Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Binchester 2015: Day 21

A stinking hot day today, but all the diggers persevered through it and we made good progress despite the sun - tomorrow is set to be even hotter though; I think I might have to do a lolly run.

In Trench 1, as yesterday, the focus is very much on the barrack interior. Following on from the last blog entry, we have done good work tying the interior of the building into the road sequences and other features outside.We now have two cobbled surfaces that cross beneath the barracks wall and must be related to a pre-barrack phase of use of this area. We have also started to uncover a large area of fire reddened flag stones; this is certainly more than a simple hearth and seems to indicated a big period of burning. It will be interesting to see if evidence for this burning comes up elsewhere. Was the wooden barrack destroyed by fire?

In Trench 2, the biggest excitement was in the bath-house corridor. Whilst probing in the floor area at the northern end of the corridor, we have identified a probable hypocaust pila made, as is typical, from a pile of stacked ceramic tiles. Although ever since we found the flue tiles embedded in the southern wall of the corridor, we have suspected that we might have an underfloor heating system in this area, this is the first time that we have actually found direct evidence. Presumably this extends beneath the entire floor of this compartment and was presumably extended when the southern extensions were built. In this southern end, we also probed the floor area more, and can now clearly see that opus signinum is laid  across the floor in the extensions, with the later flag stone floor and integral culverts built up over this floor. This seems to suggest that initially the entire southern end may have been one plunge bath, before being cut down and turned into a smaller plunge bath and changing area.

In the area to the south of the bath-house, there has been lots of recording in the slot being dug by Morris and Michael ("Tom"), particularly getting the section drawn. To the west, in the metal working area, just at the end of the day, Laura uncovered a flagstone surface beneath the dense spread of burnt material she had been excavating. This surface appears to run up to a wall line within the wooden structure. It is not, as yet, clear whether this represents another building, or perhaps a well-constructed smelting hearth - it should all come out in the wash over the next few days.

Finally, one of our 2nd year students, Darren Oliver, had the chance to experiment with the drone he is working on today- although this was his first test flight at Binchester he was able to get some great aerial shots of Trench 2. We look forward to seeing more!

Binchester 2015: Days 20-21

Apologies for getting a little behind with the blog posts. It's been a hectic couple of days and I've barely had a chance to sit in front of a computer since Friday. Anyway, we've had two very constructive days, facilitated by the wonderful weather- it's starting to warm up now!

In Trench 1, we've moved nearly everyone into the barrack block to blitz the final internal features. There are still drainage slots and post-holes appearing; the number of the post-hole voids in particular continue to multiply. Particular developments include the discovery that one layer of external road surface appears to run across and into the barracks area- for the first time, we've been able to securely stratigraphically link the barrack with an external surface. In the south-west corner, we've welcomed our long-term volunteer Jonathan back- he's been cleaning a strip across the very southern end of the trench and appears to have found something that looks like it could be natural. We've also gone back to beavering away in the small section of structure to the west of the north end of the barrack. We've clearly got several levels of stone walling and traces of what looks like a floor surface which had been partly removed in the past. Yesterday a chunk of possible Rhineland lava, probably from a quern, was found wedged into the foundations of one of the walls.

In Trench 2, inside the bath-house there has been lots of recording, with Darren bravely tackling a sheaf of context sheets in the corridor. Meanwhile, next door in the changing room, Sue and Karen have been looking at the section excavated through one of the culverts. They have removed the lining stones and shown even earlier potential surfaces. The construction of the plunge bath can also be seen- the foundations of its walls go down quite some way; certainly deeper than the level of the op sig floor.

In the area to the south of the bath-house, Michael, John and Morris have been continuing with their section through the dark deposits- lots of evidence for burning, but they have come down onto a compact gravel floor. This work has also exposed a possible flue-hole in the external face of the wall, presumably connected in some way to the flue on the inside of the same wall. This section produced one of the nicest of our recent finds- the handle of a copper alloy pan/skillet - another cracking discovery from Michael.

In our metalworking area, Stephen and Laura have been making great strides, unpicking what may be an oven structure (it certainly contains a lot of burnt material with masses of copper alloy splashes), more crucible fragments are emerging, and yesterday Laura found a beautiful, intact lidded crucible.

Finally, Michelle, Jacqui and the others have been making great inroads into unpicking the layers of cobbled surface along the west side of the bath-house. Not the most exciting task, particularly in this heat but crucial for working out the sequence of activity in this area.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Binchester 2015: Day Nineteen

I was off site today - I was in York looking at the site archives for the impressive Roman building (possibly a bath-house) excavated on the site of Queen's Hotel, Skeldergate (York), where the walls survived in places even higher than ours at Binchester (over  3m in places!). I was working on this material as part of a project to re-assess the dating evidence for the important (but complex) Roman to early medieval transition.

