Friday 25 June 2010

Season Two: Day Fifteen

Today was the end of the Durham first year's time on site. We mainly spent the day getting all the loose ends wrapped up. Next week we are having a quiet week- there will be no work on site, although we are being visited by Mick Aston (of Time Team fame, as well as being well-regarded academic in his own right) - he is being awarded an Honorary Degree by Durham University next week. The key job now is to get every thing ready for the arrival of lots of new excavators in the week beginning July 5th- we have around 40 from Stanford and 20 from Texas Tech, as well as 20 members of the local community, so there will be no shortage of hands. This means we can get on with a couple of major jobs, particularly the initial clean of the rest of Trench B and removing the final areas of topsoil in Trench A. Having completed the latest stage of planning we will also be ready to really get stuck into some of the key areas in both trenches...just hope the weather holds.

Thursday 24 June 2010

Season Two: Day Fourteen

Nearly the end of the three week stay of our Durham first year undergraduates. Lots of little jobs to finish off - context sheets needing completion and drawings and plans to get sorted. Work was rather slow today as lots of people had to complete various pieces of university paperwork and some people were back in the labs doing environmental processing. In Trench A we've really defined the floor surfaces within the southern end of the barrack block; we've been considering the possibility of extending the trench slightly to get the southern end of the building, although we'll need to talk to other members of the project team and our academic advisory group before we do this. The key thing is we've reached a stage where the layers of rubble that overlapped the building have now been removed and we can now clearly define the features that lie within the walls and those outside. This means that we can shortly proceed with getting stuck into the features within the barracks. We've also found at least one post-hole clearly cut into the walls. Is this a nice early medieval feature like the post-pads in a similar position at Birdoswald or something later? More importantly, are there any more? We can also now clearly see that the clay layer that is beneath the flagstones and can be found elsewhere within the building post-dates the cruder wall and is contemporary or later than the later walls. This clay later itself is then covered by flagstones in places. It does appear currently that the walls were at their current level by the time that the flagstones were laid; possibly our single post-hole may represent a later superstructure over the floor (and its associated clearly defined hollows containing probable industrial activity). So, we're starting to really define the relative chronology- all we need now are some hard dates. Given the lack of a diagnostic early medieval material culture suite for the 5th-6th centuries AD in this part of the country and the high degree of residuality of Roman material we may have to seek a series of C14 dates to tie this sequence down a little; close comparison with the sequences in the the forthcoming publication of the excavations in the commander's house will also be useful.

In Trench B, the planning is almost completed. More work on the strip building is revealing evidence of some internal surfaces and other probable features. Whilst outside work on the roadside gullies has revealed at least one small pit (which inevitably contained nothing...). Lots to do in the forthcoming weeks.

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Season Two: Day Thirteen

Another slow hot day. We knocked off early today for the football, but worked through lunch to ensure as little time as possible was lost (it looks like we are now, officially, 'not as bad as France'). More planning, but some interesting things appearing - we are getting more of the walls from the strip building in Trench B. In the same trench we've also noticed a small building seemingly running at a 45 degree angle to the other structures and the road.

We were also visited by a school group. We get a lot of members of the public visiting the site, as the excavations are open to anyone who comes to look at the fort. I have encouraged the students to take turns showing people around. Pleasingly, many of them have taken to it like a duck to water, showing hitherto unknown histrionic ability.

Season Two: Day Twelve

Work is slow on site as we do lots of planning, so I though it be worth flagging up some of the other things going on with the project. One key aspect that will become increasingly important is the environmental aspect of the site. To date we've mainly been working on the highest layers cleaning and planning so we've been taking relatively few samples. However, as we start digging more features we are increasingly taking samples of soil for more detailed analysis to look for plant macrofossils, small animal bones etc back in our labs in Durham. In general, preservation does not appear to be great; we have quite acid soils and the site is very well drained as we sit on a gravel plateau. This means that we don't have many moist an-aerobic deposits which preserve organic remains. Sadly, this means we are unlikely to every find the "Binchester Tablets"- nonetheless, the large ditch may well preserve organic remains better and it is always possible we might find some wells (the whole issue of water supply is a vexed one). To prepare the students for future work on environmental archaeology, today we had a number of our BSc students in the labs having an introduction to environmental archaeology from Jacqui Huntley, the English Heritage Regional Science Advisor. We were also joined by members of our partner, the Archaeological and Architectural Society of Durham and Northumberland, who will get the chance to spend the next few days working wiht our students in the labs.

