Today was the last day of the Durham 1st year students’ time on site. Despite the dire meteorological prognostications, we actually got a full days digging in (helped by the ample supply of cheap cake!). In Trench 1, there was a lot of recording being done, but also some excavation in and around the revetment of the medieval building and the small oven to its west. Small quantities of digging also took place in and around the corner tower and near the barrack. Overall, despite the Jubilee and the weather meaning we’ve lost nearly a week of work, we’ve done quite well in this Trench 1. Crucially, we’ve shown the small rectangular building is indeed medieval. This is something we long suspected, but could not prove. The associated ovens mean we have a nice little medieval (13th/14th? Century) assemblage of features here. The removal of the building has also allowed us to get at the road surface in this area. Indeed we now have this and its associated drain defined clearly along most of the eastern side of our trench. After leaving it for a few years, we’ve also made real progress with the corner of the fort. The tower can now be seen to be bigger than suspected – although we are missing a back wall. It is possible that the large flagstones uncovered in this area may be related to its entrance. The small wall projecting from the rampart to the west of the tower may be connected somehow, possibly forming part of a small related structure. We’ve done relatively little work within and around the immediate area of the barrack itself compared with previous years. We have though got to the stage where we are happy that all the features in the northern part of the building (what we’ e started to call the ‘officers’ quarters’) are broadly contemporary and they have all been planned. We can look forward to getting more stuck into the barrack when the US team and the community volunteers arrive in ten days time.
In Trench 2, we’ve also made great strides of the last three weeks. Starting in Building 1 (the western strip building), we’ve had a good go and unpicking the flue and it’s relationship with the building. It tentatively looks like we may have another oven. We also have an oven or at very least a burnt area, to the west of this building, although we only just starting to get to grips with this section. In Building 2, over the last fortnight, Sean has made great progress unpicking what is clearly a complex oven structure, which appears to have had a flue/stokehole that went through the wall of the building. It was of stone construction, but with a clay lining, and we’ve found some slag from here which we hope will give us a better idea of its purpose. Exciting today, when Sean removed a large stone slab he found what looks like the better part of charred wooden plank, which we carefully removed for further analysis in the labs (See picture). In the area between the strip buildings and the large structure, we’ve been removing stones and uncovering a dark layer which unusually for Binchester is not packed with cobbles although there are traces of a possible wall line just appearing. In the large building itself, it is clear that both rooms contained deliberately constructed stone lined pits with clay bases. We are now happy that these are simply floors that have collapsed or slumped into earlier features. There is also a possible door or entrance between the western chamber and the eastern room. More generally, this area is now looking more and more like a building related to the adjacent circular bathhouse (sudatoria) excavated by Hooppell in the early 20th century. Peter pointed out today that the long thin ‘room’ aligns centrally on the circular bathhouse, and looks very much like a formal entrance. The slight expansion of the trench has revealed just enough of the eastern side of the building to suggest that we are dealing with a symmetrical building with an entrance hall leading to the sudatoria. However, it is clear from both our excavations and Hooppell’s earlier work that the basic structures were significantly altered over time. In the near future I think we need to do some more mapping work in this area. We need to integrate our plans with Hooppell’s and look in detail at the geophysics of this area to see if we can identify more of the building’s plan. I’d also be keen to see if we can do a small Ground Penetrating Radar survey of the immediate vicinity of this corner of the trench to see if we can better understand and identify any related surviving walls (in the longer term, and time and funding allowing, it would make an interesting exercise to re-excavate the Hooppell trench).
So lots done already but plenty left to do for when the new team starts on July 2nd. Thanks to all the Durham students who worked so hard in often pretty damp conditions. We’re not on site next week, so I’m unlikely to be updating the blog until we resume excavations, unless anything very exciting happens!
Pictures [top]Lifting the block of charcoal from the oven [middle]Large-stone lined pit in interior of large building in Trench 2 [bottom] Sketch plan of Trench 2: strip buildings 1 and 2 on the left and probably baths building to the right
Another beautiful day on site- although looks like the weather will turn tomorrow. Once again though we made great progress. In Trench 1, Tom removed the eastern wall of the medieval building as a reward for doing so much trowelling. All that survives is the southern wall. All in all, there are a number of features in the immediate vicinity of this building that appear to be of a similar date. There is obviously the probably corn drier, but also another smaller oven build over the main barrack could stratigraphically contemporary. It is also possible that the small stone feature to the north sitting on top of the rampart maight also be connected. COmbined, these are a nice set of medieval features of probably 13th/14th century date. When I get a chance to hit the library I plan to chase up parallels; luckily Durham and Teesside are quite well provided in excavated medieval buildings which should give plenty of comparanda.
