As our final week is underway, there has been a flurry of activity on site, and we are starting to get a good understanding of the phases of Late Roman activity in the fourth century in this area. We’ve discussed in previous updates that the site has two distinct periods of activity – that associated with the earlier timber and earthen rampart of the first fort, and the industrial activity in the vicus (civilian settlement) of the second fort. However, we’re now starting to piece together how these phases might relate to one another: Clearly the later layers of cobbling overlie the filling of the ditches associated with the early defences, but we’ve also been able to identify that some of the earth of the rampart has spilled out over later cobbling. This suggests that the rampart was still standing during the later vicus occupation, but later part of the remaining earth work slipped and covered adjacent paving. We’ve also started to identify multiple layers of repair of the road surface, and begun to pick apart the sequences of construction and destruction of some of the roadside buildings. Tantalisingly, we’ve identified a post-hole which might represent part of the original gate structure. All of this confirms that there is much more to understand on this site, and we’re therefore very happy to say that we’re intending to come back to this location to continue excavations in 2019.
In addition to the understanding of the features, we have had several lovely worked stones appearing. The first of these is relatively common and extremely prosaic – part of a quern stone used to grind grain. It is not especially worn but has been used within rubble/or a wall. The second is more exciting, if less visually clear. Again it has been used as rubble in a layer of cobbling, but is clearly a carved anthropomorphic figure. Following David Mason (Durham County Council’s principle archaeologist)’s initial assessment, a regional Roman expert has confirmed David’s theory that it is a representation of a Mater – a mother goddess. There was a similar one discovered at Carrawburgh on Hadrian’s Wall in the 1950s – demonstrating the link between Binchester as a supply fort to the Roman frontier.
Our time is up (for now)!
Following six weeks of work in the gruelling sun, our fantastic volunteers, alongside staff from NAA, have completed an impressive feat in expanding our understanding of the fort and its vicus development. We now have a much better knowledge of the nature of the civilian settlement outside the second fort, as well as a glimpse of the form of the defences associated with the first fort. There have been some brilliant individual finds (most notably the caved stone mother goddess), and we have some features poking up through lower layers which are awaiting further excavation. We hope to return to the same site next summer to continue our work.
For the remainder of the summer visitors to the Roman fort will be able to see the remains excavated this year as part of a tour run by Durham County Council staff. After this the site will be covered to protect it in advance of summer 2019. In the interim we will be developing our programme for post-excavation analysis and future investigation of Binchester.
For now though, all that remains is for me to add my gratitude to those of many others for the work of our volunteer and professional archaeologists, to say thank you to those of you who have been following our progress, and to invite you to check back next year to see how we are progressing with our investigations of this wonderful site!