Sunday, 29 July 2012

BIN12: Day Thirty-Four

At last I've had a chance to sit down and pull together the results from the last day on site. Even though it was our last day, we continued to make great progress. There was inevitably some housekeeping to do (particularly a bid of weeding in advance of our Aerial Cam shots on Monday). In Trench 1, we continued to move a lot of the upper, late walling in the southern end of the barrack (green glazed pottery in the wall make-up confirming its late date). We also found what appears to be a nice copper alloy knife chape of medieval? date. At the north end, we carried on exposing the gable end and the other wall immediately to its north; suprisingly this gable wall also appears now to be extending eastwards as well. It is not clear how far, and we remain uncertain at this time whether it was cut by the large pit. This large pit continued to expand, with some possible traces of a wood lining. In Trench 2, the most exciting progress was made in the eastern room of the bath building. Here having removed all the slabs, we were able to crack on reach on down to some kind of floor surface. Most excitingly, we confirmed that there was a cross-wall in this corridor like space. As it is not bonded in to the side walls and cuts across the existing wall plaster it is clearly not part of the original plan. There is a doorway in the western side and in the base of the excavated area we found a large worked stone that was almost certainly the upper lintel of this doorway (see images. In the adjacent space we continued moving flagstones including finally shifting the small portable altar that had been used as flooring. In the next few days I'll provide a full overview of this season's work at the site, highlighting areas where we've really made some progress. I'm having a few days break, but in the near future, we'll be carrying out two small additional evaluation trenches to the north of our current area in the north vicus. I'll post about them more shortly too. Finally, I want to to thank all those who have helped us make this year's season such a success: from Archaeological Services, Durham University, Peter Cairn, Matt Claydon, Jamie Armstrong, Janet Beveridge, Becca, Carrie Drew, Linda Bosveld and Jenny Jones, from Vinovia, Melissa Chatfield and Gary Devore, as well as Chris Whitmore (Texas Tech) and Michael Shanks (Stanford University), David Mason from Durham County Council, Chris and Alan the Binchester custodians, and the staff of St John's College, Durham- finally, it would of course not have been possible without our diggers- the first year Durham archaeology students, our US contingent and all those from the local community who worked long and hard with us on site.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

BIN12: Day Thirty-three

So two days worth of work to catch up on. In Trench 1, the most significant development is the realisation of the implications of our uncovering of most of the northern gable wall of the barrack. We can see clearly how the current top of the wall is a rough rebuild roughly along the line of the earlier wall. Crucially, we can now see how in this latest rebuild, the gable-end door was at the western end of the wall, but this replaced an earlier door in the eastern end of the wall, which has its lower lintel a good 50cm below the latest version. This is a really solid reminder of the extent to which the internal floor levels of the barrack must have progressively risen since its initial construction and how much the barrack has been remodelled. This is made even more clear by the westward extension of this earlier gable wall. This probably implies that the earliest phase of the barrack block was twice as wide as the building we can see at the moment. At some point before the later gable end wall was built this western half appears to have fallen entirely out of use leaving just the eastern half to continue as a standing building. Given that this eastern half itself was clearly extensively reworked over time, we are beginning to see a real time depth to this constantly changing building. Chronology is hazy, but it seems pretty clear that the western half had fallen out of use by the time the butchery/pit phase occurred. This phase was followed by a thorough reworking of the southern portion of the extant structure in the 13th/14th century, when elements of the barrack survived to such an extent that they could be incorporated, at least partially, into later buildings. Elsewhere in this trench, we've been finishing off the cobbles to the east of the barracks and the final elements of the medieval revetment feature. Hacking away at the embankment near the southern oven/kiln has revealed an extensive spread of charcoal which has clearly been raked out of the stoke-hole of this feature. This will give us potentially good burnt plant preservation and something for C14 dating. Finds today included a very large fe obj of indeterminate type and the top of cow skull with a distinct nail hole (not modern) in it. In Trench 2, we keep on going down within the interior of the bath building- a large charcoal-rich layer has been reached in the easternmost room. Otherwise, there is lots of planning going on, as well as attempts to get a look at the central area of the trench and to unpick the complicated western most section, where I must admit, I remain to be convinced about the presence of the building. Tomorrow is our last day!