In the eastern corner, there was lots of planning around the tower and its related features. Cameron and Jonathan finished off the area between the tower and the shorter stump of wall to its west. The latter clearly survives to at least three courses.
In Trench 2, the stones in the centre of the trench began to be removed revealing for once, an underlying area that currently appears to be largely devoid of stones or cobbles. It appears though that this underlying layer continues into the interior of the large building; its relationship with the internal pits is not clear though. In the eastern-most room, Will and Danny have done a great job; they've exposed what appears to be yet another stone lining to the large pit. The stones are almost vertical and quite straight- an excellent demonstration that these features are not simply areas of slump, but deliberately constructed linings.
Todays artefact highlights- lovely fragment of shale (not jet) bracelet and some lumps of raw shale found by Nixon near the roadside ditch. Ong found a couple of really nicely preserved coins in the flue he is working on in Building 1.
Only two days left of the Durham students time at Binchester and so much still left to do!
Beautiful weather today; ideal digging conditions, although don't know how long they'll last. Trench 1 saw lots of planning, with most of the excavation focusing again on the eastern tower. Natalie spent much of the day probing the edge of the earlier antiquarian trench to try and identify its limits. Elsewhere, Cameron and Jonathan were working the area between the wall stump and the tower. Lots of bone and Jonathan found not one but two probable Roman brooches! There was continued work on the site of the medieval structure cleaning the cobbles.
In Trench 2 lots of planning and decision making! Tomorrow, hopefully, we'll be able to move a lot of the cobbles and stone surfaces in the central section of the site (probably revealing more stones beneath them!). Elsewhere, those working on the two pits within the large building have done really well, and crucially confirmed that there is a real channel or hole through the wall between the two sunken features (see picture below). Still needs a little more work- is it just a door? At the other end Ong is still quietly tackling the mysterious flue in Building 1, whilst Sean is methodically getting to grips with the oven in Building 2.
Otherwise, not much to report, although I did have the pleasure of taking the very enthusiastic children of a primary school from Richmond round the side. They had lots of interesting questions and were very good at pretending to be Roman columns!
I was off site most of the morning (meeting in Berwick-upon-Tweed about fieldwork on Holy Island I'm doing in September). When I finally reached site, the weather was great and everyone was working well. In Trench 1 there is no virtually no sign that the wall of the medieval building ever existed. The cobbles beneath are coming up really nicely; very pleasing! Meanwhile, in the eastern corner, it looks like the surviving walls of the tower were once larger; we've just started to get more of these walls, it seems like some of them had been robbed out. This raises the question once more of where the back wall of the tower might be expected. Also a little work was done on defining and clearing a small stump of wall projecting back from the rampart about two metres west of the tower. Not clear what it is yet, or whether it connects with anything else. Otherwise, Trench 1 mainly saw planning and recording.
In Trench 2, Sean has done more great work on the oven in Building 2. He's taken out much of the burnt clay and revealed a stone base. Crucially, he's also started recovering bits of slag; this will help us refine our understanding of the oven's purpose. Elsewhere, Janet has been looking closely at one of the cobbled areas in the central part of the site. I reckon we are ready to remove them and expose the layer beneath (we've already glimpsed this lower area elsewhere in the immediate area). Progress on the big pits in the large building is great- one was photographed today. The new floor(?) surface in the eastern most room is looking lovely with some possible features cut into it. Some nice finds today, both from Nixon- a knife blade and a tiny blue glass bead.
Bah! Rained off; absolutely tipping it down this morning with stiff breeze. No way we could work, so the students spent the morning washing pot and bone. The lack of news for today gives me a chance to catch up with yesterday's events. In Trench 1, the cobbled surface beneath the medieval building (as we can now safely call it) is emerging nice and clearly, although the situation on the revetment is still rather confused. The focus of activity is currently in the eastern corner. The flagstone surface is now fully exposed. It is not clear how it relates to the back of the tower, where we are still missing a rear wall. It is possible it has been robbed out, we are still stratigraphically quite high, so it may emerge later. The northern compartment of the barracks is now nearly fully planned, which means we can crack on with excavating some of the internal features. Work on the eastern side of the barrack is also progressing well, with some more gullies and pits emerging.
In Trench 2, a clay layer is emerging. It is not clear whether it is a proper floor or not, but this should soon become clear. In the centre of this trench we are slowly unpicking the pit and surface elements, although it is still a bit confusing. In the strip buildings work progresses on the oven and flu features. Lots to look forward to next week.
