It's been a while, but things are starting to get moving again with the Binchester project. We are beginning to make arrangements for our fifth season - our Durham students will begin in early June and the US and public groups will begin in early July. Hopefully the weather will be a little better than last years was...
In the meantime to whet you appetites I want to advertise an exhibition about Binchster that has been pulled together by 3rd year students here at Durham who are taking our Museum Studies module. Binchester Exposed will be on at the Old Fulling Mill Museum here in Durham- openingon May 1st and running until 2nd June. Do try and visit if you can and let us know what you think of it.
At last I've had a chance to sit down and pull together the results from the last day on site. Even though it was our last day, we continued to make great progress. There was inevitably some housekeeping to do (particularly a bid of weeding in advance of our Aerial Cam shots on Monday). In Trench 1, we continued to move a lot of the upper, late walling in the southern end of the barrack (green glazed pottery in the wall make-up confirming its late date). We also found what appears to be a nice copper alloy knife chape of medieval? date. At the north end, we carried on exposing the gable end and the other wall immediately to its north; suprisingly this gable wall also appears now to be extending eastwards as well. It is not clear how far, and we remain uncertain at this time whether it was cut by the large pit. This large pit continued to expand, with some possible traces of a wood lining.
In Trench 2, the most exciting progress was made in the eastern room of the bath building. Here having removed all the slabs, we were able to crack on reach on down to some kind of floor surface. Most excitingly, we confirmed that there was a cross-wall in this corridor like space. As it is not bonded in to the side walls and cuts across the existing wall plaster it is clearly not part of the original plan. There is a doorway in the western side and in the base of the excavated area we found a large worked stone that was almost certainly the upper lintel of this doorway (see images. In the adjacent space we continued moving flagstones including finally shifting the small portable altar that had been used as flooring.
In the next few days I'll provide a full overview of this season's work at the site, highlighting areas where we've really made some progress. I'm having a few days break, but in the near future, we'll be carrying out two small additional evaluation trenches to the north of our current area in the north vicus. I'll post about them more shortly too.
Finally, I want to to thank all those who have helped us make this year's season such a success: from Archaeological Services, Durham University, Peter Cairn, Matt Claydon, Jamie Armstrong, Janet Beveridge, Becca, Carrie Drew, Linda Bosveld and Jenny Jones, from Vinovia, Melissa Chatfield and Gary Devore, as well as Chris Whitmore (Texas Tech) and Michael Shanks (Stanford University), David Mason from Durham County Council, Chris and Alan the Binchester custodians, and the staff of St John's College, Durham- finally, it would of course not have been possible without our diggers- the first year Durham archaeology students, our US contingent and all those from the local community who worked long and hard with us on site.
So two days worth of work to catch up on. In Trench 1, the most significant development is the realisation of the implications of our uncovering of most of the northern gable wall of the barrack. We can see clearly how the current top of the wall is a rough rebuild roughly along the line of the earlier wall. Crucially, we can now see how in this latest rebuild, the gable-end door was at the western end of the wall, but this replaced an earlier door in the eastern end of the wall, which has its lower lintel a good 50cm below the latest version. This is a really solid reminder of the extent to which the internal floor levels of the barrack must have progressively risen since its initial construction and how much the barrack has been remodelled. This is made even more clear by the westward extension of this earlier gable wall. This probably implies that the earliest phase of the barrack block was twice as wide as the building we can see at the moment. At some point before the later gable end wall was built this western half appears to have fallen entirely out of use leaving just the eastern half to continue as a standing building. Given that this eastern half itself was clearly extensively reworked over time, we are beginning to see a real time depth to this constantly changing building. Chronology is hazy, but it seems pretty clear that the western half had fallen out of use by the time the butchery/pit phase occurred. This phase was followed by a thorough reworking of the southern portion of the extant structure in the 13th/14th century, when elements of the barrack survived to such an extent that they could be incorporated, at least partially, into later buildings. Elsewhere in this trench, we've been finishing off the cobbles to the east of the barracks and the final elements of the medieval revetment feature. Hacking away at the embankment near the southern oven/kiln has revealed an extensive spread of charcoal which has clearly been raked out of the stoke-hole of this feature. This will give us potentially good burnt plant preservation and something for C14 dating. Finds today included a very large fe obj of indeterminate type and the top of cow skull with a distinct nail hole (not modern) in it.
In Trench 2, we keep on going down within the interior of the bath building- a large charcoal-rich layer has been reached in the easternmost room. Otherwise, there is lots of planning going on, as well as attempts to get a look at the central area of the trench and to unpick the complicated western most section, where I must admit, I remain to be convinced about the presence of the building.
Tomorrow is our last day!
