And the show goes on…

So, the students left three weeks ago today and it’s hard to believe that we’re almost done with this excavation season. I thought I’d update the students and our followers to let them know how much further we’ve gotten. Right after you all left we had a terrible rain storm (big surprise) and the field was finally saturated and unworkable. However, after a week away from the trench we had a dry week and we got back into the North Field.

Staylo, Drew, Lauren and Mike–you guys left the early ditch system on the very western side of the trench pretty well in hand, but we finally found the baulk between the two ditches about 2 meters below the surface and the very bottom a ways further down. We found all the ditch edges, got a very nice profile of the whole system and promptly had the baulk fall from away from the Victorian drain. Here’s what the profile of the ditch looks like now:

Our trench looking west on the early ditch system

So when the baulk came down in one of the all-too-common torrential floods of the season, the entirety of the Victorian drain’s contents began running into our trench. You can see it in the top right corner of the picture above. At first the Victorian drain was fabulous, lovingly uncovered by Sarah VP and Rachael on one end and Mike on another, it shuttled all the water in one end of our trench and out the other through a stone lined drain. Then the rain and the baulk collapse…. Alex and I got very creative and came up with this fabulous solution to water movement that you see below. We’re in the process of retraining for a career in water control engineering ;).

Here’s the solution when a Victorian drain dumps gallons of water per hour into your archaeological trench.

Paulina and Alicia–You guys were also down this ditch, as you well remember, but working closer to where the drain was being uncovered that was at the bottom corner of the later 3rd century ditch. Here’s what that looks like now…

Here’s the drain that was put on the corner of the 3rd cent. ditch that cut out that early ditch system, probably to help carry water and waste around the corner of the ditch and off the scarp of the hill to the east.

We finally got seriously into the 3rd century ditch on the eastern side of the ditch. Yes, this is precisely where we thought we’d get a good look at the whole profile of the early ditch system without a Victorian drain in the way, but instead we found an enormous ditch filled in the 270s AD. Naturally…

The 3rd century ditch is in the foreground here with the Victorian drain between Jane and Ronan cutting off our view straight through to the early ditch system.

Okay, one more thing of interest for you all. Remember when we went to the Roman fort at Ambleside on that terrific day in the Lake District? Alex and I went back for the weekend to hike in the Lakes and we decided we would climb to the top of the crag above the fort. Here’s the fabulous view of the fort in its landscape at the northern tip of Lake Windermere. Pretty impressive, eh?

The fort is just below that ‘thumb’ of land that sticks into Lake Windermere. To the right is the start of the pass that goes up to the fabulous fort at Hardknott.

And just because we know you miss us–here we are on that crag above Ambleside fort. We miss you all too!!

Field School students move on to new places …

Well, it’s just not the same here without the field school students! Alas, the trench forges ahead. I thought I’d let you all know what everyone is up to now. Everyone headed off into their different directions, off to new adventures at home and abroad. We dropped everyone off at the train station to head to various spots around the world.I’ll update the trench for everyone soon so you don’t forget about us still hanging out in this rain. For now, here’s an update on everyone’s next stop…


The Sarahs (and their 3 bags each 😉 head off to Berlin for a 4-week intensive German language course. I’m quite jealous remembering that my first European trip at age 16 brought me to Berlin and my first dance club!


Andrew heads to Newcastle airport with his friend Sam to fly to Rome. Naturally jealous of that for obvious reasons! Andrew will also visit the Etruscan sites to the north of Rome at Florence, Cervetri and Tarquinia. A must see!!


Alicia and Lauren head to Manchester airport to return to Ontario. Say hi if you see them back in London! Paulina went south to London (UK that is) and Bath before heading to Poland.


Rachael heads for Manchester airport and the warmer, and I imagine drier, climes of southern Ontario.

At the end of these incredible 5 weeks, I find myself reflecting on the relativity of time. Never has 5 weeks flown by so quickly for me, and yet I feel like I’ve learned and experienced more than most do in a lifetime!

Though I write this on the last day of field school, I’d like to mention a few of the many ‘firsts’ this trip has given me. Things like my first archaeological feature uncovered, my first time at the ocean, my first 2000 year old object found, and of course, what’s a trip to northern England without having my first experience being completely soaked through by the rain.


Academically, I have greatly increased my knowledge of Roman Britain and how it fits into the empire as a whole; I learned more dates, terms, and names of people and places than I thought possible in such a short time. But more to the core of what this field school teaches: I learned that the following picture is not just of a hole in the ground, and it’s so much more than even a mechanism to access artefacts. At its simplest, those ‘holes’ are carefully-planned-out and intricate workings of contexts and features which give us a glimpse into how people lived 2000 years ago!


