Laughter is the Best Medicine

The end of my time with the Vindolanda Field School has been looming on the horizon over this past week. I dread goodbyes, and am certainly not good at them – you can count on me for a lot of tears. But as the last day at Vindolanda finally approaches and the nostalgia starts rolling in, I find I can’t stop smiling at so many moments from the trip…

“THEY’RE HERE” (*panic ensues*)

The classic mantra of every workday morning, when the lookout sights Beth and Alex’s car pulling into the cottages to take us to Vindolanda. This usually takes place when nobody is ready, inciting mass panic as the cry is echoed across both cottages and people scramble to get ready.


“Ahh, it’s just a little bit of bone”

The characteristic understatement of excavation. Generally used when someone discovers something quite large and impressive, like a large cattle skull, a beautiful piece of Samian pottery, or a complete writing tablet.

“Alright, Elizabeth, re-engage the wellington…”

Following an altercation with a stubborn rock, Elizabeth and Avery were getting ready to lift it to a new location in the vicus trench. Standing in incredibly squishy mud, with Andy supervising from above, the two girls lifted the rock up and prepared to step forwards. Suctioned into the ground, Elizabeth’s foot flew out of her boot and into the mud. After a ten second pause where all three individuals stared at said foot, Andy calmly restored order to the operation before Elizabeth and Avery collapsed with laughter.

Even with the sledgehammer: Liz – 0, Rock – 1289309123

“I’ve found a thing – I don’t think it’s anything, but just in case it is a thing, here’s the thing”

This well-worn sentence encompasses the archaeologist’s dilemma when sorting through excavated material from the trench. When keeping an eye out for a writing tablet, suddenly every sliver of wood is filled with promise, and each curved piece of rock a beacon of potential. It is better to ere on the side of caution when trying to decipher an artefact, even if you have to preface it with a lengthy preamble of caution (thanks Penny for always accepting our pieces of bark for inspection!).

“Oh are you getting up? Can you get me a biscuit?” “Oh me too!” “And me!” “Bring the barrel!”

Your Vindolanda scholars have successfully adopted the important British institution of tea. Teatime is observed religiously each day, and after pouring a hot cup everyone carefully analyzes the biscuit selection available. Often, however, it quickly becomes apparent that simply three biscuits each will not suffice, meaning that teamwork and multiple visits to the biscuit barrel are required.

These past five weeks have been full to the brim of good memories and laughter. However, they are just small pieces of the overall experience. I have been part of an incredible team, have worked at an awe-inspiring site, and helped discover more of the story of Vindolanda, all for which I am incredibly grateful.

The job of uncovering the fort’s narrative is far from over, which to me means one thing: see you again soon Vindolanda, for I’ll be back.


Tell the World I’m Coming Home

What can I say about such a whirlwind adventure? There have been countless museums, amazing lectures, hoards of bugs familiar and new, and unearthed treasures (even if they don’t shimmer like gold). There have been late nights, long stories, and family-like friendships. Jokes I’ll remember to the end of my days, lego cards I’ll probably lose before I get out the door, and memories I’ll forever hold close to my heart.

Our very first lecture of the trip, given by Dr. Meyer. 

It was Seneca who said that every beginning comes from another beginning’s end. With the close of this trip, these words ring true. It was true when I arrived here, but never has it felt more obvious to me than now.

Beginnings are easy. They’re exciting, shiny, new, with the world ahead of me. Endings… well, those are another story. Saying goodbye is never easy. So instead, this time around I have chosen to look at this the way Seneca did, as a new beginning.

The group at tea time. 

This isn’t the end of tea time, digging, or getting covered in mud. There will be more jokes, more rounds of Heads Up, more movies, and more biscuits. There are more chances to excavate in my future. I have learned so much over the last five weeks, and I’m taking those lessons with me. I’ll take them to future excavations. I’ve learned how to properly use a trowel, and empty a wheelbarrow, how to tell what’s bone, what’s pottery, how they are sorted, cleaned, and classified. Beyond that, I have learned how to let my hair down a little more and let people really get to know me.

