Thursday, 2 July 2015

Binchester 2015: Day 24

Another hot and sticky day on site, but everyone persevered with their work.

In Trench 1, there were lots of interesting developments. Perhaps the best way to sum these up is with the one word "Burning". In the southern end of the barrack, our large burnt area of stone which underlies the western wall of the barrack just gets bigger and clearly represents a significant conflagration. Also in the southern end of the barrack, a new area of possible metal working / smithing is emerging; it is not clear how this stratigraphically relates to the barrack, although it is clearly early. It may well even represent evidence for pre-barrack activity.

In the northern compartment of the barrack, our area of new flagstone flooring has emerged and been consolidated. Our nice worked stone drain clearly sits above it with a soil layer in between. We've not removed the stone drain as we want to keep it in situ for possible future consolidation and display. The flagstones clearly run under the drain, but have yet to emerge on the southern side. This may be because we are not down at the correct level in this area- although another large patch of burning with some evidence for debris assocaited with metal working has been emerging from here. It may represent in situ smithing or a dump of debris from elsewhere. Finally, towards the end of the day, we uncovered the remains of a small clay oven up against the edge of the eastern wall of the compartment. This would have been a small domed 'tandoori' style oven, although the upper elements have now gone.

We've also continued poking around in the slot through the eastern stretch of intra-vallum road. This has revealed a large patch of burning and clay up against the rampart. It may be part of a large early oven subsequently covered over by later rampart and road layers. This also seems to represent possible pre-barrack activity and may be linked to the earliest phase of fort.

In Trench 2, the main developments were in the bath-house. Excavation to the north of the newly discovered cross-wall foundations in the corridor have revealed some more evidence  that the walls were formerly lined with box-flue tile, which was largely stripped out but remains in situ at floor level. It seems likely that the many iron clamps/fittings we have found embedded in the wall of this area were used for securing the flue to the stone wall.

To the north of the cross-wall, Sue has continued to explore the early floor layers. This revealed a void in the floor next to the west wall of the corridor. Our ever curious trench supervisor Jamie had the bright (and brave) idea of sticking his phone down the hole to take a photo - and revealed evidence for a hypocaust pila of stacked ceramic tiles. We now seem to have two hypocausts, one each side of the corridor cross wall.

Lots of nice finds- including a really nice ring from one of our metal detectorists. It is worth mentioning how helpful the detectorists have been. Although we always try to retain all the finds in situ, inevitably some get missed. By having a regime of detecting our spoil heaps we are able to recover items we may have initially missed. They have found some of our nicest finds - including last year's Christian ring. Without them our recovery rate would be much lower.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Binchester 2015: Day 22

Another sweltering day, although we did have a mid-afternoon lolly break! The heat wave was finally broken by a massive thunderstorm directly over the site, so we knocked off a little early.

In Trench 1, more picking away at the barracks. A nice flagstone floor is appearing in the officer's compartment to the north of the building. A splendid range of nice finds, including some samian with maker's marks and several fragments of stamped amphora- I am pretty sure this is the first example we've seen in the entire excavation.

In Trench 2, more picking at external surfaces and plenty of context sheets being filled in . We've also decided to take a closer look at the surface Laura uncovered yesterday, so she will take down the adjacent section of stratigraphy leaving just a baulk. In the bathhouse, our section of hypocaust which we planned to explore and expand came to an abrupt halt, when Sue and Karen hit the foundations of a substantial cross-wall that runs west-east across the corridor (to the north of the standing cross-wall) - it is not clear what this is. It may have been a feature of the first phase of the bath-house that was demolished in the reworking of the building or it may conceivably relate to an even earlier structure.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Binchester 2015: Day 21

A stinking hot day today, but all the diggers persevered through it and we made good progress despite the sun - tomorrow is set to be even hotter though; I think I might have to do a lolly run.

In Trench 1, as yesterday, the focus is very much on the barrack interior. Following on from the last blog entry, we have done good work tying the interior of the building into the road sequences and other features outside.We now have two cobbled surfaces that cross beneath the barracks wall and must be related to a pre-barrack phase of use of this area. We have also started to uncover a large area of fire reddened flag stones; this is certainly more than a simple hearth and seems to indicated a big period of burning. It will be interesting to see if evidence for this burning comes up elsewhere. Was the wooden barrack destroyed by fire?