Sorry, not much of an entry for today as I was caught up with other things. Primarily, our bi-annual steering group meeting - this gives our advisory panel of experts a chance to have a look at how we have been progressing. I think they were pleased and impressed... After the tour we had a useful meeting where we started firming up our plans for the all important post-excavation analysis and pondered interim reports and publications. Finally, as next year is the last of our initial five-year campaign, we started to think about the longer term future of the project. I don't want to say too much yet, but things are looking very positive!
The images today as a number of photographs taken of artefacts found earlier this season by our conservator Jenny Jones
And thanks to Sam Beger for today's entry
The Northern English drought continued its streak today: 6 days without rain on site. We felt like ants through a magnified glass as the sun beamed down on the arid trenches, but being the professionals that we are, we carried on. It seems that the tanning pit hypothesis may have been correct for today as our pasty complexions began to generate pigment. Despite the compact soil, numerous artifacts were uncovered today. Jonathan earned a new nickname of "Jonathan Trowel Hands" due to his systematic and almost machine-like ability to find artifacts. Today he found an amazing golden bead (the only gold object this year) as well as a spearhead. Other finds in trench 1 were Will's clay game counter, and Brad's blue glass bead. Over in trench 2, Madison found a portion of a jet ring and Lauren found a small coin. Some new and exciting things that were discovered today included the removal of some behemoth stones. Tim and Melissa flipped over some flat stones in their area hoping to see some inscriptions on the back. Although there were no signs of any epigraphs, the removal of the stones allows for the area beneath them to be excavated. Over in Daniel's part of his trench, another group of large stones was removed and hurled into the rock pile. Also in trench 2, Katie and Madison managed to uncover a beautiful extension of a pathway, giving us some new valuable information about the vicus. Overall today was full of great weather and fun. There was a lot of recording on the Total Station for both small finds and surveying continued in both trenches. Becca's final thoughts on the day were summed up as, "Today has been awesome." Only 3 days left and our goal is to continue efforts to remove all medieval deposits and structures by the end of the season. The challenge strikes a remarkable resemblance to the TV show "Time Team". Will we make it? Stay tuned!
Today's blog post is from Julia Hurley
Today’s lovely (though windy!) weather allowed us to make considerable progress on the site. We began the morning with a tour of Trench 2, during which Peter told us about some new interpretations of some of the larger areas in the trench, particularly the area between the bath house and Dere Street. Several stones with post holes indicate that a later wooden structure was built onto the front of the building, which provides a possible explanation for the gap of several meters between the baths and the road. After our tour, work commenced in the trenches. Extensive planning and leveling was carried out in the west section of Trench 2. Elizabeth and Carol worked to reveal cobbles in the central room of the bath house, which led Jamie to draw an interesting connection to similar cobbles that Katie and I discovered on the north edge of the trench. Perhaps they date from the same period? Excitingly, Jamie also believes that there may be another building coming up in the middle of Trench 2. With any luck, we’ll find out before the end of the week. There were several interesting finds in Trench 2, including an amazingly well-preserved set of tweezers found by Linda. Over in Trench 1, although Matt reports that there are “still no swords” to be found, there were several interesting finds. The team excavated the top of a Roman glass bottle, in addition to a well-preserved pot. 6 coins were also found in Trench 1 today, but unfortunately they were from the spoil heap! The Trench 1 team also made good headway on revealing the Roman intervallum road. In the southwest corner of the trench, a new cobbled surface has been uncovered. The absence of cobbles in the middle suggests that there may have been a drain associated with this surface. All in all, it was a very productive day for the team at Binchester.
I was off site most of the day as I had a meeting up at the Roman fort of Whitley Castle (Epiacum), high in the North Pennines, near Alston. However, I did get to spend an hour or so at Binchester this afternoon. In Trench 1, a slight technical issue, when we uncovered the modern water pipe, but we soon had it cordoned off. Otherwise, in the barrack, there was more unpicking of the big pit at the southern end. Yesterday, the base of a small oven or kiln was revealed, but this may be of medieval date (inevitably). In the meantime we did some good work along the western edge of the barrack, at one point we've found a possible edge to a large pit (or even ditch?!). This produced a nice intaglio carved from what looks like red jasper (well done Jonathan). When it's cleaned up we'll get a nice photo. At the northern end of the barrack, we saw more work on the new wall, we're starting to have a look at it in several places along its length, and also explore how it relates to the possible westerly extension of the gable end wall.
In Trench 2, more planning and recording. Although in the eastern end of the building, Steven and Martha have made great progress following their epic stone moving yesterday. They've exposed the western niche and have identified another possible wall in the base of the pit. Just to the north, we've also got more stone-line pit appearing. Nicest find from Trench 2 today, a silver denarius (but from the spoil heap...)
This blog will share information about the major new field project at the Roman fort of Binchester (Co. Durham), run jointly by Durham County Council, the Dept. of Archaeology, Durham University and Dept. of Classics, Stanford University and the Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland. It will communicate news, events, and once the field season starts a daily update of the discoveries on site. To find out more visit our website