An emotional day as we completed our seven-year project at Binchester- after a total of nearly an entire year's excavation, hundreds of Durham students and volunteers, and amazing archaeology, we have had to come to a halt to allow us to analyse and understand the nationally important remains we have discovered.
Despite this, we kept working right up to the wire. In Trench 1, we took the opportunity to excavate a number of sondages across the site just to give us a glimpse of earlier levels. In general we have tried to avoid these kind of small-scale interventions in favour of open-area stratigraphic excavation, but given the fact that we were completing the project they do allow us to at least to get some sense of the underlying stratigraphy. One of the sondages, started earlier this week, went through an area of slumping in the southern end of the barrack and ended up revealing a possible well. Today, we cored it to find out how far it went down - it turned out that it was at least 3m deep (measured from the surface of the excavation) - there were hints of wood revealed in the core. In another sondage nearby, we revealed further damp deposits, which again included fragments of wood, possibly indicating a wooden lining to the intersecting gully.
We also carried out a rapid investigation of areas of the alley to the west of the barrack, just checking areas which had not been explored in detail- inevitably this through up new stretches of wall! We appeared to have the gable end of the narrow stone building which lay perpendicular to the barrack- this parallels the odd building at the northern end of this alley. It is extremely hard to get a sense of the chronology of these structure- do they indicate a replanning of the fort at some point. It is frustrating that we will not get a chance to examine these in more detail.
In Trench 2, there was plenty of planning and recording- but again, there were new discoveries and developments. Most intriguing was a clear stretch of new wall that ran north-south from the road front underneath the metal working area. It was joined the west-east wall that runs along the road front itself, but it is not clear how/if it relates to the Roman bath-house structure- one possible hypothesis is that this defines an area at one time used as an exercise yard, although it is hard to be certain. Elsewhere, last minutes delving in the large strip building that partially overlies the bath compound wall unexpectedly revealed that underneath the substantial but crude post-pad wall lines were the remains of a well-built wall. I'd always assumed that the entire building was a very late addition- but it now seems that it may have just been a late rebuild of an earlier, underlying structure.
As we came to the end of the day, with about five minutes before packing up Laura revealed the intact rim of a pot embedded within the fill of the metal working area. Following rapid excavation this turned out to be a completely intact pottery vessel complete with its handle still in place- a wonderfully fitting end to our time at Binchester....
Although this was the last day of the excavation, this won't be our last blog post- over the next week I'll be posting acknowledgements and thanks to all who helped with the project, as well as a more detailed explanation of why we have stopped. I'll also try and post a wider overview of what we've found in our trenches over the course of the excavation and some thoughts about what our big questions are for the post-excavation process. But for the now...vale!
Apologies for the lack of blog yesterday, I had to go up north to give a talk about the project to the splendid Bamburgh Research Project . Today we entered the penultimate day on site, although there is no sign of slowing down as we head straight for the finish line. We also had lots of visitors- including Dr Pam Graves from Durham University and camera people from the University and Archaeosoup.
In Trench 1, the dark areas continue to expand- we benefitted from a visit from Dr Mike Church from the Department of Archaeology who was able to distinguish areas of burning in situ from secondary dumping layers and also identified the possible presence of charred barley grains in the burnt debris. Further investigation of the large fire reddened area suggests that it might be secondary dumping of burnt material from elsewhere- it was clearly subject to sustained and high temperature burning, but a section put through it today showed the layer of soil beneath it to be lacking in any sign of the scorching that might be expected if the burning had occurred in situ.
Other work in Trench 1 has included identication of a possible well (or at least a deep straight sided pit)- an area of slumping investigated on Tuesday as a sondage resulted in a pit nearly 2m deep with clear indication from careful coring with a road iron that the internal deposits continued downwards.
In Trench 2, we seem to have finally bottomed our road front section, with the appearance of the probable foundations of the bath-house and what looks like patches of natural. In the adjacent road front areas, the patchy area of stones and dark material continues to be a patchy area of stones and dark material. However, in the metal working area, a previously vague line of stones had transformed into a proper stretch of walling of at least two courses. It is not clear how this relates to either the bath-house or the road front- investigation at the point where the road front wall and this new wall should intersect has proved uninformative. Yet more crucibles have appeared and the remains of a cluster of small bronze rivets and an iron blade which suggests that this was originally a knife with a riveted handle. A very peculiar stone object came from this area- it is either a stone pot lid or more likely a base for a stone vessel.
Down the side of the bath-house, there are small number of mysterious new features appearing the porch area, including some of our voidy stake-holes and a distinct patch of burn clay. In this area Michelle discovered another nice bone needle.