In Trench 2, the biggest excitement was in the bath-house corridor. Whilst probing in the floor area at the northern end of the corridor, we have identified a probable hypocaust pila made, as is typical, from a pile of stacked ceramic tiles. Although ever since we found the flue tiles embedded in the southern wall of the corridor, we have suspected that we might have an underfloor heating system in this area, this is the first time that we have actually found direct evidence. Presumably this extends beneath the entire floor of this compartment and was presumably extended when the southern extensions were built. In this southern end, we also probed the floor area more, and can now clearly see that opus signinum is laid  across the floor in the extensions, with the later flag stone floor and integral culverts built up over this floor. This seems to suggest that initially the entire southern end may have been one plunge bath, before being cut down and turned into a smaller plunge bath and changing area.

In the area to the south of the bath-house, there has been lots of recording in the slot being dug by Morris and Michael ("Tom"), particularly getting the section drawn. To the west, in the metal working area, just at the end of the day, Laura uncovered a flagstone surface beneath the dense spread of burnt material she had been excavating. This surface appears to run up to a wall line within the wooden structure. It is not, as yet, clear whether this represents another building, or perhaps a well-constructed smelting hearth - it should all come out in the wash over the next few days.

Finally, one of our 2nd year students, Darren Oliver, had the chance to experiment with the drone he is working on today- although this was his first test flight at Binchester he was able to get some great aerial shots of Trench 2. We look forward to seeing more!

Binchester 2015: Days 20-21

Apologies for getting a little behind with the blog posts. It's been a hectic couple of days and I've barely had a chance to sit in front of a computer since Friday. Anyway, we've had two very constructive days, facilitated by the wonderful weather- it's starting to warm up now!

In Trench 1, we've moved nearly everyone into the barrack block to blitz the final internal features. There are still drainage slots and post-holes appearing; the number of the post-hole voids in particular continue to multiply. Particular developments include the discovery that one layer of external road surface appears to run across and into the barracks area- for the first time, we've been able to securely stratigraphically link the barrack with an external surface. In the south-west corner, we've welcomed our long-term volunteer Jonathan back- he's been cleaning a strip across the very southern end of the trench and appears to have found something that looks like it could be natural. We've also gone back to beavering away in the small section of structure to the west of the north end of the barrack. We've clearly got several levels of stone walling and traces of what looks like a floor surface which had been partly removed in the past. Yesterday a chunk of possible Rhineland lava, probably from a quern, was found wedged into the foundations of one of the walls.

In Trench 2, inside the bath-house there has been lots of recording, with Darren bravely tackling a sheaf of context sheets in the corridor. Meanwhile, next door in the changing room, Sue and Karen have been looking at the section excavated through one of the culverts. They have removed the lining stones and shown even earlier potential surfaces. The construction of the plunge bath can also be seen- the foundations of its walls go down quite some way; certainly deeper than the level of the op sig floor.

In the area to the south of the bath-house, Michael, John and Morris have been continuing with their section through the dark deposits- lots of evidence for burning, but they have come down onto a compact gravel floor. This work has also exposed a possible flue-hole in the external face of the wall, presumably connected in some way to the flue on the inside of the same wall. This section produced one of the nicest of our recent finds- the handle of a copper alloy pan/skillet - another cracking discovery from Michael.

In our metalworking area, Stephen and Laura have been making great strides, unpicking what may be an oven structure (it certainly contains a lot of burnt material with masses of copper alloy splashes), more crucible fragments are emerging, and yesterday Laura found a beautiful, intact lidded crucible.

Finally, Michelle, Jacqui and the others have been making great inroads into unpicking the layers of cobbled surface along the west side of the bath-house. Not the most exciting task, particularly in this heat but crucial for working out the sequence of activity in this area.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Binchester 2015: Day Nineteen

I was off site today - I was in York looking at the site archives for the impressive Roman building (possibly a bath-house) excavated on the site of Queen's Hotel, Skeldergate (York), where the walls survived in places even higher than ours at Binchester (over  3m in places!). I was working on this material as part of a project to re-assess the dating evidence for the important (but complex) Roman to early medieval transition.

As a result of my absence, today's report is from Jamie Armstrong- our Trench 2 supervisor

"Trench 1

(Conversation in the van on the way home)

Jamie: Damn, I forgot to come and look at your trench today: did you find anything interesting for the blog?

