On Monday, 25 June, we see the start of six exciting weeks of excavation at Binchester Roman Fort, which sees The Auckland Project and its team of volunteers working with archaeologists from Northern Archaeological Associates (NAA) and Durham County Council (DCC) to uncover more of the Roman site!
This community-based excavation will run between Monday, 25 June and Friday, 3 August 2018. The excavation is located to the north of the scheduled monument, around the area of the northern gate of the first fort (the porta praetoria). This fort was constructed in c. AD 80 and was replaced by a smaller fort in the Antoninne period. To date, archaeological work has identified relatively little information about the structure of the first fort.
These excavations are sited to explore the early defences of Binchester, and to understand more of how the civilian settlement (the vicus) subsequently developed along the road exiting the fort northwards (the via praetoria). This will tell us lots about how the soldiers in the early fort defended themselves, and how the occupants of the later fort interacted with the community that built up around them.
The stripping of the top soil has begun to take place in earnest, under the watchful eyes of Steve from NAA and David from DCC – they’ve begun to identify some of the features that The Auckland Project volunteers will be getting their trowels into. Amongst the machining, metal detectorist George managed to recover a lovely little statuette from the spoil.
Under the fairly sweltering heat, Eddie and Rebecca from NAA have been working with our hardy volunteers to clean back the upper layer of top-soil and fully expose a number of archaeological features. This process is a little laborious under the sun but has been revealing a number of finds from this top-soil layer. There have been several coins (on some of which a head is clearly identifiable), pieces of glass (including glass beads), and a lovely little jet ring which you can see here. Once these have been sent to finds specialists, we will have a better idea of their date.
In the trench we have a number of features starting to become apparent, including the metalled surface of the Roman road running across the centre of the area. As understanding the structures around this via praetoria is one of the main objectives of the excavation, it’s exciting to be able to identify it so quickly. Keep following our updates to find out what else we discover!
The baking conditions have continued at Binchester towards the end of this week, but the team have been working hard between taking well-deserved breaks out of the heat. The sun isn’t only a problem (or a pleasure, depending on your view) for our diggers, but it also presents issues in terms of drying the excavated ground out – making archaeological features much more difficult to identify.
Despite that, we’ve been continuing to work back across the site, cleaning the interface between the overlying layer of top-soil and the archaeological features beneath. There have been a wealth of objects recovered from this process, some of which we’ve spoken about here and via The Auckland Project and NAA’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts. Alongside these star finds, we’ve discovered lots of clearly Roman pottery, including some fragments of amphora, both of the common types of Romano-British black burnished ware, and several pieces of samian ware – probably dating to the third or fourth centuries, but none of the pieces are clearly decorated enough to identify accurately.
Excitingly, Thursday saw the first obvious sign of the surface of the Roman road starting to emerge from beneath the dusty dirt – as we suspected from earlier in the week, this is the via praetoria. We’ll come back to explore the extent and depth of this later in the dig. For now, once we’ve finished cleaning, we’ll be working in the south east corner of the trench to record and remove the latest deposits in this area.
Keep checking back to see our progress!
Visitors to the DCC run visitor centre at Binchester Roman Fort will also get a free tour of the ongoing excavations included in their admission. These tours will run at 11:30am and 2:30pm on weekdays until Saturday, 14 July, which sees the fort host a re-enactment weekend.
From this weekend onward, there will be daily excavation tours at 11:30am and 2:30pm, as well as weekend family-friendly archaeology activities for young (and old) archaeological explorers to enjoy!
You will be able to follow the progress of the excavation and see some of the fantastic finds we expect get out here on our blog, and via The Auckland Project and NAA’s social media channels.