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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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Barcombe Hill
Possibly; another etymology is suggested by 'combe':

...coomb, a valley in the flank of a mountain, in principle above the highest springs...

[from Celtic comb, in present day Welsh cwm, dale or valley]


So perhaps Barcombe Hill means 'the hill blocking or 'at' the head of the valley?

Historical Novels
My dirty little secret: I enjoyed the first few books of McCullough's 'Rome' series. Okay, it was 15 years back when 'The First Man in Rome' was published, but I found it interesting because McCullough tried to actually understand the clan-based mindset of the Republican aristocracy. It was such a relief from the various novels which variously portrayed Romans as 20th century fellows who ran about in bedsheets or loricae, and certainly far more accurate than Kirk Douglas philosophizing sentiments which wouldn't be current for centuries to come (though I did like the climactic battle in Spartacus--the only one to attempt to portray the 'checkerboard' formation, though even that wasn't quite accurate. Still, it gave one a decent feel for what the barbs must've felt when a Roman army rolled down the hill toward them: 'Oh, s**t!').

McCullough's later efforts devolved into Caesar-worship; to read them, you'd think poor old Julius was pushed willy-nilly by a Senate most evil into becoming dictator, the poor fellow. Her adulatory prose annoyed me after a time.

Other works: 'The Last Legion' (Manfredi), all about how Romulus Augustus (the last Western Emperor) is rescued by the survivors of the one and only 'old-style' Roman legion (recently perfidiously destroyed). Leaving aside the fact that such a legion in 475-6 would be much like witnessing a Union Civil War regiment fighting in Iraq just now, the novel was so terribly awful--wretched style, historical inaccuracy, and terrible character development--that I actually enjoyed it. Read the whole thing on a BA flight to the States, and binned it at O'Hare Airport. Miss it if you can, and if you watch the film due out next year I shall personally cite you for extreme courage and will buy you a drink of your choice.

The 'Alexander' series by Mary Renault: excellent stuff. Fire from Heaven' takes Alex to circa 336 BCE; 'The Persian Boy' tells of his campaigns from the perspective of Bagoas, a captured eunuch and historical figure. 'Funeral Games' accounts for the post-Alexandrine period down to 286 in the third person, and is the most depressing of the three. The first two do a fine job of illustrating Alexander's character and personality and just how he managed to lead a group of semi-civilized hillmen to put the serious whack on everyone from Thebes to Poros. Great stuff!

In the near-post Roman period, Mary Stewart's 'Merlin' series extrapolates from what little is known of the period 450-500 in Britain. Since I'm an inveterate fan of the period 200-600 (a time of enormous change, often quite fruitful) this did it for me. It's told by Merlinus Ambrosius, who happens to be the son of...well, I won't say. But a very interesting portrait of the remnant of the Britannia Diocesian leadership doing what they can to stop those evil Angli, Saxones, Jutes, and assorted other no-goodniks (ancestors of Andrew and Justin--hmmm.....) from taking over the island altogether. Richly detailed, and quite moving in many respects.

'In a Dark Wood Wandering' recounts the travails of the French nobility post-Agincourt--again, a fascinating historical period (ain't they all)?

And last, the entire Pat O'Brien series, which I read, re-read, and read some more long before Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany happened on the scene. Amazing grasp of matters nautical, and as an inveterate sailor I simply loved it. Excellent character development, too.

Post-Roman Christianity at Vindolanda
Hi Harry:

Another good one:

The Age of Arthur, John Morris, Phoenix Press, 2001.


Provides a good overview circa 410-680; the time when the author considers the Germanic expansion to be essentially complete.

Roundhouses at Vindolanda, why?
Okay, some purely blue-sky thinking on my part, meaning my ideas may be idiotic. Feel free to say 'Jacobson, your ideas are idiotic'. I’ll take it as understood that my statements are ‘opinions’, and in no way proven fact.


The hut dwellers were additional troops moved to the area, while the huts themselves were constructed by local labor under military supervision; by this thesis, Vindolanda was a staging base at which were concentrated forces beyond the accommodation capacity of the existing military buildings in preparation for Severus’ expedition up Dere Street.