Monday 21 June 2010

Season Two: Day Eleven

Another scorching hot day. We're continue to plan in Trench B, but we're also continuing to explore the gully along the north side of the road. Its probably of quite a late date, but contains some interesting furrows/ruts. Their relationship to some of the walls we've been assuming were Roman is unclear as they don't appear to cut them. Are the walls much later than we think? Elsewhere, having finished planning parts of the trench we're beginning to go back and investigate some of the previously identified features, including the large stone strip building. As ever, plenty of finds. In Trench A it is becoming clear that there appears to be some chronological implication in the different types of masonry construction in the main barrack building. It seems that the nice wall with stone facing and rubble core may sit on an earlier phase of less sophisticated walling; we don't think these are foundations, but are more likely an earlier wall fabric. Elsewhere, flagging is emerging to the south of the area of post-medieval activity cutting the barrack. It now appears that the flagging may have covered much of the southern half of the building, but was cut by a later (post-medieval feature). We can also see a probable earlier clay floor beneath the flagstones, which appear to sat on, rather than embedded in it.

Sunday 20 June 2010

Season Two: Day Ten

Well, it’s the end of week two and things are really progressing on site, helped by a spell of really good weather. In Trench A within the fort, we’re starting to get a much more detailed understanding of the sheer complexity of the late activity on the barrack block. We’re starting to show the variations in the basic build of the wall in more places than we had last year, and its looks increasingly, as we expected, that we are very much looking at the last phase of a complex and long-lived building. It appears that the flag-stone floor is one of the very latest stages of activity within the building; it doesn’t seem to have been part of the main late Roman occupation layer. We are also starting to look at the features cut into the floor of the compartment at the north end of the building – we’ve already found that the stone-lined channel gets significantly deeper as it heads east and appears to be overlain by an area of later paving.

In Trench B I think the main story of the last fortnight, and perhaps the most important conclusion so far, is that activity in the vicus goes on well into the later 4th century. It is generally assumed that vici fell out of use in the late 3rd century or early 4th century. However, here at Binchester, we are getting plenty of good evidence, particularly coinage and plenty of late pottery (such as Crambeck Ware and calcite-gritted ware) that the vicus was still in use well into the mid/late 4th century. The big question of course is, how late did it go? Into the 5th century?

Thursday 17 June 2010

Season Two: Day Nine

Another hot day on site; wilting spirits were improved by shameless bribery with some of Asda's finest cheap ice lollies... More slow work planning and recording. The removal of the balk in Trench A has been completed with (surprise surprise) more rubble surfaces revealed. In this Trench the most exciting progress has been in the re-excavation of the previous trench in the corner turret, with the first hints of surviving coursed masonry beginning to appear (see picture). More drawing and recording in Trench B, although some more cleaning and excavation has been going on. In an area to the west of the patch of large flagstones, the edge of another stone appears to have been tipped up and is clearly disappearing under the later road surface (don't forget these high layers of Dere Street are probably post-medieval in date - the Roman levels of the road are probably a good metre below our current level).

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Season Two: Day Eight

Just a short one as I've been off site for most of the day. Lots of planning going on today, with the students honing their archaeological recording skills. Once this phase of recording is completed, we'll be in a position to start moving forward again. I'm particularly excited about getting a better understanding of the floors and other features at the south of the barrack. Meanwhile, in the north-east corner of the site we are still grappling with Steer's trench. In Trench B we've also unncovered a surface comprising a number of very large flagstones. which seem to be overlapped by the later road surfaces of Dere Street. More cleaning is needed to reveal its full extent.

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Season Two: Day Seven

Work on site was fairly humming along today- good weather and plenty of people made for a busy excavation. In Trench A we are still unpicking the sequence associated with the post-medieval activity area and also trying to get a handle on the flag-stone floor in the central compartment of the structure, which now looks like it might be quite late. There are also clearly a number of features associated with the floor itself and the two probable sub-Roman scoops/pits. Its going to take a lot of careful work to work out the precise sequence of events here. Elsewhere, the excavation of the earlier trench associated with the corner turret continues; but is it Steer’s trench or possibly a feature cut by Hooppell – we need to go back and look at some of the earlier reports in more detail. In Trench B its mainly a case of planning uncovered areas and cleaning back to identify features, particularly along the edge of the road and in the main building. Some nice finds, including a red glass bead and some copper alloy pins.