Matt: No.

Trench 2

A little low on numbers, but we still got plenty of things done. On the south side of the bath-house, near the southeast corner the trench Morris, John and Michael made good progress blitzing a sondage between the bath-house southern wall and the new wall which fronts directly on to Dere Street: for security reasons this trench shall be referred to as “Tom”, and we anticipate being beyond the wire (or possibly on a floor level) by Monday. There are some lovely soft deposits in this area, including a thick black layer of burnt material. The new wall was also found to have a stepped course, indicating we may be close to the bottom. Finds from this area included the base of a square glass vessel and a copper object, as well as the inevitable mounds of animal bone.

Just off the southwest corner of the bath-house further work by Laura and Margaret (helped by a late surprise cameo from Peter) has defined the deposits within the post-built structure. To the south of this, Steven has finished excavating a small stone-lined pit which has been filled with an interesting mix of burnt material intermixed with copper fragments. Several more crucible fragments were also found in this feature, to add to the ones found previously from the same area, indicating at least one focus of metalworking, although interesting there is no evidence of in situ burning within the pit itself.

At the northern end of the side road Graham and Jacqui were kept entertained unveiling the latest of a series of layers of stones in our excavation of a long strip between the west side of the bath-house and the very fine wall to the west. We should be in a position to record this and begin its removal tomorrow.

Within the bath-house, Sue and Karen have excavated a section through the floor to the north of the long plunge-pool in the changing room. As a result we now know  the depth wall of this plunge pool , and also that it was constructed on some large flat slabs: whether these slabs are part of the foundation of the wall, or are in fact an earlier floor is not yet clear. Quite a long discussion with Peter has led to a decision to dig a bit more and see what happens.

At the south end of the corridor Darren completed his lovely plan and began the exciting job of numbering everything. Once this is completed we should be ready to continue. During the course of the day it suddenly dawned on me that, while there is a very obvious drain from the eastern plunge pool in this area, there is no similar drain from what I presumed was the western plunge pool. It seems that there was only one plunge pool after all, and that the space opposite with the remnants of a stone bench was actually a changing space, presumably for a private bathing area."

Binchester 2015: Finds conservation

An extra blog entry today - this is a brief report by our conservator Vicky Garlick on what happens to our finds: 

Objects are retrieved from the site every couple of days, with exciting finds discovered daily. Often during conservation of these objects surprising discoveries are made, including confirming that several objects are in fact silver, rather than copper alloy.

The objects arrive into the conservation lab where they’re initially photographed and recorded. The object then have the surface dirt removed using cotton wool swabs and a suitable solvent and a scalpel is used to remove the corrosion on the surface. Once cleaned, the metal objects are then consolidated using an adhesive and solvent solution to prevent future deterioration and damage during storage or display.

The images show several of the recent finds before and after conservation.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Binchester 2015: Day Eighteen

My first full day on site this week- despite driving from rain on the way in, we actually had lovely weather all the time we were out. It was busy- with lots of visitors, including  a great group of children, who all proved to be excellent at spotting Roman coins!

Progress is a little slower this week due to our reduced numbers- nonetheless, there have been some interesting developments. In Trench 1, we've identified a roadside gulley cut into the sub-soil alongside the northern edge of the northern intravallum road- it makes a nice change to be excavating negative features rather than wall chasing. Along the edge of the barracks, we've had more lines of our strange post-hole voids appearing marking possible internal or external walls. We're also finding yet more evidence for subsidence- Helen has been excavating a large "pit" which in fact appears to be a sunken metalled surfaced, which is cut by a drainage gully. We've also been ferreting in our road sections- in the area where we thought we'd more or less got to natural, we've now found a large stone kerb or wall running north-south...  no idea what this could be- possibly an earlier road?

In Trench 2, there is still more cleaning up of the external pavements and surfaces around the bath-house. In our small post-hole area, Stephen excavated a small stone setting packed with coal and other burnt material, with lots of splashes of copper alloy - this must be a candidate for part of a metal working hearth.Further to the east, the team are continuing to trowel through the soft grey and brown roadside layers- the presence of various stone settings all hint at something structural here, but nothing has yet resolved itself clearly

Some nice finds today- a lovely little enamelled stud found by Laura, and a strange metal grill or mount and a belt-buckle also from the area in front of the bath-house.