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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!

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An early lover of Chesterholm & its setting
Anthony Hedley built Chesterholm in 1830 from Vindolanda's tumbled stones. It quickly became a beacon for early Wall lovers. He welcomed visitors, who could stroll through the grounds and admire the Roman inscriptions -- and finds from Hedley's excavations -- in its makeshift museum. One early guest came away completely captivated by the home and its environs. Writing to the editor of The Gentleman's Magazine in 1833, he described the landscape in loving detail. He also included some rare (and to modern historians priceless) details about the fort, and some of Hedley's finds. Curiously, he signed his letter only "V.W." -- initials which don't mean anything yet to this author. (If someone knows who the mystery writer is, I'd love to know!)

[edit (8 April, '10): Have learned from Robin that "V.W." is the nom-de-plume of the Reverend John Hodgson, Vicar of Whelpington. Many thanks for solving that mystery!]

Below is a large excerpt from V.W.'s letter. The full version can be found at: http://books.google.com/books?id=HbUUAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA597&dq=vindolana. (It's worth the full read, as the first part gives some beautiful details of the wider Wall region within a few miles of Vindolanda; the end describes a curious Zodiac stone found in the farmhouse of Low Fogrigg just south of Vindolanda.)

Mr. URBAN, June 13.

...None of the water nymphs or elves of Northumberland has a wilder, a lovelier, or a more classic range of scenery to rove in, than the Chineley-burn. She collects her waters from streamlets that rise beyond the famous Roman barriers—the dyke of Hadrian, and the wall of stone attributed to Severus. One of her rills comes from the smooth osidian mirror of Craig-lough, one of the many moorland lakes, from which the district in which they lie is called the Forest of Lowes or Loughs. Craig-lough has a range of high basaltic cliffs, frowning over its southern margin, and which, many centuries since, were crowned with the turreted ramparts of the Roman wall, and are still deeply scarred with its foundations and ruins. This rill, soon after leaving the lake, passes "Bradley on the Marches of Scotland," where Edward the First, the "Scottorum Malleus," in his last expedition against that country, and in his last sickness, halted for two days in September, 1306, and tested different public documents.

Brooky-burn, a second branch of Chineley-burn, rises to the west of Craig-lough, on Lodum, another high basaltic hill, the brow of which is also traversed with the ruins of the Roman wall, of which, for considerable distances together, from five to seven courses of stones are still remaining in their original beds. From the top of this hill, the prospect to the west, through the Nine Nicks of Thirlwall, extends into Galloway, far beyond Dumfries, to the Criffell Hills; and along the coast of the Irish Channel as far as Whitehaven, all the plain, and the western mountains of Cumberland, and the line of the Roman wall to its utmost extremity at Tolway [sic] firth, lie mapped before you in this direction. To the north, Tarnbecks, at Irdinghead, appears seated in the centre of the broadest mosses and moors in England; and over it, the blue heads of Pearl-fell and Mid-fell, above Keildur Castle. On the east, the heights of the Moot-law, and the plantations of Minster Acres, bound the horizon. Crossfell, air-tinted and high, rises in the south; and, between it and the eye, you have a broad picture of the fine woods and meadows, and the great shining mirror of the South Tyne, about Lord Wallace's seat at Featherstone Castle. On the south side of Lodum is Snelgile, a deep and dark gash in the basaltic rock, which collects the first waters of this branch of Chineley-burn; and farther down its side, in the crevices of moist parts of the rock, allium schoenoprasum, chive-garlick, that never knew garden culture, throws out its blossoms in June. After crossing the military way, Brooky-burn begins to tune her harp, and hide her course under woody banks, as she speeds away to her nuptials with the nutbrown daughter of Craig-lough. A good way down her course, in a solitary place on her right bank, is a long scar of soft black schist, embedded with iron stones, some apparently of the septaria kind, and others flat and round, as if they had been the chambers of some antient species of Nautilus. This scar could not, I think, (but my examination of it was slight) fail to afford to the crucible, the blowpipe, and the microscope, interesting subjects of research.

