Friday 31 July 2009

Binchester Day Thirty-Nine

Another contribution from David Mein

" Another pleasant day with no rain and plenty of sunshine.

There was a full complement of volunteers so work on much of the site was possible. The re-examination of a possible medieval feature, after it had been planned, uncovered a number of finds such as samian ware, Roman glass and domestic pottery.

Close to this feature a number of volunteers trowelled the area and a Roman loom weight was found in excellent condition.

Throughout the site pottery, from a range of periods, has been found and on the spoil heap the team of metal detectors have been able to assist the archaeologists by finding coins which in many instances are miniscule.

Towards the North West of the site the wall, uncovered some time ago, has proved most interesting. The wall has been cleaned and a door way may have been discovered, and close by work has commenced on a possible hearth.

Volunteers are also working on several other features which still need to be carefully examined before they can be interpreted."

Wednesday 29 July 2009

Binchester Day Thirty-Eight

Another from David M.

" It was surprisingly a rain free day until 4 o'clock when the volunteers were in fact clearing the sight. Again this was largely a day in which the volunteers did a great deal of trowelling in search of features. Of course some finds were made such as a coin, pottery and a possible ring but few clear archaeological features could be identified. However, two walls, to the north of the site, were uncovered by the volunteers and work continued in cleaning them and defining the stones involved.

The volunteers were also given the opportunity to assist in the planning of the site, which they found to be a valuable aspect of the "archaeological experience".

Binchester Day Thirty-Seven

Another contribution from David M.

"Anyway today went quite well with the rain holding off until about 3 o'clock and that was only a short shower. There was a strongish wind which was drying the site out and again making trowelling difficult.

The possible medieval feature surprisingly produced a number of Roman finds and one of the volunteers within minutes of trowelling near the road found a Roman coin in good condition. There were a number of finds in the central area of the site including a red bead. This was made by Katie who during the week has now found a red and also, earlier in the week, blue bead. Progress has been slow at the possible bread oven but in true Time Team

fashion Janet was able to identify features late in the day. Some of the volunteers have also begun to plan the features, so all aspects of archaeology are being addressed by the members of the excavation"

Binchester Day Thirty-Six

Another contribution from volunteer David Mien

"Another pleasant day on the dig with a new group of volunteers joining the excavation. The weather was warm and sunny with a light shower at lunch time. There was also a breeze which although made conditions good to work in, tended to dry the surface and so trowelling was at times difficult on the firm surface.

Work continued in the centre of the site where perhaps a post Roman building has been found, though this is difficult to establish, hence the amount of trowelling in this area. A loom spindle was discovered here and later in the day a coin.

On the rampart section a feature is visible and work continues to establish whether this is a bread oven, built into the rampart.

Near to this feature two of the new volunteers have uncovered a Medieval feature and perhaps a section of inter vallum road"

I'll post some new images from David when I'm back from holiday (DP)

Friday 24 July 2009

Binchester Day Thirty-five

Today's blog update is from one of our volunteers Dave Mein

"The weather was mixed with heavy showers and long breaks of sunny spells, which were quite warm. In the main the volunteers mattocked, hoed and trowelled largely in the area of the recently discovered wall. The rampart area was examined and some work was bugun on the edge of the actual site and in the vicinity of some features."

Thursday 23 July 2009

Binchester Day Thirty Four

Everyone has been hard at work today; the cleaning and trowelling is really starting to pay dividends. It looks like we've now identified the end of the main barrack (see picture above). It is possible that this return wall is simply an internal division, but if this is true its hard to see how there would be room for the intra-vallum road between the building and the north rampart. Work in the large pit has continued- still no clearly defined edge- however, removing some of the larger stones has revealed what appears to be the footings for the wall, showing that not all the wall was removed when the pit was dug. In the eastern corner of the site we've found the walls of the structure identified by Kenneth Steer when he excavated a trench here in the 1930s. Plenty of interesting finds have been popping up which has helped keep people's interest despite the boring cleaning tasks; more coins, a fragment of a glass bangle, a copper alloy fitting and plenty of pottery!

