Monday 30 June 2014

Binchester 2014: Day Sixteen

New week on site and we've been enjoyed by the US contingent- fresh from Texas and all points west (and north and quite possibly east as well). Great to see new keen faces and some familiar old ones. We've capitalised on this reservoir of enthusiasm by getting cracking with some important new tasks.

In Trench 1 we've started removing some of the central spine wall of the barrack- this will help us to start to get to grips with the surfaces that we can see either side of it, and which quite possibly run underneath it. We've also continued to work on the surfaces under the cobbled stable surface. The nicest find from within the barrack block came from the south end, where Bev found yet another small carnelian intaglio- this brings to three the number we've had from this area. Is this some kind of small scattered hoard of these objects?

In the north-east corner, a new crew started on the corner tower. They made great inroads moving the massive block of tumble that infills much of the interior - this will allow us to work down and clear down to the floor level which we've already exposed in other areas. Finally, in our rampart slot we've started going down revealing more courses  of internal wall facing stones, we've also got traces of a possible palisade slot which is exciting.

In Trench 2, there was no work in the main room and corridor. Instead, we got cracking with a major new plan, which is to expand the trench a little more to reveal just a smidgen more about the bath plan. In the building in front of the glass, we've started the process of dismantling the second, earlier phase and are able to get down into the surfaces that underlie it. At the west end we're continuing to follow along the new flagstone surface that appears to form a pavement in front of the bath-house.

Nice finds today include a worked bone mount and a cracking jet bead.

Friday 27 June 2014

Binchester 2014: Day fifteen

Final day of the first stage of this year’s project – it was the last time our first year undergraduate archaeology students joined us. Across both sites there was lots of recording- planning, section and elevation drawing and filling in of context sheets.

Despite all this paperwork, digging continued. In Trench 1, the corner tower is looking really good now- they’ve come down onto the floor level in places and have picked up the foundation slabs on which it seems to have been constructed. In the barracks, we’ve resumed unpicking the barrack block again. Half of our lovely cobbled stable area has come  up and we’ve dropped down onto a metalled surface which appears to underlie the adjacent dividing wall. We’ve also excavated a large pair of postholes which lie more or less in the middle of the room (and roughly aligned on what might be some interior post-pads).

Over in bath-house, progress slowed down in the main bath-house room as we focused on recording – drawing elevations and the sections of the baulk. In the corridor area, the sections were also being drawn. In the newly exposed area by the corridor, it looks like our putative east-west corridor has turned back into an alcove symmetrical with its partner. This is what we originally expected, although it is clear that the northern wall continued eastwards.

In the area to the south of the bath-house the clay layer continues to come out- we are going to have to take out the walls of the structure to get back into sequence though. Excitingly, in the area just to the west of the structure, just at the end of the day, we found a couple of what appear to be mold fragments for making copper alloy objects  - possibly studs or maybe a brooch fragment ( they need a good clean).

Lots to look forward to on Monday when our US group join us!

Binchester 2014: Day Fourteen

Second to last day of our 1st year students time at Binchester. This morning, in Trench 2 we finally cleared out the main room of the bath-house (apart from a 1m wide baulk that we are keeping so we can draw the sections). Yet again, the surprises kept coming. With the removal of the final fill around the entrance into the small annexe, a short flight of steps was revealed. These are of worked stone, possibly reused from elsewhere. The floor is not surprisingly covered in flagstones – there is also a hint of an underlying culvert, perhaps associated with the putative plunge baths.

In the adjacent corridor area, the team have also taken the deposits down to floor level. The sections will need to be drawn. We will then aim to take out the other side of the surviving deposits. However, for safety reasons we will need to take down the deposits in the newly exposed corridor area first. In this area, we seem to have found another window opening- splayed, like the others in this wall line. We have also got the top of a lintelled feature within the wall just poking through. It is unlikely to be a window or a door, so we are slightly stumped as to its purpose. Further excavation will reveal all…

In the area in front of the bathhouse- the team have been taking out the clay surfaces in and around the small building. I wonder whether this in fact underlies the structure- have we got ourselves out of sequence a little?

