Posted by: mchornoboy | June 30, 2015

Happy birthday Sarah!

Today we’re celebrating the birthday of our very own Sarah Taylor!


Posted by: Sarah Chin | June 30, 2015

Blood and Iron

After our respectively fun weekends at Friends of Vindolanda night/visiting the border abbeys and Edinburgh, it’s back to work on the site. Last Friday I found myself doing mostly wheelbarrows runs and therefore got a better picture of the Fort site as a whole. Since the ramparts were dealt quite a bit of rain the past couple days, they were a bit too slippery to work on. So each group was given different road surfaces. From walking around I noticed how even though many roads overlapped, they were built with varying degrees of skill and stone size. This however resulted in what is likely several tons of stone being moved out of the Fort excavation. I certainly perfected my wheelbarrow skills by the end of it!

The former rampart team (or “rampant team” as Norman calls us) was assigned to the 213 AD roadway, the via prinicipalis. This runs parallel along the more contemporary main road through the site.

Marta, Sue, Norman, Sarah, Lizzie, and Steve clearing the road.

As you can see in the picture above, the layer above was much more uneven than the layer below. There was also a drain that ran below Steve and Sarah that was pick axed out. This has been giving us a bit of a puzzle to deal with as it compressed the road below. As I mentioned in my post a few weeks ago, finding the road involves taking a step back and looking at the big picture.

Another part in understanding what is going on in the site came to me while I didn’t have a lot of range of sight. When I was troweling the road I noticed a lot of iron in the ground and bone coming out from it. Andy, director of excavations told me it was called iron pan. This was the reason why the road was held together so well. Iron pan is a process that was caused by the Romans pouring animal blood and bones on their roads. This causes iron to build up between the cracks and create a kind of metallic mortar.

Our almost full context bag of bones.

By the end of the day we had finished most of the road surface and it sure looked different. Though we didn’t find much pottery or other artifacts, we all learned an interesting lesson in Roman construction.

Our nicely cobbled, iron pan filled road.

Side note: Fun Fort Finds

This 4th century arrowhead was found by Bill just to the west of us on a later road. He was on a roll and this was one of his many recent small finds in his road section.

This coin was found by Murphy, an American high school student, on his own road toward the south fort wall.  The lettering and face is still quite visible on this silver denarius. But not only is it excellently preserved, it was his first small find! Can you make out what it says?

Posted by: mchornoboy | June 28, 2015

Exploring the Border Abbeys!

Saturday, while many of our peers were out and about in Edinburgh, Melanie, Sarah, Beth and Alex, our Canadian friend Andy, and myself took a drive up to the border abbeys of Scotland. Stopping for a photo opportunity at the border crossing we continued on to our first stop, Dryburgh.


At the border!

Dryburgh Abbey

The border abbeys are all in varying stages of disrepair and abandonment but Dryburgh, founded in 1150, was destroyed by fire 3 times, and ravaged by war four times, abandoned by 1584, and then later in the 18th century bought and turned into a “romantic ruin” by David Erskine, the 11th Earl of Buchan. He was later buried there along with famous novelist Sir Walter Scott. Despite everything the abbey has been through it still remains a quite complete and it’s a very beautiful location.


Dryburgh Abbey


Dryburgh Abbey


Dryburgh Abbey

Our next stop was Kelso abbey, founded in 1128, it was a home of the Tironesians monks, who also later inhabited Arbroath abbey to the north. The Tironesian order was founded based on poverty and penance, and as occurred at Arbroath, this was later shrugged off and the compound became quite wealthy. Unlike Arbroath and Dryburgh, there is not much left of Kelso, but what is left is quite striking. Being so close to the borders it became a focus of destruction during the wars of independence in the early 13th century, with further damage being caused by English incursions up until the mid 16th century. It was finally abandoned and left to ruin in 1545.


