Archaeologists put Roman gateway on wishlist after finding ancient water tank at Vindolanda fort

By Ben Miller | 18 May 2015

Fine carving for Roman goddess of hunting and first copper lock barrel in 34 years among finds in Roman north-east

A photo of some stones squaring off an archaeological section outdoors
© Vindolanda Trust
Archaeologists are hoping to find a gate and its stone inscription after discovering tank features, buildings, a roadway, animal bones, pens, hairpins and barrels during the first two excavation sessions of the year at Vindolanda, the Roman fort near Hadrian’s Wall.

Facing snow and torrential rain during their early investigations – conditions they admit were “horrendous” – the team uncovered a free-standing water tank and a depiction of a hare and hound carved for Diana, the goddess of hunting.

The fates smiled during their most recent work, as warmth and sunshine aided the discovery of pottery, roman coins and the first copper alloy lock barrel to emerge at the site since 1981.

A Roman finger ring found at Vindolanda© Vindolanda Trust
“The excavators concentrated on the water tank feature and the roads surrounding it,” says Andrew Birley, the Director of Excavations at the former auxiliary facilities.

“They managed to complete the task of excavating the tank down to its flagged floor, removing the rubbish, fill and facing stones which had been pitched into the tank after its abandonment.

“These would have carried the large flag stones which were to eventually cover the feature entirely.

© Vindolanda Trust
“This excavation area produced a great deal of animal bone, pottery and a few Roman coins which will all help to determine at which point the backfilling took place.

“To the south of the water tank another Roman building started to reveal itself and this helped to define both the 3rd and 4th century western edges of the via decumana roadway.

“The road was made much broader in the 4th century and extended out a further three metres to the west, perhaps to accommodate the people using the later 4th century cavalry barracks.”

A bead brooch with gold leaf© Vindolanda Trust
Most recently, the dig found a fine stone cut water channel on the western side of the roadway, although a similar feature on the opposite flank seems to have been removed by house dwellers or a cohort involved in one of the final rebuilds of the last stone fort.

“The earlier road is magnificent and it is hoped that as the excavations continue to the south, the south gateway of the Antonine fort will reveal itself,” anticipates Birley.

“On our wishlist is the large stone building inscription that would have once adorned the gate, which hopefully remains somewhere nearby.”

An eagle blade terminal© Vindolanda Trust
Initially encountered at the end of last year, Birley describes the water tank as the “greatest discovery” of the work, encased by an outer wall which set it at the centre of a temple or shrine.

“The team focused on locating the north and south walls, defining a header tank at the east and exposing the full extent of the main tank itself to the west,” says Birley.

“The building would have been accessed from the road to the east, although one can imagine that most may have not been permitted to enter.
A photo of a square brown outdoor archaeological pit filled with large stones
A 3D model of the water tank with capping flagstones on top© Vindolanda Trust
"Instead, they could have obtained their water from the small header tank in front of the building and been restricted to looking into the temple to see a raised platform at the back, perhaps with the effigy of the god or goddess reflected in the water below.

“The temple fell out of use and modifications to the structure only retained the tank as a utilitarian water feature.

“Eventually this too was discarded and abandoned, to be filled in with fine facing stones and rubble before flag stones covered over its form – the original purpose perhaps utterly forgotten.

“It is beside this building, re-used as a simple building stone, that a fine carving of a hare and hound was discovered.

“A likely source for such a hunting scene may have been a temple to Diana, the goddess of hunting.”

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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