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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!

Viewing Single Post From: Excavations of 1967-1969
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The Vindolanda Trust was born in 1970. Robin Birley heralded its arrival with a major 60-page report on the excavations of 1967-1969: Archaeologia Aeliana, Series IV, Volume XLVIII (1970). This was the report that opened eyes to how massive the site is, how complex, well-preserved, and valuable. (Even though the discovery of the first writing tablets was still a few years away.) It touches on the south gate, the wells to the west of the vicus, and various other bits. But its main focus is the Severan (Period VI-B) praetorium. (Poignantly, its true purpose wasn't immediately known. Instead, it was called a mansio -- an inn for travelers. It was also thought to have survived for over a century. In truth, it lasted barely 5 years before being swept away in Period VII. However, the "mansio" kept this title & backstory for nearly the next 20 years, before the truth was learned.)

Now, thanks to Robin, the Trust, and the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the report is made available to members of WeDig. This is the first part of the report; the specialist papers at the end will be put in a separate post. As with all other AA reports presented here, please keep in mind that these works are still held under copyright, used here by permission, and not intended to be reproduced or republished. Hope you enjoy!

A note on terminology:
Much has been learned since 1969. Robin's report speaks of various periods at Vindolanda, many of which are now known to be different. When he refers to the 3rd Century fort, that is now known to be Stone Fort I, built & used in the mid-late 2nd Century. His references to the Diocletianic fort are to the visible fort, Stone Fort II, originally built in AD 213. However, most of what he says about the Theodosian period still rings true -- the latest Roman bits, built after the barbarian crisis of AD 369.


Robin Birley

This report embodies the results of two short excavations in the summers of 1967 and 1968, both conducted under the auspices of Durham University Excavation Committee, and of more substantial work undertaken throughout 1969. The excavations between May and July 1969 were largely confined to weekends, with volunteers drawn from Alnwick College of Education, whilst those of August and September were supported by DUEC. The report includes three items from the excavations of 1933 to 1935, which were completed too late for publication at the time: they were of considerable interest for the light they shed upon both animal and vegetable conditions of the late fourth and fifth centuries, and I make no apology for publishing them now. There are also drawings and comments upon items of bronze and iron from the 1930's excavations, previously unpublished. I am most grateful to my father for making them available. The opportunity is also taken to publish a plan of Anthony Hedley's excavation of the commander's house in the Diocletianic fort, re-drawn from the original sketches in the Hodgson MSS in the Black Gate Library. Some items of iron, and a fine enamelled bronze belt plate, were discovered late in the season and are still being treated by Dr. C. W. Gibby, F.S.A., at the Department of Archaeology in Durham. They will be published with the next Vindolanda report, together with a report on wood and soil samples from the Flavian levels in the Mansio.

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Plate VI

My debt to others, both during the excavations and in the preparation of this report, is considerable. I am most grateful to Mr. Thomas Harding, then the owner of Codley Gate farm, for his permission to excavate, particularly on the scale of the 1969 season; to Mr. Charles Anderson and his colleagues of the Ministry of Public Building and Works for their customary valuable assistance in such matters as fencing and the provision of huts; to Durham University Excavation Committee for their sponsorship and for the loan of equipment; to Miss L. K. Hollamby, Principal of Alnwick College, for her co-operation which allowed her students to spend rather more time on the site than was anticipated; to Dr. J. K. St. Joseph, F.S.A., for permission to publish his fine aerial photograph of Vindolanda; to Mr. George Hodgson for his reports on the bones found in 1968 and 1969; to Mr. Martin Henig, of Worcester College, Oxford, for his report on the intagli; to Dr. J. P. C. Kent, F.S.A., for his preliminary identification of the coins, and to Dr. A. R. Birley, F.S.A., for his report upon them; to Mr. Maurice Southern and Miss Patricia Burnham for their work on the plans and the small finds figures respectively; to Mr. William Southern for some photographs; to Dr. G. D. B. Jones, F.S.A., for his work under the floor of room III in the mansio and for photographs; to Mr. R. G. Hall, who acted as site supervisor in all three seasons; to the small group of Alnwick students and volunteers who worked exceptionally hard; and to my father for his constant help and encouragement. Above all, I am grateful to Mrs. D. Archibald, whose deep interest in Northumbrian history and whose generosity have resulted in the acquisition of the fort field for a board of Trustees, whose task it will be to see that excavation and conservation of the remains may go ahead at a reasonable pace. But for Mrs. Archibald's action, Vindolanda might have been lost to archaeologists, and the general public will one day be very conscious of the debt which they owe her.

It should be noted that the pottery report is but a token one. The volume of pottery found, especially in 1969, was considerable, and full publication at this time would have been too expensive. But it is hoped to rectify this omission in due course, and in the meantime all the Vindolanda material will be stored on the site, where it may be studied by those who are interested in it. It is hoped that it may be possible to display the better items in a Museum at Vindolanda before very long.