BIN12: Day Thirty-two

Sorry, not much of an entry for today as I was caught up with other things. Primarily, our bi-annual steering group meeting - this gives our advisory panel of experts a chance to have a look at how we have been progressing. I think they were pleased and impressed... After the tour we had a useful meeting where we started firming up our plans for the all important post-excavation analysis and pondered interim reports and publications. Finally, as next year is the last of our initial five-year campaign, we started to think about the longer term future of the project. I don't want to say too much yet, but things are looking very positive! The images today as a number of photographs taken of artefacts found earlier this season by our conservator Jenny Jones

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

BIN12: Day Thirty-One

And thanks to Sam Beger for today's entry The Northern English drought continued its streak today: 6 days without rain on site. We felt like ants through a magnified glass as the sun beamed down on the arid trenches, but being the professionals that we are, we carried on. It seems that the tanning pit hypothesis may have been correct for today as our pasty complexions began to generate pigment. Despite the compact soil, numerous artifacts were uncovered today. Jonathan earned a new nickname of "Jonathan Trowel Hands" due to his systematic and almost machine-like ability to find artifacts. Today he found an amazing golden bead (the only gold object this year) as well as a spearhead. Other finds in trench 1 were Will's clay game counter, and Brad's blue glass bead. Over in trench 2, Madison found a portion of a jet ring and Lauren found a small coin. Some new and exciting things that were discovered today included the removal of some behemoth stones. Tim and Melissa flipped over some flat stones in their area hoping to see some inscriptions on the back. Although there were no signs of any epigraphs, the removal of the stones allows for the area beneath them to be excavated. Over in Daniel's part of his trench, another group of large stones was removed and hurled into the rock pile. Also in trench 2, Katie and Madison managed to uncover a beautiful extension of a pathway, giving us some new valuable information about the vicus. Overall today was full of great weather and fun. There was a lot of recording on the Total Station for both small finds and surveying continued in both trenches. Becca's final thoughts on the day were summed up as, "Today has been awesome." Only 3 days left and our goal is to continue efforts to remove all medieval deposits and structures by the end of the season. The challenge strikes a remarkable resemblance to the TV show "Time Team". Will we make it? Stay tuned!

BIN12: Day Thirty

Today's blog post is from Julia Hurley Today’s lovely (though windy!) weather allowed us to make considerable progress on the site. We began the morning with a tour of Trench 2, during which Peter told us about some new interpretations of some of the larger areas in the trench, particularly the area between the bath house and Dere Street. Several stones with post holes indicate that a later wooden structure was built onto the front of the building, which provides a possible explanation for the gap of several meters between the baths and the road. After our tour, work commenced in the trenches. Extensive planning and leveling was carried out in the west section of Trench 2. Elizabeth and Carol worked to reveal cobbles in the central room of the bath house, which led Jamie to draw an interesting connection to similar cobbles that Katie and I discovered on the north edge of the trench. Perhaps they date from the same period? Excitingly, Jamie also believes that there may be another building coming up in the middle of Trench 2. With any luck, we’ll find out before the end of the week. There were several interesting finds in Trench 2, including an amazingly well-preserved set of tweezers found by Linda. Over in Trench 1, although Matt reports that there are “still no swords” to be found, there were several interesting finds. The team excavated the top of a Roman glass bottle, in addition to a well-preserved pot. 6 coins were also found in Trench 1 today, but unfortunately they were from the spoil heap! The Trench 1 team also made good headway on revealing the Roman intervallum road. In the southwest corner of the trench, a new cobbled surface has been uncovered. The absence of cobbles in the middle suggests that there may have been a drain associated with this surface. All in all, it was a very productive day for the team at Binchester.

Friday, 20 July 2012

BIN12 : Day Twenty-nine

I was off site most of the day as I had a meeting up at the Roman fort of Whitley Castle (Epiacum), high in the North Pennines, near Alston. However, I did get to spend an hour or so at Binchester this afternoon. In Trench 1, a slight technical issue, when we uncovered the modern water pipe, but we soon had it cordoned off. Otherwise, in the barrack, there was more unpicking of the big pit at the southern end. Yesterday, the base of a small oven or kiln was revealed, but this may be of medieval date (inevitably). In the meantime we did some good work along the western edge of the barrack, at one point we've found a possible edge to a large pit (or even ditch?!). This produced a nice intaglio carved from what looks like red jasper (well done Jonathan). When it's cleaned up we'll get a nice photo. At the northern end of the barrack, we saw more work on the new wall, we're starting to have a look at it in several places along its length, and also explore how it relates to the possible westerly extension of the gable end wall. In Trench 2, more planning and recording. Although in the eastern end of the building, Steven and Martha have made great progress following their epic stone moving yesterday. They've exposed the western niche and have identified another possible wall in the base of the pit. Just to the north, we've also got more stone-line pit appearing. Nicest find from Trench 2 today, a silver denarius (but from the spoil heap...)