The big pit with the wall footing

Copper alloy fitting

Lots of pot (and lot still to wash)

Binchester Day Thirty-three

Apologies for the delay in updating the blog today. I am afraid there may be some slight interruptions to service over the next week or so as I'm away. However, hopefully, I'll be being fed updates from the site and will post them as I receive them.

Yesterday, there was more progress on the cleaning back. Its may seem repetitive, but its an important process. Its increasingly easy to identify the edges of the trench excavated into the corner of the fort in the 1930s by Kenneth Steer. Other features are also coming up, including further stretches of wall connected to the barrack block. It will be a priority to get the full extent of this structure defined. There are also hints of other structures built into the ramparts, which will require further defining.

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Binchester Day Thirty-one

More time lost to rain today, which was a bit of a shame. The new volunteers are making great inroads into the final area needing cleaning up. Work also continues with the possible interval tower in the north-west corner; highly probable that the other wall of the tower will be outside our trench of course... Sue's pit continues to expand; today it produced a lovely fragment of pot with late Roman? incised graffiti!

Monday 20 July 2009

Binchester Day Thirty-One

Although the Stanford team have now departed, the work is far from over on the site. Today saw the arrival of a fresh new group of volunteers drawn from the local community and members of the Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland. Despite the horrendous rain on Friday which saw extensive flooding in and around the area the site was in pretty good condition. Twenty fresh and eager faces lined up this morning for a site tour followed by the inevitable ritual enjoyed by all new arrivals on site: cleaning back! Hopefully, over the next few days we'll be able to get the final remaining elements of the site cleaned up enough to define any remaining features. Once again the process threw up finds, including lots of Roman pottery, several coins and more jet beads! Meanwhile, over in the far north-west corner of the site others started to define the area around a small stump of walling that could be seen projecting from the north-east rampart.

Binchester Finds Round-up

Just a chance to stick up some more images of finds from the site. We've lots more to get photographed- this is just a tip of the iceberg. More to come.

Friday 17 July 2009

Binchester Day Thirty

The Stanford season at Binchester has come to an end. Sadly, the last day has been an anti-climax. The rain has come down in bucketloads which means we've got no work done at all today. Instead we went off in the minibus to look at historic churches.

I thought this might be a good point to be a little more reflective about the progress on the project so far. My first thought is that we are making much slower progress than I anticipated. I would hasten to add, though, that this says more about my preconceptions than about the way we've been working on the site. The sheer number of cobbles and rubble surfaces overlying the Roman remains has meant that we've had to be incredibly careful in recording, planning and photographing site. Any sub-Roman or early medieval features are likely to be extremely ephemeral. I've just been looking at the report on the early medieval features from the Wall fort at Birdoswald; the excavator emphasised the need to take things slow and record in detail. Planning such sites is inevitably slow, particularly when every stone has to be drawn, but I know we're doing the right thing.

My second thought is that I'm surprised how much later medieval (post-Conquest) we've come across. Its no surprise to find stone robbing; I suspect that most of the field wall and buildings in the surrounding area have been constructed from material harvested from Binchester. However, some of the other evidence is more substantial, such as the huge dump of cobbles along the edge of the rampart. Is this related to field clearance? We've also got a possible later medieval building (more of which below). We've even got later evidence including the stone-capped pit and the adjacent feature within the main building; both have produced medieval and post-medieval finds, including 18th century ceramics and a clay-pipe stem. Clearly, the site was still being used, albeit in a relatively unintensive way quite late. This was of some surprise, as there is very little evidence for a significant settlement at the site, although the antiquarian John Leland did mention a small village here in the 16th century. I suspect we are talking simply about a few houses assocaited with the Hall rather than anything more substantial.

My final thought, as I start to look towards the post-excavation stage, is the challenge we are going to face in placing a chronology on the features we've excavated. I'm certain we've actually got very few Roman features and that we are still largely in post-Roman horizons. Although due to the inevitably high level of residulality we will have our work cutting out in distinguishin between the latest Roman layers and sub-Roman/early medieval features on the basis of artefacts alone. Sadly, in the North-east, there is little by the way of a diagnostic 5th/6th century material culture, although we have one fragment of possible Anglo-Saxon metal work (though sadly unstratisfied). We are going to need to use C14 dates where possible to try and disentangle the chronological development of this later stage of site activity. There are still a number of key features for which we have very little idea of date, particularly the out-of-alignment building, which could date to anything from the late Roman period to the 14th century (though my hunch is that it is later rather than earlier).

