East Ditch Introduction

Hello everyone!

This week, we were separated into two groups. One group is in the Vicus, and the other, which I am a part of, is in the East gate ditch. For a video tour of the Vicus trench, see Anna’s blog post!

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A view of our trench as of Friday

So why excavate along the east wall of Stone Fort 2? One of the main reasons is that there would have been a defensive ditch outside this wall. These ditches were used to defend the fort by forcing cavalry to use the paths that would be well defended from towers. It would also make it difficult for soldiers to get to the wall as they would have to climb down than back up. Various traps could be set in these ditches, such as spikes or holes at the very bottom hidden by brush.

What makes ditches interesting to excavate is that before a fort was abandoned, the ditch would be filled in. Before this, many people would take the opportunity to throw away anything they did not (or could not) take with them. This means that there is usually a lot of material culture to be found when excavating ditch fill. Another reason this particular section of ditch is interesting is because it has yet to be excavated by modern archaeologists.

On Monday, we began the arduous task of de-turfing the area where the ditch should be. After the first day, we discovered that the “berm” (a clay bank against the wall before the slope of the ditch) was three times larger than most berms and had a cobbled surface on top of it. A possible explanation is that the Romans created a footpath so people could walk around the fort. Carts probably would not have used this path as the eastern gate is too small to allow carts to get through. Another possibility is that the berm was extended for support because of the potential destabilising remains underneath from previous periods of occupation. Hopefully we’ll find out when the berm is eventually excavated after the ditch.

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The cobble path

Wednesday, most worked on troweling back the cobble path and the large stones that define the edge of the ditch. A few of us continued to de-turf as Beth decided that we needed a place to really be able to get into the ditch.

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The large stones at the edge of the ditch

Friday, we all began to drop our trenches to really get into the ditch. Although we are still in topsoil, we are beginning to find more Roman artefacts, such as a coin, a game piece, and the end of a spear. No more de-turfing was needed, however, we may need to do it in the near future depending on what we find in our section.

It has been a very different week from my first week which was in the North Field. For one, we got to meet and work with the rest of the volunteer team. This was a fantastic experience as everyone is so kind and we learned many things from them. Unfortunately, we have to say goodbye to this session’s team but I am very excited to meet the next group of volunteers.  With them, we will continue to explore the eastern ditch and learn many new things together. I can’t wait to see what else is in this ditch!

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