The End of an Era

“The end of an era”. That’s what they’re calling it as the Field School’s only student to participate in all four seasons from 2012 to 2015 has for the first time left Vindolanda without a scheduled return date. While twenty five other students have taken the spot light on the blog for the last three years, the Field School Teaching Assistant and Vindolanda Researcher Sarah Taylor has been an integral fixture at the Vindolanda excavations.

Sarah Taylor (left) and Sarah VanderPloeg (right) leaving Field School in 2012
Sarah at the beginning of excavations, 2013

Sarah began her archaeological career in 2010, taking part in UWO’s field school at Nysa, Turkey. When she returned to excavations two years after as a participant of the 2012 Vindolanda Field School she was uncertain whether she was cut out for archaeology. As it happened, the climate and archaeology of Northern England suited her much better than the Mediterranean, and she quickly became an outstanding excavator. Since that season she has journeyed across much of Europe and imparted her valuable knowledge and expertise on numerous field school students and volunteer excavators. It is marvelous to have witnessed her develop from a field school student to an experienced archaeological supervisor over the years. Sarah has been one of the greats at Vindolanda, making the excavations more pleasant, exciting, enlightening, and just more fun for everyone involved and her presence will be missed.

Sarah having the time of her life in the 2013 anaerobic excavations, finds from which would comprise a large aspect of her master’s thesis in 2015.
Myself, an inexperienced archaeologist, in 2013
Myself, an inexperienced archaeologist, in 2013

For my part, I can say that Sarah has been extremely helpful both as a supervisor during my first ever excavation in the 2013 Vindolanda Field School, but also as a predecessor to my role as this season’s teaching assistant. I must, moreover, be grateful for the contributions that many others have made toward my archaeological career and I am grateful for this amazing experience itself. It is hard for me to believe that it was little more than two years ago now that I was embarking on my first journey away from North America. Now I have excavated in three seasons at Vindolanda, and one in Italy, and I have seen so much more of this world than I ever thought was possible for me. From excavating the Etruscan remains of Rome’s beginnings eight meters below street level in the city center of Rome, to excavating Vindolanda’s astoundingly personal organic remains at the edge of the empire, I can feel that I have had an experience of Roman archaeology quite unlike any other. For all this I must be grateful to the personnel who were so inviting and edifying to me, particularly the Vindolanda Trust’s Director of Excavations Andrew Birley, Archaeologist Marta Alberti, and Educational Officer Lauren Wilkinson. Additionally I thank the members of the Sant’Omobono Project in Rome for including me on the team last year, particularly Andrea Brock and Ivano Taranto for their valuable instruction and confidence in me and my friends.

Myself in Pompeii, 2014
Myself in Pompeii, 2014
Myself, fellow field school graduate Andrew Dodd, and Professor Greene taking part in a coring survey project at Sant'Omobono, Rome, 2014.
Myself, fellow field school graduate Andrew Dodd, and Professor Greene taking part in a coring survey project at Sant’Omobono, Rome, 2014.
Andrew Dodd and I as volunteer Vindolanda excavators, August 2014
Andrew Dodd and I as volunteer Vindolanda excavators, August 2014

Of course none of this would have been possible without the generous and charitable support of numerous scholarship donors over the years. To all of you please know that your contribution is vital to the sustainability of global heritage and that you are providing opportunities to young people that have greatly increased their world view and this will benefit them for life.

Myself on my last day in the field, 2015
My last day in the field, July 2015

Lastly I owe the utmost thanks to the Field School Directors Alex Meyer and Beth Greene for their tireless efforts in orchestrating the Field School, and for all of their personal support throughout my career at Western. I truly do not know where my path would have led over the last three summers without them, but I am sure that the path would have been much shorter and far less meaningful.

Finally, thank you, the followers of the blog, for sharing in our passion for Roman archaeology.DSCF4619

Some of my favorite moments…

Not every fabulous moment at Field School makes it onto the blog, so I thought I’d share a few of my favorite shots from Field School 2015. Here goes:

1) This one never gets old. Everyone reclining like the Roman elite at the reconstructed praetorium (aka, the commander’s posh house) at South Shields.

2) Prem hamming it up on the milecastle at Poltross Burn. This is one of my very favourite spots along the wall.

3) Our first big hike was a picture perfect day. Here’s Steve hanging out at our lunch spot at Thirlwall Castle.   

4) The second big hike was one enormous wind storm, the direction of which was in our favour, I’m happy to say! Here’s Prem waving the Western flag high.

 5) I love when students first start uncovering the Romans on the excavation. Here’s Sarah with one of her first finds down in the anaerobic conditions under the vicus.   