So yes, for me this is goodbye, for now. But I leave with trowel in hand and happiness in my heart knowing that this end is merely the beginning of my next adventure. The archaeological world has not seen the last of me, and hopefully neither has Vindolanda. As far as my fellow Westerners, there is no question that we’ll see more of each other.

Forever yours,

Anna Furfaro.

Au revoir et non adieu!

I can’t believe this is my last blog post already, but I guess time flies when you’re having fun. I haven’t had this much fun while working so hard. The Vindolanda Field School has allowed me to get my first hands on experience in archaeology which was my dream. Not only has this been everything I had hoped for it to be, it has only fueled my passion even more. From deturfing and spading baked earth to finding sherds of pottery and holding the staff of recognition, every moment of the field school was so exciting.

The best picture I could find show how happy I always am while excavating

Even the times when I wasn’t learning something new about archaeology, I have had a great time. All my friends have made this trip a wonderful experience. I can’t remember a time when we aren’t all smiling and laughing. Communal dinners, stargazing, watching movies, strolls to town, my list could go on and on about all my favorite moments from this trip. I won’t forget the happy glow that envelops my memories from the field school.

Just having fun at Hexam Abbey

I wish I didn’t have to leave and that I could still be excavating when they continue to drop into the ditch. I wish I could spend an entire season at Vindolanda just continuing to learn so many things about archaeology, like how to correctly identify certain artefacts and getting to know the history of Vindolanda like how well I know my trowel. But I am truly grateful for the time I have had here. Thank you so much to everyone, Beth, Alex, Andy, Penny, Marta and all the friends I’ve made while being here.

Adieu is a way to say good bye forever in French while au revoir translates to “see you next time” or “until we meet again”. Although it may be a while, or maybe it will be next year, I know I will see Vindolanda again. Whether as a volunteer, or a visitor, I will be back soon Vindolanda, so  au revoir!

All Good Things Come to an End

So here it is, my last blog post. I honestly did not think we would reach this point so fast. At the same time I feel like we’ve been here forever with the incredible sense of comfort and consistency we’ve been surrounded by for the past five weeks. Garett, Cassandra and I have been gone since May 10th, 42 days ago, and our time in the United Kingdom continues until June 27th. We have been exposed to so many different cultures, and people, Paris, London, Ireland, Haltwhistle of course and Edinburgh coming soon.

Myself in London England
Sycamore Gap
Cliffs of Moher Ireland

To say that I’ve learned so much about myself and other people is an understatement. Living with 3 other people who are not your best friends from school is certainly a way to learn new problem solving skills, and how to have a civilized argument about dirty dishes! But this was also a wonderful opportunity to build life long friendships with some new people, and simply get to know the people who you’ve had class with everyday for the past year. We haven’t even left each other yet, and we’ve all already been in discussion about a group reunion. There are so many things I wish I could do again, like go back to the Lake District, things I wish I could do more of, like hiking to take in the local scenery, and things I wish I could’ve done like sledgehammering or learn Latin (sorry Professor Gervais…if you’re reading this I’ll step up my game by September).

There is truly nothing comparable to the learning experience that is The Vindolanda Field School. It is such a wonderful opportunity to have a small taste of history and archaeology. I am so grateful to Beth and Alex, and all the hard work put in to running such a successful school for us students. But there’s more incredible people in this act that need thanking. Thank you to Andy, for always finding a way to make us laugh, and always being eager to teach us and encourage us to become more comfortable with archaeology. To Penny and her never ending patience when we keep handing her pieces of bark in the Vicus thinking it was a writing tablet. Penny, we’re not sad field school is over and we have to say goodbye to you, just disappointed. Thank you to everyone behind the scenes that make it possible for all us to take part in this once in a lifetime opportunity.

While this has been a whirlwind adventure, all good things must come to an end. It is time to eat all the food in the freezer, say my goodbye to my best friend Jenny the Cat, and eventually clean my trowel off the Vindolanda mud for the last time (for now). These next final days together will be tough and filled with nostalgia. I can honestly say I will be back to visit Vindolanda, and hopefully bring some friends and family along to share the unique, peaceful, and beautiful Vindolanda that has stolen my heart.