Knag-burn, the third and most easterly source of Chineley-burn, rises also in the mosses beyond the Roman wall, which it crosses at Borcovicura, the Palmyra of Britain; and, after flowing through the ruins of the bath of that famous station, empties itself, at the distance of about a mile, into Grindon Lough, another of the lakes of the Forest of Lowes, out of which it finds its way by a subterraneous course of two miles at least, through a stratum of limestone, into Chineley-burn, a little below the junction of the Craig-lough and Brookyburns.

The name Chineley may be derived from the brook, near the junction of its three branches, beginning to cut off Borcum, a high hill on its left bank, from a chine or ridge, or backbone of land, that extends a great way to the west. After running between this ridge and Borcum, through a deep narrow gorge, and toiling as it passes in the wheels of Bardon Mills, it assumes the name of Bardon-burn, and under this metamorphosis, strikes its chords in still higher strains to the villagers of Millhouse; and soon after is hushed, and vanishes in the Tyne.

Just at the head of the gorge, and immediately below the meeting of the Craig-lough and the Brooky-burns, stands Chesterholme—in a lovely and a sequestered spot—"procul arte, procul forraidine novi." It is a sweet picture of mosaic work, inlaid upon an emerald gem: a cottage in the Abbotsford style, upon one of those charming green holms, or meadows, bordering upon a river, which in Northumberland are very generally called haughs. The Rev. A. Hedley, M.A., who built it about a year since, and now resides in it, was an intimate friend of the Great Talisman of Historical Romance. The heath-headed and pillar-crowned mountain of Borcum towers above it on the south-east. On the west, a steep green bank, shelved by parallel cattle-trods, hence, perhaps, called Skelf-me-delf, has its brow compassed with the ruins of the ramparts of the Roman station of Vindolana, and closes the prospect. On the north, the two woody denes, which branch off at a neat farm-house, snugly seated between the meetings of the Craig-lough and Chineley-burns, and one hundred yards or so above the cottage, soon steal out of sight, and wind away in different directions, through rising pasture grounds, which skirt the borders of the sky; and on the south, the united mountain stream glides from pool to pool, through broad crevices of dove-coloured marble, and under a rustic wooden bridge, till it is suddenly thrown aside by a high sandstone cliff, dappled with lichens, and overhung with variegated woods. All this enchanted bowl has sides as chastely ornamented with works of nature and design, as the shield of Achilles was with the works of art It is, indeed, like the bowls which Virgil speaks of, "asperum signis," crisply carved with figures. I do not know where I could take an admirer of simple scenery and antiquarian objects, better than to the cottage of Chesterholme. About its sunny garden, fragments of the pillars of antient baths and temples are entwined with roses or climbing plants. From one door you look down a covered passage built of stones carved by Roman hands, and opening upon the treefringed sides, and the rocky channel of Chineley-burn, where you have hazels and heg-berry, and alder, and broad plane trees, and the undying sounds of waters; and the sides of the passage formed of altars and bas-reliefs, and its cordon of broad stones, moulded in front, pierced in the upper surfaces with Lewis holes, and which once supported the battlements of the walls and gates of Vindolana. An arcade, too, has been here built for the reception of antiquities found in that station, which already contains some exceedingly fine altars, and other inscribed stones. One of them is dedicated, by an Italian prefect of the fourth Cohort of the Gauls, to Jupiter and the rest of the immortal Gods, and the Genius of the place, which Cohort the Notitia Imperii places at Vindolana, so that the altar and the Notitia unite in proving the identity of the station. There is also here another fine altar to Jupiter, the Genius, and the guardian Gods; and one, simply, "Sacred to the Genius of the Pretorium;" besides a small one, DEO NEPTUNO SARABO SINO, and another, VETEREBUS POS. SENACULUS.

Few places have been richer in inscribed stones than Vindolana. Camden and Cotton carried away one to the Syrian Goddess; others have been dispersed and lost; and it would be well if such as have been discovered in latter years, and in the generous warmth of friendship given to different collections before Mr. Hedley came to reside here, were restored to the classic arcade at Chesterholme. Formerly Vindolana was called, in English, The Bowers, and the Bowers-in-the-wood; and latterly its name has been Little Chesters. Much of its walls still remain; in one place, thirteen courses of them have been bared; and, both within and without them, the rich green-sward, that covers all their vicinity, has the custody of the carcases of numerous Roman buildings.

