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?

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