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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!

Area B
Thanks Michael. Yeah, this winter I'm going to have a second look at the Digger's Guide setup & links. It's one thing to have the stuff there; it's another to have it laid out so people can actually find it!

Plus, you guys keep completely rewriting the history of the site with your wacky shrines and unexpected fort gates.

"It's a Gladiator. Or Perhaps It's a God?"
Hat tip to WeDig'er Celine for this one!

Original at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/aug/28/archaeology-romans-dig-hadrian-wall
(The original location also has some photos and an audio clip.)

'It's a gladiator. Or perhaps it's a god?'
Vindolanda has been a site of excavation for almost 200 years. But wonderful Roman finds are still being unearthed

For 10 minutes the flaky brown earth yields nothing, bar a toenail scrap of smashed pottery and several smears of rust from the 3rd or 4th century AD. Then the trowel clicks against a solid, buried lump, the soil falls away and out rolls a smooth, stone marble.

"Dr Birley! Dr Birley!" I shout. "Come and see! I think I've found a Roman bullet!" The director of excavations at Vindolanda hurries over and tuts kindly. "Don't write that. You'll be showing your ignorance. The Romans didn't have bullets. That's a ballista ball."

To my delight, he then tucks it into a plastic wallet and the Guardian's tiny contribution to the salvaging of Roman Britain is assured. The Romans didn't have bullets but they had no end of other interesting things; and in this broad and beautiful valley within sight of Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland, they left masses of them lying around.

Showing consideration for a beginner, Andrew Birley has found a patch for me and my trowel close to this summer's best discovery so far, a 1.5-tonne altar to Jupiter of Doliche, a cult from what is now southern Turkey that enjoyed a 3rd-century vogue. Archaeology is always amazing, and the richly carved stone god, bull, thunderbolt, jug, a sort of frying pan called a patera and inscription ("To Jupiter Best and Greatest of Doliche, Sulpicius Pudens, prefect of the Fourth Cohort of Gauls, fulfilled his vow gladly and deservedly") speaks gloriously across all those years.

Here's the extraordinary thing, though. Vindolanda's fort and town on the Stanegate (stone road) behind the wall has been excavated seriously since the early 19th century, and yet objects this large are still coming to light. Birley, the third generation of a family that has made the site a byword in classical circles as well as to a huge popular audience says, "There's another 100 years of excavation still to do here, at least."

This seems incredible when you see the half-acre of dwarf stone walls and paving slabs that this year's volunteers have uncovered since April alone. But that section, mostly the barracks of Sulpicius Pudens's Gauls who finally chucked it in as Rome withdrew in the late 300s AD, is only a small part of the last of nine forts.

"They're all crammed on top of one another," says Birley, a man with a relish for spades, mattocks and the micro-equipment trowels and sometimes even forks with which volunteer diggers fill a fleet of wheelbarrows. "That's where it goes," says Celine Chaplin, a Sky TV editor from London who finds the dig blissfully relaxing for a week's break. She points at a spoil heap the size of three bungalows.

Digging at Vindolanda, which costs 50 for a fortnight, is a cheerful and very mixed affair. At one end of the barracks, Chris McCormick, another Londoner who works in the civil service, is swinging a pick, but so carefully that he salvages a beautiful fragment of pottery carved precisely in fact, it's as sharp as a digital photograph even after 1,700-plus years in the ground with the torso of a bearded Roman.

"It's a gladiator, maybe," says Lucy Morgan, a classics and citizenship teacher from Pinner, bobbing over to have a look. "Or perhaps a god?" suggests Birley, joining the discussion, before the shard joins my non-bullet in the box of plastic bags. Debate is much encouraged on site at Vindolanda; although Birley usually has a couple of archaeology PhDs helping him plan each day's digging, plenty of the volunteers are highly experienced too.

That applies not just to those like Lucy with a career in classics. Paul Hayes, a BT wi-fi expert from Fleet in Hampshire, scrapes out what looks like a very large piece of navel fluff and says instantly: "That's a bit of the rim of a pot from the fort's last days look how coarse it is; they'd almost lost the art of pottery by then." He's been fascinated by the Romans since watching a programme by Tony Robinson of Channel 4's Time Team. That's a common trigger of interest among volunteers.

The particular attraction of Vindolanda is the zest for digging, which has always characterised the work there, since Eric Barff Birley bought the site in the 30s. A great-great-nephew of the man who led the troops at the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, he directed the family's energies more wholesomely; he was professor of Romano-British history at Durham university and a renowned expert on the Roman army.

His son Robin, Andrew's father and now head of the Vindolanda Trust's research committee, carried on the work with his brother Anthony (both are highly qualified archaeologists) and combined populism and pioneering discoveries to great effect. His reconstruction of part of the Roman Wall led to sneers, but critics fell silent when digs produced some of the finest tablets of Roman writing found in the UK.

Vindolanda has produced 1,600 tablets, wafer-thin and perilously easy to obliterate even with a slender archaeologist's trowel. The total for the rest of the country isn't much more than 100, says Birley.

