Friday, 9 September 2011

Binchester Research Project: Latest Update!!

Welcome to all those who have found their way to the Binchester blog following our appearance on Digging for Britain. I want to take this chance to bring all our new visitors up-to-date about progress on site. When Alice and the Digging for Britain crew came to visit us, we were only three weeks into a ten week excavation season. Not surprisingly much has happened since they did the filming.

We have two trenches at Binchester. Trench 1 is situated within the fort itself. We continued to find increasing evidence for our possible late Roman tannery, including at least one small well which may have provided water for the process. Several more processing pits were uncovered, all containing lots of cattle bones. Our bone experts have had a quick look at the material and confirm our impression that the assemblage is dominated by skull fragments and feet bones. On the basis of the teeth surviving in cattle jaws it appears that they were mainly being slaughtered at the age of 3 or 4.

Elsewhere in Trench 1 we continued with excavating our main barrack building. This is almost certainly 4th century in date, but shows evidence for continued re-use and re-working well into the late 4th century and possibly later. Although appearing to be one long structure, close analysis makes it clear that it was actually constructed in several individual builds. None of the processing pits which surround the building cut the walls, indicating that it was still standing when this part of the site was given over to industrial activity.

Along the eastern edge of Trench 1 we made great progress with the investigation of the ramparts, we identified a stone lined drain that ran along the interior of the rampart and may have marked the edge of a road that ran round the inside of the fort. We’ve also excavated a rather nice example of a Roman bread oven. Finally, in the south-east corner of the trench we continued work on a small building, which we are now certain is medieval (12-14th century AD) in date. This appears to have been associated with another small circular oven, possibly used for drying grain before grinding it into flour.

Our second trench (the imaginatively named Trench 2) is located to the east of the main fort and fronts onto Dere Street, the Roman road that ran from Hadrian’s Wall down to York. In this area we have excavated two so-called ‘strip buildings’ these are long narrow buildings that were probably used for some kind of craft or light industrial activity. It is from the better preserved one of these that we located good evidence for the production of jet objects, including lumps of raw jet (probably from Whitby). These buildings had their narrow ends facing onto Dere Street and we’ve started to get a good understanding of the street frontage itself, including a substantial roadside drain and a number of socket stones which may have supported awnings or a veranda. At the eastern end of our trench we made great progress excavating a larger stone building. This had more substantial stone walls and in places traces of wall plaster still remaining on the interior walls. This structure also had evidence for at least two splayed openings in the walls, possibly doors or windows. We are hypothesising that this building may be part of a bath-house. Excavations in the early 20th century just to the north of our trench revealed a circular bath-house and the proximity of our structure suggests it may be part of the same complex. One of the most exciting finds we made in Trench 2 this year was a fragment of a stone inscription which appears to record the dedication of a small shrine (sacellum) by one of the cavalry officers at the fort. It is quite possible that the shrine referred to may have been within the bath-house. We also discovered a small stone altar nearby.

However, as in Trench 1, Trench 2 contained a whole series of substantial stone-lined processing pits associated with substantial quantities of cattle bone, which we again believe is evidence for large-scale tanning at the site. Two of the largest pits cut through the floors of the ‘bath-house’ but do not cut through the walls, suggesting that at the very least the walls were still standing to some extent.

Despite the discovery of the inscription, the altar and a number of other exciting finds including are amounts of pottery, glass and bone, for me the most exciting story this year has been our appreciation of the extent and scale of the probably tanning on the site. I want to make clear, we don’t have absolute evidence that tanning was the process being carried out here, but at this stage, it does seem the best explanation for the large number of pits and gullies and the distinctive nature of the bone assemblage. Since the programme, one of the key areas where we’ve developed our understanding has been in terms of the precise dating of this industrial scale activity. It seems from the initial survey of the ceramics that large-scale pottery use in our excavation areas had declined by approximately AD380, although we know from our coins that there was continued economic activity of some kind until the very late 4th century. We’ve had two initial radiocarbon dates from plant macrofossils preserved in the processing pits, one from within the fort and one from the vicus. The result from the fort has the possibility of being sub-Roman (50% probability of being after AD 400), though the date from the civilian settlement has much less chance (4.2% after AD 400). This may suggest that the tanning fits into the very final years of Roman activity rather than further into the 5th century. However, it is important to emphasise that we have only had a very small number of dates so far, and we are planning a more substantial programme of dating next year.

