Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Theories, and other things, growing at Vindolanda

When digging a place like Vindolanda there is never any certainty about what you will find.  So early results always lead to evolving theories.  By which I mean logical sounding explanations that quickly get disproven.

Here for instance is a series of images of the same spot.
The three white tags indicate three bits of wood sticking up out of the ooze.  But what are they?  At this point the theories ran along the lines of perhaps a surviving bit of wooden posts from a small building, or from a fence.  The latter have been found before on the site, sometimes with reeds and sticks interwoven, as if to contain some kind of small animals.

Here is a view that gives the perspective a little better:

Here you can see a wider view of the area.  Ignore the black pipe upright on the left-middle of the picture, it is modern.  The rocky surface above the three posts is a cobbled road surface, felt to be somewhere in the mid 2nd century AD.  The three posts are right on the edge of the road.  The underlying layers of grey and black are silt filling in a ditch, which running under the road can be presumed to be earlier.  Notice how the posts are now a little better exposed, and seem to be splaying apart?  Rather odd construction technique I thought, and where are the rest of the posts we should be seeing?
Here is an image two days after the previous one.  Well, well.  Not a series of posts.  It is a tree.  Note the ball of roots that is now exposed?

A few years back (2006 and 7) some really monumental bits of wood came up at the far west of the site.  Here is a rather youthful looking Justin posing with a gigantic post.  Evidently it once supported part of a very large building of unknown purpose:
And here are a few of these beasts preserved for display next to the excavator's shack:

Dendrochronography estimates put these in the early Second Century.  Oh, and other than some pilings supporting a pier in London, they are said to be the biggest hunks of wood known from Roman Britain.

But getting back to our misplaced tree.  Here is a photo from mid season:
The ancient tree/shrub still stands all by itself, on the edge of a much deeper and still water challenged excavation.  The defensive ditch by the way seems to parallel the road rather than cross under it, so it will require small finds such as coins and pottery stamps to help make some sense of things.

I wonder a bit about the solitary tree/shrub.  Extensive excavations of the area do not seem to show anything like it.  It stood outside the fort proper, and even after the ditches were filled in it would have been standard military practice to keep brush cut to allow clear views.  I mean, there could be a hostile Pict hiding behind that bush!

Was this just an isolated lapse?  Even the efficient Romans must have slipped up once in a while.  Or did this have some purpose, one irretrievably lost to history.  A Sacred Yew being started by the local Druid priest?  Or maybe just the favored curb side spot for the hunting dogs of the Commander to stop and lift a leg on their way off to the countryside?

4 comments:

Claire_M said...

Fascinating - many thanks for posting this. I am in no means any kind of expert on archaeological timber - but to me from the pics it looks as though it has been properly shaped and can only be a post rather than a trimmed tree/bush? There appears to be both sapwood and heartwood there, but no bark and it's square cut. There's some good bits about timber on MOLAs recording guide:

http://www.museumoflondonarchaeology.org.uk/NR/rdonlyres/056B4AFD-AB5F-45AF-9097-5A53FFDC1F94/0/MoLASManual94.pdf

Claire_M said...

Claire_M said...
Fascinating - many thanks for posting this. I am in no means any kind of expert on archaeological timber - but to me from the pics it looks as though it has been properly shaped and can only be a post rather than a trimmed tree/bush? There appears to be both sapwood and heartwood there, but no bark and it's square cut. There's some good bits about timber on MOLAs recording guide:

http://www.museumoflondonarchaeology.org.uk/NR/rdonlyres/056B4AFD-AB5F-45AF-9097-5A53FFDC1F94/0/MoLASManual94.pd

Tacitus2 said...

Oh yes, those big square monsters were some kind of posts. One theory is that there was a big hall for the higher status legionary builders on one end of the site. It would not do to have to mingle with the plebes and brittunculi.
Regards the mystery tree, I have not seen anything quite like it in four stints digging in the vicus...
T

Claire_M said...

Ahh, sorry, was misreading this earlier, sneaky posting at work heh. It is very curious.