General introduction

The excavations of 1967 to 1969 have answered some of the unresolved questions about Vindolanda posed by the earlier work in the 1930's, but inevitably fresh questions have now appeared. Further evidence for the pre-Hadrianic occupation has been found in four places, and the line of the south rampart and ditches of a fort of that period has been located. But at the same time there has been a suggestion that there may be more than one pre-Hadrianic fort. The occupational debris from these early levels included a high proportion of food bones.

More is now known of the second century fort, although there is insufficient evidence to attempt a meaningful plan. The line of the south and west ramparts has been proved by excavation, and both east and north ramparts are suggested by aerial photographs. It appears to have been of irregular shape. Some at least of the fort's internal buildings were of stone. There has been no certain evidence of Hadrianic occupation, and it is best to assume that this fort was late Antonine, dating perhaps to the period A.D. 160-180/197.

The third century fort, laid out on a new site to the east of its predecessor, appears to have possessed a sunken strong room in its Headquarters Building, but there was no trace of the expected monumental porta praetoria. The discovery of the Antonine fort to the west ought to enable us to reassess, in due course, the report on the excavation near the north gate (AA4 xiii 238f), since any pre-third century structures on the site should belong to a second century vicus or annexe, and not to a fort.

Information about the fourth century forts is increased by the analysis of the wood, bones and small finds from the well in the Headquarters Building, constructed after A.D. 367 (AA4 xiii 218f), and Hodgson's plan of Hedley's excavations in the Commander's House shows that its appearance, like that of the Headquarters Building, may likewise be similar to third-century examples. The south gate of the fourth-century forts, severely damaged by stone-robbers, was a simple passage, without guard-chambers, perhaps partially blocked at some stage. The large quantity of food bones scattered outside the gate to the south, in the final period of occupation, implied a low order of hygiene and military discipline, but it is not necessarily associated with the occupation by Theodosian forces, and could date to the fifth century.

The plan of the large vicus, overlying the earlier military sites, is beginning to take shape. A well-built flagged road led from the Diocletianic fort's west gate, through the vicus, to join the Stanegate some two hundred yards to the north west, and three side streets, less wide and with shallow foundations, have also been located. Knowledge of the water-supply (cf. AA4 viii 182-212 for that leading to the bath-house) has been reinforced by the discovery of cut-stone channels leading into the mansio (Site IX) and leading away from the water-tanks in the west of the vicus (site XIII). The Well (site XIII), first examined in 1914, cannot have provided the only source of supply for this large vicus, and there are traces on the ground of an aqueduct, which first appears nearly half a mile to the west of the vicus.

The only vicus building to be examined in detail has been that on site IX, interpreted as a mansio. A fifteen roomed courtyard house in its third-century form, fronting the main road, it was altogether too well made and large for a normal vicus structure, and it ought to represent a lodging place for travelling officials at a convenient place on the Stanegate. But the modifications to its plan in the fourth century, which included the removal of its substantial latrine, perhaps suggest alternative use by that time, and the fact that this vicus was self-governing may indicate the building's conversion into same kind of administrative or social centre.

The most interesting feature of the excavations in the vicus has perhaps been the discovery that there was occupation, in part at least, in Wall period IV. The extent of this occupation will not be revealed for some time, but it may add considerably to our knowledge of the post 369 period. It has long been recognised that in Wall period IV additional accommodation was provided in the forts, perhaps for former vicus inhabitants, who now found it too dangerous to live in the exposed villages. Theodosian Vindolanda certainly possessed these additional buildings within the fort, yet apparently there was also occupation in a part at least of the vicus. The masonry of this Theodosian period on the mansio site is extraordinarily crude, yet effective, and quite distinct from anything that had been attempted previously. One can only assume that these fresh troops, brought up by Count Theodosius, had no experience of building by conventional methods, and they cannot be related in any way to their predecessors, the Fourth Cohort of Gauls.

Excavation is now able to proceed at Vindolanda on a larger scale, and it should be possible to resolve a number of outstanding problems in the next few years. The full outlines of both the Flavian and the Antonine forts must be traced, and there should be a real chance now of obtaining the complete vicus plan. The evidence from the fourth century Headquarters Building, the South Gate and the mansio suggests a prolonged post-A.D. 369 occupation of the site—perhaps as much as 100 years—and the examination of the upper levels within the later stone forts should be instructive. After years of small-scale excavations in limited areas, the prospect of excavating the entire site is exciting, but a strict order of priorities has to be enforced. The work of the next few seasons will be concentrated in the third- and fourth century vicus, with only small-scale excavation in the later stone forts.

The Diocletianic/Theodosian South Gate

Excavation of the south gate was undertaken at weekends throughout April and May 1969.

Birley and Richmond noted (AA4 xiii, 1936, 238) that "particular interest will therefore centre in the examination of the south gate, when the opportunity comes", since the discovery of the southward facing third-century principia implied the presence of the porta praetoria in the south, and RIB 1706 implied that this was the gate with towers which was "restored from its foundations" by the Fourth Cohort of Gauls, styled Severus Alexander's, under Claudius Xenephon, presumably in A.D. 223. The axis of the third century principia, however, lay seven feet east of that of its successor, and its north and south gates are likely to have been demolished to make way for the new gates on a different alignment.

