered, under a heap of rubbish, a square room, strongly vaulted above, and paved with large square stones set in lime; and under this a lower room, whose roof was supported by rows of square pillars of about half-a-yard high. The upper room had two niches, like, and perhaps in the nature of, chimneys, on each side of every corner or square, which, in all, made the number 16. The pavement of this room, as well as its roof, was tinged with smoke. The stones used in vaulting the upper room have been marked as our joiners do the deals for chambers; those I saw were numbered thus—x, xi, xiii.”

Of this structure there are still considerable remains. The water to it had been conveyed from the strand of the spring already noticed, by a gutter seven inches wide and five deep, cut in freestone. Many of the vaulting stones also remain, forming sections such as these, coated with bath cement on their narrower end. Their courses have been of different thicknesses, and the grooves along their sides are differently shaped. I think they had formed a series of ribs that sprung from pilasters of common masonry now remaining in the east and west walls and the grooves in their sides had been to receive slatestones or raglings of wood, the underside of which was plastered with the ordinary cement of lime, and pounded limestone and tile ; and the space above, between the ribs, filled with sand to retain the heat. The pillars of the hypocaust are still very black with fire and soot, and people say that the Bowers, from the Roman age till within the last century, was the elysium of a colony of fairies; and this ruined bath the kitchen to one of their palaces, of which the soot among the stones was undeniable evidence; and confident Belief affirmed, that long passages led from this laboratory " of savoury messes" to subterraneous halls, that ever echoed to the festivities and music of the Queen of the Bowers and her aerial court.

Of the other bath, the first notice is in a letter from Warburton to Gale, in 1717. and in which he says that his workmen " had not dug above two yards in the area of the platform" of the station of "Chester-in-the-Wood," before they struck into a vault of very irregular figure, three-quarters of a yard in height and three or four in length and breadth, all blacked on the inside with smoke," and in which they found the great altar to Fortune, No. 8, of this station. It was lying "with its face downwards, and by it another of the same size, but broken in pieces, and the inscription imperfect." This vault was, I apprehend, situated in a high turf-covered mound of ruins, about 60 feet to the north-west of the entrance by the east gate, where Mr. Hedley, in 1831, cleared away the rubbish from several apartments of a sudatory, three of which were built as usual upon pillars, and the greatest of them measured 21 feet from east to west, and 13 from north to south, including on that side a semi circular recess, on the outside of which the noble altars, numbers 1,2,and 3, of this station, and many other antiquities, were discovered on October 21, in the same year. The altars had their faces downwards. The mouth of the furnace to this hypocaust was about six feet in advance to the west of this principal room, arched, and narrowed in height and width inwards; and strong marks of fire on its floor, roof, and walls, showed that it had been much used. The pillars to both the rooms were of different shapes and diameters—some of them portions of square columns, moulded and fluted on all sides; and some circular, like the bannisters of stairs, as may be seen by the specimens of them in the garden at Chesterholme; but those of one of the smaller rooms, which was 12 feet square, were shorter than the rest. Adjoining the third room, and between it and the entrance-room, on the north, was a cistern 46 inches by 27 ; and north of it another, 5 feet 5 inches by 4 feet, but not on pillars, both floored and lined with bath cement. From this range of apartments buildings seemed to have branched off to the east, west, and south.

Wallis mentions a temple found here, a few years before his time, by some masons, at the west end of the station, "adorned with Doric pilasters and capitals," which from the workmen's ignorance of the value of such antiquities, perished under their tools. The Romans themselves, it would seem, treated the fallen works of their predecessors here with very unceremonious regard, when they cut down the handsome columns of halls and temples into pillars for sooty hypocausts.

In 1814, this station and contiguous estate became the property of a zealous and warm-hearted antiquary— the rev. Anthony Hedley, who from that time frequently and successfully explored its remains. Of it he himself has said, that " for time immemorial (horresco reforens) it had been the common quarry of the farm and partly of the neighbourhood for almost every purpose for which stone is wanted." In 1818, his own tenant, in search for stone, fell upon a flight of steps leading up the declivity from Chineley burn to the eastern gateway ; on the left side of which the wall was found standing, and entire, to the height of six feet, eight feet thick, and still retaining the bolt-hole and check for the door : on the right side it had given way nearly to its foundations ; but among its ruins had preserved in fine order the monumental inscription, No. 20. The stairs were removed before Mr, Hedley heard of their discovery.

