The First Day of Excavation

After a week of exploring Roman forts near Vindolanda, today we received our first taste of real archaeology in the field. It tasted a lot like dirt. Today was a kind of orientation day. We started at 9:00 am and headed to the site, excited to dig and hopeful that we might find something on our first day.

All of our Wellies lined up!
All of our Wellies lined up!

For those of us in the vicus, it was imperative that we tried on our new Wellingtons and brought them to the site. We then met up with the rest of the group for an introduction session led by the lead excavator, Andy Birley.

Marta, Alex, Beth, and Lauren introducing themselves
Marta, Alex, Beth, and Lauren introducing themselves

We introduced ourselves and were briefed on the site’s daily activities as well as on the larger overarching history of the site. We were then split into two groups: the Vicus and the Fort. This would determine where we would be digging for the next two weeks. I was part of the fort group, digging along the southeast corner of the 2nd stone fort.

Mel demonstrating our tools
Mel demonstrating our tools

We gathered our gear, which included a trowel, a pick-axe, a shovel, a brush, a bucket, and a larger scoop. Marta, the archaeologist leading the Fort excavation gave us a tour of the site and explained the ongoing projects that we would be working on in the coming week.

Marta explaining the history of the site
Marta explaining the history of the site

We felt some national pride because all of the Canadians in the group were assigned to the same task. The task was to remove the 3rd century road to expose the earlier road underneath. Using trowels and shovels, we had to remove the large rocks of the road to reveal the flat surface underneath while examining the dirt for small artifacts like pottery or bone. photoWe quickly learned that rock and sandstone tend to look a lot like pottery and bone. I think that’s more hope than anything else but thankfully, Andy and Sarah were there to help us distinguish between them. We even had some finds and Rachel and I learned how to record their locations using the level. After a while, it became a rhythm between troweling, clearing rocks, and barrow trips. Soon enough, we had cleared a large section of the road by tea break. At the end of the day, I realised several things:

– Gloves are your best friend

– The weather is always a lie and reflects the exact opposite of what you’re dressed for

– Everything looks like something but it’s actually just rock

– Andy is hilarious

– The next four weeks are going to be great

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