6) The weekend in the Lake District is a highlight for almost everyone. Our first stop is at the stunning Bronze Age stone circle at Castlerigg. Mel and I photograph each other while Rachel photo bombs in the background.

7) Alex hanging out in the mist at Hardknott Pass. Difficult to see but very atmospheric, a trade off.
8) Rachel had a habit of getting really dirty but not really knowing quite how dirty!  

9) Dress up also never gets old. Nick doesn’t look so sure about being covered in the garb of a friar at the Hexham Abbey museum.  
10) Group hug at the airport when we all dropped Prem off. After this I took everyone else to the train station. So sad to see everyone go! 

We haven’t disappeared!

Everyone has said their farewells, but there’s still some unfinished business to take care of. We have some leftover posts that just didn’t fit into the exciting 5 weeks of field school. Keep an eye out for some further posts about some of the favorite moments of the field schoolers and for updates from the trench supervisors. We’re still working away!

The Hidden World of Geocaching

It was a great five weeks at Vindolanda and some of us picked up a new hobby! For those who have never heard of Geocaching, here’s a bit of an introduction. Geocaching is a worldwide community of caches hidden around both urban and rural areas. The official website allows people to freely create their own cache  or find other’s caches through just a GPS coordinate and a clue. These are often small boxes or film canisters with log books and small items. The rule’s are simple: return the geocache to its original spot and if you take an item leave an item. (Our items often included Western pens and Canada pins.) These are all over the world!

I began geocaching when I came to Western as a way to explore the area. It was great to see the more hidden trails in the London area and have my friends join in. I haven’t been searching as actively in the last two years but I figured, we’re in England, why not?

I looked up geocaches in the area and it turned out there were a few around Haltwhistle. I went for a walk, found some, and signed the log book “the Vindolanda Field School.”

An example cache: a lock-and-lock box found at Milecastle 42.

Our first big geocaching adventure was our second big hike. Unfortunately the reception was pretty shaky so we had to guess a lot of cache locations. One of our first finds was at Steel Rigg where we also discovered the wonder that is stinging nettle. We all got stung but it was sure satisfying.

Prem searching at Steel Rigg. Still not stung yet!

Some cache locations can be quite tricky and inventive. Halfway down our Hadrian’s wall hike we heard a bird call. I thought it was strange but continued on. It was only later that I realized the cache’s clue said “you will probably hear me before you see me.” It was a fake bird! We went back briefly to look but the windy day deterred us a little.

Throughout our entire trip I looked up geocaches to track down. It was amazing how many were hidden all around us. (There was one near Vindolanda but we unfortunately never got around to finding it.)

A very well camouflaged cache in a tree stump. Found by me, Prem and Beth.
Alex looking quite proud of himself near the tarn during our Ambleside hike.
Cache found near the Ravenglass Bathhouse.
A National Trust series cache. These often had information on the area in them.
The Summer house reconstruction near a cache on our Staward Peele hike.
Alex and Anthea deciding what object to switch.
Morgan with a rather large cache that we nearly gave up on.

My favourite part of geocaching is the way it brings people together. As a group we searched the area and decided which item we liked the best. We got off the beaten path more often than not but learned a great deal about why that particular location was chosen. These are often created by people with personal stories to tell. Some are memories, some are collaborations, and some are tied to local history.

By the end, our random collection of objects was quite large. To me, each object has a memory tied to it. Even though they are basically trinkets, each had its own difficulties and moments of victory. Who would have thought we would have great finds inside AND out of Vindolanda!

Our collection: trackables, stickers, clappers, pins, Doctor Who toys, and more.


As our final day of digging came to a close I couldn’t help but feel a sense of loss. This trip has been the experience of a lifetime, it’s shown me new things that I realized I love, and given me many new relationships with some amazing people. I knew two years ago that I wanted to be a part of this field course, back when Professor Greene first mentioned it in her Ancient Cities course when I was in second year. Even now, as I’m writing this on my third connecting flight home it still seems almost like a dream that I got to take part in something as amazing as this.

Early on in the trip, I realized that this experience is what I make it. I realized I wanted to take every opportunity that came my way, luckily the Global Opportunities award made that possible. Without it things like my Sunday trip to Newcastle, and a lot of the fun we had in the Lake District would’ve been out of my reach financially, but thanks to that I had the opportunity to make the most of my experiences here and for that I am very grateful.

The past 5 weeks have taught me many things about myself. Such as my ability to guilt trip myself. For many of the extracurricular hikes, such as High Street, and Loughrigg, I was always on the fence about whether I wanted to do them at all. I’m not the greatest hiker, uphill stretches, especially steep ones, feel like my mortal enemies, and I was holding myself back because of that. But then I thought about it and realized I was going to miss out on these once in a lifetime opportunities because I was doubting my own abilities. So I guess I learned more about myself (not just my self guilt-tripping!) but about my own determination and perseverance.

