Monday, October 3, 2016

Vindolanda Season in Review

The last dirt of the season has been tossed at the Vindolanda excavations.  Having been part of this enterprise for nine years now I think I am qualified to say this was one of the best seasons in a long time.  Such fascinating archeology.

Work went on in two different areas.  Inside the "later" fort artifacts from the 3rd and 4th century were being found.  These tend to be in somewhat rough shape as they are closer to the surface.  But deeper excavations into the earlier wooden forts have gone back to the 2nd century and have delved into layers where the preservation is astonishing.  Lets have a look at a few swell finds....

(these photos are from various sources and many are from the Vindolanda twitter feed and/or their excavation blog that I link to.)

You don't usually find intact pots.  But in this case it was a burial urn for a cremation.  These are never found inside Roman settlements but the boundaries of the fort and associated civilian community expanded over time and appear to have extended over an earlier cemetery.

Sometimes it is the most mundane little things that give us the strongest connection to the past. A section of iron chain.

I was there the day this was found.  It is heavy.  At first there was some debate as to what it was. But the final call is that it is an iron ingot with an official Roman government marking on it. The output of mines belonged to the state, and while marks like this are pretty common on lead ingots to find it on an iron one is rare.  It must have been difficult to inscribe.

As mentioned work went on in several areas this season.  This is a deep defensive ditch dating from the era of Septimus Severus.  (circa 200 AD).  Things from the bottom of this ditch survived in fabulous condition due to the anaerobic conditions.  Where the little group of excavators on the left side is working is an area I spent several frustrating days on, trying to puzzle out a jumbled array of stones.  Obviously a lot of stuff was settling down into that ditch.

Bronze items come up still looking bronze.  The god Apollo.

This, remarkably, is a wooden barrel stave.  It has a name stamped on it.  I have not heard if this designates the barrel maker or the purveyor of whatever was inside.  Darn that anaerobic preservation is impressive.  May I repeat, this is wood, 1800 year old wood.

Work went on up in the "newer" fort as well.  From time to time you find these little personal altars, often reused to repair crumbling walls.  Sometimes they have elaborate dedications that identify the deity being worshipped.  Some as in this case, are blank.  Perhaps the dedication was painted on.  Not everything survives from the Roman era.

This clever little item is a bronze brooch with colored enamel insets.  It would have had a bronze pin and was used to hold clothing together in an era when buttons as we know them did not exist.  I found one just like it my first year excavating.

A quern stone used to grind grain.  Broken ones are common.  To find one intact less so. Maybe the surface was worn down from long use or maybe it was too heavy to haul along one one of the periodic abandonment/demolition events of the Roman fort at Vindolanda.

What a year for finding Roman shoes!  I have not seen a final count but I know several hundred came up.  This was a particularly fancy one.  1800 years old.

Various writing tablets came up.  This one was of the "wax stylus" variety.  The raised edge went all the way around and the hollowed area was filled with bee's wax.  This surface could be written on with a sharp stylus then the surface smoothed over for another use.  Sort of a Roman era Etch-a-Sketch.  I found one of these a couple of years ago but not this nice.  It takes technology, time and a bit of luck to do so but sometimes they can still be read today.  The Post it notes of ancient times...

You do find some interesting artifacts.  The Romans had rather coarse sensibilities from our modern perspective.  Lots of phallic artifacts.  And this rather graphic bit of pottery.  I wonder if it was the tip jar at the local brothel!

To read more about these artifacts and the Vindolanda excavations in general I encourage a visit to the link marked "Excavation" over on the right.  Or if you are of the Twittery persuasion the Vindolanda folks do update it often during the season and periodically in the fall and winter "off season".  Vindolanda on Twitter .

Great stuff.  I am already dreaming of next season.

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