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Justin Blake's official Vindolanda excavation Twitter feed

Unless otherwise noted, all plans below are unofficial interpretations only.
They are meant to help orient diggers & friends.
They are not designed to scale, nor to imply archaeological accuracy.

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Area of Excavations 2012
Topic Started: Mar 31 2012, 02:43 PM (1,007 Views)
SacoHarry
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The weekly-updated "Area of Excavations" page was a hit in 2011, so it makes its return for '12!

The area marked in blue below is the zone that was being excavated at the end of 2011, which I believe is the starting point for '12.
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The dig will be focusing on the vicus -- the civilian settlement that lay to the west of the visible fort. The vicus is almost entirely 3rd Century. It seems to have sprung up as the IV Gauls set up shop in about AD 213. (They're the ones who built the fort-proper that is on display today.) It thrived through most of the 3rd C, but seems to have dwindled as the century came to a close. By AD 300 it was almost thoroughly demolished/out of use -- even though the fort itself continued on.

If trenches get deeper than vicus layers, the picture may include parts of the weirdly-shaped early 3rd C Severan fort; late 2nd C military annexes; and even parts of the large early 2nd C forts-proper. Preservation is usually good once down a meter or so, so fencing, timber posts, and the like may be seeing the light of day again this year.

Any & all updates, pictures, & advice from WeDig'ers about where you're digging and what you're finding are appreciated. They'll go into keeping this guide accurate & up-to-date as the season goes on.

Happy digging!
Edited by SacoHarry, Mar 31 2012, 02:54 PM.
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SacoHarry
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END OF WEEK 1
(April 2 - April 6)

Out of town & behind on posting this since the dig's already into Week 3 now! But I wanted to get at least a skeleton online.

Week 1 opened with cleaning & much deturfing of the vicus area that was excavated in the late weeks of the 2011 season. A lot of volunteers hit various areas all around the area:

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The thick black line in the center of the trench #s is an Antonine (late 2nd C, Period VI and/or VI-A) defensive wall. The main Antonine fort sat almost exactly where the currently visible (3rd/4th C) fort sits. But it had an annex added to its NW section at some point, and this formidable buff-sandstone wall foundation shows that it meant business.

The thick grey line just to the west of this wall is a ditch, probably from the early 2nd C (western defensive ditch of Period III??).

Both the wall & ditch were leveled & long-forgotten by the time the civilian town -- the 3rd C vicus -- was laid out and settled. Most of the Roman finds of the 1st week seem related to this 3rd C settlement. The trenches uncovered late pottery, rotted iron, sections of flagging & cobbling. A promising start on one of the more confusing & complicated parts of the whole of Vindolanda.
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SacoHarry
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This will be the week for catch-up of the week-by-week digging progression!

So, back to that long-ago...

END OF WEEK 2
(April 9 - April 13)

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The wet weather was already setting in, and the flooded trench marked #5 on Week 1 was left fallow, along with #3 across the E-W path. Meanwhile, to the west, the area around the aqueduct (#4) was expanded, and a very nice cobbled road surface was found in area 4b.

Work continued on areas 1 & 2, with walls, hearths, pottery dumps, and beam slots coming into view. Many thanks to snowglobe & Sue Munro for the details & ton of great pictures, which can be seen here!
Edited by SacoHarry, May 17 2012, 06:17 AM.
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SacoHarry
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Continuing the catch-up:

END of WEEK 3
(April 16 - April 20)

Week 3 was another drizzly, soggy slog. But much was done, including removal of large swaths of turf around the old aqueduct and to the NE of the storehouse (areas noted as 4a and 4b on the plan below):
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4b revealed more excellent cobbling representing a north-south vicus (3rd Century) roadway at the western edge of the main settlement. The far western bit of 4a revealed a deep, well-sealed early ditch (anyone know the period/age of this?), as well as a lot of clay and another Victorian field-drain pipe.

To the east of the footpath, closer to the bath house, work continued in areas 1a & 1b, and apparently around area 2 as well. But no reports on what was found there. As the rain continued, it seems that work was slowly shifted ever westward and toward higher ground.

Many thanks to maryb_10 for the great pictures and notes, which can be found here!
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SacoHarry
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More week-by-week catchup.

END of WEEK 4
(April 23 - April 27)

Bulldozers and backhoes to start the week and open up many new swaths of land to the west of the visitors' path (areas 4a, b, c). Continued work to the east at 1a & 1b. A lot of wet weather to contend with, but much progress.

