Vindolanda Roman fort director selects top finds from 2014 discoveries

Vindolanda dig director Dr Andrew Birley chooses the best finds from the 2014 excavation season

Apollo face out
Face of Apollo

An outstanding year for discoveries at a Northumberland Roman fort has added to the picture of life on the frontier base over the centuries of occupation.

More than 400 volunteers from around the world, who took part in almost six months of digging, produced what director of excavations Dr Andrew Birley describes as “truly remarkable finds.”

He said: “It was quite a year on the excavations, possibly the best season since the discovery of the Vindolanda writing tablets in 1973.”

Around 500 volunteer places for next year’s dig were filled within minutes of going online this month.

Dr Birley has now selected his top 13 finds from 2014.

He said: “I did try to make the list for 10 but there were so many good finds it was hard to narrow them down.”

They are:

Gold coin and silver brooch

Nero Gold Coin
Nero Gold Coin

These were found in the Fourth Century fort, and suggest that it may have been partly occupied by a cavalry field army detachment, who would have been better paid and have higher status than the frontier guard troops.

The gold coin of Nero was a first for Vindolanda.

“The fact that it was dropped over 300 years after it was minted suggests that this coin had a long history of being passed from person to person before being lost at Vindolanda,” said Dr Birley.

“The silver brooch is beautifully crafted and a real show of wealth,

“It has helped us to appreciate that the people who lived in this part of the fort had more disposable incomes than the average frontier soldiers of the 4th Century.”

Apollo mould

Apollo Mould found at Vindolanda
Apollo Mould found at Vindolanda

This would probably have been used by a travelling craftsman who rented space at the pottery kiln at Vindolanda in the mid-Second Century to turn out pots decorated with the face of Apollo.

“He would probably have had moulds to produce a full range of gods and goddesses,” said Dr Birley.

Stylus and ink tablets

Stylus Tablet
Stylus Tablet

Around 20 stylus and ink tablets from AD85-130 came from this year’s excavations, with each having the potential to give a direct message from the past.

It will take months of careful conservation before they can be read.

The ink tablets were thin wood bearing written messages - the postcards of their day,

The wax tablets were usually used for more official documents which would be stored away, raising hopes that a headquarters building is waiting to be found.

Child’s shoe

A child's shoe unearthed at Vindolanda
A child's shoe unearthed at Vindolanda

This year’s dig revealed 130 shoes to add to the 6,000 already found at Vindolanda.

Dating from Vindolanda’s early days around AD85-92, it shows that families were living around the site.

Cavalry Sword

Broken but still razor sharp, complete with nicks in the blade, this is one of the finest examples of a cavalry sword found on the frontier of Roman Britain.

It was found among the foundations of a building dated to cAD105-120, before Hadrian’s Wall construction started and possibly owned by a cavalryman from Spain.

Cavalryman’s spur

Like the sword, incredibly well preserved and in this case complete therefore most likely lost rather than thrown away.

This spur is from a right boot, and the pin which is made from copper is still bright golden in colour and wickedly sharp. Dated like the sword to cAD105-120.

Toilet seat

Wooden toilet seat found at Vindolanda
Wooden toilet seat found at Vindolanda

The only know surviving example of a Roman wooden toilet seat form the Roman Empire. Well-worn and out of use by AD120.

Wagon wheel

Wagon wheel uncovered at Vindolanda
Wagon wheel

Dr Birley said: “How big was a Roman Army wagon wheel? Well, thanks to this year’s excavations at Vindolanda we now know.

“While not complete, this year we found two sections and three spokes of a wagon wheel. cAD105-120.

Mini stylus pen

Small Stylus pen
Small Stylus pen

“We had quite a few stylus pens this year, but it is nice to get one which is so small that it was likely to have been used by a small hand, perhaps a child’s,” said Dr Birley.

“Vindolanda was an incredibly literate society, and it would appear that nearly all members took part in reading and writing, almost 2,000 years ago.” Dated to cAD85-92

Seal Box

A beautifully preserved and decorated Roman seal box recovered from the bottom of an early fort ditch.

Used to seal something special, perhaps a package from home or an important message to the first garrisons at the site.

Samian cup

Samian cup
Samian cup

“We get a great number of Samian cups and bowls at Vindolanda in the course of each year’s excavation and this is one of the best preserved examples of a late First Century type,” said Dr Birley.

Three wooden bowls

Little wooden bowl, middle-sized wooden bowl and big wooden bowl are a reminder that pottery was not always king on Roman sites.


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