Living on a Prayer?

Woah, we’re halfway there! Week 2 is done, and it’s been estimated that the amount of work we’ve done in these two weeks equals that done in three last year! With the clock ticking towards the end of the project, the pace is picking up. Now for a rundown…

One of our fearless leaders, Dr. Morris, having a brainstorming session. On the left, Mjolnir the Legendary Mattock is pictured in the foreground.

In the north of the trench we are targeting specific areas to answer our questions about the phasing of the fort. One of these areas is the north eastern stone guard house and specifically its relationship to a structure to its immediate south and the clay rampart it is cut into on its eastern side. Once thought to be from different phases of the fort their foundations now look to be set into the same clay layer, indicating that they may be contemporary with one another. The southern building may be a timber annex resting against the stone guard house. Our understanding and interpretation of the archaeology in our trench is constantly evolving as we uncover more. In the last two weeks of the project we will continue to examine their relationship with each other and the surrounding areas.

On the right is the guardhouse with its exposed threshold stone. On the left is the possible annex building. Down the middle runs the foundations of the wall to the guard tower.

In the stone guard house and on the stone wall we are working down to reveal their foundations, which will allow us to examine the initial construction process of the stone fort and the stages of wall building. If we are lucky, we may also see features from the earlier timber fort. Beneath the wall and clay rampart we are hoping to see wooden “corduroy” foundations similar to those found in previous excavations in and around Ribchester. As we work our way through these layers, we are always on the lookout for concrete dating evidence like coins or stamped pottery to help us assemble an accurate timeline of the fort’s construction.

In the middle of the trench, running west to east, is the intervallum road. This pathway would have run parallel to the walls inside the fort. A slot was cut into the road surface at the end of last year’s dig, and extending it this year has revealed the earliest phase of the road, with its well-ordered, neat cobbles, and its sandy foundations. But as we began to see the core of the road, we realized that there may be postholes, beam slots, and other structural features running through it, showing evidence that there were buildings there at one time. As we extend the slot through the road further, we hope to uncover more that will help us further understand these structures and their placement within the fort and in relation to the road.

The slot cut into the intervallum road, showing its sandy foundation and how layers of road surface built up over time as it was paved over.

In the south half of the trench, evidence of longstanding occupation and industry is beginning to be better understood. Currently, the most prominent feature is the kiln, a large clay oven thought to have been used to dry grain, given its proximity to the granaries to the west. But cut through the kiln complex are several large postholes, which indicate the presence of a very large structure. This is also supported by geophysical analysis conducted in the area east of the trench. Evidence points to the presence of an imposing building there. And cut through those postholes are later beam slots, signifying another structure in place of the first two. The archaeology here is intricate, given that multiple phases of fort through several centuries of time are present. Our hope is to examine this changing use of space further and discover more discrete dating evidence.

Three of the large postholes, as well as the later beam slot cutting through them.

The overarching message at this point is that when thinking about the fort, we need to do it in terms of relationships: how do these features relate to one another? Not only from a single point in time, but through multiple phases as the life histories of these structures change within the fort. With only two weeks left, we’re working hard to answer every question we can.