Sunday, 19 July 2015

Binchester 2015: Day 35

An emotional day as we completed our seven-year project at Binchester- after a total of nearly an entire year's excavation, hundreds of Durham students and volunteers, and amazing archaeology, we have had to come to a halt to allow us to analyse and understand the nationally important remains we have discovered.

Despite this, we kept working right up to the wire. In Trench 1, we took the opportunity to excavate a number of sondages across the site just to give us a glimpse of earlier levels. In general we have tried to avoid these kind of small-scale interventions in favour of open-area stratigraphic excavation, but given the fact that we were completing the project they do allow us to at least to get some sense of the underlying stratigraphy. One of the sondages, started earlier this week, went through an area of slumping in the southern end of the barrack and ended up revealing a possible well. Today, we cored it to find out how far it went down - it turned out that it was at least 3m deep (measured from the surface of the excavation) - there were hints of wood revealed in the core. In another sondage nearby, we revealed further damp deposits, which again included fragments of wood, possibly indicating a wooden lining to the intersecting gully.

We also carried out a rapid investigation of areas of the alley to the west of the barrack, just checking areas which had not been explored in detail- inevitably this through up new stretches of wall! We appeared to have the gable end of the narrow stone building which lay perpendicular to the barrack- this parallels the odd building at the northern end of this alley. It is extremely hard to get a sense of the chronology of these structure- do they indicate a replanning of the fort at some point. It is frustrating that we will not get  a chance to examine these in more detail.

In Trench 2, there was plenty of planning and recording- but again, there were new discoveries and developments. Most intriguing was a clear stretch of new wall that ran north-south from the road front underneath the metal working area. It was joined the west-east wall that runs along the road front itself, but it is not clear how/if it relates to the Roman bath-house structure- one possible hypothesis is that this defines an area at one time used as an exercise yard, although it is hard to be certain. Elsewhere, last minutes delving in the large strip building that partially overlies the bath compound wall unexpectedly revealed that underneath the substantial but crude post-pad wall lines were the remains of a well-built wall. I'd always assumed that the entire building was a very late addition- but it now seems that it may have just been a late rebuild of an earlier, underlying structure.

As we came to the end of the day, with about five minutes before packing up  Laura revealed the intact rim of a pot embedded within the fill of the metal working area. Following rapid excavation this turned out to be a completely intact pottery vessel complete with its handle still in place- a wonderfully fitting end to our time at Binchester....

Although this was the last day of the excavation, this won't be our last blog post- over the next week I'll be posting acknowledgements and thanks to all who helped with the project, as well as a more detailed explanation of why we have stopped. I'll also try and post a wider overview of what we've found in our trenches over the course of the excavation and some thoughts about what our big questions are for the post-excavation process. But for the now...vale!

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Binchester Day 33-34

Apologies for the lack of blog yesterday, I had to go up north to give a talk about the project to the splendid Bamburgh Research Project . Today we entered the penultimate day on site, although there is no sign of slowing down as we head straight for the finish line. We also had lots of visitors- including Dr Pam Graves from Durham University and camera people from the University and Archaeosoup.

In Trench 1, the dark areas continue to expand- we benefitted from a visit from Dr Mike Church from the Department of Archaeology who was able to distinguish areas of burning in situ from secondary dumping layers and also identified the possible presence of charred barley grains in the burnt debris. Further investigation of the large fire reddened area suggests that it might be secondary dumping of burnt material from elsewhere- it was clearly subject to sustained and high temperature burning, but a section put through it today showed the layer of soil beneath it to be lacking in any sign of the scorching that might be expected if the burning had occurred in situ.

Other work in Trench 1 has included identication of a possible well (or at least a deep straight sided pit)- an area of slumping investigated on Tuesday as a sondage resulted in a pit nearly 2m deep with clear indication from careful coring with a road iron that the internal deposits continued downwards.

In Trench 2, we seem to have finally bottomed our road front section, with the appearance of the probable foundations of the bath-house and what looks like patches of natural. In the adjacent road front areas, the patchy area of stones and dark material continues to be a patchy area of stones and dark material. However, in the metal working area, a previously vague line of stones had transformed into a proper stretch of walling of at least two courses. It is not clear how this relates to either the bath-house or the road front- investigation at the point where the road front wall and this new wall should intersect has proved uninformative.  Yet more crucibles have appeared and the remains of a cluster of small bronze rivets and an iron blade which suggests that this was originally a knife with a riveted handle. A very peculiar stone object came from this area- it is either a stone pot lid or more likely a base for a stone vessel.

Down the side of the bath-house, there are small number of mysterious new features appearing the porch area, including some of our voidy stake-holes and a distinct patch of burn clay. In this area Michelle discovered another nice bone needle.

Other top finds over the last days include more crucible fragments, various copper alloy "things" and the detectorists recovered another great brooch.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Binchester 2015: Day 32

A busy day, although the end is nigh...

In Trench 1, the black features are getting bigger and bigger- it is still not entirely clear whether they represent burning in situ or material dumped from elsewhere. It's not just about burning though; in the north-west corner of the barrack, a small north-south linear feature found when delving below the current layers looks like a beam-slot- but from what? It appears to pre-date the material we assume is part of the industrial phase; perhaps part of a very early barrack. Unfortunately, we won't have much chance to explore this further- it is just a tantalising hint of what else remains in the trench. Stephen also had a good go at turning one of our pits at the south end of the barrack into a sondage. He hit something that looked like natural, but only after going through a good 0.5m of soil-like material containing fragments of bone and industrial residue.