Thursday, 19 July 2012

BIN12: Day Twenty-Seven

Yet another day without rain! Lots of work got done which was very pleasing. In Trench 1, the last vestiges of the medieval building was removed- although most of it went earlier, we’ve finally disappeared the remaining back wall. However, as we have been finding green glaze pot beneath the flagstones in the southern part of the barrack, it appears we might be making up for this loss by finding evidence for further medieval activity nearby. We are currently facing the possibility that a lot of what we thought was late-/sub-Roman may be of later date. We are really going to have to pull our fingers out and sort out some C14 dates this autumn. It is certainly clear the remains are very confusing- this was highlighted splendidly today when in dismantling an area of certain medieval wall, Jonathan found what appears to be a fairly carefully placed bottom half of a Roman pot, beneath which was more green glazed pottery… The big question is, does this impact on the date of the cattle bones and pits? I still feel they must be late Roman or early med as they as so similar to the butchery activity in Phase 9 of the excavations on the commander’s house. Meanwhile, we’ve been seeing some very interesting developments. Firstly, we now have a second series of post holes running parallel with those found earlier this week but closer to the edge of our trench. There are a number of possibilities- these could be part of a freestanding timber building, but I think they are more likely to part of a lean-to structure constructed against the wall and rampart. Even more surprising is the discovery of another stretch of wall. Earlier this season we found what we thought was a stretch of gully similar to that running along the south-east rampart. However, rather than being a gully, it has turned out to be the top of a wall that survives to the depth of at least five courses and appears to be seated on a cobble/gravel surface. This wall runs only about 30-40cm to the north of the gable end of the barrack. It is clear from this and the slight stretches of wall running parallel and to the east of the barrack that there are significant elements of other structures that still remain to be discovered. Nice finds from this trench today include another possible spearhead, a bone gaming piece from next to where yesterday’s die came from(!) and a beautiful jet hairpin. Things are less busy in Trench 2 at the moment, with a lot of planning slowing things down. Nonetheless, Steven and Martha did some impressive stone moving and removed the large flagstones that lined the base of the large pit in the far north-east corner of the trench. This will allow us to start removing the underlying deposits. In the adjacent room, we’ve removed the red burnt layer. There was also more work in the central sector and on the Building 1 flue (where we had a well preserved coin). Other nice finds included a bone hairpin and a possible fragment of bone that was in the process of being worked.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

BIN12: Day Twenty-Six

I wasn't on site so this is from Daniel Powziak (thanks Daniel!) "In Trench 1 we have a number of interesting finds, ranging from Jonathan's medieval discovery of a possible Saxon chest fitting to a pair of metal objects, likely spear heads from some pila, a team effort from Matt, Tanner, and Will. Also found in the trench was a 6-sided die, likely from the Roman period, unearthed by Sam. The rest of the gang in Trench 1 continued their diligent efforts, as some of our brave excavators began removing the flooring of the central block building, discovering the previous stratum to be of the medieval period. Meanwhile in Trench 2, with planning well underway through much of the center of the trench, there were few small finds until the late afternoon excitement. In the NW corner of the trench, Emma unearthed a small silver coin, unfortunately too corroded to make out any letters or pictures. Last but certainly not least, right next to her Morris chanced upon a number of pieces of the top of a jug, perhaps evidence of his personal theory that the building was used as a pub. Only time will tell. Stay tuned for more adventures from the Binchester project!"

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

BIN12: Day Twenty-Five

Wonderful weather today (although it's chucking it down as I write this). Lots of people on site so we made good progress. In Trench 1, we got some photos done of the pits at the very southern end of the barrack and have started unpicking the stonework inside it. Just to the east, in the new extension, we're still slowly cracking through it and have now reached the Roman road surface - it is possible to see that like the remaining wall of the medieval building, the revetment and associated features are clearly separated from the road surface by a distinct layer of dark soil. Lots more unpicking done along the course of the road- pleasingly, a tiny stretch of walling running parallel to the barrack was found. This lines up precisely with a random stretch of wall we found last year. Intriguingly this wall line more or less marks the boundary between the area of large cobbles/stones which forms a distinct feature running alongside and adjacent to the barrack, and the smaller stones forming the intra-vallum road. Still not clear how they relate to the barrack though- is it an earlier structure? Inside the barrack, we've started dismantling the flagstones that surrounded and partially formed the nice pit in the central section of the building. This is revealing a possible clay surface beneath it. In Trench 2, lots of planning going on- meanwhile work continues in the western section around the flue and other indistinct features, also starting to dismantle the flue in Building 1. The large dark open area between Building 1 and the bath- building is still going down- there is a possible spine of rubble running due east from the worked stone plinth, although it's probably not structural. Otherwise business as usual. Nicest find of the day- fragment of worked stone (possibly from an altar?) - pictured- found by Jonathan- however, frustratingly, it came from the area of the spoil heap :-(