Other top finds over the last days include more crucible fragments, various copper alloy "things" and the detectorists recovered another great brooch.
In Trench 1, the black features are getting bigger and bigger- it is still not entirely clear whether they represent burning in situ or material dumped from elsewhere. It's not just about burning though; in the north-west corner of the barrack, a small north-south linear feature found when delving below the current layers looks like a beam-slot- but from what? It appears to pre-date the material we assume is part of the industrial phase; perhaps part of a very early barrack. Unfortunately, we won't have much chance to explore this further- it is just a tantalising hint of what else remains in the trench. Stephen also had a good go at turning one of our pits at the south end of the barrack into a sondage. He hit something that looked like natural, but only after going through a good 0.5m of soil-like material containing fragments of bone and industrial residue.
In Trench 2, the area in front of the bath-house remains interesting. There is now a nice metalled surface at the bottom of the main section/slot. The metal working area also continues to produce more crucible fragments and other related material, as well as some more post-holes. In between, there is a confused spread of stones and clay which keep looking like they are going to turn into something but never actually do. Finally on the western side of the bath-house, the putative gully has transformed into a definite gully with capstones in places. Nearby a number of stake holes have appeared within the demolished porch- these must either be earlier, or alternatively cut from a higher level but only surviving clearly where they pierce the compacted gravel.
The metal dectorists continue to perform a valuable surface, recovering today's nicest find, a small bronze sea monster or sea creature (or as some have suggested, the Lambton Worm....).
Today we entered the final week ever of the Roman Binchester excavation. Sadly, the morning was rather drizzly, but it cleared up in the afternoon and we got quite a bit of work done.
In Trench 1, the main focus has been on extending our understanding of the large areas of burning we have associated with an early phase of activity (pre-barrack) within the fort. These patches are getting bigger and emerging in all sections of the barrack block. Other jobs include continuing trying to get to grips with the strange clayey dumps in our road section. There was some excitement when Stephen discovered a large circular copper alloy object whilst excavating near the latrine- we've managed to get it out of the ground intact, but it will need some cleaning up before we can say what it is.
In Trench 2, the roadside sections continue to be expanded, with plenty of the dark fills being removed, whilst Morris and Alan are revealing sequences of gravel surfaces alternating with layers of silt. The metal working area continues to produce plenty of crucibles and following last Friday's photographs, work continues apace. Finally, in the area to the west of the bath-house, the cobbled surfaces are cleaner than ever.
Also, another vote of thanks to our metal detectorists, who continue to find the things we've missed the first time around. Today's finds included a lovely little copper alloy stud and some well preserved coins.
A beautiful day on site today - again, we had lots of visitors, including appearance by Durham's own Professor Jenny Price. Earlier in the day she had taken a look at the glass we had discovered this season and noted we had fragments from several bath flasks, used for holding the oil used in the bathing process.
In Trench 1, we continued to define the large spread of burnt clay and sandstone in the southern end of the trench, although we are no closer to understanding its actual purpose. Across the rest of the trench most of the focus was on excavating the spreads of burnt material belongin, we assume, to the pre-barrack phase of activity. Several of these areas have produced quantities of crucible fragments, and industrial residue. Not all these spreads are associated with actual scorching of the underlying layers so may well be dumps of debris from elsewhere.
In Trench 2, we are continuing with drawing the elevations in the bath-house although we will supplement these with photogrammetric photography once the main excavation is over thanks to Aerial-Cam. In the area to the west of the bath, we've done some recording and also clearly have a well-defined curved edge of set stones, although it is not as clear precisely what they are actually defining. In the bronze working area we spent much of the day giving it a thorough clean to get some photographs taken. This revealed a series of further stake holes defining an internal area within the larger building- these can be seen on the vertical shot below.
On the main road front, the big slot continues to go down seemingly onto yet another cobble surface. In the area in between, the dark street front soils continue to be removed- with a finds assemblage dominated by massive quantities of cattle bone.We've also had some more drone photography- the image at below shows our metalworking area in Trench 2.
After yesterdays soggy times, today was much more pleasant. We had lots of visitors- we welcomed Iain Ferris, who led the major campaign of excavations on the praetorium and its bath-house. He had lots of useful insights which were extremely helpful We then saw Lindsay Allason-Jones, who had time to record some our sculptured stone fragments. We were also visited by Marc from Archaeosoup with whom we hope to do some filming next week.
In Trench 1, the burnt areas are getting more extensive and we are still particularly flummoxed by the large spread of burnt sandstone and clay which appears much more substantial than any oven we have seen so far. It is clearly earlier than the barrack but its function is still opaque. Some nice finds, including the second bone dice of the week.