Still, all is not over yet; we now have three weeks of community involvement on the excavation, so we may start hitting serious Roman stratigraphy, and hopefully remove some more of the cobbles and start understanding the site progression in a little more detail.

Thursday 16 July 2009

Binchester Day Twenty-nine

We really seem to be making inroads into the site at the moment; cobbled surfaces are being removed and features being dug. The stone-capped pit continues to grow and has produced another nice find: a lovely copper-alloy thimble. More features are being defined in the northern compartment of the main building; the beam slot showed up really nicely today in today's damp conditions. Work on the big feature to the south of the flagged surface has also been continuing, with stones being removed. What looks like a stone base is starting to emerge, though there is much to do in excavating in this large feature. On the eastern side of the side the features cut into the tail of the rampart have been planned and photographed. Nearby, a sondage on the southern side of the wall of the smaller structure is trying to assess the depth to which the wall survives. It would be great to get some solid dating evidence from this. We'll need to make sure any internal occupation deposits are adequately seived to retrieve material suitable for C14 dating. Not all the action happens in the trench; we've been making great strides with washing and marking the pot and bone. We need to make sure we keep on top of this aspect of the work to save time on the post-excavation later.

We also had another VIP visit today; we showed the Vice Chancellor of Durham University and his wife around the site, and explained our plans for developing the project and the site in future years. I hope he left enthused by our own excitement about Binchester and what it has to offer!

Wednesday 15 July 2009

Binchester Day Twenty-eight

More rain today, but not enough to stop work! Lots going on at the moment. Most importantly, we are finally removing some of the cobbles. This is exciting after everyone has spent so much time carefully cleaning and planning them- of course, we've simply revealed more cobbles beneath them, but its a start. They are coming off in two area; the big lump over the smaller building and in the cobbled area to its west. I'm hoping that when we remove enough material we'll identify some occupation levels in the small structure, which would hopefully allow us to get a better handle on its date (currently anywhere between the 5th and 15th century). Elsewhere, Jamie has been carefully exploring the flagstone floor in the centre of the main building; this is revealling a clay layer in which it seems to sit; there area also possible features cut through this clay. The large stone-capped pit is still expanding and as confusing as ever; it produced a small fragment of hand-painted eighteenth? century pottery, suggesting it is more likely to be of post-medieval than medieval date. Finally, there has been more excavation of the large feature in the south of the building; although this is where we missed the cut seperating the earlier (late Roman?) from the later (post-medieval?) feature, we've now revealed a set of stones in the base of the feature which appears to define the edge of the earlier activity area. Apart from this, its been more of the usual range of activtiy: planning, levelling, cleaning cobbles and pot washing.... Only two more days before the Stanford team return home.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

Binchester Day Twenty-seven

Despite poor weather forecasts we got a solid day’s work done today. This morning was dominated by digging features, particularly in the northern section of the main building, including further work on a number of possible post-holes. So far these have contained late Roman pottery, indicating a good, late/sub-Roman date for the activity here. Further south, the large copper alloy object was lifted, though it’s in very poor condition; it will be difficult to effectively conserve it, though we may able to get an X-ray of it. The large stone-capped pit has continued to produce medieval pottery and, late this morning, a lovely iron object; either a knife or half a pair of shears. On the eastern edge of the site, a number of post-holes have been excavated on the rampart. We have also been exploring the stretch of wall that we had assumed was the eastern end of the off-alignment building. However, we’ve been unable to find any evidence for a return of the wall; given that it is at a higher level than the other walls it may in fact be an entirely different feature. The eastern wall of the building may instead be buried beneath the large heap of rubble.

