Rothbury and Coquetdale History Society heard about recent findings at Vindolanda from speaker Barbara Birley.
It was fortuitous that Andrew Birley, curator of the independent archaeological Vindolanda Trust, married Barbara, a historian American from Colorado, and a trained archaeological curator, skilled in the scientific preservation of their very important and significant finds.
Nowadays English Heritage is very reluctant to authorise digs, partly due to the risk that finds will not be quickly and properly treated. This, of course, is just what Barbara is able to offer.
Their museum is full of a selection of her favourite and important preserved articles, while some are still going through up to a two year preservation period.
With ongoing digs, Barbara and her team of volunteers are kept busy with an exceptional number of finds.
Vindolanda was occupied from AD 35 to at least 410. When every cohort of occupation left they would completely demolish their accommodation, burying it and all their detritus and unwanted belongings under turfing clay. Over the years this raised the level of the land by two metres, and with it the water level rose. This excluded the oxygen and has preserved a time line of wattle and daub to stone buildings, personal, household and horse belongings, and not so many military goods.
They have only found one body, a murdered child, and a severed head. from Glasgow, thought to be a trophy.
Their own burials were generally along roadsides. Vindolanda is on the early Staingate Road. The Trust cannot dig for them as they don’t own the land, but they have bought the north side of the road, whose buildings predate the main fort.
Over the years they have amassed a collection of around 5,000 shoes and sensible marching boots. They have found a continuous stream of wooden tablet correspondence, from the whole of the occupation, including one to a soldier to expect two new pairs of underpants.
They also have wonderful collections of gold and copper alloy tools and jewellery, textiles, wooden, bone and glass objects. One glass goblet, known as the Gladiator Glass, was found over three digs in1972, 1992 and 2007! Having kept every piece of all objects ever found, they were able to recognise that first two and then the third fitted together. She hopes the stem and base will be found in the next digs.
This is a real demonstration of the value of meticulous digging, cataloguing and curating.
When you visit Vindolanda you will be able to see the life of all the ranks of the Roman soldiers and their families – in the museum and walking around the site and digs.
The subject at the next meeting will be The Battle of Otterburn and Harry Hotspur’s Big Night Out on Friday, December 19, at the Jubilee Hall, Rothbury. Visitors £2, all welcome.