Monday, January 15, 2007

Arbeia Roman Fort: Pictures (aka the lazy post)

Okay, so I'm busy with 8 zillion offline projects, including one that involves a great deal of chatting with the Tazewell county coroner, who is a VERY NICE MAN and very personable. Also very helpful when presented with bizarre questions.

I meant to posts some pictures with my husband's post here about the history of Arbeia Roman Fort, but I forgot. Which works out well because now I get to do a lazy post of nothing but pictures. I promise we'll shortly have a description of the part of the dig we worked on, but both of us are deep into the kind of work we get paid for right now.

(As always, you can blow up the pictures by clicking on them, and in this case you can see stuff a LOT BETTER by blowing them up!)

Without further ado:

A view of the reconstructed west gate of the fort, from the inside. The reconstruction is an aggregate reconstruction based on descriptions and remains of various similar forts, and is probably a good guess as to what Roman fort gates in Britain looked like. It is three stories with two arched gates (as you can see) and on the inside back the wall is reinforced with earthen ramparts. There are wooden stairs on the earthen ramparts, which was probably the case in most forts to provide access to the wall in the in-between parts between gates and towers. The dirt for the ramparts probably would have come from a ditch running around the outside of the wall, about six feet out from the wall, and as deep as the rampart's dirt would fill to the same width.

It's hard to imagine from this angle and in such a tiny picture, but when you approach it from the front, it is HUGE and IMPOSING. I was like, "Holy crap, I wouldn't want to attack someone who could build something this big and solid today, let alone when everyone else was working on huts made of sticks." I exaggerate. But not by much. It's truly impressive and seeing the reconstruction you get an idea of the awe the Roman military and organizational establishment was held in.

The white tent on the far right was for a big Roman re-enactment society party/festival/exhibition. I had sort-of thought military re-enactors were an American thing, but I was very very wrong and they were very very into it.


This is an overview of the site. I'm standing in the tower, right above the gate, to take this shot. Right in the front you can see two buildings (one has a random earthen mound, and no I don't know why) that have the crenelated wall shapes and the square footings running down the center -- those are the foundations of the granaries from Arbeia's supply fort era. Real stone is stone that was actually there; loose rocks with the wood strips are reconstructions of foundations that were too badly damaged, to show the extent and outlines of the buildings.

There's a pit kind-of in the middle left that was the strong room that held the money and would have been under the command office. Up in the top right, the hole in which we spent our two weeks is between the two blue trash cans and the large white building, which is a reconstructed Roman barracks.

You can also see a lot of houses here. As noted in my husband's piece, Arbeia is in a VERY urban environment. This pleased me in particular because I don't like traveling places where there are no bathrooms. An archaeological dig where you can get good and muddy and sweaty and then go take a real first-world shower and get a beer at a pub sounds just about perfect to me.


This building has a few more courses of stone than most; this was the southwest tower. Roman forts are build like "playing cards," rectangular with rounded corners, towers in the corners. You can see the rounded corner in this shot.




This is the muddy hole in which I spent my vacation. It's a little tricky to explain what's going on here without giving you a dissertation on the site, because the area we were digging underwent more than the usual number of changes during the life of the fort, but I'll try.

To the left you may be able to see a couple courses of stone sticking out from the sheered off hole-wall. Those were the barracks. The area where we are all kind-of sitting and digging was the intervallum road of the original fort, or the road that ran just along the interior of the wall all the way around the fort. On the right were originally ramparts, which seem to have been torn down at some point in the fort's history and replaced with wooden buildings, perhaps service buildings like smithies. The "holes" you see are post holes where the wood rotted away. (They don't come as empty holes when you dig off the top layers; there's like carbonized rotted wood that's easy to tell from the other stuff. We didn't do that part of the dig.) It's not entirely clear what was there because there's some argument about which post holes go with which other post holes to create buildings. To the right of that would have been the south wall of the fort.

Later on, the south wall was knocked out and the fort expanded considerably to the south, when the fort was converted to a supply base for the Scottish campaigns of Septimus Severus, who was trying to keep his orgy-lovin' sons out of Rome and out of trouble by making them fight barbarians on the far northern frontier. That GIANT DITCH (which has some black plastic in it) dates from that era. The archaeologists at the site think it may have been enterprising soldiers who were tired of the space between their barracks being used as a thoroughfare from the supply part of the fort to some other buildings, so they dug a ditch to block it and force people to use the real road. Maybe. It may have had some other purpose nobody's figured out yet.

We were digging off some of the bottom layers of the intervallum road, part of the levelling fill (I forget the technical name), so we found a lot of Roman dinner trash, like limpet shells and sheep bones and cow bones and broken pottery bits, which the soldiers probably pitched out there on the theory it'd get paved over anyway.

2 comments:

PeoriaIllinoisan said...

That's way too much typing to qualify as a lazy post. Very cool.

Eyebrows McGee said...

LOL, I thought that after I posted it. I really didn't intend to type that much, but the pictures needed explaining!