In Trench 2, we were are in the final stages of tidying up and recording the bath-house interior. In the area outside to the west, we can really see how the flagstones are edged by a nicely defined kerb, with a more scrappy area to the east- although there is still an intriguing and difficult to understand stone setting. To the south of the bath-house - lots of recording but also more work on the metal working area which has produced a beautiful crucible lid seemingly with some wood or a similar fibrous material embedded in it. In general, we have continued our splendid run of nice finds - two fine spoons (one bone with a pierced bowl and one copper alloy with possible silver surfaces in places) and a wonderful little lead phallic pendant from Mary.
No news from Trench 1 today- it has been a while since we have had any message from them and we fear they may all have drowned. Tomorrow we will send a small search party equipped with galoshes, mackintosh squares and Kendal mint cake to round up survivors. Meanwhile in Trench 2, we have received despatches from Lieut. Jamie "If you a better 'ole" Armstrong... "In Trench 2 we
started well up in numbers, despite the rain falling from the beginning.
However, after tea many decided to call it a day given the rather gloomy
outlook. Ironically it improved, and those who stuck with it messaged to make a
little progress. Most significantly Jacqui and Graham found a possible wall to
the west of the bathhouse, although its a little early to be sure: tomorrow
will make this clearer. In our large sondage against the bathhouse we made
steady progress, and Steven found the step foundation for the wall to the
south. A very nice piece of copper was found in the same area by Alan, which
exhibits holes for stitching and must have been attached to some leather. The
rest of the day was filled with a visit from a school group, and also a guided
tour of the bathhouse for some of the volunteers."
Busy day on site - today we were visited by Adam Stanford from Aerial-Cam. He was able to take a series of great images of both trenches both from his static camera on a low-level mast, and also using a drone. This has provided us with some fantastic hi-resolution images of the site. We'll be sharing these pictures on the blog soon.
In Trench 1, the mysterious big burnt splodges continue to be mysterious, big and burnt... although they are clearly producing evidence for metal working, such as the small mould pictured (although it is not clear what it is a mould of). In the north-east corner in the area of newly revealed road, our crudely defined road drain today metamorphised into a more nicely constructed drain seemingly curving to head towards the latrine- although we cannot see any evidence of it appearing in the section nearer the latrine itself. It may either change course, have been destroyed or we simply may not have the correct level.
In Trench 2 - the focus continues to be outside the bath-house. In the road area to the west of the bath building we continue to record the cobbles, flags and surfaces as more become exposed. Meanwhile, in Morris's huge section through the roadside build up, he is more or less at the same level externally as the internal floor level in the bath! His work has revealed some more possible vents or flue-holes in the external wall face.
Some nice finds today, including a splendid copper alloy handle and a mysterious u-shaped object with a swivelling fitting (which looks like a spur or stirrup, but is probably neither)
Fresh from the catwalks of Spennymoor, we are proud to announce the release of this year's Binchester t-shirt. Designed by long-time Binchester volunteer Daniel Adamson, this will be a welcome addition to the wardrobe of any 'archaeologist about town'.
Dull and overcast day punctuated by a bit of drizzle and lots of visitors. Unfortunately I was away for much of the day, so this is only a brief report.
In Trench 1, we struck more natural! Poking around in the bottom of the strange building to the west of the barrack has produced an area of sandy material that looks like it could be proper natural (although this remains to be confirmed). Elsewhere, our big burnt patches continue to expand- we now have three distinct, but amorphous blobs of burning in the northern compartment of the barrack - these have produced crucible fragments and possible hearth lining.
In Trench 2, we're trying to draw a line under our work in the bath-house. We're finishing off recording and tidying up. In the southern part of the corridor Sue has identified the tops of four pilae, which will allow us to calculate the spacing of these hypocaust supports. In the northern part of the corridor Steven has shown that some of the later floor level is built upon a dump of earlier demolished material, which included a number of fragments of old flue tiles that had been knocked off the wall, as well as number of iron t-clamps.
Outside the bath-house Morris continues to take down the section in front of the bath building- revealing more layers built up against the main structure. Elsewhere, more cobbles, more surfaces, more gravel layers....
Today was the last day of week 5 and everyone was busy in both trenches, although we found time for Matt and Jamie to give us trench tours to bring everyone up to speed with the progress we've made over the last couple of weeks.
