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.

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