Thanks for reading!


Memories for a Lifetime 

Wow what a wild ride it’s been! I can’t begin to describe how much this experience has meant to me, but i’ll try my best. As this week comes to a close, so does my Vindolanda experience… for now at least, and I can confidently say that this has been one of the most amazing experiences I was so lucky to be a part of! Not only was this a great learning opportunity and an exciting and educational 5 weeks, but also an amazing chance to meet new people and get to know my fellow field schoolers. The memories we made here will forever be some of my fondest, including our hard work in the trenches, and our delicious group dinners. This adventure would not have been the same if it weren’t for the amazing people and positivity everyone had towards all our activities, including hikes along Hadrian’s Wall, badminton, and most of all excavating.

Just a few of the many memories captured over the past few weeks

We began this archaeological journey together in the North Field, learning about the Romans and what they have left behind, evidently for us to now find, and slowly working our way towards greater finds in either the east ditch or the Vicus. This experience has been rewarding in every way possible and I can say, although I haven’t uncovered a ton of history, I was thrilled anytime I or others did. It’s not just what you find, it’s how you found it. I know that sounds cheesy but it’s true. Every skill, every technique, every part about archaeology is rewarding in its own way, and knowing how far I’ve come since the beginning is the best of all.


My time in the east ditch

I just want to thank everyone who made this experience a once in a life time opportunity, including our amazing professors, Beth and Alex, and every single person I’ve had the privilege of knowing during these weeks.

Now signing off,



Vicus Update!

Much has happened since Anna’s video tour of the trench in the vicus (which you can watch here). Anna’s tour explained some of the things we were working on during our first week in the vicus, however, that was almost three weeks ago! Since then, everyone in our crew has moved to north side of the trench.

We spent last week uncovering the remains of what is believed to be cavalry barracks from Period III/IV. A sprinkling of vertical wooden posts marks the outlines of rooms and wattle and daub fences. Each has its own small white square nailed into the top to highlight its location. We worked methodically, digging down to a new layer. We began at the northernmost wall and headed south until we reached the wooden drainpipe that cuts through the trench. Then, nearing the end of the week, we turned around and began to dig from the pipe, back towards the northern wall.

Alex explaining the wonders of the vicus at the end of our first week in this trench. He is standing by the water pipe in the south end. Our excavation efforts for weeks 2 and 3 in the vicus focus on this area between Alex and where the photographer stands. Please note the large puddles of water. Photograph by Avery Lafortune

As we dug past the Period III/IV flooring bracken, it became clear that our site is host to several clay pits. These pits likely date towards the end of Period I or early Period II. For the past few days we have dug and troweled around the clay to discern the shape and size of these pits. Believe it or not, not all earth was created the same and we can tell the difference between what is part of the pit and what is simply top soil based on colour and consistency.

Controlling the water in the vicus is an ongoing battle (which Liz tells us about). Our days usually start with a (well-practiced) draining of the small lake that forms overnight. The water is either a result of rainfall or leakage from the Roman water pipe at the south end (incredibly, this pipe still works!). As part of our attempt at water management, a sump has been dug in the north end. Over the weeks, we have had to enlarge it to better suit the needs of the excavators.

Panorama of the Vicus trench (click to enlarge)

With all this digging, we have found many wonderful things. Common finds include jaw bones, ribs, and teeth from animals (mostly cows), pieces of scrap leather (often parts of tents), oyster shells, and bits of pottery. We usually find most, if not all, of those things every day. However, we have also found some different, unusual, and exciting objects. Particularly, large tent panels and leather shoes have been found (for more information on shoes see my post). We also found two copper-alloy sewing needles and thin, riveted pieces of copper-alloy which were likely used in tent-making. Aline found a bookmark that seems to be made from a writing tablet and she along with Victoria and Andy have all found parts of tablets. These are very exciting finds because they may have ink writing on them that will tell us more about life at Vindolanda. Large pieces of bright orange samian pottery have also been found, many of which have decorative designs. There are even a few pieces that were found individually yet are clearly part of the same vessel! We did not unearth many metal objects, however, today, Anna dug up a thin piece of metal that is believed to be a hairpin. These are just some of the notable finds we have discovered in the vicus over the past two weeks. The finds will be processed by the post-excavation team or down at the museum, preserved, and studied to add to our growing understanding of the activity in the vicus.