Overall we can hypothesise that we have a very large tanning industry of very late Roman date. I know of no similar parallels from elsewhere in Britain or indeed the western Roman Empire. On the programme we suggested that this tanning might be situated in the context of a sub/post-Roman power centre at the fort. Given our more refined dating evidence, I feel that we might instead be looking at large-scale Roman military processing , possibly a military factory of some kind. The army would have had a great demands for leather (for shoes, horse-harnesses and tents) and it might be that Binchester became a supply depot. Of course, we still have much more to do on site and our understanding of the situation will undoubtedly become more subtle and developed.

So what are the plans for the future? We have two more excavation seasons on site (2012; 2013). We aim to continue to explore our two trenches and crack on into the Roman stratigraphy. We’ve also plans for a couple of smaller evaluation trenches on areas of interest flagged up by our extensive programme of geophysics around the site. There is also a programme of scientific work, including lots of soil geochemistry being carried out by students from Northumbria University and hopefully a pilot project to assess the potential of bone chemistry on the animal bones to see if it can help define where the animals are coming from.

For more information about the project keep on checking our blog or visit our website to read our annual interim reports and explore a range of other related literature about the project. As always, if you have any queries or questions please don’t hesitate to drop me a line.

And finally, for an alternative view of Binchester have a look at this!

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Digging for Britain: Binchester on TV

Earlier this year we were filmed for the BBC2 Archaeology series Digging for Britain. The episode which we are in is being shown this Friday (9th September) on BBC2 at 9pm with a repeat on Sunday (11th September) on BCC2 at 6pm. It will probably also be on I-Player for a while. Let us know what you think!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Vinovia. The Buried Roman City of Binchester in Northern England

I want to highlight a new publication about Binchester: Vinovia. The Buried Roman City of Binchester in Northern England
. It is written by Iain Ferris, one of the archaeologists who led the major excavations on the commander's house in the centre of the fort at Binchester (the results of which were published recently). Iain is an archaeologist and art historian with over thirty years of experience working in professional archaeology in Britain and abroad and in teaching archaeology at several UK universities. His research interests include Roman art and material culture and Romano-British archaeology and artefacts. He has directed major archaeological research excavations in northern and midland England and has served as a member of the Archaeology Committee of the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies. He has published widely in academic journals; his first book, Enemies of Rome. Barbarians Through Roman Eyes, was published in 2000 and his second, Hate and War. The Column of Marcus Aurelius, in 2009.

There has been interest in the site of Binchester since the sixteenth century. This book will use the results of this work to present a clear picture of the history of the site and its place in the Roman military north. It is hoped that the book will act as introduction to the site of Vinovia for the informed lay reader interested in Roman Britain in general, as well as for undergraduate students of archaeology. Basic academic notes and a short bibliography are provided, allowing those wishing to pursue in more depth the more complex aspects of the study to do so with relative ease

'Vinovia. The Buried Roman City of Binchester in Northern England' by Iain Ferris. Amberley Publishing June/July 2011. ISBN 978-1-4456-0128-1. 192 pages, 98 illustrations/plates. £16.99.

Available through bookshops or online from, for example, Amazon, Oxbow Books etc or direct from Amberley Publishing. For those local to the site, the book will also hopefully be on sale at the visitor centre on-site at Binchester, in W.H. Smith in Bishop Auckland, and at Waterstones in Durham and Darlington.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

BIN11: Day Forty-One/Forty-Two

We're very much winding down now and trying to sort out the final loose ends before the end of the project on Friday. This is likely to be my last blog entry for this season unless anything exciting occurs in the next day or two.

