Another Unbelievable Year

Folks, it’s that time again, one that I am never quite happy to acknowledge: the end of this year’s Field School. These kind of goodbyes are always bittersweet. On one hand, people leave Vindolanda with an expanded circle of friends, a knowledge of archaeology and Roman Britain, pictures of the amazing artifacts they have personally found, and a unique and unforgettable experience in one of the most beautiful places in the world. On the other hand, they have to leave Vindolanda and concede that as all good things must come to an end, so does their time here. You’ve heard from all the students as they each go their separate ways for now but I wanted to say goodbye as well and wrap up our blog for this year.

Team photo after Wednesday night badminton

Vindolanda is really special to me and the three years I’ve been lucky enough to dig here have only solidified that relationship. With each year, I learn more about the site than the year before. I get to see some of my favourite volunteers, meet some new ones, and befriend a whole new Canadian cohort of classics enthusiasts.  I am treated to the spectacular rolling hills of the Northumberland and have the opportunity to see a new piece of the UK each time. However, the one constant for me is the feeling I get when I find that piece of pottery or that scrap of leather that has been dormant in the soil for up to 2000 years. My fascination with history and with the Romans of the site never ceases. It always reminds me how fortunate I am to be part of the team that gets to build this picture of what went on thousands of years ago directly beneath our feet.

Thoroughly freaking out because I was at the end of Hadrian’s Wall in (aptly named) Wallsend, Newcastle

While I could probably list thousands of my favourite memories from the trip, I know what tops the list is the people with which I have had the pleasure of interacting with over the course of my time here. I want to say thank you to all the volunteers on the excavation for making us feel so welcome and entertaining us with your stories and your jokes. You are all what makes digging at Vindolanda so enjoyable. Saying just thank you to our site supervisors, Andy, Marta, and Penny as well as the entire staff at Vindolanda doesn’t quite express my immense gratitude for your patience, kindness, and good humour. You all are the reason I come back and plan to come back for many years to come (if you’ll have me of course). To Beth and Alex, you are the best professors one could ask for, but also some of the most thoughtful, hilarious, and inspirational people I know. It goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway, thank you for everything.

Excavation summarised: Soaked clothes after a sudden downpour, a beat up wheelbarrow, the green expanse of the site, and my archaeologist in crime in the ditch, Marta. 

Finally, I was to say thank you to YOU, the reader of the blog for following along on our adventures. One of my jobs here as senior student is to be able to share our experiences through our blog and other social media and it is always great to interact with our audience through comments, views, emails, etc… Vindolanda is an experience to share and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading our posts as much as we have sharing it.

It’s been a pleasure and until next time!


Vindolanda Field School
Cohors VI Canadianorum – an amazing group

The 2nd Annual Blogscars

On Friday, June 23, 2017, the Western Vindolanda Field School celebrated the 2nd Annual Blogscars, an award show celebrating the achievements and hard work of the field schoolers over the past 5 weeks. Because it was also our final night of field school, it was a great time to reflect over the entire course and experience here in England.

The Top Post Award

As the host and producer of the Blogscars, let me share the three categories of the awards and their winners from the 2017 year. First off we have the “Top Blog Post Award” given to the author of the post with the single most number of views on any post that year. The winner of the top post award 2017 was Anna Furfaro with her post, A Rare Artifact Found at Vindolanda.


The Top Blogger Award

Secondly, we have the “Top Blogger Award.” This prestigious award is given to the blogger that, cumulatively, has garnered the most amount of views with their posts. While the top post award rewards a great post, this award rewards consistently interesting and engaging blog material. The winner of this award was also Anna Furfaro! Check out her trench tour video post over here.


The Pimm’s Cup

The final award is called the “Pimm’s Cup” and is the senior student choice award. This is given to the blog post that I believe has demonstrated a great sense of creativity, voice, reflection, and insight into digging at Vindolanda and interacting with the history of the Romans on the frontier. This award went to Elizabeth Clark’s post “A Stone Cold Reality,” a great read for sure!


Congratulations to everyone this year for their effort and for a job well done!

Lego Quest: An Update

As we wrap up the field school for 2017, our field schoolers have gotten a chance to reflect on their time here, remember some of the great memories and moments during our time here, and sadly, say goodbye to Vindolanda. If you haven’t had a chance to read them, check out some of the sign off posts.

Amidst this somber atmosphere, there is a note of joy to report in the form of an update on our Lego Quest. If you aren’t familiar with this particular part of field school, here’s some background.

After countless trips to Sainsbury’s, a few puppy dog looks at the cashiers, and generous donations from our wonderful friends at Vindolanda, (thank you Angie, Ken, Sally, and Dolores!) we’ve finally collected all 140 cards. With our own stack of cards totaling to well over 1000 cards, this quest has been successful. We even could complete the story of the Lego book following Sam and Lily as they travel around the world.

Our individual decks and the official Lego story book

Nothing will beat the thrill of sitting around in a circle, each of us holding a new pack of Sainsbury’s cards and eagerly tearing the package open to see if anyone has found one of the missing cards. As we found more and more, a new find became rarer and rarer making the process even more exciting. To have a complete deck is an inexplicable feeling but one that wouldn’t be possible without the collective effort of our friends.

