The Lasting Impression: Archaeological Recording

The North Field is marked here by a bird in flight
The North Field is marked here by a bird in flight seen from Barcombe Hill

Experts estimate that complete excavation of Vindolanda will take another century. It was not until the beginning of this century that the Vindolanda Trust acquired the North Field and began excavations there in 2009. Now excavations there are directed by Drs. Alex Meyer and Beth Greene and provide an optimal training ground for the students of their UWO field school. The field school enacts the four tenets of the Vindolanda Trust: excavation, conservation, research, and education.

Ordnance Survey Point on Barcombe Hill
Ordnance Survey Point on Barcombe Hill

In six weeks of excavation the field school along with many volunteers has completed a very successful first half of the 2013 season. A stretch of a fort ditch running diagonally through the south-west corner of the trench was defined, as well as a narrower and shallower ditch running elliptically through the north half of the trench. Victorian water works are present in the trench, delaying progress, destroying aspects of the archaeology, and causing anxiety should they lead to flooding. Protected by the shallow, elliptical ditch, there are the remains of an oven for cooking clay for either pottery or tiles. In recent days it has become more apparent that another ditch runs between these two and may have been cut out by the shallower ditch. Other interesting features have been excavated and in all cases numerous finds of pottery and bone and occasional small finds occurred.

Amanda holds the digital level's ranging pole in a training exercise
Amanda holds the digital level’s ranging pole in a training exercise

The students of the Vindolanda Field School learn more than excavation techniques alone because responsible archaeologists must conserve their material in carefully detailed records for future research and education. The entire trench position has been recorded in the national grid in relation to the nearest ordnance survey triangulation point on Barcombe hill. This provides future researchers and archaeologists with the exact position of the trench and its features and finds. A digital level is used to triangulate the exact position of finds in the trench. In a training exercise, the students recorded the measurements of an excavated building in the site’s civilian settlement with the digital level and used that information to produce a plan drawing of the building.

The results of the exercise
The results of the exercise

The position of an artifact or isolated feature would not be useful without a system for recording the archaeological contexts in which these items fit. Students learn to be aware of the number assigned to the context in which they are excavating and how this context relates to those around it. No feature is isolated in the trench and all features in some way interact with others. Interpreting the relations of contexts to one another provides for them a timeline once dates have been assigned to processed finds. Students all fill out a standardized context record sheet in order to demonstrate their awareness of the context they have excavated and those that surround it.

Front of context sheet for a pit feature
Front of context sheet for a pit feature
Back of context sheet with a plan of relevant sections of the trench
Back of context sheet with a plan of relevant sections of the trench
The pit feature: 23N, before excavation
The pit feature: 23N, before excavation

The ultimate goal of the Vindolanda Field School is education: the education of its students on and off site, and the education of students abroad through the excavation, conservation, and research of Vindolanda’s archaeology. Through practical and theoretical training the students have gained valuable experience in all fields of archaeological research and their efforts will help to progress the future of Roman Britain’s history.

2 thoughts on “The Lasting Impression: Archaeological Recording

  1. Excellent post Rob explaining the excavation record keeping system, great to see how the context sheets work.

  2. Hard to believe the six weeks is coming to an end but it looks as if you’ve completed a good deal of work with the weather being on your side. Safe journey home to all of you.

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