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The week began with mechanical excavators removing large sections of turf, including a huge area just to the east of the large vicus storehouse known on-site as "Site XI." Once diggers got into it, "4c" on the plan above, they quickly revealed the southward continuation of the excellent north-south roadway discovered in 4b.

Area 4a was lengthened, and diggers spent much time dropping down slightly into early vicus layers, uncovering cobbled surfaces, many earlier beam slots, and various ditches & features from the 2nd Century occupation. South of the vicus aqueduct in 4a, evidence emerged of a wide north-south ditch; and immediately underneath the aqueduct was a well-laid stone causeway running over the ditch. (The aqueduct was laid directly on top of this earlier causeway, obviously looking for the most level, solid ground.) Ditch & causeway probably from the Severan period, which came immediately before the Gauls arrived and built the vicus.

To the east, there was some excitement at the eastern edge of 1b, where just outside the 3rd Century bath house the base plinth to an altar was found in situ. Sadly the altar was long gone. But much work continued in 1a and 1b exposing circular features, areas of cobbling, and wall remnants.

A wet week with the dig called off frequently, but much done. Big thanks again to maryb_10 for the pictures and site reports, which you can read here!
Edited by SacoHarry, May 17 2012, 06:20 AM.
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END of WEEK 5
(April 30 - May 4)

Sealed ditches, gorgeous roadways, a Severan causeway, and an enormous mystery slab lifted. Week 5 brought a lot to the table.

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Early in Week 5 the buzz was about an enormous flagstone found in area 1b. It was thought it might even be the top to a late burial. But when the heavy equipment lifted it up... only more soil lay below.

But the real energy & news came from west of the modern pathway, in areas 4a, b, & c. 4c revealed great cobbling and high-quality drainwork on a north-south vicus (Period VII) road. In 4b, the road continued. Underneath it and just slightly to the west was a sealed ditch from an earlier period, likely Severan (Period VI-B). At 4a/4b this earlier ditch ran directly underneath the eastern edge of the vicus aqueduct. Remarkably, diggers found there a causeway edged by beautifully squared large stones. The causeway -- built when the earlier ditch was in service -- provided the most solid ground for the later aqueduct to follow.

Diggers working down into the tops of the earlier ditch in various places found twigs and other organics -- signs of good anaerobic preservation. Unfortunately they also found that Vindolanda's legendary underground watercourses were filling up their trenches almost as fast as they could dry them out!

Lastly, down the aqueduct a bit to the west, diggers came down onto a rarity at Vindolanda -- natural clay subsoil! And cut into that subsoil was a number of lines and curves. An enigma carved into an enigma.

Big thanks to snowglobe for the images & details. All can be found at the Week 5 page!
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SacoHarry
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END of WEEK 6
(May 7 - May 11)

A week that started wet and ended wet but still gave diggers many dividends, opened up new swaths of territory, and provided the required head-scratchers.

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Week 6 moved all the rest of the energy to the west of the visitors' pathway. Site 4a was extended southward. And site 4b was extended west. Some diggers continued exposing and tidying the N/S vicus road and its drains. Others worked in a series of confusing north/south trenches. The battle against incoming groundwater meant the digging of many deep sumps to stay ahead of Mother Nature. By midweek anaerobic conditions had been reached and intact wood and leather was starting to show up. Sadly a late Wednesday deluge wiped out most of the rest of the week.

Still, it was a good week for finds. A tile stamped with a pawprint, a lead phallus, a half-legible script written on the side of a brick, a lead plug to an amphora, beads, a glass perfume bottle, figured samian ware, barrel staves. Also the usual vicus enigmas -- walls where they shouldn't be, ditches running into or over each other. And a guided tour up Barcombe Hill one evening.

By week's end the vicus road looked great, the earlier n/s ditches just to its west were coming into focus, and the relation between the vicus aqueduct and the stone causeway under it were becoming at least a bit more clear.

Many thanks to snowglobe, Badger, and Brinno for the updates & pictures, all of which can be seen here.
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END of WEEK 7
(May 14 - May 18)

A full week of digging! New trenches, new walls, and a top-tier find.