A basket of artifacts from the vicus post-cleaning. There are several bones (including a jaw bone with teeth) and a large piece of a mortarium. Photograph by Avery Lafortune
A basket of freshly washed pottery from the vicus. Note that bright orange samian ware! Photograph by Avery Lafortune

We will continue to drop the trench until the end of the week. There is an extra sense of hustle this week in particular because these are the last few days of excavation for this area. Our goal is to dig straight to the bottom and find as much as we can until Friday. Once completed this will be the end of the vicus trench, not only for us field school students but also for the site. Afterwards and after everything has been recorded, the trench will be back-filled and our work will be covered. Excavators will move to new sites. Excavation is a timed search. We dig and we retrieve and when the trench is deep enough and the clock runs out we refill and move on.

Working in the vicus has been a wonderful experience. There is so much to learn and discover and we will continue to do so right up until the last minute of excavation time on our last day.

Buckets lined up and ready for a big day of digging! Photograph by Avery Lafortune

From Dream to Reality

One of the first book series I ever read as a child was Little House on the Prairie.  If you haven’t read it, it’s a story about a farm girl travelling across America with her family. This sparked a flame in me that will never be quenched.  These books opened a world of history and I have not turned back since.  From Little House on the Prairie I moved on to the Royal Diaries series.  Spanning from Cleopatra of Egypt to Anastasia of Russia, these books chronicle the lives of royalty all over the world.  It was the information found in the backs of these books that made me realize people were making a career out of uncovering history.

little house on the prairie
Little House on the Prairie
royal diaries
Royal Diaries

By the time I was 12 years old, I learned about a fascinating thing called archaeology.  I had heard about it in movies and TV shows but knew that what I was seeing was fiction.  As I looked into this field, I came to the conclusion that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.  When people ask a child what they want to do when they grow up, most say something along the lines of doctor or teacher.  At 12 years old, I proudly stated that I wanted to be an archaeologist.  Most children my age had either never heard of the word before or didn’t know what it meant.  By the time I reached high school and had to do a project on a dream job, I chose archaeology.  Since archaeology was my supposed dream job, my teacher asked me what job I would actually have. I told her that I would make my dream a reality.  You all can probably imagine the reaction from most people when you tell them that you want to be an archaeologist.  It elicits confused looks and skepticism.  Many believe that the archaeology that gets shown on television is the real deal.  Little do they know that it is so much more than that.

Vindolanda has helped to make my dreams a reality.  Before going on this trip, someone asked me what I would do if I discovered that archaeology was not for me.  Until someone brought this up, it had never even crossed my mind.  Archaeology had been my dream for so long that I could not imagine disliking it.  Once someone planted that seed of doubt in my head, I had one question for myself:  What am I going to do for the rest of my life if I don’t love this?  Everything that I had done in my academic career was leading to archaeology. Although excited, when I got to Vindolanda a little part of me was also nervous and worried.

But, after the first day on site, I already knew that I hadn’t made a mistake. Without having even started to excavate, I realized that I was going to love it no matter what.  The feeling I got when I found my first Roman artifact was indescribable.  The piece of pottery was so small that it would probably get discarded by the post excavation team but that didn’t change anything.  There was no doubt as to whether or not I was on the right path.  That feeling from the first artifact was tenfold when I made my first small find.  Holding the barcode staff used to mark the place of the Roman game piece was one of the most exhilarating things I have ever felt.  Every little piece of animal bone and leather from the vicus connects me to a past that I want to spend the rest of my life discovering.

roman game piece.jpg
Roman game piece

One of the greatest feelings in the world is when you know you are on the right path in life.  I’m so glad that Vindolanda has affirmed this for me and that I’ve been able to experience this amazing opportunity at such a critical point in my studies. When people ask me what I want to do when I get older, I proudly say that I want to be an archaeologist.