"There is a school of thought that says: keep things covered until we have better ways of excavating and preserving," he says. "But how will we discover those if we don't dig? And don't think that artefacts always stay in good condition underground. 'Seek and ye shall find' is our motto here. And we find."

It is a virtuous circle, because regular excitement at the dig brings 125,000 visitors a year (2007's figure) to Vindolanda and its associated Roman Army Museum, covering all running costs. English Heritage monitors the digging closely but cannot boss the Birleys around because they do not need grants.

Diggers at Vindolanda must be happy to be watched from close quarters by holidaymakers such as Evarien Schonthaler and Hennie ter Hart, touring from Holland, and to talk about what they are up to. A quid pro quo is that the site has a cosy restaurant and posh loos, unlike many remote places where archaeologists' trowels clink. The unforgettable countryside of the Whin Sill, where the Wall dips and bobs like a rollercoaster, is also full of B&Bs.

Digging continues until 19 September, but it is only after that that Vindolanda reveals the reason for its name. It means White Field in Latin, and that is what it becomes on winter days when the rest of the valley is green but the shadow of Barcomb fell keeps frost, the archaeologist's enemy, on the site all day.

Details about getting involved next year (this year is fully booked) are on www.vindolanda.com/want_to_excavate.html

Area B
Fabulous pics & notes! Wow. Period 4/5 huh? That kind of knocks on the head the assumed western edge, doesn't it? From my notes & Andy's emails, they used to think the 4/5 western edge was much, much farther west, near the industrial/temple areas uncovered in 2006. (See the Digger's Guide "400 Years at a Glance" for a comparison of the 2/3 and 4/5 projections.) Putting the western gate here is quite a surprise!

Blog posted by a recent digger
Hey all. Stumbled upon this neat little writeup by an illustrator for Osprey Publishing, Peter Dennis. He apparently dug in Andy's area in early August, and seems to have enjoyed himself thoroughly! Though fellow WeDig'ers would like to see his thoughts.


Rampart Removal
Absolutely brilliant! Felt like I was peeking over your shoulder watching the flagstones & oven show up. Many thanks for taking the time to write this up.

New Digger's Guide section - "Local Walks"
Hi all! Folks had mentioned that having a list of some local countryside walks in the Digger's Guide could be helpful. So when I was over in June, fellow WeDig'ers Rosie, Brypop, and Sandy and I decided to give one a try. We walked around Chainley Burn, the stream that flows past the museum, starting at the eastern car park, following the eastern side of the burn (though high up the hillside) past neat old colliery ruins, to the little hamlet of Westwood, and back up the western side. A couple miles, a couple hours, a great walk. I documented it along the way with photos, and have just written it up for the Digger's Guide: http://s9.zetaboards.com/We_Dig_Vindolanda/pages/walk1_chainley/

As always, comments, suggestions, thoughts, what-have-you -- all are welcome. The area simply explodes with great walks, some very short, some painfully long! And some other excellent walks have already been written up elsewhere (a large batch known as the "Haltwhistle Rings" can be found, with some difficulty, on the Web). As the Digger's Guide matures, hopefully I'll be able to link in some well-traveled, established trail guides, and hopefully fellow WeDig'ers will offer some thoughts on their own favorites.

Onward and upward!

Where did Area "N" go?
Hey again all. There's been minor vandalism, and there's been thoughtlessness by some visitors -- leaving gates open, letting farm animals roam into dangerous areas. So for the archaeology -- and for good relations with the farmer -- they've decided to keep the new area quiet and non-public for now. Sad, but IMHO understandable.

The rest of the site is still 100% good to go though. So please keep those pictures & thoughts coming!

Where did Area "N" go?
Curtailed for the moment pending clarification from the pro's. A few recent security issues.

Great 30-min documentary from '03 digs
This one was filmed in 2003, and has surely been kicking about the 'Net for some years. But it's the first time I've stumbled across it. It's really well done. A nice weaving of documentary and dramatic bits. Some excellent shoe/boot finds & commentary. And a good deal of camera time for WeDig's own Trudi.

Link: http://www.guba.com/watch/3000080990

What's This? (or, bad archeology from orbit)
What a cool picture. I just checked Breeze's 2006 "Handbook to the Roman Wall." He mentions two marching camps along Bean Burn, a small east-west stream just out of your picture to the south. He says one was really tiny, probably a practice camp. But the other one was .7 acres, which fits nicely with your measurement. My money's on that.

My Q is, just what was a "marching camp"? Was it a one-use deal, where a regiment threw up a defensive ditch for an overnighter? Or was it a ditched enclosure that lasted for many months or years, to be used periodically when an army was passing through?

I'm assuming either way that it was built before the first fort at Vindolanda, but I don't know that either.

As with Jim, eagerly awaiting anyone who knows the answers!

Area "N" (?)
Great pics all, and some really neat archaeology coming out. Is it getting clearer what timeframe we're talking? It just doesn't look like any of the other Roman stuff that I can remember from the site. It almost seems like flagstones being used as wall layers.