The Sun Will Come Out, Tomorrow

Rain in England is not an uncommon occurrence. However, today was the second day that the precipitation has been so intense and prolonged that excavation was temporarily cancelled. In the two weeks that we have been excavating so far, Tuesday was our first rained out session (which you can read about in Holly’s post) and this morning was our second. But it was still an educational day at Vindolanda, despite the inclement weather.

Tea in the tea shed while waiting for the rain to clear.
We started this morning with the hopes that the rain would pass and we would be able to continue excavating after clearing the trench of accumulated water, as we did yesterday morning. You can see below the amount of water we had to remove yesterday for those of us who are excavating in the vicus (the settlement outside the fort proper). To pass the time, we enjoyed tea in the tea shed! After another half hour of listening to the symphony of rain droplets pounding against the roof, we changed plans and had a wonderful lecture on women in the frontiers with the Roman Army by our very own Dr. Greene!


The water we had to clear before excavating yesterday. We hoped we would be able to repeat yesterday’s strategy, but the rain was too much for us in the morning.
Dr. Greene’s lecture greatly expanded some of the ideas touched upon in Dr. Birley’s presentation on Tuesday, especially in the use of leather shoes preserved by the anaerobic conditions at Vindolanda. These shoes indisputably demonstrate the presence of women and children at the fort, despite the previously held belief that forts were primarily or even exclusively male spaces.  Below, you can see a few of the slides from Dr. Greene’s presentation. The first slide shows Dr. Greene explaining a variety of the different types of shoes at Vindolanda, from sandals in the top left to children’s shoes in the bottom right. The middle image shows a plot of the locations of female, adolescent, and children’s shoes found in the barracks at Vindolanda. The excavated portions are in black and the unexcavated in white; this plot demonstrates that while archaeological evidence for women and children is not found in every room, it is certainly present. Moreover, this is but one building on site, and every excavated structure from period 4 (105-120 AD) at Vindolanda has found women and children’s shoes. This suggests that women were present at the fort, and that they occupied spaces that were traditionally assumed to be male only. It also demonstrates the importance of good record keeping during excavation so that we can accurately plot and analyze the finds to answer new questions. The final image on the right shows a beautiful decorated shoe of the type that Dr. Greene has worked with in the Vindolanda museum.

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Left: Dr. Greene explaining various shoes and what we can learn from them during her lecture. Middle: one plot demonstrating the presence of women, adolescent, and children’s shoes in the barracks at Vindolanda. Right: a decorated shoe in the Vindolanda museum, of the type Dr. Greene works with.

While there were many other interesting aspects of Dr. Greene’s lecture, including the legality of marriage for soldiers in the Roman army and whether this aligned with social customs, and the impact of women and children on life in the fort, what I enjoyed seeing most was the incorporation of feminism in archaeological research. The idea that women were a part of the Roman army, and were fundamental to daily life for the army, is a relatively recent area of research in archaeology that took off as late as the 1990s. To me, this demonstrates the importance of feminism in academia and how much we can still learn about Roman civilization, depending on the types of questions we ask.

Elizabeth is clearing water from the vicus after the rain. Nearby are other Vindolanda volunteers.
But our day was not over yet. By lunch, the rain had eased enough for us to work. We set out to clear our trench with bucket chains, quite literally singing in the rain to speed the time.  It seems that Fate has decided we had suffered enough by missing a day and a half of excavation, and rewarded some of us with exciting finds. The highlights ranged from the usual pottery shards and bone fragments, to leather scraps, and even a beautiful fragment of a glass perfume bottle found by Avery (which has a better picture on the Vindolanda Trust Instagram)- who can clearly see Roman artifacts whether the rain is gone or not!

Avery's finds
Three of Avery’s finds today. Left: a piece of Samian pottery. Middle: a piece of leather with the stitching visible. Right: the glass perfume bottle.

Excavating in England means learning to work through the weather whenever possible, while also recognizing when to acknowledge defeat and move indoors. Today we were lucky to do both and continue our education in archaeology both inside and outside of the classroom.  All we have to do now is wait for the sun to come out, tomorrow. (And maybe sacrifice a goat to the gods as insurance).


P.S. Did you catch the musical and song references?

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