Monday 14 June 2010

Season Two: Day Six

Back to the grindstone after the weekend; as it was raining the students spent some of the morning learning how to fill in context sheets. The weather then cleared and we were able to get on with some constructive work on site. In Trench A, the area of post-medieval disturbance in the south-east corner of the barrack building appears to be resolving itself into some kind of smaller building building inside or over the late Roman structure. It may have been associated with the metal working as we found slag and other industrial residue in the area last year. Elsewhere the re-excavation of Steer's trench revealed what appeared to be a drill bit, possibly used by the pre-War archaeologists ('the archaeology of archaeology...'). More generally, Trench A has seen the continued excavation and recording of late features. The stone lined gulley within the main building has been further uncovered showing that it appears to be dipping down to the east; it is possible it may even go under the external barrack wall (although this will need further work to clarify). It also produced a rather nice little bone disc, possibly a gaming counter. In Trench B in the vicus there has been more cleaning and planning. The range of material coming from this area is very interesting - plenty of coins, but also more signs of craft and industry to compliment the possible glass working reported last week. Most notably we may have evidence for the working of jet and shale. One of the bracelets found last week appeared to be unfinished, whilst we found several small tablets of shale of a type used for working today (clearly different from the natural stones found on site). The image at the top of the page is of a nice little copper alloy head; intriguingly it weights almost excactly one ounce. Could it have been used as a weight?

Friday 11 June 2010

Season Two: Day Five

Well, we've got to the end of the first week. The weather was far kinder today, even a bit of proper sun in the afternoon. In Trench A, we've ceased cleaning and are now focussing on excavating features. We're tackling some of the gullies and other features that cut into the intra-vallum roadway in an attempt to clarify their sequence. Meanwhile, we're also looking at the area to the west of the main barrack, we never really addressed properly last year. After a good titivate over the last couple of days we'll be ready to plan it next week. In the corner curret we also think we've identified the trench dug by Kenneth Steer in the 1930s and we've begun to re-excavate it. This will allow us to see some interesting stratigraphy in section. In Trench B we have made the decision not to take the entire area down at the same level; instead we are focussing on a number of sub-areas within it. This is partly to enable us to get a sense of stratigraphy as we crack on into the key features quickly and avoids having to spend excessive amounts of time cleaning. It will also give the students a chance to experience all aspects of excavation in their three weeks with us. The relationship of some of the structures to the roadway is becoming clearer now. It is clear that the Roman street frontage is further towards Dere Street than I thought earlier on in the week, and in places the later layers of the road run over the top of the Roman walls. We've got at least one nicely preserved stone walled strip building runnning back from Dere Street with evidence for a hearth inside it and another possible hearth or industrial oven next to it. Excitingly, we recovered a blob of molten white glass from this structure today- are we going to find evidence for Roman glass working?

Thursday 10 June 2010

Season Two: Day Four

Better weather today- no rain, but a stiff wind particularly in the morning (at least it will help people to dry out). On Trench A we have been doing more cleaning, but also starting to excavate features identified last years. This includes tackling one of the large scoops within the main barrack block, as well as trying to better understand some of the cut gullies that cross the cobbled area. Interestingly the layer of stones that looked like it was part of the fort defences is now more compllicated. Rather than running the entire length of the northern edge of the trench it is smaller and has a fragment of north-south wall at the east end; its looking more like a feature built into the rampart than an integral part of the defence.

In Trench B we've been cleaning back; we've marked out a series of sub-areas which we are focusing on, including one of the structures and parts of the road surface. The students did great work cleaning these up and hopefully planning should start tomorrow. Plenty of good finds- more coins, bangles (glass and jet/shale) and a lovely piece of 4th century Crambeck Ware mortaria with a painted decoration.

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Season Two: Day Three

Another rainy day- generally ok in the morning, but it set in heavy in mid-afternoon. Nonetheless, the students showed real application in working through most of the bad weather. The site is certainly looking better for some moisture, and the combination of dampness and a good clean is really bringing up the features quite nicely. No major development- cleaning continued apace (as did the discovery of small finds). The surface of Dere Street in Trench B is being given a good going over and the top layers are coming up very nicely. Elsewhere the extent of walls are becoming clearer, although worryingly more cobbles are appearing...On Trench A more is being taken off the northern edge of the trench, where stones associated with the rampart are becoming very clear. Elsewhere, we are going back in cleaning areas exposed last year to get a better insight on what needs to be done in the weeks ahead.

