Ok, so we made it to the end of the season and a cracking year's work has turned up some very interesting results in area B. Obviously after only a week or so after we have finished digging it is impossible to give a definitive account of these, but I know many of you will be desparate to find out how the site finished up. So in advance of the usual report, which will come out in due course when all the research necessary has been done by all the various specialists as well as ourselves, here are my initial thoughts on area B.
First off it has to be said that post Roman ploughing has made a mighty mess of the underlying vicus buildings in that part of the site at Vindolanda. The various residents of Wellmeadow Close, High Fogrigg, Smiths Chesters, and all the other little crofts in the area had gone to extraordinary lengths to try and turn a living off, what has to be said, is very marginal land. It was clear enough from the direction of the plough marks on the surviving stones that they had been ploughing in an east-west direction. It also makes you wonder just how much nice Roman material was scattered in all directions during this process...........
However, beneath the ploughsoil lay a whole series of buildings from the extramural settlement, or vicus if you choose to ignore all the Roman legal jargon and like the old term for the village outside the fort. We clearly had the west wall of building CXXIV (the 2004-5 report with the brown cover) which was a large house that Andy's crew excavated the most part of in 2004. Interestingly its foundation stones were clearly slipping into something soft underneath - a ?ditch perhaps, something for future research anyway.....
Separating the house from an industrial workshop just to the west was a small back alley. It had the usual cobbled surface and had just about enough room to back a cart into, but the drain to one side was crammed full of discarded pottery. That should keep Robin amused this winter for a time, and shows the mess that some of the residents at Vindolanda were prepared to live in - thank heavens for modern refuse collection.
The workshop on the other side of the street was really badly plough damaged, but sufficient of it had survived to show its industrial function - loads of clinker and slag on the floor, plus an incredible amount of soot etc. It also appears to have been the final building in the SW of the extramural settlement with no more stone buildings being found beyond it. This also corroborates an antiquarian account of the site which described the area beyond where we have been digging as a 'swampy close' (after developing webbed feet this summer out there I reckon his account was very accurate indeed!)
We also ended up with no fewer than 3 really nice roadways linking the buildings in this part of the site with others to the east, north, and also to the hinterland of the fort to the south. The most impressive of these was a track running SW away from the fort into the large field there. The question has to be what were they needing access to out there? Mineral resources, a cemetery, or just access to the valley floor are all strong possibilities, but it should remind us that the sphere of influence of the fort was far greater than the 9acres or so that we see on the ground today.
A little further to the north we located a very large area of cobbles with some holes cut into it. This area is still a work in progress, and there is lttle I can say here about it, but has some real potential and ties in nicely to the religious buildings we found a few metres to the NW a few years ago.
Overall, I feel it has been a successful season in area B, despite the best efforts of the rain to thwart us. We have identified three separate zones of activity in the SW of the extramural settlement and pretty much worked out what people were doing in the buildings there. The fact that we seem to have proven the SW limit of the settlement is in itself great news. On top of this, the various roads and tracks linking the buildings together are proving important to our understanding of how the Roman population at Vindolanda moved around the site. If we can understand the remainder of the vicus to the same degree in the next four years we will have a really good knowledge of what people were doing in the many buildings outside the fort.
As a bonus we even got some evidence this year for earlier structures in the same area. Beneath the workshop and the cobbled area lay earlier workshops of probable Antonine date. Endless chunks of slag, clinker and even a lead brooch (surely the blank to make a mould from) as well as the odd hearth proved that in the mid second century a significant amount of industrial activity had been taking place in the part of the site - again away from the fort walls by a considerable distance.
Perhaps the most important evidence however, came from even earlier. A small 3m wide trench, cut to prove the existence or otherwise of vicus structures, actually turned up a nicely preserved early second century floor. Beam slots indicated it had been a timber building, and we were even lucky enough to get the best part of a hearth in the floor (fingers crossed for those enviro samples provide some evidence of human diet). It was a real bonus to get structures of such an early date so far away from previously excavated areas and bodes well for us still having a truly enormous amount of work to do to fully understand the site.
In true archaeology fashion we also got the usual surprise in the final week. A decent sized ditch appeared under the vicus and beneath the Antonine levels. This even had organic material nicely preserved in its anaerobic soils. I suspect it is another of the potential field boundary ditches we turned up last year belonging to one of our early second century forts. After conversation with Dr. Deb, our bone specialist, there is apparently a high proportion of large pig and horse bones in them and you just wonder if they were fields positioned just outside the fort containing stock for the various Tungrian and Batavians troops in the early second century.
As far as small finds go, we had two outstanding ones this year. The little stone altar to a possible Syrian deity was really nice indeed, and a small silver finger ring inscribed MATRI PATRI (to mum and dad) really made you feel you were getting pretty close to the people of Vindolanda.
Hopefully this will have made some sense to you all, especially those who managed to be able to see work in progress and I shall try and post a few pictures as and when time allows.
I hope you all winter well and once the snow melts and the ground defrosts I will look forward to seeing as many of you as possible again next spring to uncover the next chapter in the story.
Have a great winter
Justin, you are a born storyteller. This is a fantastic window into a world that I've now gone far too long without being able to see for myself! Thanks for this post.
Eagerly awaiting the next published report(s)!