In the barracks trench, the elevation drawing is carrying on apace. We are going to have some splendid looking images on completion. The series of surfaces to the west of the barracks continue to be slightly mystifying, although we may have identified some possible culverts, although these are in an area badly suffering from subsidence. We had a long discussion about where to go with the barracks themselves. It looks like some of the central spine wall will have to come out to allow us to start tying up the sequences either side of it.

Usual range of nice finds, several nice pins, and a splendid fragment of trail decorated glass.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Binchester 2014: Day Thirteen

Sorry for a lack of blog yesterday, I was up in Edinburgh talking about early medieval monasteries!

Even after being away for only a day, it is amazing how change there has been on site. Trench 1 is now a maze of strings as we begin drawing the elevations of the barrack walls. Until this point, most of the drawing on site has been planning – plotting out the horizontal spread of the various features and surfaces we have been uncovering. With the move to drawing the wall elevations, we’ve shifted to capturing the all important vertical details of our barrack structure.

However, today I want to focus in a bit more detail on Trench 2, because the last two days on site has shown that no matter how well you think you understand what is happening, you can always be surprised. As I left site on Monday, I thought I had a good, clear understanding of the archaeology of the main room in the bath-house. Although, it was clear that there had been some internal alterations (the blocking of a northern door by the stone benches was a clear indicator of this), I was assuming that the basic contours of the room had been pretty consistent throughout its life. However, with the removal of the last fragments of the internal fill (apart from our baulk), the team uncovered a stump of walling that seemingly originally crossed the room (west-east). Very significantly, both sides of these walls were faced with the same kind of opus signinum that we’d previously found in patched in the room. I’d previously been flummoxed by this, as op sig is usually used as a flooring rather than on walls (where we’d found it). With our new fragment of walling it suddenly became clear; what we had was the remains of an interior, op sig lined “tank” – in fact, we seem to have indicators that the new dividing wall separated two of these ‘tanks’. Now what could these tanks be? Not surprisingly, as we think this is a bath-house, the most obvious answer is that these are small baths – the clear parallel is with the pair of cold plunge pools in the commandant’s house. Until now, our interpretation of this structure as part of a bath-house was based on circumstantial evidence. It looks like we finally have solid direct evidence that parts of this building were elements of a bath-suite. The other clear thing this tells us, is that at some point, the baths must have been pretty seriously re-arranged, with the plunge pools being converted into a changing room. By looking at the various evidence from the vertical faces of the wall, we can hazard some broad phasing. We seem to have an initial stone structure with two plunge pools in the southern half of the room. We can’t be clear about the relationship between these plunge pools and the northern half of the room, as our putative northern edge of the northern plunge pool remains beneath our baulk. These plunge pools were lined with typical Roman opus signinum. It is probably that the northern half of this room was decorated with painted wall plaster- we’ve already mentioned the fragments visible in the north-west corner still in situ, and today we could see further preserved plaster disappearing behind the back of the stone bench. At some point, the plunge pools went out of use and the stumps of the dividing walls were incorporated into the new stone benches that surround the edge of the room. This stage also saw the blocking of the door in the northern wall, as the bench clearly runs across it. Probably associated with this stage was a new layer of white plaster that clearly covers the painted wall plaster and the blocked doorway, but does not run down the back of the benches. Finally, probably at a later date, the window in the south wall was smashed through and the new jerry- built annexe/ porch was built on the southern edge of the room. It is quite possible that the adjacent window opening was blocked up at around the same time. It is quite possible that we will be able to further refine this sequence as we get a better understanding of the relationship of the various phases of wall plaster, the blocked doorways and other architectural features.

It is not only this room, that we have had our interpretations transformed this week. I mentioned previously that we’d extended our trench slightly, with the aim of catching the full extent of the alcove, which we believed was paired with the arched alcove on the western side of the southern end of the our north-south corridor. In the last day’s we’ve found a nice floor to this alcove, which clearly marked it off as a distinct area. However, when we pulled our trench edge back, we didn’t find that the symmetrical plan we were expecting. Instead, rather than having a small north-south wall marking the back of our eastern ‘niche’, the walls instead continue. Currently, it looks like this may in fact be just the western end of a corridor that was added across the front of the building. Again, our expectations were confounded and we have add to alter our understandings of the structure. But that is the fun element of excavation! If we knew what was there, we wouldn’t need to dig it!

