As the realization that our course end-date is approaching sooner than I would like, I found myself silently pondering the many aspects of Vindolanda I’ve come to know and become so familiar with. Yesterday Prem posted our final blog schedule for next week and this really put things into perspective for me. Granted, some of this reflection will have to be saved for our final goodbyes, but I thought I’d get the emotional train going a tad early.
As a student of archaeology, I’ve been taught, from the get-go, the importance of archaeology and why people excavate no matter where you are in the world. But this understanding is not common for everyone. I was a taken aback a bit today when a tourist came up to the trench to ask about what we were digging but then also asked why. This “why” factor initially struck a bad chord with me because it was hard for me to digest the fact that not everyone valued the importance of archaeology or had had the privilege of a historical education. However, they were quickly awed when Dr. Birley showed them the fantastic bone and leather we had found over the last couple days. Without an explanation or a visit to the site, it’s a bit hard to understand the importance of careful archaeology, data recording, and understanding context and layers. It might even seem a bit strange to people that finding a clay surface and finding a coin can be of the same importance. Thinking about this as the day went on made me realize the importance of sight and open mindedness.
One of the other volunteers, Kim from Ann Arbour Michigan, really hit the nail on the head today. Each artifact we find is a small piece of a story. You can fill in the gaps as you please, but you’ll need more of these concrete pieces to finish it. She related this outlook to a book; if you cut out a couple pages or quotes from a book just because you really like them, the pages lose their significance. Without the rest of the book, you can’t properly appreciate the pages you’ve taken. Elizabeth also said this beautifully back in her blog post:
“perspective is important. It can be difficult to remember that even the smallest of finds fit within the larger narrative of the people we are trying to learn more about.”
This is more true than ever. Now that we are so full of knowledge about the Romans, we too become part of the story with our heads and hearts eager to learn more.
This doesn’t just apply to archaeology. I’ve started noticing that this in my experience so far at Vindolanda. I’ve realized that there are “small pieces” that I’m beginning to take for granted. I wake up in the morning to the sound of birds, of sheep, and even of roosters crowing (though roosters don’t actually just crow in the morning, its all day long). Every morning at breakfast, Cassandra joins me for coffee and Jenny the cat joins us for some treats! I then take a beautiful drive into excavations every morning, staring out the car window at the rolling landscape while listening to 80’s rock. It’s strange to think that in less than two weeks, I’ll be waking up in my suburban house in Ontario, listening to the sound of the 401 highway in the distance. It dawned on me that I’ve been taking pictures of every place we’ve visited, yet I’m missing pictures of the place I’ve spent most of my time, Vindolanda. From troweling, to tea break, the Vindolanda excavations have been our home for the past three weeks. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I can’t take a 30 minute tea break everyday back in Canada! I might have to convince Justin Trudeau that Canada needs an officially recognized tea break, complete with biscuits.
Nothing is perfect. We have days in the trench were we find nothing, or the weather is less than desirable. We have days were we just wake up on the wrong side of the bed or forget our lunch. We have days we come home covered in sweat and dirt ready for bed, but then we remember we have some sort of school work to complete. But everyday I get to enjoy the little pieces and being here has give me the opportunity to reflect upon myself as a person while excavating, not just academically. Vindolanda is a beautiful place filled with beautiful people. It’s my own story with little pieces that make up the whole narrative and my time here makes me want to share my love of history with my loved ones back home and bring them here.
Soon, we will leave our final mark at Vindolanda, just as the Romans left their mark. Whether that be our last movement with a trowel, our last wheelbarrow dump, or last cut with a spade. Whatever it may be, it will be a small, but essential piece to the story of Vindolanda and my time here. But lets not get ahead of ourselves! There is still a wonderful weekend to be had at the Lake District, and a week and a half left of excavations.
To wrap up, here are a couple of my favourite Vindolanda and Northumberland views.