Tuesday 8 June 2010

Season Two: Day Two

A bit wetter today, which actually helped with the cleaning. The students did a stirling job working through the County Durham drizzle. In Trench A there was more cleaning back of the northern side of the area. Although there is still more to take off, real progress is being made. The clay floor of the probable turret is looking really nice- a rare opportunity to actually have the floor level of a feature like this. As we reach the northern edge of the trench we now also appear to be reaching a stoney strip which is presumably part of the rampart and wall.

In Trench B, we completed the first complete clean and got ready for some photographs. Small finds include a nice jet(?) bead, a glass gaming counter and a trumpet brooch, as well as several coins. It appears as if we have two zones of building: some probable post-pads and some relatively light walls which seem to intrude into the road surface (which is probably medieval/post-medieval in date), whilst further north there appear to be a number of features, including one structure and a probable oven which may comprise the Roman street frontage. Of course, this may all turn out to be incorrect, time will tell.

Monday 7 June 2010

Season Two: Day One

First day on site for all the Durham first year students, and lots to do. One groups were set to cleaning up last year's trench- removing the tarps (what was left of them), doing a little light weeding and then cracking straight on with working back the northern section of the trench, which saw the least cleaning last year. Meanwhile, on Trench B, after the joys of tidying up the sections, the main focus was also on cleaning back (hoeing and troweling) to begin the process of defining the many features that could be easily seen after the topsoil strip. Its clear that there are lots of stretches of wall appearing, though its not clear if any entire structures are emerging yet. It appears that there may be a number of structures partly overlapping Dere Street. This should not be a surprise. We had a surprise visit from Iain Ferris who was one of excavators of the Commander's House in the centre of the fort. He confirmed that when they were excavating a stretch of Dere Street they found medieval and post-medieval structures intruding onto the roadway. Whilst some of the structures in Trench B may be of later date, it is pretty certain that many of the other built features are certainly of Roman date. Pleasingly, there are still no signs of the layers of rubble and cobble that covered much of Trench A (so far).

Friday 4 June 2010

New Binchester website

I've now set up a new website for the Binchester project. It contains information about the site, background about the research project and those involved in it. You can also find out about forthcoming events, details about how to visit the site, where to go to get involved in the excavation. You can also find links to other information about Binchester in the internet, including the full version of the 2007 Time Team documentary about the site. Let me know what you think.

Thursday 3 June 2010

First thoughts

The topsoil is now virtually complete- there was only a couple more metres to go when I left site at lunchtime. Obviously, there is still a lot of cleaning to be done, but its clear that there are a number of significant features emerging. The thing that immediately struck me was the apparent lack of layers of cobbles/stones that characterised the interior of the fort in Trench A. It does seem that we are coming down straight onto late Roman features, with less evidence for sub-/post-Roman activity. However, this may all change once we've given it a good clean. More generally, the line of Dere Street is clearly visible and a number of stretches of stone wall-lines are already apparent (as was expected). One of the first jobs for the students next week will be to give this area a thorough clean to let us begin to define the area in more detail.

The topsoil strip continues

Weather much better yesterday and progress is continuing apace. The plan below shows the location of the new Trench B in the vicus to the east of the fort. The trench cuts through the distinct terrace that runs along the length of the field. At the southern edge of the trench the remains of Dere Street are very close to the surface but they are more deeply buried to the north. This is probably due to the presence of the terrace, which appears to be made up of topsoil, seemingly supporting our hypothesis that this is an element of 19th century landscaping associated with the reconstruction of Binchester Hall. The weather is good again today, so we're hoping to make good progress in completing the topsoil strip and getting all the site huts and storage units onto the site in readiness for the arrival of the students next week.

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Binchester 2010: it begins...

Well, we've begun again! Today we commenced the topsoil strip for our new trench (Trench B) sited in the vicus. This is going to provide a valuable opportunity to get stuck into the important archaeology of the civillian settlement that surrounds the fort. The area being opened up is a section to the north of Dere Street, which will allow us to examine an area of street frontage and the properties running off it. Inevitably the weather was awful, but Jamie is busy supervising the digger we use to take off the topsoil, whilst the spoil is being scanned by metal dectorists to ensure we don't lose anything important from the ploughzone. As well as workig in this new area, we'll also be returning to last year's trench (Trench A) to continue the work on the late Roman barrack. Keep watching!