In 1832, some portions of the outside of the west wall were cleared of rubbish down to the original surface of the ground, above which it was found standing to the height of twelve feet; but partly bulged out, though in this height two courses of thin flat stones, with broad beds, were interposed at about three feet distance from each other, as binders to the ordinary small facing stones. In the beginning of 1833, the rubbish was also cleared out of a tower near the middle of this wall, when several stones of its cordon, and also of the wall, to the north of it, were fuund each 9? inches thick, and all uniformly moulded, with a fillet and ovólo for a projection of the same size. It is also worthy of remark that all these large, broad-bedded stones had a luis hole in their upper surface, by which they had been raised to the top of the wall, and that upon and about one of them belonging to this gateway 300 small brass coins, mostly of Constantius and Magnentius, but a few of Constantine II and Constans, were found, not in a heap, or a vessel, but dispersed among the soil, evidently aller the cordon stones of the tower had fallen from its top, and very probably some 70 or 80 years before the supposed date of the Notitia in 460, which authority garrisons the fourth cohort of the Gauls here at that time. lake the western gateway at Housesteads, that, I think, on the same side here, had never been much used after it was built ; and the tops of its towers, therefore, might be suffered to remain in a ruinous state long before the station was finally deserted. Probably, in building a station, the four gates were made according to some standing order in the army. That on the north in this station would be most used, because the military way runs past it on that side. Mr. Hedley excavated the towers on both sides of it, and found them paved at the bottom level with the natural surface of the ground. He also removed the rubbish from a long reach of the northeast portion of the east wall, where the courses remaining are of different thicknesses, and sometimes two run into one; and where the facing stones have not the usual square character of Roman masonry, but, in length, often exceed their height by twice or thrice.

In a swampy part of a close to the south-west of the field in which the station stands, an old inhabitant of the place, in 1810, told me that urns had been often found—sometimes four or more together, covered with a square flat tile, and having a strong oak stake driven into the earth close by them. A little to the south of this sepulchral ground, a dry green hill was pointed out to me as the Chapel-steads. Sepulchral stones have also been found in the fields on the north side of the Causeway ; and, near the Well-house, clinker-built shoes, and much Roman earthenware.

I must not also omit to mention that at Codley-gate, only a hundred yards or so from the north-east corner of the station, close by the side of the Brooky-burn, and on the north side of the Roman Causeway, there is a green tumulus or earth-altar, and close by it, a round mile pillar about 7 feet high; and that about a mile further west, another of the same form and height was still standing little more than 20 years since, on the north side of the Causeway, and about 30 or 40 yards east of the gate that opens into the lane from Henshaw to the military way, where now, split lengthwise into two pieces, it serves as posts to the gate.

The late lamented proprietor of this station has observed—"That it is melancholy to reflect that these eighteen immense magazines of Roman Antiquities should have been almost completely rifled, and no one good collection formed of their contents:" and during his occasional researches here, he often expressed an anxious wish that all the scattered antiquities of the Roman Wall were added to the collection of the Newcastle Antiquarian Society—where it was his intention to place the rich result of his own researches, but when, and on what conditions, I do not recollect that he mentioned. At present they are collected into the Arcade raised on purpose to receive them, or scattered about the garden, or built into the walls of the cottage, which, in his love of antiquity and “learned leisure,” he reared here in 1830, and in which he continued to reside to the day of his death, January 17, 1835.

Reference: Hodgson, John, etc. A History of Northumberland, in Three Parts. Newcastle Antiquarian Society, 1840, pp. 195-197.

Eyewitness to Destruction
In the 1750s, Parliament authorized a new "Military Road" (much of it still in use as the B6318) to connect Newcastle with Carlisle, responding to the Jacobite uprising under Bonnie Prince Charlie. Sadly, this caused one of the most wanton acts of destruction of British ancient monuments in recorded history. Dozens of miles of the Wall (and adjacent forts and milecastles) were literally pulverized to the ground.

The Reverend William Stukeley had visited the Wall in 1725 and fell in love with it. He wrote a detailed and invaluable account of his travels, and the archaeology he encountered along the way. In 1754, upon learning what the military was doing, he wrote a letter to the Princess of Wales pleading for a reprieve. He kept a copy in his diaries, and in 1885 it was published by the Surtees Society as part of "The Family Memories of the Reverend William Stukeley, M.D."