Chesterholm, too, has its Museum, formed, since the date of this paper, for the reception of cabinet antiquities, found in researches in Vindolana; and this, in January 1833, was enriched by a spearhead about a foot long, the umbo or boss of a shield, and nearly three hundred brass coins, found among the ruins of one of the towers of the western gateway. The coins belong to the Emperors Constantinus, Constantius, Constans, and the tyrant Magnentius, and were strewn over one of the moulded cordon stones of the tower, and intermixed with the soil above and about it.

Just to the north of the station an antient Roman road, now called the Causey, and formerly Carlisle Street, passed from the North Tyne to Caervoran, the Magna of the Romans, which, as well as Vindolana, Borcovicus, and Aesica, is situated within the Parish of Haltwhistle. Here, between the meeting of the Craig-lough and Brooky-burns, is a large tumulus of earth, and by the side of it, a tall, round, but uninscribed mile pillar; and a mile further west, another similar pillar stood on the north side of the Cawsey, till it was some years since split into two posts, for the gate about thirty or forty yards to the west of its ancient site.

Below a rustic wooden bridge, and the Sandstone scar, which shut out the prospect to the south from the windows at Chesterholme, and amidst huge masses of fallen rock, that ruffle and befoam its winter torrent, Chineley-burn is fed with the underground stream from Grindon-lough. It boils up through wide chinks of the limestone, which forms the bed of the burn. Chaff thrown into Grindon-lough rises up here; and from this place, for nearly a mile below, the course of the burn is rapid, and its bistre-coloured waters, in floods, dash from side to side; and the rocky bank on the left is in some places clothed with wood, and in others, in spring, superciliated with the golden flowers of broom, and in autumn with deep fringes of withering fern. The right bank is generally more upon a slope, and interspersed with forest trees, and divided into small enclosures of pasture and meadow, by quickset hedges of unshorn hazel and hawthorn. Two farm-houses, too, though in secluded situations, enliven the solitude that reigns around them. One of these, called Low Foggerish, is at the lower end of a dene or dell, and has, at its west end, a thick grove of oaks, all overhung with ivy. Old apple and plum trees, luxuriant in growth, but wild and unpruned, and a garden filled with grosier bushes that have never felt the knife, half surround this lonely habitation....

-- V.W.

Neat overview Web site
Stumbled on a neat site called "Phil & Molly's 'Docs Pics' -- Scenes and Notes from England, etc.": http://www.docbrown.info/docspics/northeast/nutpage06.htm. They visited Vindolanda recently and put up a page. It's chock-a-block with pictures, and pretty good blurbs. Seems they managed to get a shot of almost every major piece of archaeology on the site, as well as good pictures of the tombstones, recreations, etc.

If I had a friend or cousin who kept asking "What's this Vindolanda place all about" (sadly I don't -- Philistines!), I think I'd send them there as a nice first look.

(My favorite caption is the one under the massive jumble of stones from the '09 barracks dig: "...")

2009 Area B recap online
As promised, the recap of Justin's Area B 2009 season is now up and running: http://s9.zetaboards.com/We_Dig_Vindolanda/forum/3006285/. And with nearly a week to spare til the 2010 season begins!

Area B is often much harder to figure out. The well-defined walls and floors of the later stone fort are usually more fragmentary & churned up out west. Plus, Justin's got a knack for finding ditches that don't belong there!

Still, Area B can be an exciting place to dig. Because, quite literally, you never know what you're going to come up with. And in a very compact space you can often delve through hundreds of years of material. The '09 season showed the proof of this.

Hope you enjoy, and happy digging in '10!

Human remains?
Mar 15 2010, 04:43 AM
...They were very open to post depositional processes including bioturbation....

Quick note to say thanks for the new vocabulary word! Can't wait to use it in a sentence of my own.

Human remains?
This from Badger:

"Grave or industrial pit? Either way pretty much the only structure in Site B to ever have four right angle corners!"