Working in Trench 1 only, we are doing large amounts of planning so we can get all the surfaces worked on last week fully recorded. We've now finished the bread oven which has revealed a lovely cobbled floor (see picture). Elsewhere, there is still a little work going on in and around the northern end of the building (including the identification of yet another possible pit- although this one is an internal one). We've also had one of the students from Northumbria University doing some further geochemical sampling in the buildings on site.

It has been a really good seaon- thanks to all those involved. I'll try and do a full acknowledgement to everyone who has helped in the next few days. I'll also try and summarise what I think we've learned over the last ten weeks. Also, don't forget, keep an eye out for us on the BBC2 series 'Digging for Britain' which should be broadcast at some point in August.

Friday, 5 August 2011

BIN11: Day Forty

Despite the fact we've only got one week to go, we're still beavering away. Although there is an increasing level of recording going on, we're still making progress with excavation. We've now got another stretch of roadside gully, which can be now seen to run the entire length of the trench, except where it is covered over by the medieval building. At the north end it appears to be curving slightly, either to avoid the bread oven or to begin to turn the corner to run along the north-eastern rampart. It is also possible to recognise a series of stone 'spines' perpendicular to the main gully- what are these for? Today we started cleaning up one of the last remaining areas of the trench that has been relatively under investigated, the edge of the north-eastern rampart. We have found at least one pit cut into the clay make-up of the bank, it will be interesting to see if the roadside gully emerges on this side too.

Elsewhere, there was more work inside the barrack, cleaning and defining floors. The new stretch of wall (the extension of the northern gable end) is becoming clearer; interestingly, a possible doorway in this gable end has now disappeare as we've been able to more clearly define the course of the end wall.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

BIN11: Day Thirty-Nine

A quiet day with lots of rain, nonetheless work kept on going for much of the day. More work on the ovens- Suresh has made a lovely job on the small oven near the medieval building which has a nice floor constructed from stone slabs. The larger oven has now been fully opened up and the quest is now on to bottom it, with a layer of cobbles appearing through the clay. Nearby, we've started giving the corner tower a bit of a tidy up as part of the process of getting to better understand the rampart and related features. There has also been great progress in getting to grips with the gully/cobbles close to the big pit. Work inside the main building is going well- the large stone trough/item has been more fully excavated. It has a gap at one end with some stones arranged leading to it; it has all the appearances of a stone drain or soakaway, presumably the trough has been re-used from another context. Finally, on the western side of the main building, guess what? Looks like we've got another stone-lined pit!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

BIN11: Day Thirty-Eight

Trench Two is nearly wound down and it was Jamie's last day on site (this season), so he was frantically recording. Still a small amount of excavation going on though, including further stones being revealed in the huge pit in the 'bath building'.

Most activity is now focused in Trench 1. Another section of rampart has been examined and pleasingly yet more of the roadside gully has appeared - and as Jamie noted in yesterday's blog, some of the cobbled surface has now appeared running beneath the medieval building (just short of where our sondage stopped last year). There was a group working away on the cobbled area near the gully/big pit. They are bringing to light a very nice surface made up of the distinctive small stones which seems to be a feature of many Roman surfaces on this site. Lots more work on the interior of the northern compartment of the barrack - floor surfaces coming up, and Marie has uncovered what appears to be a substantial stone trough. We haven't removed it yet, but it reminds me of the large stone bowl we found in the nearby big pit last year.

Finally, and perhaps most excitingly, Rosie and Jonathan have uncovered a stretch of walling to the immediate west of the northern end of the barrack, which appears to be a westward extension of the gable end. We've previously flagged up that the current structure we've uncovered is rather narrow for a barrack, which are more typically have two parallel ranges of rooms. Have we just found evidence for a second range of rooms? It is possible that the two ranges had different histories in the very late Roman period, with only our main 'block' surviving into the later 4th century. Of course, this might be just a massive over interpretation of just a small stretch of wall...

Today's photos are a collection of some our recent finds, including another image of our intaglio ring, a glass jug handle of 2nd/3rd century AD date.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

BIN11: Day Thirty-Seven

Another fairly quiet day on site. Our numbers are reduced although we have a group from a summer scheme run by the Oriental Museum with us for two days. We also had visits from two members of our advisory group: Iain Ferris and David Breeze, who both seemed very pleased by what they saw.