Apologies, Binchester fans, I've been stuck in the office all day today as we had our Board of Examiners meeting. Sadly, I didn't think to ask anyone else to provide a blog entry for today. This means I have absolutely no idea what happened on site... Whilst I like to think we've found a cavalry helmet and a 5th century inscribed stone I suspect my wishes may not come true. I shall finnd out tomorrow and report back. As the weather forecast for tomorrow looks seriously grim, it will give me a chance to catch up with today's blog entry.
Despite rather disappointing attendance today we were able to make good progress on site. In Trench 1 there is now a gap where the north wall of the rectangular building was, and the crew working there have made great efforts in trowelling down to reveal the cobbled surface beneath. Meanwhile, work continued on the extension, revealing, predictably, even more layers of stone. Having planned his small oven, Chris continued its excavation and found a small copper alloy fitting, probably Roman, in its base. In the barrack block, more planning, although an interesting (!) new gully was also identified and partially excavated. In the eastern corner of the fort, great progress was made despite depleted numbers. Most impressive was the appearance of a substantial flagstone surface, possibly related to the putative rear wall of the adjacent tower (see picture).
In Trench 2 Ong cracked on with trying to work out what the northern end of the flu in Strip Building 1 was related to- there are no obvious related features, so it's a bit of a mystery at this stage. Next door to him, Sean continued on the oven in the second strip building, he's done really well on identifying the flu/stoke hole, although the patch of burnt material at its entrance is less structured than previously thought. The relationship between this and the eastern wall of the building is still unclear, although Andrea has shown that the wall does in fact survive reasonably well at this point, and wasn't entirely robbed out. More work is being done in the central area. Some distinctions are starting to be identified in the previously rather amorphous area of dark fill, and even hints of some walls.
I'll be off site most of tomorrow due to the joys of exam meetings, so I'll try and get someone else to write the blog entry tomorrow
Another busy day. In Trench One we finally started dismantling the small rectangular building. The north wall has now gone. Significantly, we found green glaze pot within the wall itself. This finally confirms beyond all doubt, its post-Norman date. This means that much of the associated revetting is probably of a similar date. The associated oven is also probably a medieval structure rather than a Roman one. It is of a different build to the Roman bread oven further down the rampart and sits on the clay rampart rather than being built into it. Despite all the people we are throwing into it, the corner of the fort remains resolutely confusing. We are, however, beginning to identify the edges of the rampart near the tower and a number of substantial flag stones are emerging too. Elsewhere, the northern compartment of the barrack is being planned with a little furtling around the edges. Intriguingly, during the pot washing that took place on Friday, a number of sherds of 'pot' that had been recovered from one of the pits along the western edge of the barrack turned out to be fragments of skull. They looked suspiciously human, so I showed them to our palaeopathology people in the Department who confirmed this. The bones consisted of an area of the rear of an adult skull. This now leaves the mystery of why there are fragments of human bone alongside butchery waste within the fort. In the late Roman period burials would not have taken place within the fort, and the nearest known cemetery of any date is a good 100m away. As the fragments were from a sealed context, they must have been placed there in the Roman period and were not a later intrusion. A key job now is to double check the other bone from this feature to see if there are any other fragments of human bone.
In Trench 2 it was a quieter day. Nixon and Ong were drawing and recording Building 1, Nearby Sean did some more excavation and recording on the oven in Building 2. The very clear stoke hole I mentioned yesterday turned out not to be so simple and still needs to be further unpicked. Otherwise, there was a lot of work on the central area cleaning around the stone layers and slogging away removing some of the content of one of the bigger pits, whilst at the far end of site, work continued cleaning around the big building.
More luck with the weather today- no rain, so we were able to get a full day's work in. In Trench 1, the grid was set up properly so some of the students were able to crack on with planning. The new part of the trench which was intended to clarify the relationship between the small building and the revetments is now just getting even more confusing- there are 4-5 different alignments of wall/revetment, and possibly the internal corner of a new structure. The structure itself has now been fully drawn and is ready for dismantling! In the main barrack block, the northern compartment has been fully cleaned and photographed, so we can get on with exploring the floor surfaces. In the eastern corner, the rampart has been defined and it is possible we have yet another big pit abutting 'Hilly's Pit'.
