The unseasonably warm heat at Ribchester continues well into the second week of digging. As layers and contexts are planned, documented and excavated the finds and environmental teams are hard at work.
The environmental team is led by Don. Environmental archaeology involves looking at evidence of ancient plants by using water filtration. Water filtration traps the plant remains, such as seeds and cereal, which are then dried and examined. Sand, silt and clay are filtered out, artefacts are also recovered in this process, frequently retrieving beads, pottery and nails in accordance to Historic England guidelines.
Finds, led by Viki, involves the cleaning and packing of all finds excavated from the site. Everything is entered into a database for our records. Processing the small finds, such as stamped pottery and hobnails; these finds are also photographed for the database. The running total of hobnails has now reached over 70 in one area which contains the outline of a shoe.
It’s time for some demolition at the site. Teams are planning and documenting in order to progress to removing layers relating to the defensive ditch, rampart and clay floors. Teams in the North of the trench, in the eastern section, are in the process of recording and planning in order to start digging with mattocks to uncover more of the history of the rampart and its relationship with the exterior wall and the first timber fort known to the site.
New questions are being raised about the site itself as interesting features, structures and pits are being revealed. A new trench from the Thomas May excavation in 1907 has been uncovered and the team is trying to deduce the extent of it. The extent of demolition from the Roman occupation is a prominent question this week and its relationship with ‘rubbish’ pits.
The whole team is working hard and smart, regularly applying sun cream and taking water breaks.
Week two at Ribchester has begun with unseasonably warm temperatures. Remember we are in Lancashire, where it is rarely this hot and all students regardless of origin are struggling with the weather. Steps were taken to beat the heat including the dispersal of ice lollies amongst the students. Additionally, a lecture by Don O’Mera, the sites archaeobotanist for the duration of the dig, provided a much needed respite from the oppressive heat.
Each of the students are beginning to find their feet, developing their excavation skills and knowledge. Each team can be seen working dynamically as a group, becoming faster and more confident with planning, excavating and recording finds. We have had 317 number of visitors who have enjoyed learning about both the site and all the students who have travelled to excavate it.
Students are beginning to ask questions about the sub-areas of the trench, including overall function of the site and purpose of individual structures. There has been a marked improvement in planning skills and context sheets are being filled with a greater degree of accuracy than before.
Three school groups who visited the dig on Tuesday, received tours of the granary and the excavation site from Jim. The children were very well behaved, and answered various questions, such as what did the Romans bring with them to Britain? The children visited Ribchester Museum and had lunch in the Village Hall.
In the mid-section of the trench, further work has been done to excavate over fifty hobnails. This was an extremely significant find as these were found in the shape of a shoe. This is the clearest outline of a shoe that we have found on site so far. Each nail has been carefully excavated and recorded for further analysis.
Interpretations of trench areas are changing as excavation continues. A pit in the south of the trench is thought to be a well, and a bead was found in this area. In the north of the trench, a black area of soil has been identified and we are debating whether this may be part of the remains of the earlier wooden fort. More small finds are being recovered from the guardhouse, including animal bone.
Work carries on throughout the site, despite the hot weather. Just to remind everyone we run tours of the site between 11am and 5.30pm on Tuesdays to Sundays.
With the first week of Ribchester Revisited’s 2018 season coming to a close, the trench is bustling with activity. The team has grown used to camping next to the neighbours – a herd of rather boisterous dairy cows – and waking to the early morning cacophony of bird calls from the hedgerows. Thus far, no tents have been lost, despite a few windy nights, and most of us have managed to stay dry. The number of sunburn victims has remained low thanks to Jim’s hourly reminders to apply sun cream.
To the southwest, new post-holes have been unearthed as stones were removed. These could indicate that the workshop occupied an area larger than previously thought or point to an additional separate structure.
Within the walls of the guardhouse, several stacked layers must have each context recorded in detailed plans before being carefully trowelled back. As we go deeper, we may begin to see earlier phases of construction.
Just over the wall from the ditch is the large clay slab mentioned in the previous blog post. It is now thought that it is what remains of the rampart leading from the inside of the fort to the wall. Extensive excavation is soon to take place in the area in an attempt to uncover evidence of the earliest timber phase of the fort.
