Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Binchester 2014: Day Thirty-Three

Warm day- main focus of activity was our annual visit by our good friend Adam Stanford from Aerial-Cam, who provides our wonderful vertical and aerial shots. This year, he delivered the usual cracking range of shots and also carried out some serious photographic recording on the bath-house. All very pleasing and we'll share the results when we have them.

In the meantime, the images today are from our volunteer Tony Metcalfe (thanks Tony!!)

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Binchester 2014: Day Thirty-Two

A hectic day as our press release went out. We were greeted at 8.30 when we arrived on site by local radio waiting to interview us - and had lots of visits over the day. The combination of a big article in a national newspaper and good weather meant that there were plenty of visitors coming round the site all day.

No major progress to report- we are very much winding down now and focusing on recording and drawing as much of the site as possible, so that we have no backlog. The barrack in Trench 1 is looking very forlorn now so much of the wall has been removed, but the officer's block at the north end still looks rather splendid.

Today's photograph is of our important early Christian ring and was taken by Jeff Veitch our Departmental photographer.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Binchester 2014: Days Twenty-Nine- Thirty-One

Sorry we’re running slightly late with our blog- hectic day or two, but as we move into our last week on site, I’ll try and catch up with myself.

Friday was a busy day with lots of visitors, including from our advisory group. They helped us interpret the remains we have on site, think about how to move the project on, and, with only one season remaining, ponder the future for Binchester.

Taking them around Trench 1 really brought home to me how much we’ve pushed out understanding of the barrack building forward this year. Whilst Trench 2 may have better preservation, the sequence of structures in Trench 1 offers us far more complex and intriguing facing. Our sequence of large drains are still most likely to be stable drains, although it is apparent that some seem to drain through the external wall, others do not. Most importantly, over the last couple of days we’ve really started to identify a whole series of stone lined post holes within the main barrack structure. These still need fuller excavation and planning, but they make best sense as a series of internal divisions and walls within the earlier structure. It is not clear whether some of them mark the internal dividing line between the stables and the rooms in our early phase barrack, or whether the later eastern wall had this function. It is clear that the build of this latter wall really varied in constructional technique along its length- in one place, it is possible that there was simply a rough trench possible supporting timber uprights or acting as a crude beam slot supporting a wooden wall. It appears, once again, the phasing is even more complicated that initially thought, and that the simple two-phase story of “wide barrack” followed by “narrow barrack” will not suffice.

In Trench 2 , there is lots of planning, but there have been two major developments, one inside the bath-house and one outside. The internal development has been the completion of excavating the eastern arm of the annexe to the corridor. Surprisingly, the removal of the final section of fill has revealed an exceptionally well preserved small plunge bath, with its internal lining of opus signinum remaining more or less intact. There is also some really interesting evidence for the plumbing- including a drain in the base which seems to line up with some of the culverts we’ve picked out in the nearby floor, as well as some gaps within the wall, which may well have originally contained lead piping or some other mechanism for the chanelling the water into this wonderful little feature. Outside the building, Morris has finished excavation of the pit up against the boundary wall. This has revealed around eight courses of stonework as well as foundation stones. The base of the wall is only 20cm higher than the floor of the bath-house. This has some quite profound implications for the rest of the site. I’d always assumed our bath structure survived so well because it was partially terraced into the hillside. It is now becoming clear that the walls were originally standing and that the surrounding street surface and associated yards must have risen five or six foot over time to embed the building in stratigraphy.  This is both exciting and challenging. How do we deal with this depth of archaeology with only one season left!

Various nice finds have popped up over the last couple of days – including some splendid painted plaster found by Michael who is excavating part of the new room to the east of the corridor, where there is also excellent preservation of in situ painted wall plaster, although there is still much to be exposed. My favourite find though is part of a haunting ceramic face from a late Roman head pot.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Binchester 2014: Day Twenty-Eight

Jeanna Cook writes from Trench 1
Within the barrack block, between 15 and 20 post holes have been discovered. The holes are rock lined and some have produced impressive finds, such as Alex's bone ring. The holes, all of which are within the larger barrack block structure, may be contemporary to the earlier phase of this structure. They are indicative of a timber structure within the stone walls of the barrack block.

Three of us continued to work in the area where Gaby and Tony had found a large carved drain. Taking away a level of reddish soil, we were able to follow the paving of flat stone to the course of the exterior wall. It appears as though this flat stone paving continues on the other side of the wall. As more of the stone was revealed, the structure of a drain became more clear. This flat paving stone drain runs just underneath the carved stone drain. The angle and level of the flat stone, quite severe, may be related to the slumping of the wall which it probably passes under. Approximately 10 more inches of the carved drain are visible with the work completed this afternoon. It is difficult to say whether the drain is at the same level as the floor surface in this section. 

