This week I’m back in the North field and have the privilege of excavating a Roman ditch. This is the good stuff people. Good organic black soil under a layer of “laminate” (pressed down organic material that causes the great preservation below, it’s ‘anaerobic’ meaning there’s no oxygen getting in so organic material is preserved) with lots of finds.
To the trained eye, meaning professors Meyer and Greene, the contours of several Roman ditches can be seen from this angle. If you look really close at the longest section of trench wall you can see the ups and downs of what appear to be a few ditches. After we bailed out all that pesky water we got straight to work.
Ditch fill is important material which can be chock-full of finds. Here professor Meyer sends up a shovel full which then has to be sorted through with a close eye. Sarah Taylor and myself were well trained to look for bits of pottery, bone, preserved wood, and even leather. This requires breaking apart chunks of soil by hand in order to not damage any potential artifacts.
In a ditch there are lots of things that are found. We now have several bags in order to differentiate our finds between pottery, animal bone and scrap leather. Leather is something that must be bagged as soon as possible because exposure to air will cause it to dry out and thus become un-conserabvle. The large sherd next to our black finds tray is a chunk of amphora, probably something which once held olive oil imported to Vindolanda from the Mediterranean.
New scientific opportunities also arise from excavating a ditch and here a bucket is being filled with our excavated soil for environmental analysis. Later it will go through a process called “flotation” where the tiny bits of seeds and pollen that cannot be seen easily seen will be analysed. This will give better insight into the Roman diet at Vindolanda and other interesting things will be discovered from the process.
As ditch fill is so well preserved it is also wet and sticky. Sarah and professor Greene wear a hard day’s work worth of dirt. The mud also clings to all our tools and buckets. Luckily we have a puddle near by in which to wash all of dirty tools.