In Trench 2 we are very much focused on final recording and finishing off outstanding bits and bobs, although we are still furtling around in a few nooks and crannies to try and get a clearer understanding of what is going on between the eastern strip building and the 'bath house'.

In Trench 1, we're still tackling the larger pits. We've also made more progress on the more northerly of the two ovens, and are starting to take out the other half of the section. Still time to get lots more done in the next ten days though!

Monday, 1 August 2011

BIN11: Day Thirty-Six

From Jamie

"The departure of the Americans means that excavation of the trenches is now down to the volunteers. Trench 2 saw the return of people from earlier in the season, joined by one new face and several others who have been with us for a while, while trench 1 was mainly staffed by new starters. A mixture of recording and digging took place in trench 2 (I even managed to fit in a little planning...). The main areas of work were the culvert within the western strip building, and in the northeast corner of the trench where we continued work started at the end of last week. More of the culvert was exposed, after recording was completed, and we started exposing more stones between the possible bath-house and a stone spread to the west which has previously been rather featureless. In trench 1 the main focus was on further excavation, with cobble-cleaning continuing. The main achievement was establishing the presence of cobbles on the south side of the presumed medieval building, proving that they extend beneath the building.

BIN11: Day Thirty-five

Apologies for the lateness of this entry- we had our big party on Friday night to say farewell to the US team, so its taken a little while to recover and find time to download the photos and get 20 minutes to sit down in front of a computer.

Anyhow, not a huge amount to report from Friday- obviously, we were focussing on finishing of the as much recording as we could before the change in the team. I'd pick out a couple of key things. First, is the better understanding we are getting of the main barrack building in Trench 1. We are getting a much clearer sense of the complexity of the structure; it seems to have at least three separate sections. The northern part of the building has well worked facing stones in three and possibly four of its walls. The southern gable wall was immediately to the north of the large internal pit, which appears to have caused it to subside. The northern gable wall is not so obviously well constructed, but work on a pit adjacent to it, suggests that better quality walling may survive deeper down. This northern compartment also clearly has a complex later history. For example, there is a dividing wall cutting across the building which overlies an earlier flagstone floor and thus has no subsurface foundations. I've already touched on the flimsy nature of the northern gable end, which may suggest that the earlier wall was rebuilt. We've also identified a doorway in the eastern side of this part of the building.

To the south of this is a distinctly different build, with the foundation courses at a different level. It appears to be paved with large flagstones running into the pit; there are also one, possibly two doorways adjacent to where the structure meets the more substantial northern element of the building.

The issue of later use of the buildings also extends to Trench 2, where Daniel has been excavating a gully within the western strip building (see picture). This is a substantial stone lined feature and contained some nice finds including Roman glass and a bone counter/gaming piece. However, its extent is uncertain as one end is cut by a robber trench and the other by the 18th century roadside ditch. This means it is not clear whether the gully actually went through the western wall and where else it went; it can't be linked clearly to any other features. Nonetheless, the substantial nature of its construction is impressive.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

BIN11: Day Thirty-Four

As usual there has been lots of action on site, but for me its been 'a day of three ovens'. The first two are in Trench One. They are both circular stone-lined features built into the clay make-up of the rampart. The first one (see above) has been going through the process of cleaning for the last week or so, and finally we are starting to make headway with a section through it. It's clearly been fired extensively, with the stone showing reddening (although not to a very high temperature); it may well be a bread oven. After removing what appears to be the collapsed stone from the top part of the structure, we've revealed a clay surface that has also clearly been heated. It is quite well built and so far several courses survive.
It contrasts with the other oven further down the rampart (see below). This lies between the small medieval structure and the corner of the trench. This does not contain anywhere near as much as reddened stone, although it has clearly been burnt. It is also of a different structure, being built up of larger stones than the first oven, which mainly consists of small, stone slabs. The base is also different, with several large flat slabs forming its bottom. It is possible that it is related to the medieval building which it abuts. It may be a corn-drying oven, although this is sheer speculation at this stage.