As a result of my absence, today's report is from Jamie Armstrong- our Trench 2 supervisor

"Trench 1

(Conversation in the van on the way home)

Jamie: Damn, I forgot to come and look at your trench today: did you find anything interesting for the blog?

Matt: No.

Trench 2

A little low on numbers, but we still got plenty of things done. On the south side of the bath-house, near the southeast corner the trench Morris, John and Michael made good progress blitzing a sondage between the bath-house southern wall and the new wall which fronts directly on to Dere Street: for security reasons this trench shall be referred to as “Tom”, and we anticipate being beyond the wire (or possibly on a floor level) by Monday. There are some lovely soft deposits in this area, including a thick black layer of burnt material. The new wall was also found to have a stepped course, indicating we may be close to the bottom. Finds from this area included the base of a square glass vessel and a copper object, as well as the inevitable mounds of animal bone.

Just off the southwest corner of the bath-house further work by Laura and Margaret (helped by a late surprise cameo from Peter) has defined the deposits within the post-built structure. To the south of this, Steven has finished excavating a small stone-lined pit which has been filled with an interesting mix of burnt material intermixed with copper fragments. Several more crucible fragments were also found in this feature, to add to the ones found previously from the same area, indicating at least one focus of metalworking, although interesting there is no evidence of in situ burning within the pit itself.

At the northern end of the side road Graham and Jacqui were kept entertained unveiling the latest of a series of layers of stones in our excavation of a long strip between the west side of the bath-house and the very fine wall to the west. We should be in a position to record this and begin its removal tomorrow.

Within the bath-house, Sue and Karen have excavated a section through the floor to the north of the long plunge-pool in the changing room. As a result we now know  the depth wall of this plunge pool , and also that it was constructed on some large flat slabs: whether these slabs are part of the foundation of the wall, or are in fact an earlier floor is not yet clear. Quite a long discussion with Peter has led to a decision to dig a bit more and see what happens.

At the south end of the corridor Darren completed his lovely plan and began the exciting job of numbering everything. Once this is completed we should be ready to continue. During the course of the day it suddenly dawned on me that, while there is a very obvious drain from the eastern plunge pool in this area, there is no similar drain from what I presumed was the western plunge pool. It seems that there was only one plunge pool after all, and that the space opposite with the remnants of a stone bench was actually a changing space, presumably for a private bathing area."

Binchester 2015: Finds conservation

An extra blog entry today - this is a brief report by our conservator Vicky Garlick on what happens to our finds: 

Objects are retrieved from the site every couple of days, with exciting finds discovered daily. Often during conservation of these objects surprising discoveries are made, including confirming that several objects are in fact silver, rather than copper alloy.

The objects arrive into the conservation lab where they’re initially photographed and recorded. The object then have the surface dirt removed using cotton wool swabs and a suitable solvent and a scalpel is used to remove the corrosion on the surface. Once cleaned, the metal objects are then consolidated using an adhesive and solvent solution to prevent future deterioration and damage during storage or display.

The images show several of the recent finds before and after conservation.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Binchester 2015: Day Eighteen

My first full day on site this week- despite driving from rain on the way in, we actually had lovely weather all the time we were out. It was busy- with lots of visitors, including  a great group of children, who all proved to be excellent at spotting Roman coins!

Progress is a little slower this week due to our reduced numbers- nonetheless, there have been some interesting developments. In Trench 1, we've identified a roadside gulley cut into the sub-soil alongside the northern edge of the northern intravallum road- it makes a nice change to be excavating negative features rather than wall chasing. Along the edge of the barracks, we've had more lines of our strange post-hole voids appearing marking possible internal or external walls. We're also finding yet more evidence for subsidence- Helen has been excavating a large "pit" which in fact appears to be a sunken metalled surfaced, which is cut by a drainage gully. We've also been ferreting in our road sections- in the area where we thought we'd more or less got to natural, we've now found a large stone kerb or wall running north-south...  no idea what this could be- possibly an earlier road?

In Trench 2, there is still more cleaning up of the external pavements and surfaces around the bath-house. In our small post-hole area, Stephen excavated a small stone setting packed with coal and other burnt material, with lots of splashes of copper alloy - this must be a candidate for part of a metal working hearth.Further to the east, the team are continuing to trowel through the soft grey and brown roadside layers- the presence of various stone settings all hint at something structural here, but nothing has yet resolved itself clearly

Some nice finds today- a lovely little enamelled stud found by Laura, and a strange metal grill or mount and a belt-buckle also from the area in front of the bath-house.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Binchester 2015: Day Seventeen

I'm afraid I was not on site today as I was attending the graduation of our latest batch of freshly minted 3rd year archaeology students. This means I can't do a full blog entry- but it does look like I missed the discovery of some cracking finds. Michael has been digging for about five seasons, but his discovery must be the best so far- a totally complete grey-ware pot - discovered near the road in Trench 2. Nearby Margaret discovered a rather nice intaglio showing the god Mercury. A good day all round!