A new year of digging means that long-standing questions can get answered, but it also creates new mysteries. Southeast of the road that runs east to west through the fort, the archaeology uncovered is shaping our ideas about occupation at the site in the post-Roman era. There is evidence of a structure, possibly a workshop with signs of metalwork and glass production. With many layers to get through, each being carefully recorded, excavation of the space is ongoing.
North of the road, many of the questions being asked involve the fort’s defences, including one of the northern gate’s guardhouses and the wall, rampart, and ditch. Between the guardhouse and road, a rather ambiguous area has been planned and prepped for excavation. Argument persists over what exactly the space could be, but further searching may soon provide an explanation.
At the northernmost end of the trench, a team is hard at work removing soil from the first of several ditches that radiated out from the walls of the fort. They may have reached the same natural layer of clay the Roman soldiers dug into when first constructing the fortification.
And so we have one week down, and three more to go. With the first days of the excavation come and gone, work has begun in earnest, and the archaeologists are eager to chase down some of the many questions Ribchester Revisited seeks to answer. Tea consumption is at an all-time high, and a potentially disastrous chocolate biscuit shortage has been avoided thanks to a timely grocery delivery. Public tours of the site have started, and we have been visited by many schoolchildren and adults alike. The current number of dogs that have toured the trench is 10.
Welcome back for another year at Ribchester. It is day 4 of this year’s excavation and the team is beginning to settle in and get to work.
Before we could start digging this year we had to reclaim our trench from a year’s worth of shrubbery that had overgrown it.
It took some hard work, but after a few close encounters with some stinging nettles the trench was clear and we could get to work.
This year our excavations will be focusing on four main areas. Each of these areas will have a corresponding team: a collection of our international team from Australia, USA, Canada and England.
Excavating the guardhouse.
The clay base of the ramparts, the wall and the ditch.
A possible workshop in the south of the trench.
A possible building to the south of the guardhouse.
The other areas will be detailed in later posts, but this blog will discuss the clay base of the stone ramparts which are pictured above, beneath which we hope to find the remains of an earlier first century fort. So far we have managed to uncover the stratigraphy of this clay base (right). In this photo we can clearly see several different coloured layers of earth. There is a large clay layer at the top which we believe was purposefully laid down as a foundation for a stone building above it. The darker black layer below this (near the orange string) is likely an organic layer, possibly caused by the cutting and laying down of wood to provide a base for the clay. What’s exciting about this, is that below this layer we stand a chance of discovering the remains of the earlier first century wooden fort. Something we don’t think we will find anywhere else in our trench!
We were helped (or hindered) in this by making use of an earlier trench dug in 1907 by Thomas May who conducted several excavations on this site. He left us several drawings and notebooks about this excavation (left), however some of them have gone missing over the last century, so we are discovering the archaeology of his excavation whilst we uncover the archaeology of the Roman forts on this site as well.
By the end of these four weeks we hope to have all of this gone. Duncan (one of our project directors) estimates we have about 8 tonnes of clay to move! That’s a bull elephant worth of clay to move! Luckily we’re well experienced moving large amounts of dirt and soil, this is how much we’ve collected on our spoil heap so far (right)!
These spaces were permanent or semi-permanent bases for Roman troops. Most fort spaces occupy around 20 hectares. The Roman troops occupying these spaces were often auxiliary’s. They were not Roman citizens, but instead were drafted from other provinces within the Roman Empire (Historic England, 2011).
Many of the earliest forts had turf ramparts and timber internal buildings, these were usually constructed during the initial conquest and are common in the first century. The dominant shape for forts is rectangular, and these would have been surrounded by outer ditches. Forts often went through a second phase of construction where the timber fort would be replaced with a stone fort, this would often be surrounded by stone walls rather than timber ramparts
Internal Layout of Forts:
Forts would have been divided by internal roads/streets, with administrative centres in the middle of the fort as one of the central buildings. There also would have been workshops and equipment stores, and the Granaries, which were long narrow buildings with raised floors supported on posts
Forts were spaces used to house troops who were responsible for controlling the surrounding territory (Historic England 2011). Forts were linked together by the Roman road system, which provided a network to strengthen their control
The brief overview above gives you a bit of background information about the fort space itself and its internal layout, but, what about the people who occupied these spaces? We have already seen that auxiliary units most likely wouldn’t have been Roman citizens themselves, and the fact they travelled from other provinces outside England suggests that they may have had different ways of displaying their identities to the Pre-Roman and Roman Britons. Below are a few artefacts found at Ribchester, with some of them coming from our excavations.
