Top Ten Things We’ve Come to Appreciate

Hello all, Alicia again.

We were thinking the other day about potential blog topics, and we concluded that a “top ten” list would be a super efficient way to tell you all about the kind of thing that this archaeological dig has made us come to appreciate. So, in no particular order, a collectively compiled list follows. I hope it makes you appreciate the little things.


1.) Changes in Soil Type and Colour

I never thought this kind of thing would thrill me, but coming upon a layer of orange silt after digging for a half day through some wretched solid clay has become quite a treat.  Silt not only means an easier time spading and troweling, but it also indicates that water has run through that area at some point. Double win.


2.) Mosquitoes

I know. What? We like these? Well … no, I suppose we don’t like them, necessarily, but at least they are visible, audible, swattable, and don’t tend to swarm. These are all attributes that barely, if at all, apply to midges. Midges are the horrible, swarming creatures that infiltrate our trenches whenever we think it’s going to be a good day. The weather and temperature seem tolerable, even pleasant, when the horrible truth dawns on you: there’s no breeze; there’s nothing to deter the winged demons from flying in and around your ears and nose and mouth and eyes and hair, biting you and leaving little itchy red spots all over your body. You can see them, yes, but regardless of how much you try to punch them and squash them, you will always miss. And even if you were to hit one what good would it do? Its comrades are always there, launching assault after malicious assault upon your body. So next time you see a mosquito and let out an exasperated sigh, take a moment and be thankful that you have a fighting chance, and think of those (namely us) who are not nearly so fortunate.


3.) Calluses

Because they’re not blisters.


You might not think that a thin layer of tape could make wheelbarrowing easier, but it most certainly does.


4.) Medical Tape

Because the calluses still hurt if they’re not taped up.


5.) Our Own Trowels

Some people (okay, I’m definitely one of them), get really territorial about their trowels.  Yes, some of them are exactly the same product, and no, it probably wouldn’t make a difference if we were to mix them up, but there’s a connection, if you will, that seems to exist, when you work with the same tool five days a week. You’ve been through a lot together: the finds, the disappointments, the seemingly endless pits of mud, and it would just feel unfair to simply pick up another one and forget the past … it would be like cheating on your trowel.


6.) A Properly-Made Wheelbarrow

The wheel needs to be straight, so you don’t fall off the plank on the way to the spoil pile, the edges need to be properly rounded over, so your leg doesn’t fall victim to the wrath of a rogue twist of metal that resembles a Medieval torture device, and woe betide you if there aren’t proper handles on the barrow’s handles, because those calluses I mentioned earlier will make sure you know it if there aren’t.


7.) Tiger Balm

Ah, the magic cure to all aches and pains. This splendid ointment has provided relief to all sorts of ailments this trip, especially to our Sarah Taylor (affectionately known as “Staylo”).  She even managed to use it to clear out her sinuses, deducing that the cinnamon oil it contains would do the trick. Convinced of her logic, she proceeded to rub it under her eyes. Apart from the intense stinging she experienced, it did seem to work. I would like to publically commend her for her ingenuity, and for the original purchase of this cure-all concoction, without which so many would have been condemned to a rather painful digging experience.

Sarah manages to remain fabulous despite the failure of her “water-proof” rain gear, taking solace in the fact that her Wellies have withstood the hardships they have thus far undergone.


8.) Wellington Boots

Fondly referred to as “Wellies,” we truly would be much worse off without this marvellous product. They allow us to walk and traipse and dig and wallow in all kinds of nastily wet conditions and still have remarkably dry tootsies.  Being wet is, granted, something to which we have become accustomed, and sometimes there’s just nothing we can do about it. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t avoid it when we can, and Wellies are the perfect solution to our seemingly perma-drenched condition. On that same note, number 9:


9.) Not Rain

We’ve learned not to ask for sun. Sun is a treat, a privilege, if you will, that only graces us with its presence once a week, if we’re lucky (we seriously lucked out last week, actually, when we got three days of sun in a row!  In payment, we got rained out of a day and a half at the end of the week … can’t win them all). If it rains too hard we can’t dig, and we love the Romans, so we want to dig up their old stuff. Overcast skies have become the norm, and we’re satisfied with that. Even a light misting, though unfortunately dampening, has become tolerable. Rain just makes everything treacherous and slippery and un-work-in-able, so we appreciate pretty much anything else.


10.) A Clean Dirt Surface

Oxymoron? A bit. But really, when you’re trying to work in a trench, trying to distinguish between different contexts, the last thing you need is for random bits of excess mud to be floating around, confusing and obscuring your idea of what on earth is going on (because, let’s be honest, we seriously don’t need one more thing to start messing with our soil layers).  Therefore, we are always careful to clean the mud off our dirt. True story.

5 thoughts on “Top Ten Things We’ve Come to Appreciate

  1. I’ve been really enjoying your posts, this one especially! When I think about archaeology, I mostly just consider the objects themselves that you are digging up. This post made me really appreciate how much painstaking labour goes into unearthing each piece of history. Kudos to you all for being so patient and focused and for your excellent sense of humour through the tough times!

  2. Thanks, Alicia. It sounds like you’re having a great time, but I’m glad it’s you and not me!

  3. This is an awesome list! I’m Harry, I run the Vindolanda digger site “We Dig Vindolanda.” ( This would make such a cool addition to the Digger’s Guide — a collection of all sorts of articles & notes about digger experiences, things to do, history of the site, etc. May I have your permission to repost it as a permanent feature of the Guide?

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