Life’s a Ditch

Andrew again.

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.

Our trench – Just above the Roman Ditch

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.

Prof Meyer hard at 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.

Sarah with a nice new find.

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.

A bucket prepared for soil sampling

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.

Sarah and prof Greene covered in muck after a good day of excavating
Cleaning dirt off of tools and buckets. That ditch fill is sticky stuff!

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.

2 thoughts on “Life’s a Ditch

  1. You’ve made me think about dirt. They say (wrongly, I believe) that Eskimos have many words for snow. Do archaeologists have many words for dirt? Of course, the Greeks may have had a genealogy of dirt. Aeschylus talks about “the thirsty dust, the neighbouring sister of mud.”

    In any case, these posts are very interesting!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s