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First, a little catch-up on site numbering. I never know how the year will progress, so numbering systems that start great may, well, fail later on. I know this one's not the best. Still, the idea is to be able to relate an area-ish of the site with descriptions/pictures of what's being found. And I think this system still works for that. So:

* 4a is the aqueduct, the whole north & NW of it, and the immediate south.
* 4b is the area of the N/S road and the side-by-side N/S ditches.
* 4c blessedly is still self-contained.
* 4d is the area to the south / SW of the aqueduct.

Obviously the borders of these are open to interpretation and kind of fluid. But it's at least an idea.

So, Week 7. During this week, the beautiful north/south roadway was largely left alone, with activity shifting further west. Immediately west, in 4b crews worked to define the edge of the road and drop into the confusing earlier multiple N/S ditches next to it. The lower levels were black & gloopy, but sadly few well-preserved finds were coming out. In the NE corner of 4a, more crews worked to trace the northern run of the same ditches.

Also in 4a, immediately north of the aqueduct an earlier substantial wall began to show up. Period unknown, and relation to both aqueduct and the (presumably earlier) ditch it sat in also unknown.

Much work was done on the southern end of 4a, with crews tracing ephemeral features. Not many finds coming up, except for the beginnings of a cobbled surface where 4a and 4d meet.

New trenches (7a-c) were opened at the far west, trying to trace the path of the vicus aqueduct and find the ultimate source. However, instead it was discovered that parts of this path had already been excavated in the past (probably the 1930s), with nothing recorded. Though the water source wasn't found, the immense amount of groundwater did quickly turn 7a into a bathtub, and efforts shifted to 7b & c. By the end of the week, vaguely rectilinear stonework was peeking out of the western corner of 7c, though it looked like foundation stones at best.

Finds this week were relatively few, but included an animal-footprint-stamped tile, samian pottery, glass bead, chunks of lead, cooking pot bits, a coin, part of a bottle top from the 1920s/30s, an intact horse skull, the bottom of an amphora, and.... the first writing tablet of the 2012 season! A very thick piece of wood, not standard writing tablet fare. But reports from the conservation lab said "visible writing seen"!

So it sounds like a good week. Huge thanks to Badger for the pics & updates, all of which can be seen at the Week 7 page.
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END of WEEK 8
(May 21 - May 25)

Major trench extensions, an old cobbled road, drains a-plenty, features in the far west, and a massive early wall next to the aqueduct. This is what a sun-filled week can bring!

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Brief word about the new plan. Given feedback, it seemed necessary to zoom in, add detail in places, and simplify in others. Old 7a is now a pool so is gone from the map. 7b & 7c now make a nice simple "7." Short-lived "4d" is now more sensible "5." The plan now includes roads (with the mottled appearance), known ditches (the thin gray lines), and the huge east-west wall that's come up parallel to the aqueduct.

Week 8 brought a first for 2012 -- bright, hot sun and a full work week! And much was done. The area to the south of the aqueduct was extended substantially ("5" on the map), revealing a probably early road running diagonally toward the fort. Between the aqueduct and the road, an earlier set of 3 N/S ditches/culverts was slowly being excavated back (the gray lines on the map). Just north of the aqueduct, the massive early (Antonine?) east-west wall just kept growing. The pro's believe that it runs far to the east, under the visitor's path. What would it have been??

Down in 4b, the two long N/S ditches just west of the later vicus road became easier to see & understand as the ground dried a bit. South of that, 4c was extended southward almost to the visitor path crossroads, and a second road drain was discovered merging with the main drain. The beautiful N/S vicus roadway got its final cleanup and photographs.

To the far west, old areas 7b & c were merged, and a strange circle-ish stone feature emerged next to the rectangular one discovered the week before. The stonework seems quite rough, so probably foundation stones at best?

Reports of finds were limited, though a gorgeous intact blue glass "melon bead" came up.

Looks like a great week. Many thanks to snowglobe and especially sarcanon for tons of great photos, all of which are available here!
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END of WEEK 9
(May 28 - June 1)

Another productive week. An enigmatic wall defined. Drains/culverts worked back & back. A new road surface found by the Romano-Celtic temple out west. Another new trench put in. And the North Field opened for business!

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(Wider shot to put location in context here)

Week 9 saw all kinds of activity around the ever-growing excavation area. Diggers expanded zone 5 southward, removing the angled road to follow an earlier series of 3 (at least?) parallel N/S drains/culverts beneath, trying to make sense of them. The sides are coming up beautifully, but finds proved limited. Always an enigma, one drain sank down & down, others ran back into the baulk, and an area of cobbling seemed to stand alone in the midst of natural clay banks.

