Although your field scholars are only approaching the three week mark of our stay here at Vindolanda, today saw the end of many volunteers’ excavation experiences at the site. Volunteers are essential to the process of uncovering the Vindolanda fort, and most if not all excavations would be unable to happen as quickly or efficiently without their help.
The importance of these collective efforts are two-fold. The first is obvious – together, our many hands are working towards uncovering the secrets of Roman Britain. In teams we sift through mud and dirt, cart piles of it away, clear new areas to begin excavations, and (sometimes continually) drain the trenches of water. A multitude of sharps eyes and deft fingertips enable us to uncover the wonders of this mighty fort – from worn wooden doors to delicate styluses, scraps of leather to shards of bone, and Samian ware to glassware. The post-excavation team adds another dimension to these discoveries, as they meticulously clean and assess the finds.
The second level of importance is perhaps not so obvious. As we collectively dig, trowel or sort, we are interacting in a way which also likely mirrors the people of two thousand years ago. Along with the hard work, there is much talk and laughter: we exchange stories, recommendations, bits of wisdom, and questionable jokes (many of these courtesy of Norman). This truly wonderful aspect of human nature has changed very little over time, and despite the millennia between us, it is easy to picture Roman military units stationed at Vindolanda interacting in much the same way. It is these actions that not only bring us closer together as a group of Vindolanda volunteers, but also to the people we are trying so hard to learn more about.
Vindolanda operates to a complexly intertwined mantra of narrative and memory. Although in a previous blog post I stated that the history of Roman Britain isn’t our story, now I am not so sure. Again, as we physically and intellectually seek to uncover the past, we are undertaking a form of muscle memory, and in a sense following the steps of the Romans, albeit two thousand years later. Together we are creating our own narrative in parallel to the story of Hadrian’s Wall, and this is very much how we will be able to understand what we uncover.
But perhaps the key word there is “we.” The journey towards properly understanding Roman Britain is a collective one, and the volunteers we said goodbye to have been key in moving Vindolanda’s archeological progress further down the path of discovery. As a result, today was very bittersweet. For, just as we are shaping the story of Hadrian’s Wall, so too are we instrumental in shaping each other’s experiences of Vindolanda. I know I speak for all when I say a happier time these past two weeks could not possibly have been.
A thank you to all, and congratulations for a job well done!