Monday, 16 July 2012

BIB12: Day Twenty-Four

Back to work after a busy weekend that took in trips to Segedunum and the Great North Museum. Lots of people on site (although a certain Jamie Armstrong was notable by his absence) and lots of work done. In Trench 1, new work commencing in the barrack - a crack team of trowellers managed to reveal a nice new area of flagstone flooring to the south of (and presumably earlier than) the central pit- they also uncovered a nice square cut feature that appeared to cut through a possible internal cross wall. In general there was an increasing amount of planning and other recording going on in the southern half of the trench, although some people were still scraping away at surfaces. On the northern edge of the trench, the cobbled surface appeared to be cut by a row of post-holes that ran parallel with the embankment - no clear date though. In Trench 2, at the western end there was a probably new stone capped drain running close to the oven/flue arrangement uncovered last week. In Building 2, initial exploration of the floor surface seemed to suggest that the flue from the oven carried substantially outside the eastern wall of the structure. Nearby, there was more removal of the dark layers, incidentally revealing more of the possible 'plinth' which appeared to be associated with a line of rubble that might resolve itself into a wall. Inside the main building, there was lots of removal of soil in the western room- there appears to be a long stone at the base of the blocked entrance- a possible lintel perhaps. I also saw a nice piece of worked stone in the wall (possible window head) that I'd not noticed before. In the large pit in the eastern room Steven found a nice group of coins that have been corroded together. It is starting to appear the wall of this area has a pair of small niches opposite each other- this needs to be confirmed though. The removal of the internal fill is also showing the extent of wall plaster- although we've tried to keep this largely covered up at the moment to protect it. At this stage we aren't clear if there are any discernible patterns or decoration on the plaster. Tomorrow, Jamie returns to put the trench back into order!

Friday, 13 July 2012

BIN12: Day Twenty-three

Relatively few people on site, although we continued to make good progress. In Trench 1, the last two days have seen real movement on the intervallum road. The camber is really very apparent and we now have three of the lateral drains which cross the road. Between the road and the barrack we can see several very distinct areas of stone surface indicated by much larger flags than the surrounding cobbles. The south end of the barrack is looking good, with stretches of proper coursed walling appearing beneath the rougher stretches of wall above. We've also really cleared out part of the interior- it is now looking very much like that part of the southern area of the barrack may have been re-used as a smaller structure of probable medieval date (contemporary with the other medieval building)- it uses the east wall of the barrack but has a rough western wall that lies within the footprint of the main barrack structure. Elsewhere lots more work on unpicking the pits and their associated working areas. Some nice finds including the nice but very unusual animal tooth (cow or horse) that appears to have been reworked into the shape of a bird's head. I've never seen anything like it- anyone have any parallels? Meanwhile in Trench 2 the western end is starting to resolve itself with clearer evidence for another oven and other layers/surfaces starting to be clarified. Also more tinkering in Building 2, with clay layers being removed from the interior floor. The main building here is also looking very good. We found a almost intact pot (very rough hand-made grey ware) lying upside down at the base of the pit (probably deliberately placed) very close to a circular copper alloy object which had corroded onto a lump of iron. Meanwhile off site there was lots of project work going on behind the scenes and we've made real progress in our plans to recreate a simple Roman kiln in the Botanical Gardens in DUrham. We're off to Segedunum and the Great North Museum on Sunday but (weather permitting) will be back on Monday.

BIN12: Day Twenty-two

This morning started a bit brighter than most, in fact a lot brighter than the entire time since we’ve been here in Binchester. Although the sun was out the ground had not yet felt it and the mud was just as deep as if a torrential downpour had just occurred. The day started with new assignments being given to some seeing as a few of our previous areas were too wet to dig. For some the day was spent cleaning cobbles, and taking many a bucket to their designated spoil heap. For others like Jessica Galea, one of our illustrious Fulbright scholars, happened upon a fantastic find in the center of Trench 2, a very well preserved denari. She also found a bullhorn, which was unfortunately not in working condition (hold for laughter). Indeed Trench 2 was today’s trench in the spotlight with much “madness” as Jamie put it in reference to trench 2’s enigmatic north-eastern quadrant where last year’s pits were being uncovered. This “madness” that Jamie was referring to was about the lower layers excavated today and their predictable unpredictability. Trench 2 was also in the middle of being cleaned up for further excavation. In the eastern corner of the trench volunteers and students were committing detailed troweling. In Trench 1 much of the previous work was continued with and the southern end of Trench 1 was being exposed further revealing jagged flat slabs and cobbles in closer and closer proximity. Finally in the center of Trench 1 Melissa and her husband Tim, two of our Texas Tech Students were exposing mass amounts of animal bone and a fantastic example of roman glass from the second century. This aqua glass perhaps belonged to the handle of a large rectangular vessel. Today was incredible; it was full of good finds and even better spirits and was a day that has made a mark on all our minds for being a good break from our English summer