The Life of a Trowel

We trowels are the ultimate story book of an archaeological site. We see, hear, and feel everything. Being a trowel is not as glamorous as it may seem on T.V. Let me say first hand, you sure can take a beating as the day to day activities of archaeology are conducted. As a trowel named Edgar at Vindolanda, I can personally tell you some of the crazy things I’ve seen and done over the past two weeks of digging.

Back when my fellow trowels and I were unboxed from our warm and cozy Amazon Prime box we had no idea what to expect. Each of us was given to a specific human. Some humans frantically took us out of our protective wrapping that had been keeping us looking shinny and new. After that some of us were coloured, carved, named, and thrown into backpacks for a later day.

Edgar the trowel showing off a pottery find

Our first week of action was pretty rough. I can’t speak of all my other trowel friends, but my human, Aline just could not master the proper method of back-troweling. I must add now she has improved significantly since then. Our humans were so scared to use us, afraid to mix us up with another trowel and throw off the balance of the universe forever.

Being a trowel is not easy. You’re constantly covered in mud, being scraped along rocky top soil or thick wet clay. It’s amazing we trowels don’t get headaches. Sometimes we’re even almost forgotten about on-site or at the cottages. We still haven’t figured out why our humans are so forgetful with us. At least once a day, Aline almost forgets to take me out of the wheelbarrow she has been sorting, before dumping the wheelbarrow in the soil-heap and losing me forever.

Despite it all, I would not trade being a trowel for anything else in the world, not even to be a spade. Our human archaeologists make us who we are and define us as trowels. I quite literally mean define. Even in this short two week span, I have already begun to lose my labeling on my metal surface, and although I am not permanently marked, some of my trowel friends have some personal markings.  Delilah (owned by Anna), has a sunburst and clover carving for good luck. Riz (owned by Elizabeth), simply has her name carved in, as does Avery’s trowel. Trudy (owned by Cassandra) was the first of us to be given a personal name.

Avery’s Trowel
“Riz” belonging to Elizabeth
“Delilah” belonging to Anna

The joy that is brought to us as we help our humans to uncover all these amazing artifacts from the ground is the reason we do what we do, not just because you don’t really have too much of a say when you’re a trowel. From week one, we were there helping the field schoolers to practice their archaeological techniques, uncover some pottery, as well as to help Holly to find that lovely bead and gaming piece. This week, we trowels helped half the field-school uncover a new trench, while helping the other half to sort through the anaerobic material. “Riz” found a stylus tablet, Avery’s trowel found a shoe and a perfume bottle, “Delilah” found a jaw bone and some leather, and I helped Aline find some scrap leather too! At the end of the day, seeing our human’s faces light up in pure joy as they realize they have found a piece of history is the best gift a trowel could ask for, and we hope to keep giving.

Avery holding perfume bottle
Aline holding tiny scrap tent leather
Anna holding cow jaw

Throughout our many years to come of excavation, we know eventually we will eventually become too weathered for further archaeology. Here is an example of a Vindolanda volunteer’s two trowels, one being new and the other being seven years older.

Left: new trowel………Right: 7yr old trowel

We truly are shaped by our humans who handle us day in and day out. We are one with them, and they are one with us

That, is the life of a trowel

Edgar, belonging to Aline






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