Below is an excerpt. The entire text can be found at http://www.archive.org/stream/familymemoirsre00knelgoog#page/n7/mode/2up. (By the way, the scanned texts at www.archive.org are an -incredible- resource for finding old and out-of-print texts about the Wall, or anything else that strikes your fancy!)

23 Oct., 1754. I wrote the following letter to the Princess of Wales, copying that I gave in July to Dr. Hill:

“The honor your royal highness has indulged me, and the discorse in particular which we had on the Roman wall in Cumberland, imboldens me [to] address the present paper to answer your royal highnesses’ questions to me more particularly, and to engage your powerful patronage to protect this most noble, most magnificent work, from further ruin, not from enemys, but from more than Gothic workmen, quite thoughtless and regardless of this greatest wonder, not of Brittain only, but of Europe.

A friend of mine who lives at the Roman wall, dining with me lately, we had some discorse about it They are now busy in making a new turnpike road, pursuant to Act of Parliament, quite across the kingdom there from Newcastle to Carlisle... He tells me, now they are making this new road, they have destroyed the old Roman wall for many miles. Their method is to take cut and squared stones of the wall, beat them to pieces, to make a foundation to this new road, and this in a country where stone is every where under their feet, for the country is chiefly a rock of stone.

Besides, there is a road made the whole length of the wall by the Romans. It was the business of the surveyors of the work to trace out this road. They would have found it pretty strait, well laid out in regard to ground, and it would have been a foun- dation sufficient for their new road. The late learned Roger Gale and myself rode the whole length of it in the year 1725, so I speak as an eye witness, and I write with grief to see so little taste, so little judgement shown by the public in this otherwise laudable undertaking.

Surely it well became the wisdom of the legislature to act with great deliberation in so important an affair, especially in regard to the preservation of this greatest wonder of Roman magnificence, not only what is now left whole or in ruins, but that ever was.


When Mr. Gale and I were there, we tired ourselves day by day in copying and drawing inscriptions, altars, milliary columns, basso relievos, plans of forts, etc., which I have still by me. Numberless we left behind, not thinking they were to be broken in pieces to make a road; that so little sense of antient grandeur and learning should be left among us, to take away even the temptation of inviting the curious to travel thither!

Well said my Lord Chancellor in Lord Lovat’s tryal, ‘a love of our country includes in itself all virtues,’ an observation from Cicero, and a very just one. It ought to be well considered by those that goe abroad to foreign universitys for education, and leave our own to languish. If anything there wants to be reformed let us bestow our time, our pains, our treasure, in that business. Omit no opportunity of inviting travellers to come among us, at least of our viewing our own country, and if we fall short of some others in some things, yet what we have is most truly valuable to us, because our own."

Sadly, Stukeley's plea fell on deaf ears and the destruction continued. Which makes his (and his contemporaries') records of what existed before the 1750s that much more precious and invaluable for our understanding of the Wall and its environs!

Reference: The Family Memoirs of the Reverend William Stukeley, M.D. Surtees Society, 1885, pp. 141-143.

Merry Christmas!!
From our home to yours, wishing you all a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

Hope that this holiday season finds you all happy, healthy, and filled with good cheer. Looking forward to 2010; it's promising to be exciting both at the Trust and here at WeDig!

- Harry

The Persistence of Misinformation
It's a story like this that reveals, to me, one of the biggest conundrums of modern archaeology. There is an excellent Web site on the northeast of England: http://www.englandsnortheast.co.uk/. On it you can find an incredible variety of historical & geographical tidbits for the whole region, from prehistory to the modern age. Should be flat-out brilliant.

Then you get to the section on South Tynedale, including Vindolanda: http://www.englandsnortheast.co.uk/SouthTynedale.html

Again, some of it is brilliant. But some is now known to be flat wrong. The author describes a mansio (Roman inn or stopping point) out in Vindolanda's vicus. Trouble is, there is no such thing. This information is out of date by, now, at least 17 years! In the early 1970s, Robin and crew were digging in the vicus, and came across this massive building with many chambers, a kitchen, a courtyard, latrines, and domestic-type artefacts. They assumed it was part of the civilian settlement, and called it a mansio. For years after, in large books and small tourguides, the structure was described as such -- an inn for travelers. It wasn't until the early 1990s that the Trust came to learn that it wasn't a mansio at all. It turned out it was a building from a period before the vicus, and in fact was the commander's home (praetorium) for the short-lived & oddly shaped Severan fort (Period VI-B). Since then, reports & guidebooks have described it right. And you'd think that after nearly 20 years that info would have trickled out into all possible nooks & crannies. But apparently not!