I would call this experience life changing, and eye opening, and can confidently call it the best 5 weeks of my life, no matter what weather and insects were thrown our way. It may be over, but the midgey bites will last for a little while yet.

Steel Rigg, on Hadrian’s Wall
Hexham Abbey
Start of the first hike!
Alex finding the Samian cup, Day 2!
Recap of my first find! Proud moment.
Lunch break during our hike up Loughrigg in the Lakes District.

Vale Vindolanda

Words cannot express how amazing this experience was and the impact it will have on the rest of my life. As an aspiring archaeologist from the start, getting the opportunity to achieve real world excavations was not only a very practical experience for my career goals, but also a personal dream of mine. It cemented my decision to become an archaeologist.

One of the greatest aspects I will remember about this experience is the friendships I have made and the wonderful people I have met along the way. The camaraderie that I built with these like-minded people will definitely stay with me for years to come.

The Field Schoolers celebrating Canada Day with a BBQ.
The Field Schoolers celebrating Canada Day with a BBQ.
A highlight for me was the weekend we went to Edinburgh. I didn’t expect such a beautiful city. The people were great (who doesn’t appreciate a Scottish accent?), and the restaurants were top quality. To have seen this city with some of the field schoolers was also very fun and we bonded over the experience that is Edinburgh.

A park in Edinburgh.
A park in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh architecture
Edinburgh architecture
Some beautiful words about the city of Edinburgh by one of its own poets
Some beautiful words about the city of Edinburgh by one of its own poets. Inspiring words from the texts of Edinburgh’s authors are all over the city.
Mary, Prem, Nick and I went to a interactive museum all about the evolution of earth called Our Dynamic Earth
Mary, Prem, Nick and I went to a interactive museum all about the evolution of earth called Our Dynamic Earth
I would also like to say thank you to the individual who made it possible for me to attend field school and have this experience. With your donation I had the time of my life, learned more than I could have imagined about Roman Britain, and had the opportunity to test my own physical capabilities. Thank you from the bottom heart! Without you I would have missed out on an experience of a lifetime. And a special thanks should be given to the creators of this field school, Dr. Meyer and Dr. Greene, what a wonderful experience to share with your students!

As the saying goes, time flies when you’re having fun, and this proved to be very true. It seems not that long ago I was unpacking my things and settling into our cottage, or that I was writing my introductory blog. When I remember back to the beginning of field school and to the site introduction I can note just how much we were able to get accomplished, especially with the final conclusion tour given to us by the director of excavations Andrew Birley, the difference we made on Vindolanda is clear.

Looking back on it, it is inspiring to remember that we were excavating something that was two thousand years old, that people just like us were there dealing with the same issues of life (well maybe we didn’t have to deal with invading barbarians, just invading midges!). While it is sad to think that my time at Vindolanda is complete, I am confident I will return there someday, and marvel at the new developments unearthed there, made possible by passionate staff and volunteers. I couldn’t think of a better way to have spent part of my summer and to any of you readers still on the fence of volunteering or not, I say to you, GO GO GO! You will have an awesome time, you’ll meet many friendly people, and who knows, maybe you’ll find something extraordinary!

Over and out

-Rachel McGuire

Until Next Time Vindolanda

Hi all,

As I boarded the plane from Manchester to Toronto the realization of not seeing Vindolanda for some time really sunk in. Over the last five weeks I had one of the most memorable trips of my life. From seeing some worldclass views along Hadrian’s Wall to working with world class archaeologists, Vindolanda Field School was a once in a life time experience that I will remember forever.

I just wanted to take a few sentences to thank my donor. Although I never got to meet or know who you are, THANK YOU so much!! Your generous sponsorship helped me learn, laugh and make new friendships with individuals from around the globe. Without you this trip would not have happened, so once again thank you!

My most memorable experiences of Vindolanda would have to be the hikes. Here we took on some difficult challenges of steep inclines, rocky terrain and slippery slopes. However once we all got to the top of the wall/peak the views were more than worth the effort of the climb. 

Along with the hikes I will always remember the people I got to work with, especially Director of Excavation Dr. Andrew Birley. He was not only an inexhaustible wealth of information on Roman Britain, but also a very worthy badminton opponent. If Andy is reading this, thank you for the five weeks of excavations, and more importantly, thank you for the Gentleman’s Relish!

I know everyone on field-school had just as amazing a time as I did.