The final oven worth mentioning is one that appears in the centre of the second, poorly preserved strip building in Trench 2. This is stone built, and unlike the other two, is rectangular. Today, Morris exposed a nice Roman floor surface within the building. Interestingly, the oven appears to be separated from this floor by a good 4-6 inches of dark soil, suggesting it post-dates the stone floor. There was a possible later floor surface, but this was much more inconsistent and patchy, largely comprising rubble patches and clay areas. Whatever the precise sequence, it does appear that this oven is one of the later features within the building.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

BIN11: Day Thirty-Three

First of all, more on the C14 dates. I asked Andrew Millard, our radiocarbon guru, to have a look at our dates. He has recalibrated them using Oxcal and come up with the results in the figures. According to Andrew, the first clearly has the possibility of being sub-Roman (50% probability of being after AD 400), though the second has much less chance (4.2% after AD 400). This works well with our current understanding of the site and there is clearly much to be gained from further dating work.

On site, we've continued to make good progress. In Trench 1, the oven in the rampart is starting to look really nice, and we've just started looking at the other possible oven feature which is crammed between the small medieval building and the edge of the trench. It looks like we may have finally bottomed the big pit (although it won't be the first time we've thought this). In the main building, having done some planning and photography, we're able to crack on with exploring the floors in the northern compartment. Jonathan's work on his internal pit is also showing that like some of the external pits it was placed immediately adjacent a wall which then shows signs of subsequent collapese (see picture below).

In one of the pits to the west of the building, we've had some great finds. Not content with having removed a number of large iron objects, possibly tools, Rosie went on to find what appears to be an iron ring with an intaglio setting (see picture below). This should hopefully scrub up quite nicely.

In Trench 2, the flagstones down the side of the strip building are looking good, although some were clearly removed in the same phase of robbing that removed some of the wall. Otherwise over here its mainly been recording work, although in the far eastern end of the building AR and Patrick have been quietly working away on the wall which sits immediately in our trench edge and are exposing some lovely stretched of walling which appear to be going down a long way!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

BIN11: Day Thirty-Two

We’ve finally received our long-awaited radiocarbon dates today. Just to remind you, we sent off two samples for dating. One was a charred seed from the large pit in the north-east corner of Trench 1 (Hilly’s pit) and the other was a charred seed from one of the large stone-lined pits cut into the inside of the large structure at the east end of Trench 2. Our key aim was to get an initial impression of the date of these pits and the related hollows and gullies, which seemed to comprise a distinct phase of activity across both sites and were consistently, associated with large quantities of cattle bones (mainly head and feet). We have been assuming that these features dated to either the very end of the Roman period or the period immediately following (ie late 4thcentury into the 5th century). However, although stratigraphically they were clearly later than the main phase of Roman activity, we could not be certain about how late they were, although there was a noticeable lack of medieval pottery from them. As once the Roman pottery industries ended in this region, substantial pottery use did not re-emerge until the post-Norman period, our pits could in theory date between anywhere from c.380 to perhaps 1100
The new dates have now confirmed that this phase is very much a feature of the late 4th to early/mid-5th century AD. To be precise, our dates are as follows

Sample BIN09293 (Trench One) = 1650 +/-40BP = which when calibrated at 2 sigma (95% probability) = Cal AD260-80; Cal AD330-450; Cal AD450-60; Cal AD480-530) (BETA-302143)

Sample BIN095141 (Trench 2) = 1720+/-40BP = which when calibrated at 2 sigma (95% probability) = Cal AD230-420

The first date is a little confusing and has produced when calibrated four distinct possible dates – I’ll need to find out more about the implications of this. We can probably eliminate the earliest possible date on the basis of the stratigraphy and the artefacts (pottery) within the feature. However, at this stage it looks like the features date to the late 4th or early 5th (with a possibility that the Trench 1 activity may date as late as the later 5th or early 6th century AD).
Inevitably, there are some possible limitations we should flag up. The key one is that they dates were taken on plant seeds. These are very small and could conceivably be redeposited from earlier layers, so the features may in fact be later than the current dates suggest. Nonetheless, the dates are broadly what we are anticipating and there are no nasty surprises
The dates are also broadly consistent with some of the dates from the excavations on the Commander’s bath-house. These (after statistical analysis) suggest that the bath-house ceased operation and became a focus for animal butchery in cal.AD370-400 and the butchery ended cal.AD370-410 with the end of the use of the structure in the workshop occurring by cal.AD390-430 (see Ferris 2010, 538). I'll have some more thoughts and comments on the C14 dates tomorrow.

