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.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

BIN11: Day Twenty-Four

A really succesful day today. We've been moving with great speed, particularly in Trench One. Here, the ramparts are coming up really nicely and the roadside gully(?) is extending quite some distance now and is looking quite impressive. Elsewhere, to the west of the building the team has been hacking away in a very large pit, which has seemingly caused subsidence to the building. They've now exposed the foundation stones suggesting they have reached the bottom of the wall if not the pit; they also revealed a rather interesting line of stones (wall?) running parallel to the barrack - how far does this extend?

Inside the barrack, in its northern section, we've started picking away at the interior floor surfaces. We've found the beginnings of new flagstone surface, although have not finished defining it's extent. Otherwise, the main work in this trench has been pits (pits..pits..) and planning the small medieval structure.

In Trench 2, we're starting to really get to grips with defining the robber trenches along some of the wall lines in the strip buildings. We've also detected some nice surfaces, possibly paths or interior floors. The big pits continue to reveal multiple stone linings to no-ones surprise. Elsewhere, it's mostly planning, although there is some removal of stones in the interior of the small extension to the larger building revealing some more in situ wall plaster.

Off site, we finished the coring - not great results, only getting down about 2m, but nonetheless, there is still potential for better understanding the environmental history of the environs of the fort.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

BIN11: Day Twenty-three

Today begun with some of us carrying the coring equipment down to the place that shall henceforth be known as the 'big marshy bit'. After some initial concern that the place was too big and too marshy, we found some more solid ground and Carrie and Charlotte and their merry band of helpers were able to do some useful exploration. Although initial soundings suggested that there was little suitable peat, and the last minute a couple of more substantial deposits were identified and will be properly cored tomorrow.

On site there was great progress in both trenches. In Trench 1, almost the entire interior of the medieval building has been removed, although there is no trace of a convincing floor surface. Some rubble remains on the eastern end and there are hints that the actual eastern gable wall of the structure survives beneath this, and that the row of stone on the embankment we'd always assumed as the end wall is nothing to do with it. Along the ramparts, the roadside gullies are becoming increasingly clear and we've made great progress on two substantial pits cut into the rampart. Otherwise, its been business as usual on the other pits, although Hilly found a nice ring from the big pit.

In Trench 2, we've returned to our big pits and have exposed more stone linings- intriguingly we appear to have also identified a possible gully running between the two largest pits and cutting through the wall of the Roman structure within which they lie. Gary also found a nice piece of carved architectural stone in the eastern-most pit. Some nice finds, including a lovely piece of painted Crambeck ware from Sue and a nice seal box found by Jake. We've also seen the return of the planning frame with lots of planning being carried out. We've also fully exposed the inscription! It didn't go too far into the section- picture tomorrow!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

BIN11: Day Twenty-Two

Just a quick one entry today. In Trench One, we've more or less removed all the stone from the interior of the medieval building, it looks like we may be reaching some kind of floor surface. Nearby, the stones that we thought might represent a revetment to the rampart are now looking more like a gully running along the intra-vallum road. Elsewhere, we continue to work on the pits- our revisitation of the pit inside the main building has paid dividends; it's revealed itself as being deeper than we thought and today Jonathan found two copper alloy rings in deposits near the top. In Trench 2, more work trying to find the edges of the robber trenches, particular in the eastern strip building. We've also been picking away at the surfaces to the south of the large eastern building. In other news, we've got the coring kit on site now. The plan is to carry out some coring for possible peat deposits in an low-lying area to the north of the site- possibly a side-valley of the Bell Burn that runs along the northern edge of the gravel plateau on which the fort and vicus stand.

Monday, 11 July 2011

BIN11: Day Twenty-One

Despite a busy weekend which involved the joys of the Durham Miner's Gala on Saturday and a visit to Hadrian's Wall (Steel Rigg; Housesteads; Vindolanda) on Sunday, everyone was raring to go this morning. Unusually our find of the day came very early on when Ashley found a small stone household altar in an area of rubble in Trench 2. This may have an inscription on, but it is very eroded and will need closer examination to decrypt it. Other developments in Trench 2 included the discovery of yet another stone socket stone. These big stone socket stones are clearly designed to support large squared timbers. There are also a number of smaller socket stones (mentioned previously), which appear to have supported smaller wooden stakes. Jamie has mentioned that he's seen similar examples in Carlisle, and I've just come across a reference to other similar stones from the late Roman barracks at Halton Chesters.

In Trench 1, the major progress has been on the rampart, where our merry digging crews have revealed further walling. This appears to suggest that much of the rear wall of the rampart was supported by a stone revetment. Otherwise, in this area it was onwards and downwards with our exciting range of pits and further unpicking of cobbled surfaces in the south of the trench

Friday, 8 July 2011

BIN11: Day Twenty

A good end to the fourth week at Binchester. Despite the rain, we've continued to make great progress. In Trench 2, the street frontage is really falling into shape. We've now got four proper socket stones, indicating that some kind of wooden portico or veranda appears to have run along in front of most of the street-facing buildings. We've also got a number of stones with smaller indentations, possibly either smaller socket stones or intended to act as hinge-stones. The larger socket stones are very similar to those found by Hooppell at Binchester when he excavated in the vicus.

We're also making progress on defining the robber trenches that appear to have removed substantial elements of the walls of the second strip building. Careful cleaning in the area between the strip buildings and the larger structure has also revealed a dense spread of late Roman pottery (mainly East Yorkshire calcite gritted ware)- the fragments are very large and there are the remains of several different pots.

In Trench 1, more progress on the rampart, more progress on the pits and more progress on the medieval structure - and lots of puddles! The stone-lined pit in the main building is definitely revealing evidence for multiple stone linings. We've also got a nice large fragment of millstone from one of the pits on the western side of the building.