The position of the fourth-century gate was easily recognisable on the ground, marked by the depressions left by the stone-robbers' trenches. Damage to the gate structure was extensive: only four courses of masonry remained in its eastern passage wall (Plate VII, 1), and the five-foot fort wall had been robbed down to Roman ground level. The western passage wall had almost entirely disappeared and was traced by the remaining stones in its foundation course, but there the fort-wall stood up to seven courses high on the northern side, perhaps ignored by the stone-robbers because of the poor quality of the Theodosian masonry, or because they could not break down the durable Theodosian mortar. The robbers' trench had continued across the gate-passage, suggesting that a blocking wall had also been removed. The examination of the fort's east gate (AA4 xiii, 1936, 236 and plan at 237) showed that it had been reduced to a single foot-passage by a blocking wall at some stage in the fourth century.

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Plate VII, 1

The Diocletianic gate was a simple eleven-foot passage, without guard-chambers, and with the rampart-walk carried across the passage in a straight line with the fort wall, and with a step outside the sill which denied access to wheeled vehicles. (See Plan A.) The southern responds were separated from their northern counterparts by retaining walls, 15 feet 6 inches long and 3 feet wide. The remaining stones in the eastern wall contained re-used material, smaller and better finished than the Diocletianic stone-work, although the latter was of a high enough standard. The Diocletianic stones in the fort wall on the eastern side were rectangular blocks, some 8 inches x 12 inches and up to 10 inches deep, undressed but of a harder sandstone than the third-century material. The Theodosian masonry, in the rebuilt section of the fort wall on the western side, was exceptionally crude, but it made up for its deficiencies with a fine light brown mortar which is still durable.

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Plan A

Only the eastern stone remained of the door sill, but it contained a five inch diameter hole and shallow groove for the door hinge. There was a twelve-inch drop from the sill to a step to the south, and a fourteen-inch drop from the step to a cobbled and gravelled road beyond.

Since the Diocletianic east gate apparently had a flight of steps outside it leading down to the burn, it would appear that the fourth-century fort had provision for wheeled traffic only at its northern and western gates, where there are guard chambers. This was an irregular but sensible scheme, since the north gate had direct access to the Stanegate only a few yards away, and the west gate carried a heavy paved roadway (1967 excavation) through the vicus to join the Stanegate some 200 yards to the north-west of the fort. Neither east nor south gates have practical access for roads, and it is difficult to understand why the third-century fort ever faced south, since any road from the south gate must have swung directly round the fort ditches to join the Stanegate. Perhaps the architectural advantage of a southern prospect outweighed military considerations for once.

Immediately to the west of the south gate-passage, the fort rampart, of clay and turf, had been maintained throughout, but to the east the rampart was of earth and rubble overlying flagstones level with the foot of the fort wall. Here, perhaps, were traces of the third-century occupation.

A wide berm of approximately 25 feet, and a 12 foot paved roadway across the south ditch, demonstrated that access to the gate was never obstructed altogether. This unusually wide berm is paralleled by that at the north gate, and is presumably due to the decision of the Diocletianic builders, when constructin' their new north and south fort walls on a different line to the third-century walls, to retain the Severan ditches. The Diocletianic causeway crossing could not be on the same line as the original causeway, but it was impossible to test this by excavation in the weather conditions prevailing.

Comparatively little pottery was found in the area examined, and of that which was found, there were few pieces from the same bowl. A wide range of wares was represented by fragments, ranging from stray Flavian mortaria to distinctive wall periods III and IV pieces. A significant discovery was the very large quantity of bone scattered outside the sill of the gate. Mr. George Hodgson's report on them (link pending) shows the range of animals and their quantity, and they are unlikely to have been deposited in such a position when the fort was in regular military occupation. They most probably represent material post-A.D. 369, and perhaps extend well into the fifth century. Ten coins were found amongst the debris of the gate passage or above the roadway, ranging from Julia Mammaea (no. 10) to Valens, C. A.D. 370 (no. 28), together with a double-headed snake penannular brooch (fig. 1, no. 2), two small "portable" altars (from one of which Mr. R. P. Wright, F.S.A., was able to extract a partial text, cf. p. 127, no. 3), fragments of three querns, and the carved stone, p. 128, no. 7. There was no suggestion that either the Diocletianic or the Theodosian gate had been destroyed by fire, although there was a level of burning below the fourth-century roadway, which should represent destruction of the third-century fort.

No traces of the third-century gateway or guard-chambers were found in the area examined. There may be some hope of locating traces of the eastern guard-chamber of such a structure, if there was one, to the east of the fourth-century gate, but the western chamber would have lain directly on the line of the fourth-century roadway, and there was no trace of it.
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Excavations of 1967-1969 · Reports & Papers