Evidence for Roman Soldiers at Ribchester:
Any look at Roman military artefacts from Ribchester has to start with the famous Ribchester Helmet.
The Ribchester Helmet was discovered in 1796 by children playing on the waste-ground behind their cottage.
Experts have suggested that the Helmet originates from the 1st-2nd century and was not likely to have been used in combat as it was such a finely crafted piece of equipment. Instead the interpretation is that it would have been used in mock battles (British Museum, 2018)
The next few artefact types are examples of the types of objects we have found during our excavations, and don’t necessarily represent the most common artefacts associated with the Roman military.
A common find at fort sites, and something we have found a lot of during our excavations at Ribchester, are hobnails.
Hobnails are associated with Roman shoes, and at some sites, they have even been discovered in the pattern of a shoe shape, with the leather having worn away.
There has been research into the pattern of the hobnails and the types of shoe that they would have comprised!
So far during our excavations at Ribchester we have found over 80 hobnails!
Decoration on horse harnesses were one of the main ways that an individual could show off their rank or wealth
During our excavations so far we have found evidence of 3 objects associated with horse fittings
We have also found 1 example of a terret ring. Terret rings are metal loops, which would be part of a horse harness. When in use the reins would run from the drivers hand, through a terret ring, and attach to the horses bit to all the horse to be guided without becoming tangled up.
We also have an example of a hipposandle, which would protect the hoof of a horse and was the predecessor of the horseshoe.
Button and Loop Fastener:
These fasteners would have been used to hold two pieces of fabric together, and are often associated with the fastening of a dress or cloak
Fasteners are quite common finds during the excavations of Roman forts suggesting that they were associated with the military
So far during our excavations we have found 2 fasteners
The traditional argument for the presence of women in forts is that they simply were not there.
These traditional models advocate that forts were male/military dominated environments and that officers families would not be present within them. As such, the mobility of the military is focused solely around the movement of soldiers. Previously, it has been understood that women and children would have been associated with settlements outside of the fort structure, but not present within the fort space itself. Evidence in support of this has been interpreted from Roman laws. Under Augustus there was a ruling banning soldiers from marrying, this was eventually lifted in the second century under Septimus Severus.
It has been suggested that the commander’s house in particular was designed to house a family unit. These structures were large and Mediterranean in style. Evidence from Vindolanda features a correspondence between Flavius Cerialis, which implies he was accompanied by his wife (Campbell, 2010). Within the commanders house structure at Vindolanda there is also evidence of multiple small shoes, thought to belong to children (Campbell, 2010). A tombstone has been discovered in High Rochester, thought to have come from just outside the fort space. The inscription is written by Julia Lucilla in memory of ‘her well-deserving husband’ implying that they would have been living in the same space (Roman Inscriptions of Britain, 2018). Another tombstone from Corbirdge was erected in memory of Ertola aged four years and sixty days, thought to be a child of one of the soldiers within the fort (Roman Inscriptions of Britain, 2018).
Arguably, this evidence would suggest that women and children were associated with fort spaces, and it can be implied that their presence is not just restricted to the surrounding vicus’ outside of the forts.
So far, the presence of women and children in forts at Ribchester is unclear. During our recent excavations, we have found fragments of a shale bracelet, as well as multiple blue glass beads. In general terms these types of artefacts would be associated with women, however, there is no definite answer and it is quite possible that they would have belonged to the men
I hope that from this brief overview you can see that the evidence for women and children inside fort spaces is still open to much debate. However, it is entirely possible that family life played a much greater role within the military than previously thought.
This blog aims to provide a whistle stop tour of Roman coins. However, this by no means represents the entirety of the Roman Coins, denominations, or, designs that can be seen throughout the Empire. Instead we’re aiming to provide a background to the types of coins that have been found in the UK
Just like our current currency system, the Roman system was made up of different denominations of coin, with different materials being used to create the higher status coins.