This is not the end of the story though. In the autumn we will try and arrange a more substantial programme of dating. This will probably use the animal bone as it is less likely to be residual. We will also aim to get a sequence of dates from stratigraphically distinct layers within the same features as this will allow us to utilize some complex statistical techniques which will help refine the date ranges down more precisely. All very exciting!

Despite all the fun and games with the C14 dates, we still have work to do on site. In Trench 1, there has been good progress on cleaning and recording the floor surfaces in the main building – all now of course needing proper planning. Inevitably, more work is required on the pits. The large oven in the rampart is now being sectioned and is looking particularly nice. In Trench 2, work along the pit in the far corner is revealing more stretches of unrobed wall, some again with in situ wall plaster. The roadside ditch by the second strip building is also looking good; we’ve been able to get a look at the front of the building where there aren’t large threshold stones. It is possible that we have a lower area of drain, but this will require further exploration. Finally, plenty of work on the western side of the main strip building is proving profitable- we’ve now exposed a large area of flagstones running down the edge of the building (although robbed out in places) – these seems to be some kind of side alley running off the main street.

Monday, 25 July 2011

BIN11: Day Thirty-One

After a great trip to Lindisfarne and Bamburgh Castle yesterday, it was back to the grindstone this morning. In Trench Two there is plenty of planning going on, which is keeping people busy. The work on the roadside ditch is particularly pleasing and it looks like we might now be able to recognise some earlier phases of road surface in the ditch section. In the big building, there were still people beavering away in the large pits. We've also been poking aroun in the rubble that runs through one of the splayed-window/door openings. In the course of this a rather pleasing areas of tile edging on the inside of the opening (see photo - provided by Jamie Armstrong). In Trench One, the pits get deeper... Hilly found a rather nice piece of Roman belt-fitting(?) in hers. We've also been plugging away at the interior of the small medieval structure.

A couple of interesting visitors - Professor David Mattingly from Leicester University passed through (he gave a lecture in the Department in the afternoon, so a lot of the US team went back early to hear it); we also had a visit from Andrew Birley who leads the fantastic excavations at Vindolanda. We visited Vindolanda a few weeks ago and came away green with envy at the sheer quantity of finds they have recovered (although they have had a 30 year head start on us...). Both David and Andrew seemed interested in what we had to show them, which can only be a good thing!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

BIN11: Day Thirty (Part Two)

As I wasn't on site yesterday, Jamie has kept us updated
"While changeable it stayed dry on Friday, so work continued apace. In trench 2 we continued working along the west side of the westernmost strip building, and uncovering further evidence that the whole side of the building was paved, although a large section is missing (pic). This demonstrates that the robber trench on this section of wall was much broader that we thought, removing masonry, foundation stones and pacing and leaving behind just rubble. Elsewhere recording was the main order of the day, with 5 new victims I mean volunteers learning how to do this this important task. The most interesting find of the day was a jet object, perhaps a pendant, with circles carved on it, which was recovered from the smaller stone-lined pit (pic).

In trench 1 there was also further recording. One of the smaller stone-lined pits which contained a number of relinings may actually have been bottomed - there appears to be underlying deposits beneath the present stone layer (pic). Work within the barrack block is showing the presence of further stone surfaces (pic), and also a potential doorway likely to be an interior door. The deposits within the medieval building appear to have been bottomed, so there is the possibility of exploring the underlying deposits in this area before the end of the season."

