Because we come to Vindolanda to study the Roman military and Roman Britain, it can appear as though we operate in a small bubble where our subject matter only spans events that happened almost two thousand years ago. However, that is definitely not the case. At Vindolanda, we see evidence of occupation from early Christian societies. During our trip to York, we saw the remains of a Roman fort, a Viking settlement, a mediaeval minster, and even fortifications dating to the civil war. It’s also not just traces of history that we experience but also the effects of current events.
Map of the voting distribution. Yellow is remain and blue is leave. Taken from here

As you may be well aware, on Thursday, June 23, 2016, the citizens of the United Kingdom voted in a referendum to determine whether the UK would remain in or leave the European Union. In an incredibly close vote, (52% to 48%) the bid to leave the EU won. This is a monumental occasion and one which I think will make history for several reasons. Firstly, this will be the first time that an EU member will have left the European bloc and secondly, it calls for a fundamental change in the UK’s relationship with its continental neighbour since its entrance into the EU almost 45 years ago in 1972. The term Brexit refers to the British referendum and/or decision to leave the EU. I’m not really a fan of the portmanteau of Britain and Exit because it leaves out our lovely Irish friends in the North. Great Britain refers to the geographical island containing the states of England, Wales, and Scotland. The UK, or the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland refers to the sovereign country containing all of the territory on the island of Great Britain as well as territory around the world and in the British isles, most notably, the northern part of Ireland. Therefore, a proper term for the referendum would be #UKexit but that’s not as catchy is it? Still confused? Watch this video: The United Kingdom Explained

Today, I want to briefly provide some context about this decision and also put its potential effects in the context of our archaeological study of sites along Hadrian’s wall. I want to stress that this is not a political opinion piece nor do I promote or detract away from either side of the argument. There are plenty of debates online for that. My intention is to be as informative and objective as possible. If you’re like me, then you are probably a tad confused about some of the jargon thrown around and have a vague but not clear understanding of the UK vis a vis the EU. The EU is an incredibly complex political organisation involving states that have a rich historical and cultural background. While I can’t be an expert on this subject, I hope that this post maybe clarifies a few things.
The European Union as we know it today is the result of several steps in an attempt to improve trade, mobility, peaceful relations, and economic stability in the continent of Europe after the devastation of World War II.
Original founding members of the ECSC. Taken from here
The first step in this process was the creation of the ECSC or the European Coal and Steel Community. This was an agreement between six states (France, Belgium, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands) to manage their heavy industry commonly. This was an effort to limit the competition of natural resources and to create a strong alliance that would make the thought of war almost impossible. The ECSC was created in 1950 and in 1958, these countries signed the Treaty of Rome which created the EEC, the European Economic Community. This was a common market between the 6 states and eventually began to include other states in Europe. The UK pulled out of these talks early and remained out of the European bloc. They later joined in 1972, though earlier attempts were made but vetoed by the French government at the time. The modern EU was created under the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992 and member states of the EEC unified their currency in 1999. The final step was the most recent agreement, the Treaty if Lisbon, which extended greater power and control of the European government to the EU centre in Belgium. This was quite controversial at the time of its passing.
The European Commission centre in Belfast, Northern Ireland
There are a few more things that need to be cleared up. First off, there are three main parts to European cooperation. The first is the European Union, an agreement between European states to follow certain laws, adhere to certain trade regulations, and allow the free movement of people, goods, and capital. For the EU, there is a parliament, the European Central Bank, and other such political organs. The next part is the Eurozone. This is the area of Europe that maintains a unified currency, the Euro. Finally, there is the Schengen Area which is an open border agreement between states where passport control is abolished. The difficulty arises from the fact that members of one are not necessarily members of the rest. The UK is a member of the EU but maintains its own currency, the Pound, and retains border control. This video provides a more in depth but tangible explanation: The European Union Explained
The final part to know is Article 50.  This is the clause in the European agreement that stipulates the process by which a member state may leave the EU. Here’s the link to the actual article: Article 50
EU advertisements like this one on a train in Newcastle covered the country

There are a few key points to discern here. Firstly, in the event that a member wants to leave, it must renegotiate its relations with the EU. Furthermore, the state that is leaving doesn’t get a seat at the table once it submits its proposition. Secondly, once the article is passed, a two year clock starts, though it might be extended in extreme cases. Finally, if the state wants to come back, it has to reapply as a brand new member. Essentially, out is out.

