OVER the next five months excavations in a field in Northumberland could shed light on a body-in-a-ditch mystery.
More than 500 volunteers are tak-k ing part in the new season of archaeological digs at Vindolanda Roman fort.
It will be the second of a five-year research project which is the most ambitious since the early days of the creation of the Vindolanda Trust in 1970.
As the digs progress, the results of last year's investigations are being sifted.
The project is examining three areas at the Vindolanda site.
They are the last stone fort - the ninth successive base - at Vindolanda, an area below the vicus, or civilian settlement outside the fort walls, and the field to the north.
"This covers over 700 years of frontier history and archaeology," says director of excavations Dr Andrew Birley.
"The aim is to untangle and give a voice to the often very different communities that made Vindolanda, and therefore our region, their home.
"It is to explore how each of those groups of people lived their lives through the buildings, material and evidence from the choices that they made while living at the site." The field area has already produced a major surprise.
Vindolanda archaeologists, aided by a group of students and their professors from the University of Western Ontario in Canada, explored the remains of what may be the earliest fort yet to be found at Vindolanda, built in timber with a series of massive ditch defences.
The fort ditches were full of rubbish, animal bones, leather and pottery and the team also found several human bones from the same individual.
"These were the remains of a person who had been tossed into the ditch like so much rubbish and left to rot in the open," says Dr Birley. "It is extremely rare for the Romans to throw someone into a ditch and leave them.
"This is a very rare find, as the Romans typically cremated the dead in the First Century.
"It raises serious questions about who the person in the ditch might have been - a disgraced Roman not given a proper burial, a murder victim or someone's remains that represented a violent act between the Romans and Britons, such as a battle at Vindolanda? "When we get back into thditches this year we may welfind more parts of our skeletonor indeed evidence of other people's remains being discarded ithis way."
>Digging last year also focused on the south eastern quadrant of the last stone fort, built in the Third Century by the 4th Cohort of Gauls and which continued to the end of Roman Britain and beyond.
The hope is that this area will provide an opportunity to plot the transition of Vindolanda from a Roman military base to the late Fourth and early Fifth Centuries into a British community.
The dig revealed a large quantity arrow heads, suggestthat barracks on the e housed a century of oman archers.
Other finds included a mall stone altar to the gpollo dedicated by a mmed Aprilis.
Nearby, recovered on a dway, was a small jet dallion in the shape of a Birley says: "Such artewere typically bought from ts by people who had alis and wished the gods to hem. …