Already our first week excavating with the Vindolanda Field School is done! In this short period we’ve learned so much without really thinking about it. At the beginning of the week I was more than excited to get my hands dirty but I had no idea what I was doing with a trowel. I also didn’t know the difference between a shovel and a spade (shovel is made for scooping while the spade is made to cut through the dirt). None of us were sure what was an orange rock and what was a piece of pottery. We kept yelling for Beth, Alex, or Prem to ask if what we had found was indeed pottery or just a rock that we would then toss aside.
Now, we all have our own spading and troweling that work for us. We also are a lot more confident in identifying what is pottery and what is not. From time to time we do still ask as some of those rocks really do look like pottery. Wheelbarrow runs became easier as the week went on although there is always the occasional wobble.
Day one of excavations was full of nervousness and no one wanted to do something wrong or somehow ruin a find. But, by the end of the week the nervousness had dropped considerably and we grow more confident every day. With confidence we can now distinguish between top soil (soft, crumbly, brown dirt) and clay (which is usually sticky, damp, and grey). We also gained confidence in our own excavating techniques. Whether it’s the two handed troweling to try and even the bottom on your trench or stomping on the spade to cut through more dirt, everyone has their own spin to it that they can now do almost like a pro (at least until Beth and Alex show up).
With our new found confidence, the trenches became louder with the voices of people getting to know each other better. With nothing but dirt to scrape all day, it was easy enough to start talking to our friends as a way to entertain ourselves. We also have begun to get to know the other people on the site. At lunch time it was always nice to sit with the other volunteers and get to talk about their experience in their trench, their new finds or features, or about themselves in order to get to know them better. All of these things can’t be taught in a classroom or at least can’t be grasped as quickly as they have been within one week. Vindolanda is a unique experience that way because it immerses us in a learning environment. It’s really cool to be able to measurably see that from our week in the North Field. Even though it’s just the first week, it’s nice to reflect on my thoughts from day one and see the progress we all have made. Our skills can only get better from here as we continue to live through this amazing opportunity.