So back to the conundrum: archaeology is a learning game. You do your best to piece together a story from very fragmentary information. And you invariably will go back and re-examine earlier work in light of new discovery. That's the nature of the game. But at the same time, a publicly accessible site like Vindolanda is about educating regular folks as to what the past looked like. Each new discovery comes with uncertainty, and with the potential to completely rewrite a previous generation's worth of work. So what to do? Do you go ultra-conservative, unwilling to make any pronouncements? How can you advance knowledge that way? Moreover, how can you keep the public's imagination fired that way? A place like Vindolanda thrives on tourists, who flock to the site in the hope of seeing & learning something. Yet you certainly can't go the other route, making leaps of fantasy, knowing full well that you're filling people's heads with rubbish. That's a good way to build massive distrust, both with John Q. Public and with academic peers. It's just dishonest.

So clearly, with each discovery, you do your best to weave a sensible story based on the best evidence that you have, balancing restraint & speculation. The trouble is, misinformation persists. Despite the best efforts of great minds, much (most?) of what was known about Vindolanda in the 1970s has been overturned by more recent work. During the intervening years, thousands of people have come and gone from Vindolanda, filling their heads with things that we now know aren't true. And, as evidenced by the Web site above, sometimes it takes decades for everyone to "get the memo."

Yet what is the Trust supposed to do? Not present information for fear of getting it wrong? I'm glad I don't have to make the calls, day to day, about how to present a site that is, by its nature, evolving every year. So I'm curious, what would you do?

How significant is the new altar?
I asked around about this. At romanarmytalk.com someone mentioned that the site at Dura-Europos far to the east of the Empire had a mithraeum and a "Temple to the Palmyrene Gods" located within the military camp. But the assumption there seems to be that the temples came first & the camp came later. Also, they mentioned something about an altar in a building along the southern wall, but again there was uncertainty.

Regardless, whether it's completely unique, there seems to be no sign of anything within, say, 2000 miles! Pretty amazing.

What's This? (or, bad archeology from orbit)
Can't wait to see the new Google Earth pictures. I remember Brian saying the same thing. I think he wanted to establish a campground but couldn't, because the tent stakes could muck up the archaeology.

In re-reading Breeze, there's actually 5 of those camps in the area. There's the one in your photo; near it is the really tiny practice one that wasn't used to hold any troops (probably just for ditch practice according to Breeze); then farther west on modern Seatsides farm an enormous one 16+ acres in size; then north of that two more (one or both probably being the ones Brian wanted to put the campground on, if my sense of direction is right).

The place is just choc-a-bloc. Maybe this is part of why the Trust is more & more convinced there's a "Period 0" Agricolan fort there. Since the one at Carlisle is dated to about AD 72 or 73, it does make sense that there might be one in Vindolanda's vicinity of the same time period. Especially with all that crazy amount of activity so close-by.

New Digger's Guide page - So, How's the Weather?
The English obsession with the weather is the stuff of legend. A place like Vindolanda can fuel it. Its very name seems climate-related. Vindolanda means something like "white lawn." This could refer to the fact that morning frosts linger on Vindolanda longer than nearby fields due to the shadow cast by Barcombe Hill to the east.

At any rate, one of the big questions diggers always ask is "what's the weather like over there?" So, as a starting (if not ending) point for an answer, WeDig proudly presents a new page on the Digger's Guide: So, How's the Weather?

On this page you will find a brief climate summary; current conditions & satellite image; charts of monthly high/low temps, rainfall levels, etc.; and even a series of live Webcams located throughout the Hadrian's Wall region so you can see for yourself what it's doing whenever you'd like.


- Harry

2010 T-Shirt Colour Preference
Hi all. Just a reminder that there is still time to have your say for 2010's T-shirt. The level of participation in this poll has been great! We've decided to stick with it and not run a second, narrower one (unless there is a tie). So whether you're a brand new member or an old hand, if you haven't voted, this is your chance! The poll is set to close on 31 January 2010.

Happy December!
- Harry