In 4a, diggers defined the massive presumed-Antonine E/W wall just next to the later aqueduct. It's proving a very impressive bit of stonework. And in a place where it doesn't belong!

In 4b, the deepest levels still lay underwater, but diggers worked to define & examine the higher, drier N/S ditches. Meanwhile, to the west, zone 7 was expanded significantly, and a rough (or roughly preserved) SW/NE road with drain started taking shape. Just south of 7, a brand new trench, 8, was opened. Early days, though first photos show what appear to be randomly strewn boulders and little distinguishable archaeology.

And across the Stanegate, heavy equipment took back the turf of a new trench in the North Field (not pictured on map). No word of what, if anything, the first week there brought for features or finds.

A rainoff on Thursday, but beyond that a very busy week. In an increasingly large & typically confused/confusing part of Vindolanda. Very many thanks to bishpt for the photos & commentary throughout the week, all of which can be seen here.

EDIT, 4 June: A nice update from LouisaJones describes the huge & early perimeter ditch in 4b that runs N/S and seems to be curving eastward near the later aqueduct. She reports fragments of fine glassware, a tent panel, an intact shoe sole, and a stamped & very datable large piece of samian plate! Stamps & inscriptions on samian are an excellent way to pin down the date a ditch was in use, so a great find!

EDIT 5, June: Great set of pics from GrahamShrimpton detailing the work in area 7, including excavation of the cobbled road and its south-side drain. As well as what appears to be maybe a collapsed wall peeking out of the western edge of the trench. Work in area 7 is trying to trace the long-sought spring that was (and still is) the source of Vindolanda's huge amounts of groundwater
Edited by SacoHarry, Jun 5 2012, 07:33 AM.
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END of WEEK 10
(June 4 - June 8)

Rain, puddles, midges, a beaten-up stone cistern, ditches, cobbling, and drains
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(Wider shot to put location in context here)

Week 10 saw the breakup of diggers between the main site (in the plan above) and the North Field across the Stanegate (not in the plan).

In the main site, diggers continued to trowel back the multiple N/S drains/culverts in area 5 on the plan. The SW corner of area 5 revealed a rubbly line of unfaced stones running NE/SW. Excavation continued in the very deep & gloopy levels of 4b to study the large defensive N/S ditch (ditches?). And down at 4c, outside the SE corner of the storehouse known officially as "Site XI," diggers uncovered what appears to be the bashed-up remains of a cistern or water tank. Not clear if the two were in use at the same time?

On the west of the main site, areas 7/8 got more attention, spreading ever wider to follow features & search for the springs that fed the Roman aqueducts. A rather rough-looking drain (or drains) appeared in the middle of the large trench, running vaguely E-W.

Across the Stanegate, students from University of Western Ontario joined volunteers to begin excavating the North Field, following features first noticed from aerial photos and geophysical surveys. Areas of cobbling, apparent drains/ditches, and odd assortments of stone started appearing in the ground. This area saw much activity in the 19th Century, and early finds were peppered with Victorian pottery among Roman work. A great overview of the work going on in the North Field can be found at the Western Classical Studies blog.

Many thanks this week to Terry S for great photos & background on what was happening in the trenches!
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END of WEEK 11
(June 11 - June 15)

Ditches, drains, pits, and a rectilinear stone feature!!

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(Wider shot to put location in context here)

As the wet weather inundated older trenches, work shifted ever upward & westward to find dry ground to work. And to try to find the springs that have been a source of squidgy feet at Vindolanda for 1900 years!

Sites 7 & 8 were expanded both east and west. No news of what was found in the eastward expansion. However, in the west of area 8 a new set of very large & sturdy drains came to light, one with a lovely curve to it. (Visible as a black line & black curve on the plan above -- Note: This, as all features shown on the plans, is only a rough approximation, meant to orient people on site.)

More exciting was the well-laid rectangular stone "something" that was found in the west of area 7. Early days and no clear idea its purpose. But clearly a focus going forward into Week 12.

Across in the North Field (not on plan), the ground was filled with stains showing "ghost" ditches & features. A wall or line of rubble running east-west was removed, and underneath was a well-laid stone drain system. A ditch running from the west met the drain system at a deep pit -- a possible water collection point?

Sadly Friday the deluge came and work was cut short.

Many thanks to Rosie & SophieDobson for the updates, which can be found here, and Justin as always for the tweets & pics!
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