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Binchester 2014: Day Eleven

Beginning of a new week and lots of people on site! This has allowed us to forge forwards. In the main room in the bath-house, we have started to remove the area of fill that had been our main way in / out of the trench, so we've had to revive the use of the old Roman doorway to allow us to shift the spoil. In this area we have now more or less revealed the interior bench around most the entire perimeter of the room, although in places it is pretty badly knocked around. Interestingly, it runs across the blocked doorway in the north wall, giving a nice example of the kind of phasing information we should be able to work out by analysing the standing structure of the bath-house. This doorway is also partially covered by white plaster - and similar white plaster overlies some of the painted wall plaster in the north-west corner.

In the corridor area, there has been great progress with our slot through the deposits - crucially, in places we have started to hit the floor level. It is clearest in the western alcove at the southern end - here, Danny has done great work in exposing the stone flagstone floor. In the later building to the south of the bath-house, we have begun to take up the floor slabs and have exposed a further clay surface beneath it. To the west of the bath-house, it is becoming clear that the new wall does not mark the western wall of a new strip building. Although there is a wall running parallel to it, it is of completely different constructional type. The main new wall is mortar-bonded, whereas the parallel wall is simply a rough row of boulders, probably post-pads, similar to those that defined the walls of the latest phase of the post-pad building to the south of the bath-house.

In Trench 1, there is lots of planning going on, although work on the barrack interior continues apace. On Friday, we found the probably remains of baby buried up against the wall foundations. In the turret, the students continue to make fantastic progress on revealing the corner tower. We can now clearly see that the tower walls just butt up against the interior face of the main fort wall and are not bonded into it. Further down our trench edge, our slot through the eastern rampart is continues to expose a difficult to understand feature- is it a ditch or do the layers in fact extend under the sandy layers either side of it?

Friday 20 June 2014

Binchester 2014: Day Ten

Splendid weather for the last day of our first fortnight at Binchester – still five more weeks on site to look forward to.
Today we were visited by a team from the Department of Archaeology at Durham led by Professor Ian Bailiff, who came to take samples from a number of our hearths for OSL dating. This will be particularly useful with the hearth within the barrack, as it should be able to tell us whether it is Roman in date, or potentially more recent; which given the quantity of medieval activity in the area is a distinct possibility.

In Trench 1, once the hearth was sampled were able to crack on with removing it- it had been standing proud on a pedestal waiting for the samples to be taken. We’ve now more or less come down to a consistent level across the barrack interior and lots of planning is now taking place. One surprising discovery during the limited excavation we are still doing within the barrack was a probable baby burial tucked against the west wall of the structure. It was on the inside of the wall, more or less exactly on the other side of the wall from where we found a similar baby burial last year. These are not foundation deposits as they don’t sit physically under the wall, but must have had some symbolic connotations. In the zone to the west of the barrack, the metalled surface is coming up nicely, as is the small stretch of walling outside the north-west corner of the barrack. Its stratigraphic relationship with the main barrack block is still not clear, although currently it does seem to be a little earlier; although it is hard to know precisely what kind of structure it came from. Work on the corner tower continues apace- all three external walls and the main fort wall are more or less exposed to a greater or lesser extent, although the walls have all lost their facing stones. Finally, in the new slot in the eastern rampart which has picked up the fort wall, there is more exploration of what now appears to be a possible turf rampart on the interior edge. Some nice finds from Trench 1 include a whetstone and a pierced copper disc, as well as (from the spoilheap), two rather nice brooches, one enamelled one and one in the shape of a tiny fly!