I learned how being trained to read the land coupled with modern techniques like geophysics can tell archaeologists where to drop a trench in a field of grass and actually find what their looking for! I learned how the changes and stratifications in the soil – from clay, to organic, to silt – can tell a story all on their own.  I learned how to use survey, journaling, and context sheets to then record that information in an academically presentable manner. In short, I’ve learned A LOT!


And this is just a small taste of the amount of knowledge I have gained here, and I must thank the amazing Vindolanda volunteers and staff, my fellow Field School students, and of course our Rockstar Professors for this experience, for without them I would have just been playing in the mud!



May your trowel always hit silt,


A Farewell Note

As if I didn’t love Britain enough, I can now associate this beautiful island with one of the most incredible and rewarding experiences of my life.  I have been taking Classical Studies courses for three years now, enjoying every moment (even when I wanted to throw Ovid out of a window), but coming here and actually holding things produced by ancient Romans has been life-changing. As Lauren said, these things are 2000 years old; there were real people living here 2000 years ago, people who ate and drank and gambled and attended birthday parties and complained about wine-shortages.  A single piece of pottery is worth every moment of digging through piles and piles of mud and slop and goodness knows what, because finding that one sherd transforms what was for so long simply a farmer’s field into an archaeological site. With every wheelbarrow, Beth and Alex and everyone here at Vindolanda are providing us with a glimpse at the development of an empire, at the center of which were ordinary people.


On a slightly more personal note, I would now like to present a piece I composed dedicated to two of the most necessary objects in which I had the pleasure of working on this trip. Without further ado, an Ode to the Wellington:


It’s wet again, surprise, surprise,

A sorry sight for waking eyes

That have too seldom seen the sun

Since this adventure has begun.


We wake to drips and sleep to drops

A trend, it seems, that never stops;

It leaves the ground a soggy mess,

And surely soaks your feet, unless


You have upon your stockinged toes

The boots that every digger knows

Are musts, in rain and mud and sleet,

To ensure two warm and cozy feet.


The Wellington, I mean, of course,

A saving grace, a glorious force,

Repelling water like our friends

The Romans did barbarians.


Without them, surely, we would be

More likely to have mutinied

Against those who led us around

O’er craggy hill and dampened ground.


So to our Wellies, thanks we give

For they allowed us all to live

With toasty feet, which, as you’d guess

Made possible our happiness.

So now that I have thanked the almighty Wellies, I feel it’s only fitting that I finish off my last post with a few other “Thank Yous.” First of all, I absolutely must thank Beth and Alex, for not only making this possible, but also for making this absolutely the best experience it could have been. You two have meant the world to us, if I may momentarily speak for the group, and the trip would not have been what it has been without you two specific individuals here to guide us along. Thank you so much, and please extend that appreciation to all the lovely staff members at Vindolanda who made us feel welcome from the moment we arrived.

To the other crazy kids lucky-enough to be chosen to partake in this experience, I’ll miss living with you; braving the rain wouldn’t have been the same without you. I’d also like to extend my sincerest gratitude to those who supported this endeavour financially; it is your interest in and support of this incredible opportunity that enabled us to participate in it.

It’s strange to sign-out for the last time, to leave the field school knowing that we will never be back here again as a group, but I leave with fond memories, new relationships, and no regrets. Thanks again to everyone who made it possible.


Vale Vindolanda!

Hello All! Sarah VP here.

Well, this is it. The field school that I’ve been waiting for months to start is now over. I had the most incredible time and learned so much over the past five weeks. This field school has really helped me discover what it is that I hope to do with the rest of my life. Archaeology has always interested me and now that I have actually taken part in a Roman excavation I can safely say I never want to stop. Even on the last day of excavations I got a thrill when I found a piece of pottery that belonged to someone who lived almost 2000 years ago!

I have enjoyed every bit of the field school from the actual excavations to the weekend adventures and even those rainy days when we couldn’t excavate but instead had the opportunity to listen to so many different amazing lectures or go on impromptu field trips that usually resulted in us getting absolutely drenched.

I’m so glad I was able to go with the amazing group of students that came this year and am ever so grateful to my two amazing professors for giving me this opportunity to participate in the field school. Thank you to the Western Classics Department for supporting this field school. I know all the comments left on our blog posts by you guys has meant a lot to all of us!

I’m off to begin another leg of my exciting summer travels but I’m sad to leave behind the memories that the Vindolanda Field School has given me and the incredible people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting along the way. Thanks to everyone for giving me this wonderful opportunity!

