Excavators vs. Water

The five girls stand shoulder to shoulder, glaring down at the challenge ahead. Two meters beneath them, lapping tauntingly at the sides of the vicus trench, over a foot of water covers the previous week’s hard earned excavations. Andy has made the game plan perfectly clear: scoops, buckets, two girls in one area, three in another.

He raises his arm: “Excavators ready?”

The girls take their battle stations.


Game time: the teams tackle the vicus, flooded under a foot of water

Aline and Elizabeth are quick to the plunge in the southern corner. With the water swirling around the tops of their wellingtons, they fill bucket after bucket, tossing the heavy, murky contents into a sealed off area to be pumped up. Although familiar with the trench, from the wooden wattle and daub to the large slabs of stone littering the floor, the water has transformed it all into a dark mess of unknown. Every step threatens to dislodge an artefact, each stumble spraying visions of broken relics.

SPLASH – the new volunteers are introduced to the vicus with a wet flourish. Across the way, glistening boots flash by as Anna, Avery and Victoria work on the southeastern section, efficiently filling and dumping buckets. Soon there’s very little water left, the northern side is drained, and a final sponging clears the area.

Game point excavators.

But water isn’t finished. Two Roman drains, still active, still slowly channeling their contents, sit at the north and southern portions of the trench. Water stealthily stretches its feelers, seeking, flowing, growing. The girls, distracted by exciting finds (beautiful Samian ware, long shards of bone, a wonderfully well-worn shoe), have let down their guard. Buckets of dirt become swampy and viscous. Clean trench lines begin to lose their definition.

With mud streaking their cheeks like warrior paint, the girls get to work. The area is pumped and drained, the watery residue thrown up and out of the trench. Buckets and wheelbarrows slip out of muddied hands, shovels slide out of their grasp. Gradually water is beaten back into submission, the area is cleared, and excavations resume. But the well of water remains gathering by the drain, silently growing, never slowing.

Game point water.

The day ends. The equipment is cleaned, the trench tidied, and the site put to rest for the evening. The girls squelch off, elated with a good day’s work. But the night belongs to water – a resource so precious in some areas and merely a commodity in others, it can be an archaeologists’ worst enemy or its best friend. If the soil is too wet, the thick swamp can prove impossible to excavate in. If the soil is too dry, then sifting through the dirt and recognizing markings and patterns can be incredibly difficult.

Both archaeologists and water are equally tenacious, working as a team as often as they work against each other. It’s a complex tug of war, a continuous cycle of give and take – but although there are many games, there is no match point.

However, streaked with mud, laughing at our watery start, and smiling about our finds, I think we can claim today’s victory.

Your vicus victors – readers, give these ladies a virtual high five!

4 thoughts on “Excavators vs. Water

  1. You are all proof that discipline, not just desire, determines destiny!
    You Vindolanda folk are destined for success!!

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