Thank you everyone!


Time To Say Goodbye

As we were driving to Vindolanda this morning, I realized that I had not taken pictures of the site.  I couldn’t believe it!  In the past five weeks, I never took time out of the day to walk around the site that has grown to mean so much to me.  Every time I thought about it, I would tell myself that I would just do it another day.  Today, it became clear to me that today was that final day.  I hurriedly rushed around the site, trying to take as many pictures as I could within the hour lunch break.

View of the site from the recreation of Hadrian’s Wall

When I got to the west gate of the fort, the side closest to the Vicus, a feeling came over me.  I remembered back to when I originally found out about the Vindolanda Field School.  I was a grade 12 student who hadn’t fully decided on the universities to which I would apply.  I recalled the day that I went to the information meeting.  This was two years after I initially found out about the program.  When I saw the slide show of the site, I thought that nothing could be more amazing than an archaeological excavation.  All of a sudden, I was brought back to filling out the application and the interview.  My trip down memory lane ended with the day that I found out I would be attending the field school.  I was so excited that I woke up my roommates on a morning where they did not have class. It was so strange to envision the steps that had brought me to this place.

From my acceptance to our meetings, it feels like the process leading up to field school happened last month and not six months ago.  So much time has passed and yet at the same time it feels like none has passed at all.  Walking around the site to take pictures was a good time to reflect on my time at Vindolanda.  From the North Field to the East Ditch to the Vicus, I was able to participate in three very different excavations.  Each allowed me to learn different sets of skills when excavating.  In the two excavation periods in which we participated, I was able to meet people from all over the world and I hope to keep in contact with some of them for a long time to come.  I am incredibly thankful to Beth, Alex, Andy, Penny, and Marta for allowing the Vindolanda Field School to run and for running it so successfully.  They were the people that we went to with our incessant questions.  How they answered them so calmly and patiently is beyond me but I am so grateful for them, and what they were able to teach me in a short five weeks.

While today I had to say goodbye to the site of Vindolanda and the people that I met there, I know it will not be goodbye for long.  I will be back at Vindolanda one day.  Going as a visitor would be nice but I am determined to go back as a volunteer excavator.  Waking up on Monday morning is going to be such a strange feeling because it will be the first time in four weeks that I will not wake up early and get ready for an excavation.  It will be a sad feeling but I know that I have many more archaeological adventures ahead of me.  The Vindolanda Field School was only the first step in what I consider to be the most amazing career ever!

What do we leave behind?: A Final Farewell

5 weeks

4 shoes

3(00) biscuits

2 presentations

and 1 well-loved trowel later

our time here at Vindolanda has come to a close.

The end of this trip holds a great deal of meaning for me. Not only is today the last day of excavation for us and the last day of excavation for the vicus trench but it also marks the end of my last undergraduate class. When I hand in my excavation journal, I will be handing in my final assignment of undergrad. Repacking a suitcase for the journey home always carries with it a sense of finality. Today, I find an added edge to this finality knowing that the closing of my suitcase brings with it the close of this chapter of my life. A chapter that includes not only the four years I studied at Western but also the preparatory high school years that all seemed to lead up to university and this moment.

But, there was so much to be done along the way and I am thankful for all of the experiences that got me to this point. I am thankful to Beth and Alex who invited me to join this class and my fellow field schoolers for creating such a wonderful experience. Thank you to the volunteers as well as Andy and Penny whose endless patience helped me to slowly learn to tell the difference between a piece of bark and a writing tablet.

Since arriving I have been preoccupied with thoughts of what people leave behind. We have spent the last five weeks learning about and unearthing the lasting legacy of the Romans. Everyone leaves something behind, some sort of lasting effect on a part of the world and the people who occupy it. It is my hope that I have left a positive mark on this site and the people I worked with because I can say, with absolute certainty, that they have done so for me. Here’s to all the hard work, the friendships built, and the artifacts found. May they be a small but wonderful part of the legacy at Vindolanda.

Five happy vicus excavators

My Last View of Vindolanda

I am sitting in the van on the way home today, filthy from the day of excavations, with my hands reeking of anaerobic material, when I remember that today I have to write my last Vindolanda blog post. Looking at the rolling hills, I realize that I won’t have many more days to enjoy this scenery. The livestock grazing in the fields, the quaint little houses that dot the hills, and the raised horizon line to the north on which Hadrian’s Wall runs won’t be every day experiences any more. They will be memories.

I always have a hard time with goodbyes, but in saying goodbye to Vindolanda, I believe this will especially be true. These 5 weeks have been absolutely incredible. I have made new friends, including the field schoolers and also volunteer diggers; I have dug up numerous artefacts last touched by people almost 2000 years ago; and I have grown, both intellectually by expanding my knowledge of the Roman empire and the ancient world, and personally, by experiencing this British culture, and interacting with many people from different areas of the world. The digging at Vindolanda was always hard work – I’m not sure that my body has ever been so sore. But while the work was exhausting, it was also always fun and exciting. I was fortunate enough to excavate in 3 trenches, having started in the North Field, then moving from the East ditch to the Vicus yesterday. Because of this, I saw different strategies and techniques of archaeology, learning under the guidance of multiple supervisors.