The main arguments of this referendum are extensive and complex but from spending a month watching campaign ads, they seem to boil down to economy, sovereignty and control, influence in Europe, and immigration.
So what does this all mean for the UK and the rest of the world? It’s hard to say at this point. As of now, David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the UK, has announced his intention to step down in October. Furthermore, at the time of writing this, the Pound has dropped from 1.49 USD on the morning of the election to 1.36 USD today (Bloomberg Market). This drop has been felt in the world economy as well.
Depending on which channel you watch, different experts spell disaster for the economy while others hail it as an immense opportunity for economic growth. Local effects, like those on heritage sites, are even harder to predict. The EU provides several grants and lots of funding to both scientific and arts research, allows the mobilisation of students and workers from other countries to share their experience and abilities, and fosters travel and tourism. At the same time, the open endedness of Article 50 could result in favourable statuses for workers already in Britain and Ireland, and greater political control could allow for improved legislation.
The best answer to the question, what’s going to happen comes from Socrates: “The only thing [we] know, is that [we] know nothing.” Economics is the study of human behaviour and we are an unpredictable bunch. This landmark decision has introduced a significant amount of uncertainty and even though that’s scary, it’s not necessarily bad. Uncertainty also allows for the opportunity to grow and change and even make positive differences.
British Union Jack Flag background
At the end of the day, its important to remember that despite our personal beliefs, Brexit seems to be happening and affects the everyday lives of real people. What we can do is sincerely hope for the best situation for our friends in the UK and wish that the situation ends favourably for all parties involved.
My apologies for the long post. I want to repeat that by no means am I an expert on the subject and therefore, if I’ve made any mistakes, I welcome sincere correction.

Our Cottage Library

Something I wondered about before arriving at our cottages was what our textbooks would be like. We had all been reassured that our books would be available for our use upon arrival but what I didn’t expect was an entire (miniature) reference library!


The books of Shepherd’s Cottage live in the cubbies underneath the television and are in regular use for readings and presentation consultation. As you can see, there are also many books that are great for general information about things we may want to know more about when digging at Vindolanda.


Of these books, there are 4 acting as our textbooks with assigned readings. Of course they cover basic archaeological methods since most of us are digging for the first time and a great deal about Roman military life and structure. Between the two books focusing on Vindolanda itself both the many years of excavation on the site as well as the life of the soldiers and villagers in the extramural settlement we have all gained a better understanding of the history we are adding to.


In conjunction with our continuous learning on site, evening lectures at the cottages, peer presentations and field trips these books have certainly helped to fill in the blanks these last 4 weeks.

P.S. Am I the only one who can’t believe we only have one more to go?!



A Memory That Will Forever Last

We worked through the sun, and the rain,

through our aches and pains,

And by way of our toil,

Broke rock, stripped soil.

But soon we felt heroic,

For we had reached angelic anaerobic.

No one could remain stoic,

Especially those, who are Osmophobic.

Because underneath our feet,

Lay a treasure deep.

Such as coins of bronze,

Engraved with the faces of icons,

Or shoes made of leather,

Protected from the weather.

Each giving a look into the past,

A memory that will forever last.

A trench lowered to the anaerobic level. Photo taken by Shannon Collins.


5 Things You’re Likely to Get Interested in on an Archaeological Dig

On an archaeological dig, you often find yourself face to face with new things that you want to find out more about. Some of the things that I’ve found myself becoming interested in are:

1. Osteology/ Biological Archaeology

We find so many bones, or pieces of them, as we are going through material that it would be very interesting to know what we were looking at. To be able to tell the difference between a leg bone or an arm bone and from what animal that the bone likely came from would be a really cool thing to know.