In Trench 2, the area in front of the bath-house remains interesting. There is now a nice metalled surface at the bottom of the main section/slot. The metal working area also continues to produce more crucible fragments and other related material, as well as some more post-holes. In between, there is a confused spread of stones and clay which keep looking like they are going to turn into something but never actually do. Finally on the western side of the bath-house, the putative gully has transformed into a definite gully with capstones in places. Nearby a  number of stake holes have appeared within the demolished porch- these must either be earlier, or alternatively cut from a higher level but only surviving clearly where they pierce the compacted gravel.

The metal dectorists continue to perform a valuable surface, recovering today's nicest find, a small bronze sea monster or sea creature (or as some have suggested, the Lambton Worm....).

Monday, 13 July 2015

Binchester 2015: Day 31

Today we entered the final week ever of the Roman Binchester excavation. Sadly, the morning was rather drizzly, but it cleared up in the afternoon and we got quite a bit of work done.

In Trench 1, the main focus has been on extending our understanding of the large areas of burning we have associated with an early phase of activity (pre-barrack) within the fort. These patches are getting bigger and emerging in all sections of the barrack block. Other jobs include continuing trying to get to grips with the strange clayey dumps in our road section. There was some excitement  when Stephen discovered a large circular copper alloy object whilst excavating near the latrine- we've managed to get it out of the ground intact, but it will need some cleaning up before we can say what it is.

In Trench 2, the roadside sections continue to be expanded, with plenty of the dark fills being removed, whilst Morris and Alan are revealing sequences of gravel surfaces alternating with layers of silt. The metal working area continues to produce plenty of crucibles and following last Friday's photographs, work continues apace. Finally, in the area to the west of the bath-house, the cobbled surfaces are cleaner than ever.

Also, another vote of thanks to our metal detectorists, who continue to find the things we've missed the first time around. Today's finds included a lovely little copper alloy stud and some well preserved coins.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Binchester 2015: Day 30

A beautiful day on site today - again, we had lots of visitors, including appearance by Durham's own Professor Jenny Price. Earlier in the day she had taken a look at the glass we had discovered this season and noted we had fragments from several bath flasks, used for holding the oil used in the bathing process.

In Trench 1, we continued to define the large spread of burnt clay and sandstone in the southern end of the trench, although we are no closer to understanding its actual purpose. Across the rest of the trench most of the focus was on excavating the spreads of burnt material belongin, we assume, to the pre-barrack phase of activity. Several of these areas have produced quantities of crucible fragments, and industrial residue. Not all these spreads are associated with actual scorching of the underlying layers so may well be dumps of debris from elsewhere.

In Trench 2, we are continuing with drawing the elevations in the bath-house although we will supplement these with photogrammetric photography once the main excavation is over thanks to Aerial-Cam. In the area to the west of the bath, we've done some recording and also clearly have a well-defined curved edge of set stones, although it is not as clear precisely what they are actually defining. In the bronze working area we spent much of the day giving it a thorough clean to get some photographs taken. This revealed a series of further stake holes defining an internal area within the larger building- these can be seen on the vertical shot below.
On the main road front, the big slot continues to go down seemingly onto yet another cobble surface. In the area in between, the dark street front soils continue to be removed- with a finds assemblage dominated by massive quantities of cattle bone.We've also had some more drone photography- the image at below shows  our metalworking area in Trench 2.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Binchester 2015: Day 29

After yesterdays soggy times, today was much more pleasant. We had lots of visitors- we welcomed Iain Ferris, who led the major campaign of excavations on the praetorium and its bath-house. He had lots of useful insights which were extremely helpful We then saw Lindsay Allason-Jones, who had time to record some our sculptured stone fragments. We were also visited by Marc from Archaeosoup with whom we hope to do some filming next week.

In Trench 1, the burnt areas are getting more extensive and we are  still particularly flummoxed by the large spread of burnt sandstone and clay which appears much more substantial than any oven we have seen so far. It is clearly earlier than the barrack  but its function is still opaque. Some nice finds, including the second bone dice of the week.

In Trench 2, we were are in the final stages of tidying up and recording the bath-house interior. In the area outside to the west, we can really see how the flagstones are edged by a nicely defined kerb, with a more scrappy area to the east- although there is still an intriguing and difficult to understand stone setting. To the south of the bath-house - lots of recording but also more work on the metal working area which has produced a beautiful crucible lid seemingly with some wood or a similar fibrous material embedded in it. In general, we have continued our splendid run of nice finds - two fine spoons (one bone with a pierced bowl and one copper alloy with possible silver surfaces in places) and a wonderful little lead phallic pendant from Mary.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Binchester 2015: Day 28

No news from Trench 1 today- it has been a while since we have had any message from them and we fear they may all have drowned. Tomorrow we will send a small search party equipped with galoshes, mackintosh squares and Kendal mint cake to round up survivors.

Meanwhile in Trench 2, we have received despatches from Lieut. Jamie "If  you a better 'ole" Armstrong...

"In Trench 2 we started well up in numbers, despite the rain falling from the beginning. However, after tea many decided to call it a day given the rather gloomy outlook. Ironically it improved, and those who stuck with it messaged to make a little progress. Most significantly Jacqui and Graham found a possible wall to the west of the bathhouse, although its a little early to be sure: tomorrow will make this clearer. In our large sondage against the bathhouse we made steady progress, and Steven found the step foundation for the wall to the south. A very nice piece of copper was found in the same area by Alan, which exhibits holes for stitching and must have been attached to some leather. The rest of the day was filled with a visit from a school group, and also a guided tour of the bathhouse for some of the volunteers."