Kelso Abbey


Kelso Abbey


Kelso Abbey


Kelso Abbey


Arbroath Abbey


Arbroath Abbey


Arbroath Abbey

Our last stop before heading home to get ready for the friends of Vindolanda night was Jedburgh Abbey. Founded in 1138 by the Augustinians and meeting its end after the reformation and many attacks and raids throughout the 16th century, it was favored by royals and served the royal castle in Jedburgh. King Alexander III was married, and his death apparently foretold, there in 1285. The Augustinians were always close to royalty and their other homes include Holyrood Abbey beside Edinburgh castle.


Jedburgh Abbey


Jedburgh Abbey


Jedburgh Abbey


Jedburgh Abbey


Jedburgh Abbey


Jedburgh Abbey

We didn’t get to visit the fourth border abbey, Melrose Abbey, but I had visited with my family before coming to Haltwhistle. So to round off the border Abbey photos here are a few pictures I took then.


Melrose Abbey


Melrose Abbey


Melrose Abbey


Melrose Abbey


Melrose Abbey

It was a nice change to see a little history from another time period of the UK but starting Monday it’s back to Vindolanda and Roman Britain!

Posted by: awmeyer | June 28, 2015

Staward Peel Tower (Live Blog)

Morgan, Sarah, Andy, Anthea and I took the last hike of the field school season today (unless it rains this week). We went up Allen Banks to see Staward Peele, a 13th century pele tower (note the difference in spelling). We suspect there was a Roman signal station and maybe a temple here as well. The view is fantastic. You can even see Housesteads Roman Fort and Sycamore gap in the background of this photo.


Posted by: psramani | June 27, 2015

Hello From Edinburgh!

Good afternoon everyone!
This weekend, 5 of us decided to take a trip up to Edinburgh and visit the beautiful Scottish City. Last night, we walked around the Royal Mile. As always, we kept the field school in mind and made sure to include some Roman history.


Close enough!
This morning, the weather is fantastic, and we’ve been taking in the sights and sounds all around us.


We’ve just sat down for a nice Middle Eastern lunch which looks absolutely delectable!


Look forward to a longer post about our trip when we get back. Until then!

Posted by: bethgreene | June 27, 2015

Everyone’s on the move!

Hi all!

Everyone has gone in somewhat separate directions this weekend, but we all find ourselves north of the frontier in Scotland. A bunch are in Edinburgh enjoying the big city and others of us have opted for the countryside in the border region. Here we are at the border, fun!


Posted by: psramani | June 25, 2015

Sorting Pottery 101

Hello Everybody!

This week Morgan and I began a project in which we sort the bulk finds found in the North Field a few years ago. The last time I posted here, I showed you the process by which artifacts found on site reach their final destinations. If you remember (if not read it here: Post Excavation: A First Person View), after being washed, the pottery is then sorted, put in bags, and labelled. As you can imagine, the hardest part of this process is distinguishing the types of pottery from one another. Let me show you the tips and tricks that we use to identify different types of pottery.

We sort our finds into 5 categories:

  1. CBM (Construction Building Material)
  2. Iron
  3. Slag (metal castoffs from the smelting process)
  4. Glass
  5. Pottery

For the most part, it is easy to differentiate glass, iron, slag, and CBM. Iron tends to come in the form of nails and is often long, rusted, heavy, and quite obviously metallic. Slag tends to be more amorphous and is less defined in its shape, though highly rusted. CBM is composed of tile and brick. CMB often looks like rocks but is differentiated by the bright orange-red colour as well as patterns, and flatter man-made edges. Glass is the easiest to identify because it looks almost exactly like modern glass. I’m serious! See the pictures below to see what I mean:

IMAG0377 wpid-wp-1435266615282.jpeg

Here you can see blue glass on the left and iron nails in a bag on the right.

