Unmasking the Indiana Jones Illusion

Yesterday, as a fresh troop of Vindolanda archaeologists, we bounded into the first day of excavation with a level of energy and excitement to rival that of Indiana Jones. Eager to start this chapter of our adventure, we were all smiles as we used our trowels for the first time, scavenged through the dirt, and grinned at each other through the muck and rain. Each stone looked like a possible artifact, and no doubt everyone was fantasizing about uncovering the next major discovery on Roman Britain.

Today marks the end of our second day of excavation. Although still smiling and laughing, this blustery Tuesday revealed to us much more than simply another layer of our site – it uncovered the hard work behind the glamour of the field. As we are still new to the digging scene, today our bodies were sore, with stiff wrists and forearms protesting slightly as we took up our trowels once again. This in itself was an important lesson, a reminder of the sweat and grit required to uncover archaeological finds, and that history does not give up its secrets easily.

Aline executing a perfect wheelbarrow dump…
…Elizabeth not so much

However, this physical lesson fits well with Avery’s eloquent post on muscle memory. Having completed our pilgrimages along Hadrian’s Wall, we are now instilling within ourselves a very different type of muscular retention, as we teach our bodies how to effectively dig, trowel and explore. Part of the training is showing our eyes how to pick finds out from amongst the multitude of soil, pebbles and rocks. Although eager to be able to uncover a large inscribed stone, or a perfectly preserved collection of gold coins, with this second day of digging has come the understanding that the smaller finds are just as important. Cassandra and Holly uncovered a Roman bead, and Stephanie and Anna carefully matched together the pieces of a pottery base. Each time, as we crowded around the excited duos, our group was aware that we were slowly adding pieces to the Vindolanda perspective of Roman Britain.

Holly proudly holds her Roman bead
Anna holds together the two pieces of a pottery base

Perspective is important. It can be difficult to remember that even the smallest of finds fit within the larger narrative of the people we are trying to learn more about. It can also be hard to see how your digging efforts at a site have brought you closer to developing this understanding. However, whilst we may often be tired, sore, sweaty, or frustrated with an uncompromising rock, it is imperative that we occasionally take a step back to see the bigger picture. Not only can you better see how your trench fits in with the rest of the site, but you can also get a more accurate picture of your own progress. Although up close it may seem your troweling has uncovered very little, standing up you may realize you have revealed a stone formation you hadn’t noticed before, or see a structural pattern unfolding across the site. This big picture view will show how all these smaller puzzles are connected, and how each team member contributes a different piece. Together we are all helping uncover the story of Hadrian’s Wall, a noble task that everyone should be proud of.

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