Monday, 22 June 2015

BInchester 2015: Day Sixteen

A rather desultory day- our numbers are lower than last week as our 1st year students have gone, and rain from lunchtime reduced the workforce even further.

Trench 1 continued the identification and excavation of drainage slots and post-holes in the barrack. There was also the beginning of an attempt to get our heads around a strange wodge of rubble sticking out in the layers beneath the bread oven in the north-west corner.

In Trench 2, more action on the south and west sides of the bath-house. On the southern side, Michael, Morris and Sue continued to reduce the layers between the building and the road, with Michael picking out some of the possible post-holes associated with a potential structure that lies in this area. Nearby, Laura started to half-section the building defined by the small post-holes and seemingly associated with evidence for metal working. This is already producing evidence of a possible central burnt feature- fingers crossed we have a nice hearth associated with the metal working. Along the side of the bath-house, it's all about the road surfaces, which are slowly being reduced.

Hopefully more tomorrow- although I'm largely off site due to attending the graduation ceremonies of our recently finished 3rd year archaeology students

Friday, 19 June 2015

Binchester 2015: Day Fifteen

A hectic morning- multiple site tours and a meeting at Auckland Castle to plot and scheme. All our archaeology students finished at lunch time as its the last day of term. This afternoon there were only our volunteers on site (even Jamie and Beckah were skiving off), so it was all strangely quiet.

Nonetheless, work continued. In Trench 1, more of the same- more rows of post-holes coming up, clearly associated with areas of pavement. These are all part of the earliest timber barrack. Matt and I measured some levels across the trench this afternoon; the levels we are excavating at seem to be at the same height as the foundation courses of the north and east curtain walls, so it is unlikely that there is much more deep stratigraphy to unpick. Nonetheless, there are still plenty  of features to dig over the coming weeks.

In Trench 2, once the students left, the bath-house was empty, although I think there are still some tasks to carry out in there, particularly some sub-floor furtling in the corridor. Along the side of the bath-house, we continue to reveal the road surfaces; in particular at the moment we are aiming to join up our road surface with the southern porch threshold. Along the south of the bath-house, our possible structure we looked at yesterday is still unclear, although we have uncovered a number of vertically pitched stones, which look like they may have formed some kind of structural base or support, although it is not clear whether this maps directly on to yesterday's proposed building. Next to it, and in the front of our post-hold structure, we're starting to uncover an interesting dump of burnt material. Excitingly, this appears to be clear evidence for metal working   - in the space of 30 minutes it produced a fragment of a crucible and a crucible lid- a couple of years ago, some mould fragments came from the same area. The burnt material seems to contain small globules of copper alloy, so it is presumably the remains of Roman bronze working, although it is uncertain as yet whether this is a secondary dump of industrial waste, or if we'll come down onto a hearth. Interestingly, this industrial activity seems to have used coal as its main fuel.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Binchester 2015: Day Fourteen

Nearly the end of our third week, and out last full day with the students. Although the weather was overcast and a little chilly, we continued to make good progress.

In Trench 1, the team looking at the new northern stretch of road have now revealed a clear kerb/gully on the north side and need to focus on clearing the stretch between that and the northern trench edge (which doesn't quite reach to the curtain wall). In our section through the side road, it is still unclear whether or not the dark, damp layer is related to an early fort phase or not- whatever it is though, it is very different from the overlying layers of compacted road surface. Within the barrack, lots of post-holes, lots of cobbles, lots of recording...

In Trench 2, work in the bath-house was focused very much on recording and cleaning up for photographs. A similar situation was to be found to the west of the bath, where the porch was being recorded, and earlier layers of road surface were being revealed and recorded. To the south of the bath-house, the roadside features are coming up nicely- we now have what looks like a stretch of roadside walling. It could simply be a well constructed gully, but it does appear to be structural. I think it is unlikely that we have another structure squeezed between the bath-house and the road, particularly as the front aspect of the bath-house contained a series of windows which would have been blocked in by a stone structure with walls like this. My current hypothesis is that it is a northern boundary wall similar to our western boundary wall- serving to mark out the bath-house compound.