In Trench 2, we got another full run at the bath-house today. In the north-west corner, Rachael has been clearing up the interior of wall and come across a section of in situ wall plaster that still has some painted decoration. Traces of an orange border perhaps forming panels can just about be seen, although it is clear that this decorated plaster was later covered over with a further layer of plain plaster. The two Rachaels and Alba have also picked up a number of nice fragments of painted plaster, some with remarkably vivid colours still surviving. On the other side of the bath-house, the team have done more great work exposing the bench and the floor, and Karen has removed the last section of stone tumble between the main room and the later annex. We will soon be using this as the main access route in and out of the trench. In the corridor, we were rather low on numbers, but the slot through the interior deposits is still going down.

Elsewhere on Trench 2, the area to the west of the bath-house continues to be slowly cleared up and trowelled back. There is a substantial dump of burnt material of uncertain origin. Nicest find from here today was a lovely jet toggle found by Sue.

Thursday 19 June 2014

Binchester 2014: Day Nine

Another good day. My overwhelming impression this year is the sheer quantity of earth being shifted (in a careful and orderly manner of course!). In Trench 2, once the Leicester team had completed the photogrammetry in the bath-house, we were able to get back in and continue to move the black stuff. The bench is now quite clear in the south-east corner and parts of the south side, although it appears to go awol somewhere round the south-west corner near the entrance. Just at the end of the day we also made first contact on this side of the building with the flagstone floor, which is very encouraging. We just need to start thinking about the practical logistical issues of moving our spoil out of an increasingly deep feature! The slot in the corridor is also moving well with only perhaps 50cm to go until we reach the floor level.

Outside the bath-house there is still lots of planning going on – slow but important. There is less work going on in the strip buildings today as we’ve moved most people back into the bath-house. However, there is still some work to do in cleaning the floor surfaces back. Sue is also doing stirling work in tackling the big black splodge in the interior of our putative third strip building (if that is what it turns out to be).

Meanwhile in Trench 2, lots of activity in the barrack- tomorrow we have a team from the university coming out take samples from our various hearths for scientific dating- this will allow us to remove these remaining burnt features and really crack on with sorting the interior. To the west of the barracks, the biggest event was the caused by some slightly over enthusiastic mattocking. We’ve now revealed the bottom course of the barrack wall – but crucially picked up the odd piece of walling that was lurking unloved just west of the north-east corner of the barrack. This can be seen diving down (probably caused by slumping) before turning west towards another odd floating piece of wall- the key question is can we pick up a stratigraphic relationship between this and the barrack – at the moment it looks like it is slightly overlain by the barrack west wall, but there is still along way to go in cleaning this area up

Some nice finds today – including an unusual loaded/weighted Roman dice- attached is a poor image from my mobile phone – I’ll get a better one tomorrow. Anyone know anything about Roman dice?

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Binchester 2014: Day Eight

Warmest day on site so far this season, although thirsts were assuaged by a mid-afternoon delivery of Rocket lollies (popsicles for our US chums). Today the main excitement was in Trench 2, where were visited by Steffan and Jonathan from the Digital Building Heritage Group at De Montfort University, who were hear to carry out some detailed laser scanning of the bath-house. This meant we had to move everyone out of the building whilst they spent the day using their scanner to carry out detailed survey of the interior and exterior of the structure. This will allow us to reconstruct a virtual version of the bath-house at a later date. This has two uses – first, it will be a great way of communicating the excitement of the excavation to the general public, but secondly, it will also act as a really useful record of the physical remains of the structure in 3D. We’ll keep our readers updated with progress on this front. Tomorrow they are returning for some more traditional photogrammetry on the building – which is also useful for 3D modelling. You can read more about the initial stages of this project on the DBHG blog

Because we had to move everyone from the bath-house to avoid being zapped, we instead got lots of work done on the strip buildings which we are currently revisiting. In the western strip building, new flagstone floors started to appear in the interior, whilst in its smaller partner, we instead have started to pick up a clear phase of clay flooring.

In Trench 1, work was similar to yesterday – lots of work on the barrack interior, with metalled surfaces and clay patches appearing. There was also continued great progress on the corner tower. Our slot in the eastern rampart is still a little confusing. What we thought was the dark fill of a ditch has turned out to be running under the deposit we thought it was dug into, and now appears more like a small earth bank.