I have some pretty devastating news to announce: the 2019 Vindolanda Field School season has officially ended.
I don’t even know where to begin. These past 5 weeks have flown by in a blink of an eye and as exhausted as I am, I think I have fuel for another 5 weeks.
Excavating at Vindolanda has truly been an experience of a lifetime. I don’t think I could pick a better site for my very first excavation (and I know that the other students agree with me on this). In addition to the archaeological experience, which has increased our passion for archaeology, the community here at Vindolanda has contributed largely to our experience. The staff and volunteers have created such a comfortable and enjoyable environment that we all want to come back to Vindolanda.
The VFS 2019 with Alex, Beth, Marta, Andy, and Sammy at the very end of our final day.
Some of us are already back in Canada, a couple are in Italy, I’m in Paris, and our professors (to whom we owe much thanks) are continuing their hard work in England.
Thank you to those that have been keeping up with the blog, to those that have helped make this trip happen for our students, and to those who have continuously invested in Vindolanda. It’s also because of you that we get to experience what we to do to the extent that we do.
This week the field school students had the amazing opportunity to experience the work done behind the scenes by our amazing post-excavation team (and finally keep their hands clean!). The students split into two teams of 2 and one team of 3, and each team had one day to get a full crash course on the methods of cleaning, drying, categorizing, and cataloguing the bones and pottery finds that the volunteers dig up in the trenches.
The mornings in post-excavation are dedicated to washing and cleaning the bones/pottery collected by context number. In the case of bone (this is what I did!), we wash and clean off the bone with large brushes for large fragments, or small toothbrushes for smaller pieces, and then scrape the remaining dirt left in the holes of the bones with small picking tools.
Next, the bone is laid out in baskets with the matching context number and left outside to dry nicely before being categorized.
In the afternoon we sit inside the tea shed post-excavation area and sort the pre-washed and dried bones and pottery by size and type in the case of bones, or just type in the case of pottery. For the bones, we sort them into groups for small, medium, large, teeth, and uncategorized fragments, and then identify what each bone is and what animal it belongs to using reference books. I personally found this the most exciting part of post-excavation, because it was like solving a very hard puzzle! Once we finish sorting and identifying the bones, we count and weigh each group, and then catalogue all the information into a database.
For pottery, the sherds are categorized as either amphora, samian ware, coarse ware, fine ware, mortaria, or building material and then all relevant information is catalogued in the database.
My favourite part about my experience with post-excavation was being able to see my own finds from the trenches cleaned up and in greater detail and being able to interact with them more intimately. There are many things that you can’t see about these finds when they are covered in mud! For example, we discovered after cleaning that a normal pottery sherd found during excavation was actually inscribed with graffiti! My post-excavation experience is definitely a highlight of my field school experience.
Here at Vindolanda, we have been learning about the past, present, and future of archaeology. The students recently participated in a workshop which focused on 3D modelling of artifacts and archaeological sites. In the past, archaeologists were required to record objects and features by hand, but with the advancement of technology and introduction of photogrammetry, archaeologists can now produce a much more polished and accurate product than drawings could. Photogrammetry is simpler and requires less artistic skill than sketching. The process is quite simple: you pick an object that you want a model of, take as many pictures from as many angles as you would like (for our purposes we took 20), upload those photos to a 3D modelling software, follow a few more steps on the software to create and finalize your model, and voila!
The finished product was astounding, much better than what any of the field schoolers had expected. The introduction to photogrammetry was useful, engaging, and fun! This is definitely something I could see myself doing in my spare time. If you at home want to see some 3D models of Vindolanda and its artifacts, head to sketchfab.com and search for Vindolanda. Hopefully you enjoy them as much as we did!
A fun activity that we participate in when we are not digging is badminton! The local recreational center holds a badminton night every Wednesday from 6-7pm. It has been a Vindolanda Field School tradition for a few seasons now and the 2019 Field School has loved it just as much as previous years. We have a great time playing against each other, other excavators, and even against the locals in Haltwhistle.
Hope you all had as much fun on your Wednesday night as we did!
Thank you to all of you who have been keeping up with our adventures this summer. We hope that over the past 4 weeks you were able to learn more about us, our interests, and how we spend our time. With the help of the other students we made a fun and short quiz for our audience. Find out which 2019 student you are most like by completing the quiz below and let us know your results in the comments!
As part of our learning experience here at Vindolanda, we recently had the opportunity to learn about the production of Roman pottery!
Our talented instructor Graham, showed us how the Roman potter’s wheel would have worked and guided us in creating our own face-pots (pots which the Romans sculpted faces on). While the prospect of doing this initially seemed overwhelming, especially for those who are artistically challenged, like me, Graham taught us step by step how to sculpt the pot to create the contours of a human face and how to decorate the pot with additional features to make it look like a person.
Some of us also recreated scenes of hunting from Roman pottery!
Learning about how the Romans would have created, fired, and decorated their pottery was a very unique experience. Being actively involved in the process made me appreciate the artistry and talent that would have been required to make even a simple piece of pottery (let alone one with a face)!
This week we listened to presentations from Kai, Justin, Casey, Ashley, and Maria.
Kai prepared for his presentation on the Roman boxing gloves found two summers ago at Vindolanda much differently from the rest of us. While most of us scoured through articles, Kai had to learn about the gloves from Dr. Andrew Birley, the Director of Excavations and CEO of the Vindolanda Trust, right in the middle of excavation. Talking to Dr. Birley was the best resource for Kai to consult since the gloves were such a recent find.
To me, the overall design of the gloves was the most interesting. The material was wound only around the knuckles of the wearer and was composed of strips of leather that were stuffed with either more leather to inflict more damage unto the opponent, or grass and hay to focus more on protecting the wearer in combat.
Justin told us all about Tagomas’ writing tablet and handle. The tablet and handle were found in the schola (the clubhouse), which was an area that was used by numerous individuals. The handle was once attached to a larger storage vessel and has Tagomas’ name scratched into it. Justin reported that this was done perhaps to prevent others from stealing or using the vessel. Just as anyone with roommates would know, if you don’t label your items then you may never see it again.
In addition to finding writing tablets and handles, we also find bits and pieces of Samian ware (or as it is more widely known, Terra sigillata). Casey explained that Samian ware was thought to have originated in Samos (hence its name), but was also made in other regions such as France, where a large deposit from Vindolanda was manufactured. She mentioned that referring to terra sigillata as Samian ware is comparable to our use of the word “china” when we refer to any fine tableware.
This excavation season, we’ve been fortunate to find a little bit of jewellery and other forms personal adornment. Ashley mentioned that fashion changed in a similar way in which we experience trends now. There were changes not only in respect to the style/look of jewellery, but also in the materials used to make jewellery. Some of the materials include gold, copper, silver, jet (fossilized wood and a precursor to coal), and glass. Jewellery and other items of personal adornment give archaeologists and researchers a more personal and intimate idea of the lives led by the people at Vindolanda.
Would it even be a field school at Vindolanda if we didn’t have a presentation on leather? Maria presented on, not shoes, but another leather item, an almost complete horse chamfron. It was found in the praetorium and dates to c. AD 100-150. It is debated whether the thick leather and metal studded piece was added for costuming for celebratory events or for armor for the horse in battle. Vindolanda has one of the most complete examples of a leather horse chamfron and has become the type specimen used to base identification on when parts of chamfrons are found.