This afternoon was very important for us as we were visited by a significant number of archaeologists from the region; it was a kind of unofficial open day. Our visitors included several specialists on Roman military archaeology so we were keen to hear what they were going to say. The main result, as far as I’m concerned is that everyone was happy that the main structure was of late Roman date, rather than anything much later. Whilst this was what we’d been assuming, it is very idiosyncratic in nature, so it’s nice to have our suppositions confirmed. There was also consensus that the off-alignment building was probably post-Conquest in date. Finally, after looking at the deposits in the stone-capped pit, Andrew Millard, noted that there appeared to be evidence for medieval industrial residues.

Monday 13 July 2009

Binchester Day Twenty-Six

After a great weekend which included the Durham Miner' s Gala on Saturday and a trip up to Bamburgh Castle and Holy Island on Sunday, its back to the grindstone for us today. I can't report on much detail as I wasn't able to be on site this afternoon. This morning the work was basically continuing Friday's work. In the northern end of the main building a series of features cut into the floor surface are being excavated, including a couple of post-holes which lie close to the west wall. A little to the south more stones were removed from the possible pit cutting the west wall. This continues to reveal medieval (14th/15th century pottery). On cutting back the section of the adjacent sunken/cut feature in the centre of the structure, a large piece of copper alloy sheeting (c.5cm x 10cm) was uncovered. It was hoped to lift this in one piece; its not in good condition though, and its not clear precisely what it was. Over on the roadway, more features cut into the metalling are being reveal, and it appears that two areas of rubble close to the rampart may actually be sitting in cut features, rather than being simple spreads.

The mystery copper alloy object in the course of excavation

Friday 10 July 2009

Binchester Day Twenty-five

I can’t believe it’s the end of week four. We’ve had a good week and made lots of progress; lots of areas have been cleaned with surfaces and features exposed, planned and photographed. Next week should see the excavation of lots of cut features. Key developments today include further work on the floor surfaces at the north end of the main building and the discovery of tiny red glass bead of probable Roman date from the cobbles to the north of the smaller structure. More cut features are being recognised within the road surface, though as some of these appear to be filled with stones and cobbles they are proving difficult to define. Elsewhere on site we actually started removing some stones! This makes a huge change from simply revealing new ones…. Over the last two days we’d been attempting to define the edge of a large circular dump of stones that appeared to cut the line of the south-eastern portion of wall of the main building. We finally located the cut and have begun to remove some of the stones. We’ve had a working hypothesis that this was a pile of rubble remaining from robbing out the wall; we guessed they’d taken the facing stones and dumped the less useful rubble core back in the hole. However, on taking these stones out it is clear that the feature contains some good quality facing stones, so it is unlikely to be related to the harvesting of stone from the site. We’re not much further, however, in actually guessing an alternative function, though it is clearly medieval as it contained a number of fragments of medieval pots. We are also coming down onto an underlying layer containing lots of charcoal and burnt bone; is this a rubbish dump? Possibly, but why go to all this effort to put large stones over it? Hopefully next week will bring an answer.

Thursday 9 July 2009

Binchester Day Twenty-Four

A fairly brief update today as I've been off site most of the day. The key developments are clarification of what's happening in the northern end of the main building. Further cleaning has revealed a series of cut features including a possible stone-lined beam slot. This appears to be lines using thin slabs of stone and is strongly reminiscent of the lining of the post-hole in the adjacent late/sub-Roman sunken features. This suggests that it too is of a relatively late date. Elsewhere it is becoming increasingly clear that there a series of features cut into the roadway. The gully excavated yesterday is quite substantial and clearly at an angle to everything else on site; there are also a number of possible pits appearing We need to make sure we take environmental samples from them. Full update on progress tomorrow.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

Binchester Day Twenty-three

A quiet rather than a spectacular day Everything has been humming along nicely. Work on the road has revealed a number of features cut into it (in addition to the various layers of metalling and patching). At least one substantial gulley has been sectioned; this appears to be on an entirely different alignment to anything else we've found so far, so its cleary not a roadside ditch or a drainage channel. It is just possible it is related to a new surface of large-ish stones we are revealing just the other side of the baulk (though that remains very very speculative). Elsewhere, planning has continued at the northern end of the barrack, and further definition of the features cut into the floor level. More has been taken out of the big post-med and/or late Roman feature. We still can't see where we've missed the cut, though the area being excavated still continues to reveal nothing but late Roman material. Further cleaning to the west of the main barrack wall has revealed a series of poorly defined rubble features at regular intervals along the line of the barrack. We've not really tried to define these in detail yet and their function is unclear. It is possible they are post-pads for a later building (although if it takes just two stones in a row to be a wall, it takes just one stone to be a post-pad!).

