Post Excavation: A First Person View

Hi all! You’ve seen a lot of what we have excavated out but you may be wondering what happens once we’ve brought it back out into the world. This week we worked in Post Excavation which is the process through which we clean, organise. label, and store the artifacts we find on site. We thought we’d share what we’ve learned with you.

Let’s pretend that you’re a piece of pottery


Congratulations! You’ve been found by a volunteer excavator. You are now put in a bag associated with that specific level or area, your context. Throughout the day (or days) you are joined by other friends like bone, a few nails, some broken amphora, and more pottery. Once you are all snuggled in the bag, you are brought up to the excavation shed where you wait to be washed by a post-excavation volunteer.


Once the time comes, you are taken out of a bag and placed in a lukewarm bath. Unfortunately, this bath cannot be a soapy one because it might damage you and your friends and remove any important marks. First, using a larger brush, volunteers remove the larger pieces of mud and dirt still attached to you. If you were from the Vicus, this might take a bit more time. Then, you move to the next tub where using a toothbrush, another volunteer removes the finer particles to make you squeaky clean! At this point, if you have something that sets you apart, like a stamp or a specific mark, you get your own special bag and you are moved to the small finds category in which you go straight to the lab.


If, like the rest of us, you are just a regular Joe, then you are put in a tray with the rest of your friends to dry. Throughout this entire process, you will always be with the rest of your context and as such, the trays are labelled with your context number. In fact, this is very essential because the context tells us where you are found. For later research, this information will be vital to understanding the site. This is your chance to soak up the sun! Most likely, you’ll be waiting inside because of the Northumbrian weather. Regardless, after about 24 hours, you will be completely dry and ready for sorting.

You are separated by the type of find you are. Amphora go with amphora, pottery sherds go with pottery sherds. At least you’ll be with friends who are just like you! The number of sherds gets recorded on a sheet and so does your group weight. (Don’t be self-conscious! It’s just so that we can quantify the number of finds associated with a specific context.) Once that information is taken down, you get put in a bag with your group, and that bag is placed in a tub with the same type of finds from different contexts.

Finally, all of you are taken to the storage facility on site along with thousands of other boxes. Although you may seem minuscule on this large scale, you are a puzzle piece in the larger picture of Vindolanda, helping us to understand how the Romans lived at the site. Some day, someone may need the valuable information you hold for a research thesis or paper. If you’re lucky, you might even attain stardom and be put on display in the Vindolanda Museum.

2 thoughts on “Post Excavation: A First Person View

  1. I appreciate how you exemplify what happens to the bits and pieces you find in the dig. It clarifies the process and I appreciate the humorous touch.

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