In Trench 2, there has been lots of umming and ahhing over the road surfaces. We are still not entirely clear whether we have reached natural or not in the road section, and despite the hopes of Matt and the valiant efforts of Alastair the burnt area we thought might be an oven has remained rather stubbornly just a large burnt area - we may have to expand the slot. Across the rest of the trench, ranges of internal features are still appearing, but I suspect that it's not until we've got them all planned and properly phased that it will be really possible to draw out the possible groups of features and identify whether they mark anything structural.
In Trench 2, the main development was inevitably the increasingly complex state of the bath corridor (although I'm not sure we can really call it a 'corridor' anymore). Poking around to the north of the footings of the new cross wall revealed that the box flue tiles ran across the northern side of this wall. I also took a good look at the upstanding walls adjacent to the cross-wall founds- it is just about possible to see where the wall once ran, but following its demolition it had been cleaned up pretty thoroughly. One key question remains- where was the furnace? Presumably somewhere to the north. Related to this uncertainty is how the hot air reached the section of the hypocaust to the south of the cross-wall- I'm guessing at this stage that there may be an arch underneath the wall head, similar to those visible in the praetorium bath house.
Another hot and sticky day on site, but everyone persevered with their work.
In Trench 1, there were lots of interesting developments. Perhaps the best way to sum these up is with the one word "Burning". In the southern end of the barrack, our large burnt area of stone which underlies the western wall of the barrack just gets bigger and clearly represents a significant conflagration. Also in the southern end of the barrack, a new area of possible metal working / smithing is emerging; it is not clear how this stratigraphically relates to the barrack, although it is clearly early. It may well even represent evidence for pre-barrack activity.
In the northern compartment of the barrack, our area of new flagstone flooring has emerged and been consolidated. Our nice worked stone drain clearly sits above it with a soil layer in between. We've not removed the stone drain as we want to keep it in situ for possible future consolidation and display. The flagstones clearly run under the drain, but have yet to emerge on the southern side. This may be because we are not down at the correct level in this area- although another large patch of burning with some evidence for debris assocaited with metal working has been emerging from here. It may represent in situ smithing or a dump of debris from elsewhere. Finally, towards the end of the day, we uncovered the remains of a small clay oven up against the edge of the eastern wall of the compartment. This would have been a small domed 'tandoori' style oven, although the upper elements have now gone.
We've also continued poking around in the slot through the eastern stretch of intra-vallum road. This has revealed a large patch of burning and clay up against the rampart. It may be part of a large early oven subsequently covered over by later rampart and road layers. This also seems to represent possible pre-barrack activity and may be linked to the earliest phase of fort.
In Trench 2, the main developments were in the bath-house. Excavation to the north of the newly discovered cross-wall foundations in the corridor have revealed some more evidence that the walls were formerly lined with box-flue tile, which was largely stripped out but remains in situ at floor level. It seems likely that the many iron clamps/fittings we have found embedded in the wall of this area were used for securing the flue to the stone wall.
To the north of the cross-wall, Sue has continued to explore the early floor layers. This revealed a void in the floor next to the west wall of the corridor. Our ever curious trench supervisor Jamie had the bright (and brave) idea of sticking his phone down the hole to take a photo - and revealed evidence for a hypocaust pila of stacked ceramic tiles. We now seem to have two hypocausts, one each side of the corridor cross wall.
Lots of nice finds- including a really nice ring from one of our metal detectorists. It is worth mentioning how helpful the detectorists have been. Although we always try to retain all the finds in situ, inevitably some get missed. By having a regime of detecting our spoil heaps we are able to recover items we may have initially missed. They have found some of our nicest finds - including last year's Christian ring. Without them our recovery rate would be much lower.
Another sweltering day, although we did have a mid-afternoon lolly break! The heat wave was finally broken by a massive thunderstorm directly over the site, so we knocked off a little early.
In Trench 1, more picking away at the barracks. A nice flagstone floor is appearing in the officer's compartment to the north of the building. A splendid range of nice finds, including some samian with maker's marks and several fragments of stamped amphora- I am pretty sure this is the first example we've seen in the entire excavation.
In Trench 2, more picking at external surfaces and plenty of context sheets being filled in . We've also decided to take a closer look at the surface Laura uncovered yesterday, so she will take down the adjacent section of stratigraphy leaving just a baulk. In the bathhouse, our section of hypocaust which we planned to explore and expand came to an abrupt halt, when Sue and Karen hit the foundations of a substantial cross-wall that runs west-east across the corridor (to the north of the standing cross-wall) - it is not clear what this is. It may have been a feature of the first phase of the bath-house that was demolished in the reworking of the building or it may conceivably relate to an even earlier structure.
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, Vinovia.org, Texas Tech 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