Even though archaeology hasn’t always been a dream of mine like it has with others on the trip, my fascination with the ancient world and the Romans in particular has always been constant. At Vindolanda I have been able to explore areas of this passion that I had never thought about before, including the footwear and leather used by soldiers, many sherds of Samian-ware pottery, and the letters on writing tablets. The Vindolanda Field School has been everything that I hoped it would be and more. I am so grateful to have been able to pursue this opportunity, and I know that in the future I will use any excuse to return to my favourite Roman fort.

Signing off,


One Day More

Hello again everyone. Today is the last day of Field School, and my feelings about our one more day are bittersweet.

The North ditch along Hadrian’s wall during our second hike. Aline provides some scale.

Over the course of our time here, we have learned about archaeology and history from many approaches. In a kinesthetic fashion, we have learned about the British landscape and how the Roman’s used it to their advantage while hiking the remains of Hadrian’s wall. In a tactile approach, we have learned how to spade and trowel properly so that we do not damage the artifacts we are trying to remove, and how to differentiate between artifacts and material we discard, as well as how to illustrate the objects we find.

Avery spading in the North Field

From a visual perspective, we have visited museums and other forts along the northern frontier of Roman Britain and learned how to recognize the typical layout of a fort (hint: look for gates into the fort and for the principia, which should be approached directly by the main gate and flanked by the granaries and praetorium on either side), as well as mentally untangling the floor plans of seven of the forts built on top of each other at Vindolanda. We have learned auditorily from lectures by both of our wonderful professors, Dr. Greene and Dr. Meyer, as well as the numerous guest speakers and specialists we have heard at the site. Moreover, after learning all this information about our site, its history, and life in the frontier of the Roman Empire, we have been able to apply it directly in order to understand the areas that we have been excavating, and to explain what we are doing to curious tourists who ask!

As you can probably tell from the short list above, we have had a very busy 5 weeks learning and practicing archaeology. Here are some of my personal favourite moments.

5) Seeing the ancient jewelry at the Great North Museum in Newcastle, and at the Vindolanda Museum.

Decorated brooches. 

4) Watching Avery discover her glass perfume bottle. Like the ancient jewelry, artifacts like this help us to develop a more personal understanding of the Romans and realize that in many ways the Romans were similar to us. It is also rather uncommon, so it was incredible to see.

Avery and her perfume bottle.

3) Viewing Vindolanda’s unique collection of leather shoes in both the museum and the vicus trench. These are preserved due to Vindolanda’s unique anaerobic environment, and clearly demonstrate the presence of women and children at the fort, which has drastically changed our ideas about military life and community.

A sample display of the shoes found at Vindolanda.

2) All the wonderful people we have gotten to work with daily over the course of this trip. Thank you to my classmates who have made this trip such a fun experience, the specialists who have shared their knowledge with us; Andy, Penny, and Marta for guiding our excavation in the trenches and teaching us how to improve, the lovely volunteers from England and around the world that we have worked during our excavations, and last but certainly not least, both Dr. Greene and Dr. Meyer, who have taught us the history of Roman Britain and how to excavate, guided our excavations, worked alongside us, and without whom this course would not have been possible.

Our 2017 Vindolanda Field School class at a milecastle on Hadrian’s wall.

1) Personally finding a large and folded piece of leather (thank you Dr. Meyer for pointing out that bucket!) and a writing tablet fragment. Through these two finds, I have directly contributed to advancing our knowledge of the ancient world, and I am incredibly grateful for that opportunity and experience.

goodbye blog.png
Left: the writing tablet I found. Right: me holding a folded piece of leather.

If you recall my introductory blog post, you might remember that in addition to Classics, I study music history. One of the things about I love about art, especially music, is its ability to express emotions that we do not have the words for. For me, this experience at Vindolanda is still too recent to fully articulate how I feel, although I thank you for staying with me and reading so much of it, so to end off this blog post I thought I would give you one quotation from one of my favourite musicals, The Last Five Years. I like this quote in regards to our time at Vindolanda because of the various ways you can interpret it.

“Goodbye, until tomorrow. Goodbye, until the rest of my life. And I will be waiting, I will be waiting for you.” -Jason Robert Brown, The Last Five Years

You can read this quotation from the perspective of us Field Schoolers, saying goodbye to the site until our last day, before waiting to come back at some other point during our lives. Alternatively, if you’ll indulge me in anthropomorphizing the site, you could read it from the perspective of Vindolanda, waiting until tomorrow and the rest of her long life for excavators to return and unearth her secrets. Knowing that excavations will continue here for at least another 100 years to fully excavate the site gives me hope that I will be able to return as a volunteer excavator in the future, and continue to help illuminate Roman life at Vindolanda.

Goodbye for now,



Bonus picture: I left my own temporary inscription on the sand at the beach in Newcastle during our day trip there.

P.S. Did you catch the other musical reference?