When it comes to sorting pottery, we have to sort it into 6 types of pottery:

  1. Amphora
    • roman-amphora-ar2213Amphorae were large containers used in shipment and often stored olive oil, wine, and other commodities that were popular throughout the roman empire. As a result, we find several pieces of amphora all over the site. Because these amphorae had to survive travel, they were made quite thickly to protect their contents. In addition, because they were mainly storage vessels, they are very simple in their appearance. Amphorae can be identified by their distinctive thickness and texture, their beige colour, and their curvature which indicates the large nature of the pottery.
  2. Black Burnished Ware
    • wpid-wp-1435266648089.jpegfig12_bb1Black Burnished Ware is a distinctive type of Romano-British ceramic. It is identified from its striking black colour and its burnished lattice decoration; hence the name black burnished ware. In piles of pottery that have spent about 1800 years in the ground, it can sometimes be hard to see its distinct black colour. The pottery also comes in sherds which means that some pieces can not have the lattice decoration. The way we test for black burnished is to dab it with a bit of water. Regular pottery is quite porous and quickly absorbs the water, drying quickly. In addition, the colour when wet is still grey. On the other hand, black burnished will take longer to dry and will appear jet black when wet.
  3. Mortaria
    • These kitchen wares were important because the inside surface was covered with coarse sand and grit. This allowed the Romans to pound and mix foods effectively. When we get pottery, we look for the unmistakable grit on the surface, as well as the characteristic shape of the rim shown below.IMAG0436 wpid-wp-1435266702455.jpeg
  4. Samian Ware
    • 3292805686_46a4ce6eff_zIn my personal opinion, Samian Ware is some of the nicest pottery at the site. This type of pottery is also called Terra Sigillata and is unique in the fact that it is made with a glossy, reddish, slip that gives it a glossy texture, even hundreds of years later when it is found. Samian Ware comes from South Central Gaul (modern day France) and was quite popular in the Roman Empire. In fact, a lot of the pottery was made from moulds and mass produced for export. In the Vindolanda Museum, there is a complete set of Samian ware that is unused because the pottery broke during shipment from France to Vindolanda. We can identify Samian ware from its distinct colour and glossy texture.wpid-wp-1435266692880.jpeg

      You can see the difference between regular pottery (left) and Samian (right)

  5. Fine Ware
    • Fine ware is more carefully crafted and is often painted, thinner, and more delicate. We look for flecks of paint or intricate designs on the pottery to see whether it is fine ware or not.wpid-wp-1435266627223.jpegThis pottery is thin and has paint flecks (visible in the bottom right piece)
  6. Coarse Ware
    • This is basically the category for all the regular day to day utilitarian pottery that doesn’t fit into any of the other categories.

So now that you know how to differentiate between all the types, let’s put it to the test. Comment below and identify the following:



All three of these sherds fall into one category. Do you know which one it is?

IMAG0374 (1)

All of these are the same category. Can you identify it?

Posted by: melbenard | June 24, 2015

What Am I?

Hey everyone! For my blog today I will be doing another scavenger hunt, except this time you all will be the participants. We’ve had a lot of pictures and artefacts to show you all since we’ve arrived in the UK, and we want to review a little of what we’ve done. So here is one photo previously featured on the blog, and in the comments you can try to identify what the picture/artefact is.

What am I?

What am I?

To help you out here are some hints:

1. I am used by everyone at least once a day, usually more.

2. I am located within every house

3. This picture was/is featured along Hadrian’s Wall

4.  I would have smelled very bad.

Good luck hunting, and remember to give your answers in the comments.  May the odds be ever in your favour!


Posted by: Mary Spinks | June 24, 2015

Artifact Presentations at the Vindolanda Museum

On Tuesday evening, following excavations, Morgan, Nick and Steve gave their presentations on artifacts found at Vindolanda, which are displayed in the museum. These artifacts have all had a major impact on Roman archaeological and historical research.

Morgan began with a presentation on the Roman military standard, which has now become the iconic symbol of Vindolanda. This artifact is a bronze cast of a horse. As we learned in Morgan’s presentation, it was not necessarily a military standard but the piece that would have been fixed to the top of a pole which the standard flag was attached to. These standard tops came in many forms, the most common being the cast of an eagle, which was the symbol of the Roman empire.

Roman military

Roman military “standard” of a bronze cast horse.

