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.