2. Geology

It is hard to ignore the many “pretty stones” we find in our trenches. I would love to learn more about them and how to differentiate between their types. You can tell what a few of them are just by looking at them, such as sandstone, but others are much more difficult identify.

Rock For blog post
A pretty piece of geology that I think is sandstone


3. Numismatics

Occasionally, coins are found at Vindolanda. This is not unusual, but they are favorites for a reason. They’re totally relatable, easily identifiable and sometimes quite shiny. They also get even more interesting when you get into them. You can find out what the words around the edge of a coin mean, what the figures on the back are, and how the coins were made. They can then tell you a lot about the lives of the people who used them.

4. Historical Consolidation

At Vindolanda many of the buildings we excavate are preserved for visitors to see. In order to do this the buildings have to be made safe without changing them, so that visitors see them just as we found them. Jeff and Kenny do this work at Vindolanda.  They use a special type of mortar that can be removed relatively easily, but that is still very strong and durable, and sometimes they have to replace “rotten” stones. It would be interesting to learn more about this process and to be able to help them.

Historical consolodation
A beautiful wall and the replica towers

5. Entomology

There are a lot of bugs in the dirt! I would love to know about the creepy crawlies that share our trench. We see many different beetles, worms, and flying insects. When we are not being swarmed by biting midges it’s super interesting.




Placing people into binary distinctions is not usually a good thing, but I can say with full confidence that I am a dog person, not a cat person. I always try to find a way to like cats, but then they go on to do something that shatters my affections and leaves me with a few trust issues.

Here at Ald White Craig Cottages, we have a wide array of animals milling about including a friendly dog named Fred, and a sneaky cat named Jenny. Evidently, I am here to talk about Jenny.

Jenny soaking up some English sun

I’m not sure what Jenny does when we’re not around, because though she is an outdoor cat, she spends an awfully large portion of her time pestering us to let her inside of our cottages. And we almost always do. At first I was skeptical, I only have met cats who like to claw everything in sight. However, she quickly took a liking to me despite my best attempts to ignore her, and soon Jenny was waiting outside of my bedroom door while I showered, she would jump a bannister and a door frame to enter my room, and she would snuggle up beside me without any sort of invitation.

I was annoyed, I must admit. But she was and continues to be incredibly adamant on seeing us each day that it is truly heartwarming. Though she glowers in your general direction when you eat food, her love of us (or of our warm homes) has gone so far that she often cries outside of our doors at night, hoping to be allowed in. Just the other day she laid siege on our cottage, bolting to every window and door she could find in an attempt to get inside, narrowly missing her chance as we opened the door for a mere split second.

A cat and a couch

Annoyance has turned into acceptance, and even love. Upon our return from York, we hadn’t seen Jenny in a few days and we were concerned she had disappeared forever. All of the times I’d begged her to leave my bed flashed in my head, which was riddled with guilt. But she appeared again yesterday, and this time with a present (a dead mouse) in tow as though to apologize for worrying us.

Jenny and her thoughtful delivery

What I’m trying to say is that Jenny is much more than a cat. She is a watchful protector who looms over our cottages and comes to show us love when we least expect it. She is also a metaphor for this journey in general; forcing me to accept change and new experiences that may make me uncomfortable or annoyed.

I’m not sure how Jenny has done it, opening my heart to a cat so much that she receives her own blog post. Perhaps she is a spirit, or an apparition sent here to teach me a lesson. One thing I know for sure is that I’m thankful to have had my adventures with Jenny, and will miss her soft fur and her disapproving stare.

The disapproving stare

Isobel Brigden: Honorary Canadian

We’ve met more than our fair share of exemplary and outstanding people since we began excavation at Vindolanda, and we’re proud to say that we’ve been collecting friends from the world over! During our first two weeks of work in the vicus, we were lucky enough to meet one Australian in particular who has found herself a place in each of our hearts.

