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!

Remembering to Slow Down

Our third week of excavation at Vindolanda has come to an end and every day is still as exciting as the first. Going up to the tea shed before the visitors arrive, before the other excavators arrive, there’s a certain beauty that can’t be described. The day then picks up speed as we head to our trenches to begin excavations. At lunch, most of us voraciously eat to fill the appetite we worked up while talking  about what’s been happening in the other trench. Soon enough we’re back to work, then tea, then work, and all of sudden it’s the end of the day and most people are ready to go home. With this routine, you can easily forget to take in the view of Vindolanda. 

I know I would tell myself “don’t worry, I can look around tomorrow or next week!” I’ve realized this week just how quickly time is running out for me to explore and really take in Vindolanda. So these past few mornings and lunches, I took my time to look around the entire site and take in its beauty. As I dabbled with this idea, some of my fellow field schoolers decided to do the same.

Elizabeth taking in the view Friday morning before excavation

After buying my lunch in the cafe, I spent my time appreciating the beauty of this little valley. The stream meandered its way past the kiln, under the bridge, and in front of the reconstructed temple. If the Romans came down from Vindolanda to this stream, they would have heard the same sounds I can hear right now as the water makes its trek to wherever it ends up. The trees that line the paths as I walk up towards the site sway in the wind and whisper things to those who listen. One could hear the whisper of the trees themselves and imagine that it’s the distant voices and sounds of the Romans coming from the fort just above. 

The stream running under the bridge

I also realized I had never been on the replica of Hadrian’s wall that stands at Vindolanda. I lazily made my way over there with my ear buds in, enjoying the tone the music set to my leisurely pace. I felt like the school children we see each day as I climbed the stairs to the top of the wooden turret and then the stone one. Looking down onto the site from this vantage point feels almost dream like. I can just imagine the various phases: the Vicus, a noisy and busy place outside of the stone fort, the timber forts and barracks would just below with a different kind of ruckus. 

My view from atop the stone turret

I’ve sadly begun to think about how I will soon be leaving Vindolanda. Sad as it may be that I’ll be leaving soon, I have a feeling I’ll be back to Vindolanda, maybe as a visitor, or even a volunteer. But until then I will make sure to soak in all the beauty of Vindolanda while I still have the chance.

East Ditch Introduction

Hello everyone!

This week, we were separated into two groups. One group is in the Vicus, and the other, which I am a part of, is in the East gate ditch. For a video tour of the Vicus trench, see Anna’s blog post!

A view of our trench as of Friday

So why excavate along the east wall of Stone Fort 2? One of the main reasons is that there would have been a defensive ditch outside this wall. These ditches were used to defend the fort by forcing cavalry to use the paths that would be well defended from towers. It would also make it difficult for soldiers to get to the wall as they would have to climb down than back up. Various traps could be set in these ditches, such as spikes or holes at the very bottom hidden by brush.

What makes ditches interesting to excavate is that before a fort was abandoned, the ditch would be filled in. Before this, many people would take the opportunity to throw away anything they did not (or could not) take with them. This means that there is usually a lot of material culture to be found when excavating ditch fill. Another reason this particular section of ditch is interesting is because it has yet to be excavated by modern archaeologists.

On Monday, we began the arduous task of de-turfing the area where the ditch should be. After the first day, we discovered that the “berm” (a clay bank against the wall before the slope of the ditch) was three times larger than most berms and had a cobbled surface on top of it. A possible explanation is that the Romans created a footpath so people could walk around the fort. Carts probably would not have used this path as the eastern gate is too small to allow carts to get through. Another possibility is that the berm was extended for support because of the potential destabilising remains underneath from previous periods of occupation. Hopefully we’ll find out when the berm is eventually excavated after the ditch.

The cobble path

Wednesday, most worked on troweling back the cobble path and the large stones that define the edge of the ditch. A few of us continued to de-turf as Beth decided that we needed a place to really be able to get into the ditch.

The large stones at the edge of the ditch

Friday, we all began to drop our trenches to really get into the ditch. Although we are still in topsoil, we are beginning to find more Roman artefacts, such as a coin, a game piece, and the end of a spear. No more de-turfing was needed, however, we may need to do it in the near future depending on what we find in our section.

It has been a very different week from my first week which was in the North Field. For one, we got to meet and work with the rest of the volunteer team. This was a fantastic experience as everyone is so kind and we learned many things from them. Unfortunately, we have to say goodbye to this session’s team but I am very excited to meet the next group of volunteers.  With them, we will continue to explore the eastern ditch and learn many new things together. I can’t wait to see what else is in this ditch!

A Top Taco Tuesday

Sometimes people wonder how we keep our strength up while digging. The answer is of course tacos! What better way to bond than by eating tacos together! Elizabeth came up with the idea a little bit before hand but the plan all came together Monday. We all quickly chatted during our lunch break and at tea time about items we needed to buy. After a speedy grocery store run, all was ready for the big night.

All our toppings ready to go

Although Tuesday was too rainy for excavations, a lovely morning lecture and a trip to Hexham left us with a leisurely afternoon to prepare for the tacos. Aline and Holly chopped up most of the veggies, while Prem made a fantastic guacamole. I prepared the beef, and Anna prepared a vegan taco filling consisting of rice, beans, tomatoes, and taco seasoning.

