Vindolanda excavators close to hitting jackpot

EXCAVATORS at a Northumberland Roman fort have come tantalisingly close to hitting a cash jackpot.

vindolanda, roman fort

EXCAVATORS at a Northumberland Roman fort have come tantalisingly close to hitting a cash jackpot.

They unearthed a bronze griffin figure, identical to that which features on the peak of a helmet found last year at the north west Cumbrian village of Crosby Garrett by a metal detectorist.

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The Roman cavalry parade helmet was one of only three to have been discovered in Britain complete with face mask in the last 250 years and which sold at a Christies auction in London for £2.3m.

The latest find was made at Vindolanda fort near Bardon Mill in Northumberland, where 500 volunteers work over the excavating season.

Robin Birley, director of research at Vindolanda, said: “The griffin is exactly the same as the Crosby Garrett helmet and has been made by the same craftsman.”

According to Roman records, men of high rank or superior horsemanship wore gilded helmets at cavalry sports parades.

The polished white metal surface of the face mask would have provided a striking contrast to the original golden-bronze colour of the hair and cap.

Robin said: “This has been made for a pretty posh bunch of cavalry and we had cavalry at Vindolanda from time to time.”

The discovery is one of several hundred finds made during the excavating season. They included two unusual inscribed lead frames for mirrors. One is marked with the name of its craftsman, Quintus Licinius Tutinus, who was based at Arles in Provence in the South of France.

The other is inscribed with the name of its maker Venator, whose workshop has yet to be located.

The discovery of the mirrors reflects how goods arrived at the northernmost edge of the Roman empire in Northumberland from warmer climes.

The stamps of makers and workshops show that olive oil reached Vindolanda from the Seville area of Spain, and fish sauces from the coast of Portugal.

“At Vindolanda we also had green olives in boiled wine from the Rhineland but goodness knows what that tasted like,” said Robin.

He said the number of items unearthed which bore stamps, and also 23 examples of owner’s names scratched on pottery items like bowls, suggested literacy levels were at that time were much greater than has been supposed.

One brick which was uncovered bears the stamp of the Sixth Legion. Another find was a quern, used for grinding corn for troops, which is inscribed with the name of a centurion called Africanus, who would have commanded the soldiers who used the stone.

Robin said: “It is another name for the list which we are gradually building up of people who lived and worked at Vindolanda.”

The most dramatic find, revealed by The Journal in September, were the 1,800-year old remains of a potential child murder victim, aged between eight and 10, found in a shallow pit in the corner of a barrack room floor.

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