Next, Nick presented on the Roman calendar fragment found during the excavations of 2008. Research on this artifact is still being conducted, and is of particular interest to our very own Dr. Meyer. There are several theories as to what this artifact would have been used for in antiquity. The difficulty in determining the use of the calendar directly relates to its date. Since the fragment was found in an unstratified context there is no way to firmly date it. Other data must be considered, such as the other artifacts that are being found along with it. With this in mind, an alternative explanation suggested by Dr. Meyer,  is the calendar’s use to determine the date of Easter by Christian groups later occupying Vindolanda. This is supported by the discovery of artifacts from later periods of the 5th-9th centuries.

Calendar fragment found at Vindolanda in 2008. Pegs would have been used to mark the date by inserting them into the holes of the bronze piece.

Calendar fragment found at Vindolanda in 2008. Pegs would have been used to mark the date by inserting them into the holes of the bronze piece.

The final presentation was given by Steve, who presented on both the Tagomas amphora handle and tablet. An amphora is a large utilitarian vessel used to hold either wine or olive oil. The handle of this amphora was inscribed by an individual named Tagomas. A man by this same name also appears on a tablet found at Vindolanda. This tablet is a record of debts owed and sums received. The inscription states that the companion of Tagomas, the flag-bearer, owes a debt of three denarii.

Amphora handle inscribed with the name Tagomas.

Amphora handle inscribed with the name Tagomas.

Vindolanda tablet 181 which is a record of debts owed and sums received. This tablet also mentions a man by the name of Tagomas.

Vindolanda tablet 181 which is a record of debts owed and sums received. This tablet also mentions a man by the name of Tagomas.

In reflection, I have learned that the long-term nature of the research at this site is an enriching and rewarding experience as a result of the relationships between the artifacts found at Vindolanda throughout the many years of excavation. These artifacts help to give a more human perspective on the research being conducted.

Posted by: Nicholas Tibollo | June 24, 2015

My New Excavation Area in the Fort

Our work area at the start of the day today. We deturfed and dug down to the first set of stones the previous two days.

Our work area at the start of the day today. We deturfed and dug down to the first set of stones the previous two days.

Excavating in the vicus alongside Beth and Steve was slow, steady, careful work. The anaerobic material we were operating in allows for incredible preservation and over the years has produced a number of unbelievable finds. While digging in the area we had to be extra vigilant and make sure we did not sink a spade into something like a writing tablet or a leather shoe. Although we did not necessarily move a ton of dirt Steve, Beth, and I (along with a few other volunteers) found several interesting artifacts and in my opinion added valuable pieces of the past to the site’s overall collection. Vindolanda, however, is very large and has an assortment of excavation areas. My new spot inside the fort is far more robust and for the last few days a pickaxe has replaced my trowel.

Our work area at the end of the day. Notice how the front right part of the mound has been completely removed and dropped down to the road level.

Our work area at the end of the day. Notice how the front right part of the mound has been completely removed and dropped down to the road level.

The area I and my new team of volunteers David, James, and Bill are working in is located right beside a remarkably well-preserved water tank that was later perhaps turned into a baptismal font with the arrival of Christianity. Our task for the week is to clear a mound made of mostly dirt and rubble from the nearby principia and get down to the third century road that runs alongside the feature. So far we have discovered a few small finds and made a good bit of progress towards our goal. I am confident that come Friday the team and I will have freed the old Roman road from its stone-filled covering.

Pictured below are some of the artifacts that have been found in both our specific excavation zone and another area of the fort. Apart from the odd nail and piece of pottery all of the finds from our section came in the afternoon today, once we got through the top layer of stones. Excitingly, although not included below, we even found a brass dupondius coin! For me finding coins just seems to never get old.

Some sort of chain link/ metal ring uncovered in our trench.

Some sort of chain link/ metal ring uncovered in our trench.

A knife blade, also from our trench.

A knife blade, also from our trench.

An inscribed piece of pottery found by Norman and Sarah in the rampart in the southeast corner of the fort. It appears to have the lettersv

An inscribed piece of pottery found by Norman and Sarah in the rampart in the southeast corner of the fort. It appears to have the letters “I N D” (and maybe “O”) etched on it. “VINDOLANDA” perhaps?

Keep a look out for real time posts of finds such as these on the Vindolanda Trust’s facebook page

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