So…this first week has been amazing! Wednesday we had our first full day on site, cleaning up the havoc that came with the harsh weather from this past winter. We had cleaned up a ridiculous amount of cut grass from the site the day before which made walking around the trench much more convenient, however a few tufts still remained in the trench itself and these had to be cleared. We also discovered some new amphibious friends lurking under a tarp in the trench. They were quickly scooped up into a pail and I assume are (happily) enjoying their new home somewhere in Bradley Burn (a creek nearby).
Thursday we all clambered into our minibus in the morning to take a field trip to a museum in Corbridge on the site of an old Roman village and fort originally named Coria. We were lucky enough to be able to examine the many sherds of pottery that are still in the process of being sorted in the museum basement (see the picture below). Many times these sherds from very old excavations are found as a jumbled mess in boxes with vague lables such as “rim sherds” or “beaker fragments”. It is then the job of very,very patient and dedicated scholars (two Western students doing an internship there right now!) to sort and label each sherd and organize them into their proper storage categories. After Corbridge, we set off again to the site of Chesters, where we admired the remains of the fort that rests there, including a lovely bathhouse that sits along the river North Tyne. Finally we traveled back west and admired a mithraeum (a religious structure built to worship the Roman god Mithras) at the site of Brocolitia.
Friday we again hitched a ride on our minibus to the Great North museum in Newcastle, where we had an interesting and very informative session on Roman broaches by Rob Collins, an expert in the field! We then spent a few hours wandering around the museum and exploring the sights of the city! We then made our way to South Shields to the ancient Roman site of Arbeia where we were able to enjoy a full scale reconstruction of the praetorium (head commander’s house) that once stood on site, as well as a reconstruction of a rampart tower!
Finally, on Saturday we all went on our first big hike of the season! It was by far the most challenging, educational, and breathtaking hike I have ever had the luck and wherewithal to accomplish! We started out at the Roman site of Birdoswald, and followed Hadrian’s Wall east all the way back to our cottages at Haltwhistle…a fair trek, let me assure you. The most challenging and rewarding part of the hike was near the end, when we started on the first few “nine nicks of Thirlwall”, each “nick” being an incredibly steep, thigh-burning incline, with the most incredible reward waiting at the top.
One can only imagine what a Roman soldier stationed on this section of wall thought, looking out onto the lowland marshes and meadows of the barbarian north…would he stop occasionally on his defensive mission and look out to admire this incredible landscape, and wonder what lay beyond the horizon? Would there be thoughts of conquest on his mind? Of disdain for the cold harsh climate of the land he was to defend, or simply of a nice drink and some rest at the end of his shift? In any case, although the wall now lays, in some places crumbled and overgrown with weeds and turf, we can still experience the view that the ancients would have seen, and beneath the ground we walk, a history in stone lays half consumed by the landscape, waiting and watching the world in silence.