2009 Area A recap online
At long last, I've put together a two-page recap for the 2009 excavations in Area A: http://s9.zetaboards.com/We_Dig_Vindolanda/forum/3006285/. (And will be bringing Area B's recap live soon with any luck, and with apologies to Justin for never seeming to devote the time to Area B that it deserves. That will change, I promise.)

The images in the recap (with the exception of the aerial shot on Page 2) are all from WeDig'ers, as is most of the info. Many thanks again to all who took the time to send in photos & stories throughout the year -- including a very special thanks to MichaelH, whose records & descriptions have been bringing the dig to life for years now. It's because of your interest & enthusiasm that I get such a kick out of this part of the Web site!

Anyway, hope you enjoy. And as always, if there's things that don't square with your understanding -- or things that should be in there but were missed -- please let me know.

- Harry

How much was still left?
I love Hutton, he seems like such a curmudgeon! He was actually talking about the quote from 1702 by Christopher Hunter, who was describing the bath house. What's funny is that Hutton omits the last part of the last sentence: "rows of square pillars of about half a yard high." Even in a harsh world it's hard to imagine a jail where prisoners were given 18 inches vertical space to live! Clearly Hutton had some preconceived idea, and squished the facts to fit with it.

Hutton changes some words too: he changes Hunter's original "a square room strongly vaulted above" to "a square room below the ground, strongly vaulted." It's actually Hutton that first got me thinking about this -- the idea that different impressions can be made over the years, and those impressions can become cast in stone and passed on. Leading us in 2010 to see the earlier world very differently than it really was!

(Another example: Before the Royal Society started charging to see the facsimiles of their original publications, I managed to pull down the original text, which I put at the link above. -But- when it was reprinted in 1809 (the archive.org book that I list in that link above), they changed "The stones used in vaulting the upper room..." to "The stones used in arching the upper room..." Which quite simply isn't what Hunter said.)

It all just makes me more & more skeptical of later docs that are supposedly faithful copies of earlier works!

How much was still left?
Thanks much for the response Andy!

Re the niches, I understood that the hot air was carried up from below by hollow tubes made from fired clay. Is that right? So if the plaster had fallen off, I'd have thought someone would see -- and comment on -- the tubes. But you're right, just because Dr. Hunter didn't say "And there were red-brick tubes like chimneys built into recesses in the walls" doesn't mean they weren't there.

I concede that Dr. Hunter was describing vaulted arch stones. That's pretty exciting that you found the exact same thing in the early baths -- another reason for me to add to my report collection!

And you're of course right that in the end, there's no way to answer for sure. I'm just trying to imagine what's most likely. Except for strongrooms (which Dr. Hunter's room wasn't), any walls supporting an arch would have been standing 10+ feet high. Asking the load-bearing sides of a wall to stand perfectly upright in northern English weather for some 1500 years (c. AD 200 to c. AD 1700), without bowing or bending in the slightest lest the roof crash down, seems a longshot. Especially considering that (1) late- and post-Roman Vindolandans were voracious rebuilders, using stone from all over the site; (2) the building would have received zero upkeep for 1300+ years; (3) the site came to be known as "Chester-in-the-Wood," suggesting that tree limbs, branches, and especially roots were hard at work on the ruins during that time; and (4) rabbits!!

My hunch is still that Dr. Hunter was describing a structure that had tumbled to the ground, even if its arch stones were recognizable.

Not that it matters much I guess. I just notice from reading Wall histories, there's this narrative of ignorant local farmers wantonly destroying international heritage. And I'm beginning to wonder how much of it was already destroyed and lying in heaps by the time they started extracting the useful bits.

New link to some 300 more Vindolanda tablet texts
Hrm, odd that. I see what you're saying -- when I open it in Internet Explorer I see the message. I've clicked some of the links using Internet Explorer and it does still seem to work. Maybe they're still polishing everything off? At any rate, for me it does seem to work using IE.

For what it's worth, I use Google Chrome as my browser, and it works flawlessly on that as well.

How much was still left?
Taking a first stab here at some outside-the-box thinking. Here goes!

A big "story" of Hadrian's Wall is the idea that so much was still intact until relatively recently -- say, the 18th Century. That there were still forts looking like forts with impressive walls and visible house remains. And that the Enclosure Acts and the Military Road utterly devastated this.