In Trench 2, lots of work on the big central area, some of the random rubble is resolving itself into more distinct areas of surface and there is plenty of back breaking work on excavating new parts of the largest pit revealed when we extended the trench slightly. At the east end, Hannah and Felix have done a great job in cleaning up the wall in the section and found another possible fragment of wall heading further east. In the smaller strip building Sean has half-section the interior of the oven and after further cleaning to the east side of the oven, there appears to be an ashy/burnt spread next to a possible stoke-hole. This is rather confusing, as this spread appears to overlie a stretch of robber trench. One possibility is that the over is much later than we thought or the robbing much earlier. A perhaps more likely alternative is that there was a stoke-hole/flu that poked out the side of the building. As ever, only more excavation will clarify the situation.
As usual, plenty of finds, coins, lots of bone and pot, and a rather nice glass counter (see picture)
Not much to report today. The weather was dire and it poured down with rain all day. In the morning the students did sterling work washing and marking up pot and other bulk finds from last year's excavation, for which they were rewarded with cake! In the afternoon Jamie provided them with a lecture on how to use context recording sheets. Disappointing to lose the impetus from the last two days, but an inevitable part of the English summer. PS: The picture is from yesterday - it was too wet to get my camera out today!
We escaped the rain most of the day until about 3.30, so we got plenty of work done today. In Trench 1, work continued taking down the level of the extension to our trench. Among the nicer finds from here was a large fragment of a grey-ware head pot (see picture). There was a lot of drawing and planning on the small rectangular building, as we are looking at dismantling it in the near future. The group working on the rampart did great work cleaning and in the area close to the tower they found a large stone slab whilst they were looking for the clay edge of the rampart itself. Is the slab part of a wall? Too early to tell. The nice stone drain at this point was found to begin curving as it neared the corner of the fort- it is possible it may connect with the gully next to Hilly's Pit. Lots of work underway cleaning around the barracks and defining some of the patches of flooring within it. It's now possible to recognise a rather nice internal feature, possible a base for a small oven? Finally at the south end of the barrack, we've found a small feature that may be another oven. There are a number of fragments of partially worked stone here, one of which may be an ingot mold.
In Trench 2, there was lots of work cleaning the two strip buildings; the eastern one was photographed today. Some more nice finds, including several fragments of glass and a possible hone stone. Elsewhere, the cleaning of the section of the 18th century ditch failed to reveal any Roman features in section. We've begun to dismantle some of the stone spreads in this area. Finally, at the eastern end of the site, the northern and eastern edges continued to be cleaned back. The section of wall in the eastern section is coming up particularly nicely, with more evidence for internal wall plaster.
Fingers crossed for the weather tomorrow- if it's as dire as predicted, we're looking at a day pot washing!
We are finally back out on site. Thanks to the Jubilee, we’ve started a couple of days later than normal, but this morning the Durham students started at Binchester. Not surprisingly, after the initial introductory talks, our priority was basic housekeeping. The main task was weeding the site. Despite the cover of tarpaulins we put over our trenches in the winter, there was still quite a bit of intrusive shrubbery that needed to be hacked back, as well as leaf litter to be cleared. Luckily, with so many (50+) hands on site we were able to get most of this sorted by lunchtime, so by 2pm we were able to crack on with the archaeology itself.
In Trench 1 (the fort trench), our main focus has been cleaning back a very small new area at the southern edge of the trench, which we’ve opened up to reveal the junction between the later rectangular building and the associated area of revetment. Great progress has already been made on this, a range of finds are already being recovered including a rather nice lead spindlewhorl. Elsewhere, the main task was removing the last overlying areas of darker earth that were still lying across the site. This meant that a number of groups were deployed around the outside the main barrack to tackle these. We’ve also got some students clarifying the situation in the northern compartment of the barrack, and a group starting work on cleaning back from the rampart down onto the northern most extent of the possible road drain to see if they could find any more of it.
In Trench 2, we have a small group working on elements of the strip building. In the clearing out of the flu within the eastern strip building Nixon found a nice jet spacer bead. Next to him, we had a couple of people working on cleaning up the interior of the neighbouring structure, particularly the internal oven. The bulk of the rest of the people in this trench were either deployed to take back the northern edge of the 18th century ditch slightly to see if any Roman structures could be identified coming through in the section, or clearing up the slightly extended balk edges. We’d expanded the trench very slightly to the north and east for practical reasons, as the interior of the trench was starting to get quite deep, so we wanted to add steps to the balk for safety reasons.
All in all, we hit the ground running, and given this morning’s forecast (which predicted rain) we’ve got off scot-free on the weather front (although tomorrow is looking pretty grim).
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