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Binchester Day Twenty-Two

Another busy day with everybody cracking on with their allotted tasks despite a rainy start. Work on clearing back the layers overlying the probable roadway is nearly complete; the metalled surface appears to have been repeatedly repaired and there are places where we can see probable rutting. Work on the northern section of the post-medieval feature has again revealed no medieval or later finds; I am now almost certain that we actually have a post-med feature cutting an earlier late/sub-Roman depression; we must have missed the cut higher up. It is very difficult to recognise features in the dry and rubbly soil we've been dealing with. All the pottery recovered from here today was late Roman (including calcite-gritted ware and Huntcliffe ware) and Joy also found a small segmented jet bead.

The northern ends of the walls of the main building have also now been completely cleaned and photographed and planning will begin tomorrow. There has been much work on the interior of this section of the building. The damp weather has allowed us to pick up a series of cut features including post-holes and possible stretches of beam slots; how visible these will remain should the site dry out again is a different matter. In the south-east corner a little randomn furtling has revealed a couple of short stretches of wall possibly a building linked to the rampart; certainly on same alignment of the main building.

Monday 6 July 2009

Binchester Day Twenty-One

Back to work today after a busy weekend. Yesterday, we visited Segedunm (Wallsend), Corbridge and Vindolanda, as well as squeezing in a stop at Milecastle 42 at Cawfields. It was a great opportunity for people to get a feel for the potential at Binchester. Although most of our site is under fields, the chance to explore Vindolanda in particular reminded everybody of how much might survive at the site; the fact that the Binchester bath-house is so well preserved is a good indicator of possible preservation elsewhere. The Vindolanda visit was also very informative as Andrew Birley gave us a brief tour of this year's excavations in the North West quadrant of the fort. Whist the most spectacular discovery was that of a small shrine to Jupiter Dolichenus (including a beautifully carved altar), from my point of view the most interesting aspect was the similarity of the late activity on their barrack blocks to ours; lots of reworked walling and spreads of rubble (although they were further ahead in the excavation than we are). Crucially, they have recovered evidence for occupation as late as the 8th/9th centuries AD. At Binchester, we know there was activity at the site in this period, as a number of burials of this date have been discovered; it would be fantastic if we’ve recovered occupation evidence of this date. It remains a strong possibility, although the chronological evidence for our late/post-Roman activity remains tantalisingly slight.

We were lucky with the weather today; although thunderstorms circled us all afternoon and we dug to the accompaniment of constant thunder we avoided a soaking. Planning took place around the post-medieval feature. We are now excavating a section of this feature on the other side of the baulk; intriguingly so far this has produced no medieval ceramics. Have we missed a cut in excavating the other side? Was this in fact an early feature cut by a later feature?

More work took place defining of the northern end of the main building. The western wall has clearly toppled sideways at some point, and the apparent bend in the wall was clearly caused by this collapse. The eastern wall is still very patchy; the north-east corner appears to have been supported by a number of very large stones, very different to foundations elsewhere. It is possible that it may have had to have been supported or re-inforced at some point; this is the same wall which appears to have had a stretch of double-thickness walling in places. There are also hints that it may the wall partly extends over an area of metalling, although this is still far from certain.

North-east stretch of walling of main building (looking south). You can see the large stones used to re-inforce the north-east corner

A nice ceramic lion's head

The proud discoverer of a Roman coin!