Following this, many modern scholars look at old reports of Vindolanda and say that as recently as near 1700 parts of the military bath house were still standing, and a nearby temple was still upright as well.

I'm not convinced.

First, Camden made clear that even by 1599 large swathes of the Wall were completely obliterated by human activity. Though he wasn't able to inspect the central sector, he gives good account of other long stretches where there was clearly nothing left to be seen. Second, when Horsley made his journey in 1725 (a generation before the Military Road was built), he encountered only bits and pieces that could be said to be standing "in the fourth degree" -- that is, with original stones on stones visible above the brush & rubble.

The earliest eyewitness to Vindolanda appears to be Christopher Hunter. Writing in 1702, he describes what seems surely to be the military bath house. He describes a lower room, and an upper room. Of the upper, he says it was "strongly vaulted above." To modern eyes/ears, that sounds like an arched vault, like the arched roof the bath house would originally have had. But the rest of the description doesn't quite wash.

First of all, he said that the upper room had "niches, like... Chimnies on each side of every corner or square." The term "niche" seems to imply that the side facing the room was open to the air; not that it was a hollow chimney pipe. The only area where the chimneys would appear as niches would be in the hypocaust area under the floor -- where the chimneys would -have- to be open to collect the smoke & heat.

This seems supported by another of his comments, that the "pavement of this Room, and also its Roof, were tinged black with Smoak." There would be no way that an actual room used within the bath house would be smoke-tinged all over, unless it had been destroyed in a cataclysmic fire -- of which there was no evidence.

Some would counter that his last statement supports the idea of an arched, vaulted roof: "The Stones used in Vaulting the upper Room have been marked as our Joyners do the Deals for Chambers." But the terms "Joyners" and "Deals" show that he was describing woodworkers using straight planks of wood (middle English "Deals"). An odd comparison for an arched roof.

15 years later, John Warburton uses the term "vault" in a much more pedestrian way, describing the hypocaust rooms as vaults (storage chambers or "for receiving the offal of sacrifices"). Perhaps it is in this vein that Hunter was describing two hypocausted rooms, flat-floored, flat-roofed, vault-like, blackened by soot.

Another argument is made that there may have been a standing Temple of Diana on the western edge of the vicus into the 18th Century. However, there are no reports from any 18th C or earlier eyewitness of anything standing; there were only columns and capitals found and taken away by stone masons. Pieces of columns and capitals are still found today, broken or reused in later buildings, so the find isn't that surprising. The association with Diana is also only based on the observation that many stags' antlers were found somewhere nearby, and that they -may- have been part of a ceremony for Diana.

In looking at all other building on and near Hadrian's Wall, none of it looks like it was meant to stand the test of time. Construction techniques that may have suited the warm Mediterranean surely were not meant to survive centuries of northern winters. Moreover, the vast reuse of Roman stone by late- and post-Roman workers for defenses no doubt took their toll on anything that had remained standing. While there's no doubt that some parts of the Hadrian's Wall frontier were in a better state in the 17th/early-18th C than they are today (Carvoran one of the best examples), there's no good evidence that any parts of Vindolanda were recognizable and upstanding to any significant height by the time the antiquaries could have gotten there and saved them.

New link to some 300 more Vindolanda tablet texts
Updated the Links list with http://vto2.csad.ox.ac.uk/. This site just went live yesterday, and what a find! It incorporates searchable texts (with background & discussion) from the original CSAD Web site as well as nearly 300 of the more recently-discovered texts. This is the first time these later texts have been made freely available for research. I've only taken a quick glance, but I'm really impressed with how easy it is to look through & sort the texts, and by the amount of background info. Surely an amazing resource for anybody studying life on the frontier!

Illuminating Hadrian's Wall
My pleasure Beverly! Great article in the Journal Live: http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/environment-news/2010/03/15/history-made-as-hadrian-s-wall-illuminated-61634-26031565/. There's an interview there with the Twice Brewed's own Brian Keen. It all just looks like it was a great time.

Illuminating Hadrian's Wall
Neat group of pictures from the event: http://www.flickr.com/groups/hadrian.