What was left of our beef and some of Anna’s taco filling

With everything prepared dinner was ready to be served! It was an organized excitement as we all began to prepare our tortillas, filling them various topping in proportions just to our liking. Seeing everyone’s different tortilla folding strategies and having a good laugh as things got messy, it was a great way to have dinner but also to bond and have a good time. Can’t wait for our next communal meal!

Everyone right before we ate!

Learning Through Living

Already our first week excavating with the Vindolanda Field School is done! In this short period we’ve learned so much without really thinking about it. At the beginning of the week I was more than excited to get my hands dirty but I had no idea what I was doing with a trowel. I also didn’t know the difference between a shovel and a spade (shovel is made for scooping while the spade is made to cut through the dirt). None of us were sure what was an orange rock and what was a piece of pottery. We kept yelling for Beth, Alex, or Prem to ask if what we had found was indeed pottery or just a rock that we would then toss aside.

Avery spading like a champ

Now, we all have our own spading and troweling that work for us. We also are a lot more confident in identifying what is pottery and what is not. From time to time we do still ask as some of those rocks really do look like pottery. Wheelbarrow runs became easier as the week went on although there is always the occasional wobble. 

Day one of excavations was full of nervousness and no one wanted to do something wrong or somehow ruin a find. But, by the end of the week the nervousness had dropped considerably and we grow more confident every day. With confidence we can now distinguish between top soil (soft, crumbly, brown dirt) and clay (which is usually sticky, damp, and grey). We also gained confidence in our own excavating techniques. Whether it’s the two handed troweling to try and even the bottom on your trench or stomping on the spade to cut through more dirt, everyone has their own spin to it that they can now do almost like a pro (at least until Beth and Alex show up).

Holly (left) and me troweling and sorting like professionals

With our new found confidence, the trenches became louder with the voices of people getting to know each other better. With nothing but dirt to scrape all day, it was easy enough to start talking to our friends as a way to entertain ourselves. We also have begun to get to know the other people on the site. At lunch time it was always nice to sit with the other volunteers and get to talk about their experience in their trench, their new finds or features, or about themselves in order to get to know them better. All of these things can’t be taught in a classroom or at least can’t be grasped as quickly as they have been within one week. Vindolanda is a unique experience that way because it immerses us in a learning environment. It’s really cool to be able to measurably see that from our week in the North Field. Even though it’s just the first week, it’s nice to reflect on my thoughts from day one and see the progress we all have made. Our skills can only get better from here as we continue to live through this amazing opportunity.

I Hear the Rains Down in Vindolanda

Today was the first “cold” day we have had since we’ve arrived at field school and it was also the first day of excavations. It rained for most of the day which was also a first since our arrival. The excavations today consisted of cleaning up the trench edges, and clearing away the loose soil which took up the majority of our time. Here and there were finds of Victorian pottery but we had yet to really get into anything Roman. This wasn’t exactly like the fabulous finds of the archaeologists I watched on TV as a kid. In no time, my bright pink raincoat became dull from the dirt and my pants were caked in mud. For hours, I was in the trench on me knees with one hand in the cold mud and the other scraping away the mud with my trowel.

Pieces of Victorian pottery I found


Nonetheless, I have never been more excited in my life. Despite cold fingers as I used my trusty trowel Trudy to scoop the loose dirt into my hand shovel, I was elated. All my life I’ve been waiting to literally get my hands dirty to get any kind of experience in archaeology. I was ecstatic to see the first steps of an archaeological dig as one day I hope to be doing this as my career. I know my enthusiasm will not wane as it can only grow from here as we uncover more artifacts. The happiness I feel while excavating fuels my motivation even more than before to become an archaeologist. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be fortunate enough to come back to the Vindolanda Field School as the professor in charge!

Photo of me in the trench today taken by Aline McQueen

We Forgot Prem.

Everything was going according to plan. The cake and card were already upstairs as Steph walked through the door of our house. After letting her settle in along with her housemates, Elizabeth coolly walked upstairs, raising no suspicions from Steph. Then Elizabeth came down the stairs with a cake in one hand, and she counted us down from three. We all began to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ as Elizabeth walked over to Steph who was sitting on the floor. The cake was placed in front of her and, elated by the surprise, Steph barely knew what to say to us. She greatly enjoyed the spelling on her birthday cake wishing her a “Happee Birthdae” as a reference to the Harry Potter series she is so fond of. The rest of us were ecstatic that our plan had been executed so flawlessly. The cake was taken to the kitchen table to be cut when we all realized something was missing… We all looked around the room to see what it was or who it was… Garett, Aline, Victoria, Avery, Holly, Cassandra, Elizabeth, Anna, Steph, and Pr – nobody had gone to get Prem.

We all panicked. How had we forgotten such an important member of our group? Elizabeth quickly rushed out to get Prem, and the rest of us decided to reenact the surprise scene. Avery quickly rushed back up the stairs with the uncut cake while the rest of us tried to regain our composure. Soon, Prem and Elizabeth walked back in, while some of us wondered if she had told him or not about what had just happened. A few minutes later, Avery jaunted back down and incited the countdown once more. We all began to sing again while Steph immaculately feigned surprise. Giggles could be heard as we tried to keep it together, but nevertheless, it seems that Prem did not notice our ‘take 2’ of this scene.