In the area to the north of the road and south of the bath, we have another possible structure. Its walls are very poorly defined, but a crude line of stones seems to define a possible clay floor surface. Personally, I remain unconvinced - I can't see how the stone settings could be structural; my best guess is that it marks a working area or outside activity area rather than a proper building. Hard up next to it to the west is the evidence for something more structural. This new building is defined by a series of the strange stake-holes that we have been spotting this year. These are voids rather than containing fills in the way a traditional post-pipe might. Nonetheless, they are clearly structural and 'real' rather than being natural features (see image at the top of the page). The lines are straight, the gaps between them are consistent and the whole assemblage is clearly aligned on the road. This is the first time we have found clear evidence for a structure without a stone foundation or superstructure and a reminder that even at a major site such as Binchester, simple timber structures were to be found around the more substantial stone buildings.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Binchester 2015: Day Thirteen

Another busy day, although we were hit by rain mid-morning. In Trench 1, the action continues along the northern strip. Finally, as anticipated, we've identified the roadside kerb in our section of road in the north-west corner; this replicates the pattern found in the road section further to the east. Just to the north of this, Pete has been quietly exposing more of the curtain wall, digging  a slot down to expose the off-sets and possible foundations. In the eastern road section we've started to expand the area uncovered by commencing to remove more material to its west.

Elsewhere in the barrack, there is more planning and recording, as well as further work defining our new post-holes and cleaning down the interior surfaces. We can see the complexity of the interior features in several places- particularly where several phases of stable drainage gully can be seen to clearly intersect each other as they have been recut and reworked. We've also been looking again at the eastern intra-vallum road. We've put two more slots through- the southern slot is still showing earlier road layers, but our northern slot appears to have removed all the road surfaces and has hit a black clay-silt layers which is very damp and sticky. It is not clear what this represents- it could indicate a period of disuse or perhaps represent an underlying pre-road deposit.

In Trench 2, the area of new flue-tiles in the bath-house has continued to be cleaned and now looks very nice. As far as we can tell not all the flue-pipes continued downwards- although some clearly do- inevitably the arrangement is perhaps more complex than we first anticipated. In the main room, there is still much recording to do, but there has been some more excavation, notably at the intersection of the two drainage culverts- this has shown that they appear to be contemporary.

In the areas to the south of the bath-house, Morris and Steven have been trowelling back a thick deposit which appears to be very rich in charcoal. Nearby, the others have revealed more of one of the kerb lines, as well as removing the deposits nearby. 

Along the western flank of the bath-house, there has been great movement hacking away the road surfaces, revealing a nicely metalled surface. This process has revealed more of the strange post/stake hole voids cutting through this surface - clearly marking a fence line.

After a couple of days with few interesting finds, things got a bit more interesting today, with yet another ring with an intaglio and nice metal mount from the spoil heap and some interesting glass and ceramics.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Binchester 2015: Days eleven and twelve

Apologies for the absence of a blog entry yesterday- I simply ran out of time. The last two days have seen plenty of new developments across the site.

In Trench 1, the confusing sequence of drains/gullies on the northern side of the fort between the curtain wall and the northern gable of the barrack is simply getting harder to understand. We now have four (or maybe even five) separate courses of more or less parallel gullies more or less adjacent to each other. The chronology is uncertain, but whatever the dates it is hard to see how this precise curious arrangement came into place Combined with the shifting gable end of the barrack itself, this 2-3m strip of site has seen a complex sequence of building and rebuilding - it may have been related to issues with subsidence, but that is only one hypothesis. There are other hard to understand features in the immediate vicinity including the odd setting of stones within or beneath the road surface to the south of the bread oven. Hopefully, it will all clear up as we continue to dig (although in practice, the more we dig, the more confusing things get).

Within the barrack interior, we continue to reveal more drains including some north-south drainage features as well as lots more post-holes (probably around 50 in total). It seems increasingly likely that these represent the earlier timber barrack. We've also had a more of the strange voids which appear to be stake holes cutting through the hard compacted surfaces - but which never filled up with a later fill- even more surprisingly we've found similar lines of voids in the road surface in Trench 2.

Over in Trench 2, we've seen more progress on peeling back the surfaces of the side road - we've also more fully revealed the foundations of the porch and some associated pavement surfaces - these are currently being planned and recorded, whilst work continues nearby taking down the adjacent surfaces.

In front of the bath-house, we've continued to remove the brown clayey layers - and have uncovered two more kerbs/edge settings to the roadside (at different levels). We can only see these in short stretches so we need to confirm how far they link up into more substantial stone rows.

In the bath-house corridor, the team have finally removed all the baulk that stood in front of the blocked southern entrance. To our surprise, they have shown that the wall they have revealed once contained a series of parallel flues defined by broad ceramic pipes (rather than the ceramic box flues that can be seen in the warm room in the bath-house in the praetorium). These appear to be wider than the narrow pipes with nozzles (tubuli lingulati) known from some Roman baths (see the very useful paper by our own David Mason in the Britannia 21 [1990]) - if anyone reading this has come across parallels we'd be interested to hear.