I recently (25th 30th July 2009) had the great pleasure of becoming a Vindolanda volunteer for the first time and had a wonderful week digging in the north western corner of stone fort 2.
After the introductions and a brief tour of the current work we were divided up into teams and I was allocated to a small team to excavate the next section of the road which runs along inside the northern rampart. It was expected that we would find an Oven used by the soldiers to cook their meals, as they weren't allowed to cook in barracks.
The turf had already been removed so we started removing the topsoil by spade but very soon came down onto some large flag stones so cleaned back at that level to investigate. Alex (our supervisor) decided it was not a significant context so we carried on down.
There was plenty of sherds of pottery, mostly Black Burnished ware (all the way from Dorset like me!) and some nice pieces of Samian. We also found some very fine pottery which Alex identified as Castor ware.
I was working at the left hand (southern) end of our section and started finding burnt material and lots more pot and bone, indicating that we were near to the oven. I was also delighted to find my first ever roman coin! It was a 2C brass sestertius (according to Andy) but was heavily corroded so no indication of who was on it. Later in the day I also found a small copper Bow Brooch which was complete apart from the pin. That really was a good day and although I was very tired at the end of it I went back to the campsite very happy!
The next day we continued trowling and I gradually came down onto a layer of large horizontal flagstones and one or two surrounding stones showing signs of intense heat. Further along the road Alex and Andy removed a section of the rampart to try to find signs of the other edge of the oven but other than a few more flags there was no further evidence of it.
Our team (Jane, Shona, Ashley and myself) continued work into the rampart and two more coins were found along with a decorative copper stud and a small copper bowl, three quarters complete, with only some crushing, found on the road surface. I also found a hexagonal stone storage jar lid with a hole drilled in the center.
At the one end of the section Jane came upon a mass of rubble in what appeared to be a cut. Andy suggested that it was a backfilled victorian trench which had destroyed some of the rampart but was nevertheless interesting to see.
The final day was a lot wetter that the rest of the week (although there had been some showers, mostly at lunch time) so we tidied up as best we could before the rain turned the surfaces into mud.
Having since seen a photo of a similar oven found at Housesteads I believe we did find the remains of the oven which had been partially destroyed by earlier excavation. It could be that the flags we found on the first day were part of the original base of the oven which had been lifted.
I had a wonderful week digging with a great team at an amazing site and will certainly be back again next year for some more exciting archaeology.
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