Friday, 22 July 2011

BIN11: Day Thirty (Part 1)

I wasn't on site today, not because I was being idle, but because we had a visit from our Roman pot specialist, Jerry Evans, who came to give our ceramic assemblages an initial perusal and give us his first thoughts. Although much of our pottery from this year's work is still needing processing, we were able to show Jerry much of the material from the two previous seasons and a few select assemblages from the current season.

His key conclusion is that the sequence of pottery from both our trenches extends to around AD380, although there is very little at this stage to suggest that it extends later into the end of the 4th century or to the early 5th century. This is a contrast with the ceramics from previous excavations in the bath house, where the ceramic profile is indicative of a slightly later date. Intriguingly, the evidence from the pottery contrasts with the evidence from the coinage. Our latest coins are are three copper alloy nummi of the House of Theodosius dating to the late 4th century. This may be a real difference or it may simply be due to the fact that Jerry was only able to look at a proportion of our overall assemblage. However one looks at it though one of the key messages we can take from this is that the vicus at Binchester continues in use much later than many of the more northern vici. Our first carbon 14 dates our due back at the end of next week - this should provide some more chronological data to throw into the mix!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

BIN11: Day Twenty-Nine

A far better day today- even saw some blue sky. This meant things were back to normal with a full crew on site. In Trench 1, people were continue to pick away at the interior of the medieval building, although much of the rubble appears to be beneath the gable end. Along the eastern side of the site there was a large group cleaning some of the remaining areas of cobbles. Hilly is still in the big pit, but rather than going deeper she was exploring the relationship between the ditch a possible contemporary gully adjacent to it (and thanks to Hilly's mum for some good cake). Elsewhere there was more planning and recording, with the interior floors in the northern compartment of the barrack looking good; there are at least two phases of surface, with a rough cobble floor overlying a more substantial flagstone floor. In the pits to the west of the barrack, more poking around, which revealed a rather nice, almost complete grey ware pot placed in the edge of the pit immediately adjacent to the barrack wall.

In Trench 2, more work on the street frontage, mainly recording what was uncovered yesterday. The roadside ditch is now looking quite substantial in places. Along the northern edge of the site, to the north of the right-hand side strip building, Dan has beem working on one of the stone-lined pits, revealing yet more limestone on a surface abutting the northern gable end of the structure (or where it would be if it hadn't been robbed out and then knackered by the west-east ditch. In the central open area, there are hints of a new stone wall appearing - will this herald a new building? Difficult to tell at this stage, we shall wait and see. We're still working in the large pits as well- revealing new stone linings in places. SOme nice finds from this trench today, some pleasing ceramics (we lifted a large almost intact grey-ware pot that had been sitting on the surface in the open area) and there was a nice piece of worked bone. It may be a decorative inlay although there are two notches at one end and six at the other (see picture below)- any ideas?

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

BIN11: Day Twenty-Eight

A bit of a wet day today. In fact, a very wet day, but despite the rain the team did incredibly well, working through all but the heaviest downpours. Nonetheless, the sheer quantity of water on site did constrain our work programme, as many of the bigger pits were simply too slippy to work in and other areas were very muddy. Nonetheless, some progress was made.

In Trench 2, work moved forward on the roadside ditch, with two stretches being explored. Elsewhere, the weather forced us to concentrate on looking at the road surface, and some more stones were removed. At the far west end of the trench, people quietly worked away, and have revealed what might tentatively be traces of an oven or kiln.

In Trench 1, planning continued. Most significant was continued picking away at the stones around the eastern end of the small medieval building. This confirmed that the dump of cobbles ran under the probably eastern gable wall and are thus earlier- but how early?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

BIN11: Day Twenty-Seven

Another active day on site. Starting in Trench 1, we seem to have bottomed out the possible well, or at least finished removing the rubble fill. It is possible that it may continue going down, but we'll need to ensure we've got the sides properly explored and have a think about the practical health and safety issues too. Lots of work going inside the main barrack building, particularly in the northern compartment, where we are starting to get a better understanding of a series of partly preserved floor surfaces. Along the western side of the building the pits continue to get bigger and deeper; the large pit towards the south end of the building appears to contain a stretch of gully or wall foundation, not clear whether it just sits in the base of the pit or is something the pit cut comes down on to.