Friday 3 July 2009

BInchester Day Twenty

Half a day’s digging completed today; lovely weather in the morning, but rain came up at lunch time, so we decided to ditch it for the day, though we used the early finish as an excuse to visit the nearby Anglo-Saxon church at Escomb. Despite the short day, some useful work was done. Much of the morning was spent cleaning up the north end of the main building for a photograph (which took place in the rain). Elsewhere work continued bottoming out the large post-medieval feature; we appear to have reached a stone lining. We also had a visit from our coin expert, Philippa Walton and the new County Durham Finds Liaison Officer, Frances Macintosh. They took the opportunity to have a look at our small finds and coins. Frances was able to identify a variant of a knee-brooch and part of a trumpet brooch, amongst other bits and bobs of Roman and medieval date. A quick review of the coins showed that, not surprisingly, the majority of them were mid-4th century in date, although the latest were a couple of examples belonging to the House of Theodosius (AD388-402).

I’ve been looking at the gadget which records visitors to the this blog, and I can see we have readers from all over the world, including (in the last couple of days) the US and Russia. If anyone has any questions about the site or simply wants to let us know why you are interested in Roman Binchester we’d love to hear from you.

Thursday 2 July 2009

Binchester Day Nineteen

It was a hectic day on site today. This morning's excitement was caused by the arrival of Adam Stanford of Aerial-Cam. He bought a mast-mounted camera set-up attached to a Land Rover. The mast extended to about 20m above ground and allowed to take some fantastic near vertical shots of the site (see some of the photographs below). This proved really useful. Although we have many plans of individual areas of the site they have not been collated yet; Adam's excellent photographs allowed us to really get a clear idea of the layout of the site. It was fascinating how the different perspective of these photographs really altered our sense of the site. For example, the bow-sided building turned out not to be anywhere near as bow-sided as we thought. Also, it became clear that a long spread of rubble on the eastern edge of the site had a much straighter edge that previously appreciated, and what we had assumed was a late-Roman rubble revetment clearly overlay parts of the (non-)bow-sided building. At some point we hope to be able to rectify the images using the plans we have drawn which should give us some fantastic vertical site shots.

The Aerial-Cam camera

The (non) bow-sided building (we need to think of a new term). You can clearly see the long pile of rubble overlying the right (east) end of the structure

Work continued on the site despite the distraction of the camera on a very long pole. Mainly we were continuing cleaning and defining the new areas of the barrack. It appears that what I've termed the 'sub-Roman pit' continues northwards and appears to cover much of the interior of the northern end of the barrack, and appears to cut areas of the floor surface. If the rest of this feature contains as much cattle bone as the small area we've excavated so far it is going to provide a really good assemblage for later analysis.

Aerial-cam shot of the 'barrack block; the large dark feature can cleary be seen in the centre of the left-hand part of the structure

Finally, find of the day, a tiny fragment of a Roman inscription! Sadly, it just comprised an individual letter 'R'. Hopefully, we'll find more of it!

Wednesday 1 July 2009

Binchester Day Eighteen

Thunderbolts and lightning, very very frightning! A hot morning followed by an afternoon of constant thunder although the heavens only opened minutes before the end of the day. We've made great progress, with everybody really getting stuck in despite the muggy weather. The most progress has been made on exposing the northern end of the barracks structure. Cleaning back has revealed traces of a probable surface in certain areas, although there are certainly later features cut into it. Intriguingly, the western wall in this area is very heterogenous in character (as well as being anything but straight). It looks like a bit of a 'friday afternoon job'. The northern end of the structure may have been added on to the main building at a later date (although this is far from certain). There is also evidence for phasing elsewhere in the structure now, one of the w-e cross walls is clearly butting the long western wall and is not bonded in. Excavation to the western side of the west wall has produced what is either a slightly earlier stage of wall on a slightly different line or alternatively a possible off-set foundation. On the eastern wall, there is a stretch of 'two-ply' wall which rather than having a rubble core with facing stones either side, instead has the usual two facing walls, but an internal wall within the rubble core; presumably at some point a normal wall was altered or supported by a further course of walling. Elsewhere this wall peters out entirely, presumably robbed out. All in all a great day throwing up lots of challenges; it is clear that there is a lot of alteration to the structure following construction including additions, phases of robbing, new surfaces and features cutting them. Lots to do tomorrow.

Newly revealed walls

More areas of new wall