And a -serious- winner for compilation flyover videos (great stuff crammed into just 30 seconds): http://heritage-key.com/blogs/ann/light-video-footage-illuminating-hadrians-wall

Illuminating Hadrian's Wall
Sun's setting right now, Web cams showing a gorgeous evening. Hope it goes off splendidly!

Stanegate Milestone -really- in situ?
Sometimes funny things happen when you start digging deeper. I stumbled across a brief note by Prof. Haverfield in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle-upon-Tyne for 1911-12, p. 184:

"...[The standing milestone] is often called a Roman milestone as the Romans left it, and tourists (as I know) often admire it as such. Whether there remains anywhere in Europe a Roman milestone which still stands erect as the Romans left it, I do not know. Chesterholm, at least, cannot boast of that glory."


Prof. Haverfield points toward the smoking gun in Horsley's 1732 Britannia Romana. I just read the passage myself, and it seems pretty clear. The following, from p. 228 of Britannia Romana:

"Near Little Chesters, there are some of the milliary stones, which are said to have been erected at the end of each mile upon the military ways, from whence the phrase ad tertium, or ad quartum lapidem. One of these is thrown down, and lies under an hedge near the rivulet, a little east of this station. And about two miles west from the station upon the common there is another. But the most curious one is standing at about a mile's distance or less from this place to the west. The military way that passes directly from Walwick chesters to Carrvoran is here very visible, and close by the side of it stands a piece of a large rude pillar, with a remarkable inscription upon it in large letters, but very coarse, BONO REIPUBLICAE NATO. No doubt this was a compliment to the emperor then reigning, nor is it an uncommon one. I don't find this has ever been taken notice of before."

The stone a mile west of Vindolanda with the inscription was noted by later 18th C antiquarians. Anthony Hedley also noted it in 1822, saying it had recently been destroyed, leaving just the stump in the ground (the stump still visible today when you first turn into the Stanegate on your way to the site).

The milestone that we see standing proud today behind Vindolanda's museum seems to be none other than the one that Horsley saw in the same location, lying forgotten on its side. So who put it back up, and when?

Human remains?
The report for 2001-02 has a good 30-some-page writeup of the skull. It says it was a "Caucasoid male aged approximately 20 to 30 years." It then gives a lengthy account of the trauma that had happened to the person (short version: he met a nasty end), and concludes with a recommendation to do isotope analysis to figure out childhood residence & diet.

That's the kicker -- dunno if that follow-up analysis has been done yet. Andy?

Source: Loe, Louise, "Appendix I: Specialist Report on the Human Skull (8658) from Vindolanda, Northumberland" in Birley & Blake, "Vindolanda Excavations 2001 & 2002," Roman Army Publications, Greenhead (2003) (mine is on CD, purchased from vindolanda.com's store a few years ago)

3D Modeling comes of age
Holy heck. This is phenomenal: http://www.ancientvine.com/NewCastle_roman_fort.html. Check out the 3D reconstruction of Pons Aelius (the Roman fort at Newcastle, not officially part of the Wall system), and especially some of the ending shots of the Wall itself. The sky's the limit now with what a person can do to bring the past to life.

New Digger's Guide page - So, How's the Weather?
The Northumberland National Park Web site seems to have finally fixed the kinks in their 3rd Wall Web cam, streaming video from Walltown Crags. I've just added its feed to the So, How's the Weather? page of the Digger's Guide here. So, with any luck, 3 different views of "Illuminating Hadrian's Wall" this coming Saturday, 13 March!

Illuminating Hadrian's Wall
Good write-up on BBC's Web site today: http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/cumbria/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8556000/8556137.stm

Wish I could be there!

Keeping track of recent posts
WeDig has a lot of forums. Which is great, because it means there's room for a wide variety of topics and interests.

But it can be hard to keep track of who's posted where. Posts can easily get buried, lost, or just missed. So, after far too long, I've finally discovered a solution. At the top of your page, you'll see a toolbar with several links including: Recent Posts & Updates

Posted Image

Simply click, and you'll be taken to a page with all the recent Website News as well as the last dozen or so posts by WeDig'ers -- wherever they may be. Hopefully this will help make WeDig'ing that much more fun & useful!

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