Castlerigg Stone Circle. It stopped pouring rain as soon as we got there and prompted restarted pouring as soon as we left. The weather is so considerate here.

So long and farewell!

Hi All!


Paulina here for the last time.


It’s time to pack our bags and head off for the next great adventures of our respective summers. It’s tough to leave Vindolanda and all of the incredible people that I’ve come to know, but on the other hand, I’m excited to go home and spend the rest of the summer in beautiful weather!


I came on the field school in hopes of confirming something that I thought I already knew about myself- that no other career would give me greater joy than one in Classical Archaeology. I’m thrilled that Beth and Alex decided to take me amongst their incredible applicants, and to give me the opportunity to see if archaeology really is something I would like to pursue. It has been a privilege and an honor to work alongside them, as well as all of the other Western students. Alicia, Rachael, Mike, Andrew, Sarah (1 and 2), and Lauren, you are some of the most intelligent and compassionate people I have ever met… thank you for everything, especially for putting up with me for the past month!


Despite the, for lack of a better word, disgusting weather this month, I’ve found myself looking forward to every workday. Every bucket of soil that you haul into a wheelbarrow, every heavy spade-full, and every trowel cut is a mark not only of your own individual progress, but also that of the grander research agenda. Some of the most pragmatic words that I’ve heard this month came from the wise Andrew Dodd, who described archaeology as a team sport. He was, of course, absolutely correct- it’s only when you combine what may seem like your insignificant contribution to the trench with the work of others that you see how incredible excavation really can be. This is one of the many reasons why I find archaeology to be particularly appealing; you can work as a team, as well as publish your own research about things that you find particularly fascinating… talk about eating your cake and having it too!


Ultimately, the field school has taught me a lot about what I want in my life. Despite the fact that it does not necessarily have to involve Roman Britain (I don’t think I could handle this weather for so long!), it does, by every means, have to involve a trowel.


Enjoying a lovely evening atop a 1900 year old Roman wall. What could be better?!


Dramatis Personae

A common focus throughout these five weeks at the Vindolanda Field School has been the discovery of “cool things” — usually ranging from pottery sherds to denarii. It is exhilarating to make these finds,  to be sure, and I wouldn’t trade the experience of unearthing a (potential) cremation burial for much.

I have, however, found a treasure here that brings even more joy to my writer’s soul.

This treasure comes in the form of a simple room in the Chesterholm Museum here on site. It is a dark and rather unassuming room that might easily be missed if a passerby is not paying attention, but its twin walls of illuminated names make a lasting impression. Like a thumbprint on a sherd of pottery or the toe depressions in a shoe, these names serve as a reminder that the people of Vindolanda might not have been so different from us.

The famous writing tablets here at Vindolanda have given us a rare opportunity to meet some of these people during our stay and, if I might be granted the honour, I would be pleased to introduce them.

Tagomas — a vexillarius, or standard bearer, serving with the First Cohort of Tungrians. He seems to have been fond of wine, or at least afraid of having it stolen, for he scratched his name into an amphora handle that was found in the schola.

The handle from Tagomas’ amphora.

Sollemnis — a soldier who scolded his friend Paris, who he calls an “irreligious fellow”, for not writing. The tone is half-joking, but it shows that news from friends was as important then as it is today.

Flavius Cerialis — the prefect, or commanding officer, of the Ninth Cohort of Batavians. The tablets chronicling his expenses as an officer (read: “entertainment budget for friends, feasting, and hunting”) might have been lost to us when they were piled up and set aflame upon the Batavians’ sudden departure for Dacia — except that our beloved Northumbrian rain obliterated the fire after they left.

Sulpicia Lepidina — Cerialis’ wife and the recipient of the famous birthday invitation tablet. A beautifully crafted leather sandal in the museum bears her name because, as many reason, only a person of wealth would throw away the Roman equivalent of a Gucci sandal simply because the toe strap broke.

Lepidina’s slipper, still in good shape after this time.

Claudia Severa — wife of Aelius Brocchus, a friend of Cerialis. She sent the birthday invitation, at the end of which she added a personal greeting in her own hand — the earliest example of female handwriting.

The famous birthday invite.

These are only five of the TWO-HUNDRED people named in the writing tablets. Others, like a soldier who received a care package of socks and underwear, remain unnamed. All, however, have inspired my future endeavors as a writer and will continue to remind me that archaeology is about more than finding the shiniest artefact.

For that reason, I would like to end this post by thanking the men who served in the cohorts of Vindolanda for their service to the empire of the past, the instruction of the present, and the enlightenment of the future.

Valete et gratias agimus.

A memorial to the cohorts of Vindolanda in the museum gardens.