From the Ditch to the Vicus

There are currently two sites of excavation at Vindolanda.  One of them, the defensive ditch, is beyond the east side of the fort wall.  The other is in the vicus which was the extramural settlement outside the fort walls.  Yesterday was a very interesting excavation day because about an hour into the excavation, I was transferred out of the ditch and placed in the vicus.  More people were needed in the anaerobic section to sort through the material that was being dug out.  At first, I was a little sad.  I helped open the excavation in the ditch. From the de-turfing, to troweling back the rocks, to dropping smaller trenches within, an emotional connection develops with a trench.  Little did I know, I would become equally attached to the vicus.  My time in my new trench began with sorting through what was passed up in the bucket. There were no trowels and no gloves, only hands covered in gunk. Slowing peeling back the layers of the squares being cut out, I began to think that nothing could be as tedious as this. Then I suddenly realized, oh wait, I’m holding an oyster shell! That thing sticking out of the dirt isn’t wood, it’s an animal bone! After being in trenches where features were more important and artifacts weren’t as abundant, every little piece of bone or shell became utterly fascinating. Today, things only got better.  In the first bucket that was passed to me, I found what is most likely a clavicle (collar bone).

Possible collar bone

If this is the way my day was going to start then it could only get better from there!  Odds and ends of bone fragments and leather scraps slowly began to work their way out of the material that we were sifting through.  After teatime is when the real work began.  For the first time, I was able to go down into the trench.  With my wellies on, waterproof trousers tucked in and my head donning a hardhat, I descended the wall into the vicus.  Every step was a fight to keep my boot on my feet.  Every bucket lift up to the people above was a dance in trying to keep myself upright in the slippery mud.

Excavating in the vicus is very different from excavating in the ditch.  From the clothes that have to be worn to the precautions that have to be taken, the vicus is a very different environment.  The easiest way to see this is by the state of your hands after excavating in each trench.  When you come out of the ditch, your hands are covered in a light dusting of dirt.  When you come out of the vicus, your hands are covered in goopy mud.  Even though your hands are in the need of a good washing, excavating in the vicus is an exhilarating experience and I am so happy that it is an experience that I get to have!

dusty hands
“Dusty Hands” from the ditch
muddy hands
“Muddy Hands” from the vicus

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