The Roman currency system underwent a series of changes due to inflation, and the debasement of some of the current coinage of the time. Debasement occurs when the base metal of the coin was reduced, and therefore its’ value was considered to be less. The most popular denominations of coins will be discussed in more detail below;
First issued from the 1st century BC to the beginning of the 4th century AD
Most popular between the 1st and 2nd century AD
Equivalent of 25 denarius
Most commonly found coin by the reign of Septimus Severus (Reece 1975, 300)
Equivilant of 10 As
Struck between 211BC and 244AD
Replaced by the double denarius in the 3rd century (antoninianus)
Copper alloy unit
Reduced production by the 3rd century
Under Emperor Augustus two additional units were introduced, the dupondii and the sestertii (Crawford 1970, 41). The exact reason for these additional denomination is unknown; however, it has been argued that the Empire was decreasing the fineness of their coins in order to allow their raw materials to go further. Therefore, in order to maintain the values of the coins in their monetary system, additional denominations needed to be added;
Equivilant of 2 Aes
Copper Alloy unit
During the reign of Nero, the obverse image usually wore a radiate crown
Copper Alloy unit
Equivilant of 4 Aes under Augustus
Commonly found in the UK between 50AD to 260AD
No longer minted towards the end of the 3rd century
Emperor on the obverse
Inscriptions feature the name of the ruler, title and honorary titles
To read inscriptions start at 6 o’clock (the base of the neck) and follow the writing clockwise
The first part of the inscription shows the emperors name
Emperors may also include the names of emperors before them to align themselves with their successes
In this case Marcus Aurelieus choses to identify with his father Antoninus Pius – M ANTONINVS
Most Emperors also included the name of the first emperor Augustus
This became associated with symbols of power
AVG – Augustus
The rest of the inscription usually focuses on religious, political, military or honorary titles
Here ARM represents victories in Armenia
The last part of the inscription also focuses on victories in the east – PARTH MAX
The types of crown on a coin can help us ascertain the denomination and the date of issue
Wreath of laurel, oak or ivy branches
Spiky crown (associated with the sun god Sol)
Used on double denominations (dupondius)
Band of metal or cloth (which can often be decorated)
Mints refer to where the coins were produced
From the 3rd century AD Roman mints began printing mint marks on the reverse of the coin to show where it was made
Juno Moneta is the Roman goddess concerned with the personification of money, and sometimes features on coins
1 Aureus = 25 Denarii = 250 aes
Following periods of financial instability (debasement) additional denominations were added into this system such as the sestertius in order to try and stabilise coin values
Lowers the value of currency
Occurs when the precious metal of the coin is reduced and new denominations are added to the currency system to try and counter balance the effects of inflation.
Contemporary copies are coins produced unofficially at the same time as the official coinage is being produced. There is an increased in contemporary copies from the 3rd century due to the monetary instability of the period
The most commonly found copies in England are Barbarous Radiates.
Barbarous Radiates are usually smaller in size, irregularly shaped and lighter in weight than official issues. They also show poor quality art work, such as inscriptions with errors or below standard portraits and reverse designs
So far at Ribchester we have found over 70 coins
There are a range of denominations and dates represented, supporting the interpretation of a long period of occupation in the fort
You may have seen one of our coins on the most recent series of Digging for Britain
As we posted last week, the plans are now all illustrated! Hooray! But the life of a research assistant is never done (or dull for that matter). The next task is to organise our photo archives. Each year our student supervisors are given a camera to document all of the contexts and features they excavate. Over the course of the last 3 years, our students have taken over 1300 photographs! (I could be here some time!)
In other news, you may remember in our previous blog post, we hinted that we were introducing ‘themed’ months, to give you a bit more insight into Roman Ribchester, and the work we have done on the project so far. February sees the introduction of our Artefact Month!
Each week throughout February, we will be introducing different groups of artefacts that we have found on site and giving you a bit of background into how we identify them, and what we think they meant to the people that used them. We hope that this whistle-stop tour behind the scenes of our finds will give you a better indication of the work we are doing when we come to the village each summer. A rough guide of the content we are planning is in the table below;
Introduction to Artefact Month
The Female – beads, bracelets and females in forts
Military – equipment, horse fittings
Check back next week for an introduction to Roman Coins, the images used on them, the types of coins they have, and how we go about interpreting the writing on them!
These photographs won’t organise themselves, until next week,
Our UCLAN students have returned from their Christmas breaks, and are ready to tackle to the second half of the academic year. The Ribchester team have also been busy, since 2017 ended. Our radio silence, o far this year has been because we have been planning some new content for you all to enjoy!