In Trench 2, we've made great progress on the roadside ditch/gully, which is coming up very nicely in several locations, although it is less clear towards the west end of the site. In the large building we've started revealing some courses of masonry in the section. The trench edge comes down right on top of a stretch of wall. It's upper sections appear to have had their facing stones robbed out, but we've now reached lower, where the original facing stones survive in situ. More clearing in and around the small extension, revealing wall plaster seemingly surviving on all interior walls. In the middle, less well preserved strip building we seem to have identified its northern gable end. I'd been assuming the building was the same length as its western neighbour. However. it is metre or so shorter; we've just picked up a stump of return wall and the remains of a robber trench which has removed the rest of the wall. This robber trench was itself mostly cut away by the west-east 18th century ditch. The clarification of the building dimensions is interesting. This area has always been the one place where it seemed that the post-Roman stone-lined pits and related surfaces actually cut the Roman wall lines. However, now we're more certain where the wall actually was, it is now clear that the pit and surface were actually outside the structure, and probably just butted up against the exterior north-end of the strip building.

Monday, 18 July 2011

BIN11: Day Twenty-Six

I wasn't on site today, so the latest despatch from the trenches is courtesy of Jamie "The Hat" Armstrong - the Trench Two Terror!

"Despite gloomy predictions the rain held off, aside from some minor showers. This allowed us yet another full day of work. It was the first day on site for a new contingent of Texas Tech students, as well as a new batch of volunteers comprising a mix of hold hands and new faces. The heavy rain over the weekendu, while not good for the archaeology event at Binchester, was great for freshening the trenches up again, allowing colours to be distinguished more clearly once more.

There were a variety of tasks in trench 2, including the almost obligatory cleaning of the road for the new starters. More work on the robber trenches was carried out, allowing a much clearer outline of the second strip-building: it appears that we have located all four walls for this building. We have also been working on defining what we are confident is the roadside drain along the edge of the street frontage (see pic), and will begin exploring this in the morning. Further work in the stone-lined pits has found what could be another phase of lining in the smaller pit. A large lead O was found in the larger pit by Steve (see pic).

I only got a chance to zoom round trench 1 right at the end of the day, so can say much less about that: excavation of the well continued with the removal of more rubble infill, although by the time I saw it it had been covered and fenced off. The intravallum drain is now very clear. Yet more work was undertaken on the pits, as well as within the barracks block to explore the interior. Initial cleaning of the oven was carried out (see pic) presumably to continue from where it was left off last year. Finally the area of the barracks block that has been found to have a slumping wall has been excavated to a level where a possible drain can be seen (see pic)."

Friday, 15 July 2011

BIN11: Day Twenty-Five

Today was the last day at Binchester for some of our student, with some of the Texas Tech contingent returning home tomorrow (although they are due to be replaced by some of their compatriots for the next two weeks). Luckliy today saw great progress on site. For one, the best action was in Trench 1. Most excitingly, one of our mysterious features cut into the clay rampart is really looking like its shaping up to be our first well (or at very least a very deep pit). It has dead straight sides and is currently around 1.5m deep with no sign of bottoming out. Its fill of loosely thrown in rubble suggests that it has been deliberately backfilled at some point- this may prove an interesting technical challenge! Nearby, the gulley/gutter which may be connected to the intravallum road is shaping up nicely, and we have now found a number of other lines of stones running off the gully at about 90 degrees.

In Trench 2, much more planning, much more hunting for robber trenches. However, most importantly, we've finally removed the inscription (see picture below). We've sent photos off to various experts and are awaiting their thoughts with interest. If you'd like to see the actual inscription, why not head over to the Binchester Roman fort Open Day being held this weekend.

In other news, we had another school group through today. They were from The Oaks in Spennymoor. They had come over last week, but couldn't see much due to the rain. This week, we were able to give them a site tour and then they helped us with the massive job of getting all our brick and tile washed. THey all seemed to enjoy their visit and will hopefully come back next year.