Why Vindolanda, and not Housesteads or Chesters? Well, Vindolanda (like the other two) is conveniently near Dere Street, which would’ve been the main axis of advance into Lowland Scotland. So troops from other Wall garrisons, or even legionary forces from York and Chester could have concentrated at any of the three. I wonder if perhaps Vindolanda was a ‘better site’ because it’s located right on the Stanegate (ie, easy resupply for a large number of troops, has ample supplies of fresh water to handle an additional 1000-3000 men (depending on how many were stashed into each hut), and provides (I suspect) easier access for temporary building than Housesteads, which is farther from the military road and possesses inferior water supplies, or Chesters, which was a cavalry fort, though had the benefit of the Tyne nearby.

The regular layout, roads, and drains suggests that these dwelling layouts were planned (though the dwellings were not built) by regular troops rather than the usual helter-skelter layout typical of some vici or of ‘barbarian’ dwellings north of the frontier. I don’t expect that the Roman garrison would’ve been unduly concerned to provide nice roads, etc for ‘locals’ who’d been dragooned in for building works of some sort, much less for ‘refugees from ‘those lands to the north’—but they would have for troops planning to live in those huts. Also, as is usual with military settlements, a regular layout meant ‘ease of concentration and deployment’ for the hut-dwellers.

Here’s a thought: the curious admixture of Roman-style roada and drainage with ‘native-style’ huts may indicate that the Imperials did in fact dragoon in some local labor to build the huts, supervised by trained engineers, and perhaps Roman troops laid out the roads and ditches. I’m just a bit leery of thinking that the occupants were necessarily ‘natives’ working on wall repairs, since 1) I wonder if the Romans would’ve bothered with roads and drains on their behalf, and 2) would have entrusted fortification repair to unskilled local labor.

So, if my wild-eyed ideas are correct, these dwellings may have been built by locals pending the arrival of regular military forces (legionaries?), possibly from southern garrisons, preparatory to the campaign of 208-211. I can imagine some Roman engineer laying out the basic plan, then telling the local labor force, ‘you build the huts HERE, you dig drains THERE, and do it right, you hear?’ Thus a nice symmetric system of ‘native huts’. If the huts show signs of mere short-term occupation, then that would fit with the notion that they were only occupied pending departure to teach those blue-tattooed Caledonians a lesson (not unlike a Saturday night in Melrose, actually).

What would be really nice would to find a graffito on a hearthstone: ‘Gnaeus of the second century of the Twentieth Legion wrote this in the reign of the Emperor Severus, and wishes he were back in his old post’.

I’d also wonder if the Severan coins are indicative of military dwellers, since (so far as I know) the military would’ve been the chief possessors of coined money in remote districts such as the Wall zone, though of course local purveyors would’ve come into possession of coins as well….

Welcome to wedigvindolanda.com!
Hi Harry and Everyone:

It was a great privilege and a wonderful learning experience to excavate at Vindolanda last year, and I hope to see y'all (there I go again) again in 2007, provided of course that Andrew and Justin don't throw up their hands in horror and ban me from even showing my face anywhere in central Northumberland.

I shall try not to be as manky as I was in 2006, at least.

Extramural Stuff
And here's some nutcase whom Justin let run about his work area, telling stupid jokes, drawling 'how y'all doin'?' and generally being a nuisance. The stupid hat was apparently inspired by either 'Lonesome Dove' or 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', but this Yank's ornery behavior and general slovenliness (he routinely covered himself in more muck than any three other workers) led to a general sigh of relief when he finally headed back up to Scotland....

Extramural Stuff
A nice shot of Vindolanda taken from the hill above; one of my better efforts.

That bit in the middle is a perfectly preserved section which I excavated myself in two weeks; or so I tell my wife, anyway.

Extramural Stuff
Here are a couple of truly amazing workers who also made me look like a lazy layabout. They excavated above and around some of the cryptic water channels that interlaced the western section. Notice that the first fellow is still diligently working away, while yours truly is diligently taking photos.

It's a hard job, but somebody had to do it...

Extramural Stuff
Some photos taken 25 June 2006-7 July 2006...

This is one fellow whose diligence frankly made me look like a lazy layabout :)