This year we are going to introduce themed months to our blog, to try to give you a bit more background and detail to Ribchester as a site, and our work there. February will see the introduction of our ‘Finds Month’. Throughout February, the blog posts will be focused on the types of objects we have found, and what they tell us about Roman life in Ribchester.
Over the following months, we will be discussing past excavations at Ribchester, what our excavations have told us about the site, introducing some of the team who you may see hard at work this year, and behind the scenes of our preparations for the dig.
Keep checking back in with us for the latest news and updates
An important part of the Ribchester Revisited project is student training. During the dig more experienced masters students run small teams, giving them experience in leadership and team management. As part of their work the masters students then complete reports on their section of the trench. This blog post discussing the guardhouse is by Louise Clempson, the masters student tasked with the guardhouse excavation.
Ribchester Revisited 2017 saw the excavation of the guard house floor located in the northern section of the trench: as shown by figure 1 above. As a Masters student, I supervised the team excavating the guardhouse. The perimeter of the clay surface was recorded using specialised equipment (total station) in order to construct an image of the guardhouse in the lab. Furthermore every object found was 3D recorded using this equipment and given its own unique identification number. This allows us to understand exactly where in the guardhouse each type of object was found. From this, connections could be made regarding specific patterns that cannot be detected in the field. All the finds within the guardhouse were mapped using a GIS computer program (QGIS). As you can see there is an obvious pattern emerging from the finds of these first few layers of the guardhouse floor.
The finds seem to be concentrated in certain areas: these being the southern and western edges with a clear lack in finds from the centre and northern edge. This can be explained by looking at the guardhouse more closely. The entrance will have been by the threshold stone as shown and unfortunately the edges of the floor have been truncated by Thomas Mays Trenches which he dug in his 1907 excavation (Buxton and Howard- Davis 2000). Therefore we can assume the guardhouse floor was larger than we discovered. Therefore the current edges of the floor are several centimetres away from the actual edge, whereas some edges may well have been close to their original position. This would explain the pattern showing as normally in a room waste gets confined to the corners, with the centre being reasonably clean as this will be where the main activity takes place. Placement of furniture could also impact the loss and placement of objects. The finds themselves are extremely interesting as one of the main type recovered was animal bone. There was a heavy concentration of animal bone found in the southern side of the guardhouse. We are still awaiting zooarchaeological analysis; however, on first look most seem to be cow or pig. Moreover, two sizeable bones were found in situ; a pelvis and a scapula (shown in figure 2).
The reason for the high concentration of bones in the southern section of this space could be due to how the space was used. For example, the southern area could be where food was consumed therefore small pieces of bone lying around would be normal. The longer bones are more difficult to explain our working theory is that long bones were placed to even out the floor surface and make it more substantial before another layer of clay was added, this has been seen before however needs investigating next year.
Shown above are the pottery finds from the excavation (Figure 3). Again, a similar pattern is emerging with a concentration again in the southern section of the guardhouse. But also some scattered along the eastern edge. Most of these were small fragments with the exception being a base of a pot found with a maker’s mark, discovered in last year’s excavations in the eastern section of the guardhouse and excavated this year much to the delight of the students. The fact that small fragments were found lead us to the conclusion that these were deposited randomly from perhaps several smashed or chipped vessels.
Figure 4 demonstrates all of the material associated with metal working. The dark purple spots representing metal slag which is a bi product of metal working and the light purple represents nails which are associated with building. There is a cluster of slag towards the eastern section which could lead us to believe that metalworking was taking place in this area at one time or another. Perhaps once this space wasn’t being used as a guard house it was repurposed for metal working which isn’t unheard, similar evidence was found for a guardhouse at Birdoswald (Biggins et al 1999).
It will be interesting to see if these same patterns continue to show in the 2018 excavations as the guardhouse when the final floor layers are removed. The finds will continued to be plotted so it will be possible to analyse the patterns in the lab once the excavations have been completed.
Biggins, J. A., Taylor, D. J. A., Coxon, B., Esselmont, B., Frank, A., Hudson, C., McCloy, P., Montgomery, E., and Robinson, J. 1999. A Survey of the Roman Fort and Settlement at Birdoswald, Cumbria. Britannia 30. 91-110.
Buxton, K. and Howard-Davis, C. 2000. Bremetenacum. Lancaster: Lancaster Imprints.