Michael Boyd writes from Trench 2:

In the Vicus today, Morris continued to remove the stones from the pit adjacent to the fine Roman wall recently revealed. The wall now has 7 courses with no bottom in sight. 

In the bath house, Large Room #1 continues to have all of its walls planned and drawn. Along the edge of the trench on the outside of Large Room #1, the adjacent room has revealed a large stone lintel with the curving plaster structure seen on its adjacent walls.  In the corridor outside Large Room #1, the floor has been completely cleaned and a small section of the flooring has been removed to investigate what, if anything, might be beneath it.

In the section of the trench that was recently opened, the boundaries of an additional large room (Large Room #2) have been defined with most of the room remaining outside the existing trench. In the alcove adjacent to Large Room #2, three large stone lintels were found indicating a possible entrance level to the alcove. 

Elsewhere in the bath house, two stunning examples of painted plaster were discovered; one immediately on the other side of the alcove and one on the floor of the recently re-cleaned corridor. The surface of one shows three distinct colors (yellow, green and red); the other find has what may be an example of detailed drawings.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Binchester 2014: Day Twenty-Seven

Another warm day on site- with lots of visitors coming through.

In Trench 1, the focus has been on unpicking the surfaces within the barrack block. These large drain slots are very odd, quite heterogenous in shape/size and many much larger than typical horse pee slots. The central wall is also still very curious- dug trench, crude rubble dumps in the trench, topped with clay, cobbles dumped on the clay and then the wall constructed. It would be interesting to see if any post-holes come up in the base of the original trench. Overall the confused patterns are made even more puzzling by the increasing evidence for more subsidence on the eastern side of the building too. The surface within the later building although broadly consistent, comprising metalled gravel floors, also contain what seem to be multiple stone lined post-holes (in no discernible pattern) as well as possible random post-pads.

In Trench 2, the rectangular building that overlaps the boundary wall was photographed today, and we are back in it picking away at its surfaces. Morris's big pit was also photographed. I'm starting to worry about the implications of the fact that this wall is at least five courses deep with no signs of a foundation. Does this mean the entire area between the wall and the bath-house is as deep. Is the entire area as deeply preserved as the bath-house. Will we have 2m high free standing walls? Beggars belief !!

In the bath-house main room, the elevation drawing has begun. Although around it excavation continued; both within the room to the north, and in the corridor, where we have started cleaning up the floor again. The annex north of the corridor has given us one answer, the feature I discussed yesterday is  a blocked window- with intact upper lintel! We are now at the stage where we can look to dismantling the internal drystone wall and start taking out the final layers of deposit in the southern corridor area.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Binchester 2014: Early Christianity at Roman Binchester

Earlier this season I reported on the discovery of a silver ring set with an intaglio. At the time I confess I didn’t look closely at the image carved on the stone itself. However, thanks to Ian Marshman and Martin Henig, it is now clear that the symbol shown is of some significance.

The intaglio shows two fish hanging from an anchor. This has clear Christian connotations. It is found widely elsewhere in the Roman Empire, but this is only the second example from Britain; the other example coming from the colonia at York.

The form of the ring and the shape of the stone seem to indicate a 3rd century date for this object. This is a surprisingly early date for a Christian object in Britain, as it predates the accession of Constantine in York in AD306. It was under him that Christianity finally became a licit religion. Evidence for Roman Christianity is rare in Northern England, and evidence for pre-Constaninian Christianity is even rarer. This is a rather splendid find!

Binchester 2014: Day Twenty-Six

Lots going on today- in the barrack we've been expanding the excavation of the possible drainage slots in the eastern half of the building. Some of these are getting rather big and look far more substantial than slots of horse pee. In the trench we extended eastwards to catch the fort  wall we have been quarrying downwards and have revealed a nice rough boulder foundation, but haven't bottomed it because we can't safely go any deeper. Within the barrack rooms, the metalled floor surfaces continued to perplex with their inconsistency. The large pit abutting the south wall of the northern block just gets bigger and bigger. Is it real or a result of slumping/subsidence- the jury is currently out.

In Trench 2, the interior of the main room was fully cleaned up for photographs. It looks splendid! In the annex to the corridor, Evan and Brandon have continued to clear out the interior. They have confirmed that the main wall of the bath-house continues and that the apparent end of the wall was, as we suspected, a window splay. There also continues to be much debate as to whether the feature in the south wall of the annex is a window or a niche of some kind. There is a clear gap between the end of the annex wall where it meets the main building wall- clearly not bonded on- but the gap is so big it looks deliberate! Finally, in this intriguing area, there is now clearly a dry-stone wall shutting up the eastern annex- why?

For more on an interesting find from earlier this season, check out the next blog post