Isobel shows off a fantastic t-shirt which reminds us all that Western University should have its own quidditch team

Isobel is a 21-year-old student of archaeology from Sydney, Australia, who has been fortunate enough to work on both excavation and post-excavation during her stay at Vindolanda. While she’s interested in the behind-the-scenes elements of post-excavation, she admits to being more at home with excavation itself. Isobel chose a career in archaeology not only for the historical allure, but also for the active lifestyle it has to offer.

When asked her favourite thing about England, Isobel’s immediate response was the weather; England is quite mild in comparison with the heat of Australia. She also added that the history of the country is extraordinary, which I think we can all agree on!

Isobel urges anyone considering a trip to Australia to not fear the creatures that roam its lands. They’re really not as scary as we all think. However, she was very adamant to warn us of the threat of drop bears; these creatures will attack indiscriminately, and a hearty helping of vegemite is the only thing to ward them off.

Isobel has been so much fun to have around during these past few weeks, and I think we at the field school are proud to call her an honorary Canadian.

ChemisTee(side) 101

I’m running out of Teeside puns to make so it’s a good thing that this is my last day here! After a great day in Middlesbrough yesterday, I returned this morning to the lab to continue my work here. If you’ve been wondering what exactly I’m doing in the lab, wait no further! I’m going to give you a brief crash course on some of the stuff that we do in the lab.

Firstly, welcome to the lab:

The lab in which I’m working


Remember to fill out your risk assessment form and put on your safety gear including: gloves, goggles, a lab coat, closed toed shoes, and a smile!



View from the lab


Here’s the view from the lab. We’re on the 10th floor so we’ve got quite a nice view of the surrounding area.



A handsome model hired to demonstrate lab safety
Cleaning the leather

The project I’m working on is studying some of the Roman Leather we frequently get at Vindolanda. While these studies are quite preliminary, we are looking to answer questions such as whether one can differentiate between various hides, what type of chemical signature remain on the leather and whether this can tell us the type of tanning processes used by the Romans, and even information about the conservation process and its effect on ancient leather.

The first thing we have to figure out however is what kind of information we can get from the leather. After some research, we’ve started by looking for specific chemicals that indicate the type of tanning chemical used. In general, these chemicals are called “tannins” and bind to the collagen in the leather to create that shiny and waterproof material that your jacket/purse/wallet/shoes are made out of.

The first step is to extract these tannins from the leather. Because they’re quite tightly bound, this can be quite a challenge and we’re trying several methods to see which is the best.

Vials containing leather bits in the middle of extraction

The second step is to analyse these tannins. There are several options to do this but the two that we’ve chosen are High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) and Attenuated Total Reflection Infrared Spectroscopy (ATR-IR). Try saying that 5 times! While I’d love to explain these methods in great detail, I’m going to focus on just HPLC because it’s probably the most useful.

The word “chromatography” is used in chemistry to indicate a technique that separates a mixture of compounds. The way it works is actually quite simple and I’m going to explain it in terms of something we can all understand: candy (or “sweets” in British)

Hungry yet?

Imagine that there are 3 people enter the sweets aisle in a supermarket at the same time. Because everyone is different, one person (Alicia) is incredibly health conscious and doesn’t really eat sweets, another (Bob) likes some chocolate on the odd day, and the last one (Carol) has had three cavities in the past week. As the three walk down, Carol is going to immediately stop to look at the first sweet she sees. A little further down, Bob tries to keep going but gets distracted by his favourite Kit Kat. Perhaps today is a cheat day…Alicia is laser focused with incredibly discipline and just shoots down the aisle and out the other end.

This is the basic principle of chromatography. We push compounds down a column (aisle) and based off of their chemical properties (sweet preferences), they spend differing amounts of time in the column. Thus, a mixture slowly separates into components based off of the amount of time they take, a metric we call “retention time.” We can tweak a few other parameters to improve the separation as well. HPLC just states that this process occurs using liquids under high pressure.

It’s been a pleasure Teeside!

That’s all the chemistry for now! I hope you have a better grasp of some of the analytical techniques that we use. If you’d like to learn more about some of the other things I’ve been doing or have some questions about this post, comment below. Tomorrow, I return back into the mud and become as Justine has termed it, a “Trench Troll” once again. Until then!