Adventure

Firstly, I’ve titled this post “Adventure” because I ended up using the word too many times throughout this post and found myself using the thesaurus function every few sentences. But “adventure” is the perfect word for this entire trip. As you know, our time at Vindolanda came to an end this past Friday and I can’t help but to already think on the past five weeks with a touch of nostalgia.

Honestly, I was terrified for Vindolanda when the time arrived to travel across the ocean, when I had to leave my family and friends behind. April and May had been some of the hardest months of my life, and I was incredibly worried I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself on a trip that I’d been looking forward to for months. It was that initial eagerness, the excitement of my new friends, as well as Beth and Alex that helped me to look forward to the bright and wonderful experience ahead.

My worries were quickly stifled within the first few days with our constant journeys along Hadrian’s Wall and the anticipation of more adventure and a lot of digging ahead. Every day of excavation was exciting whether I’d found something interesting or not. I looked forward to working not only with our Canadian crew, but also with the numerous volunteers from around the world who had so many stories and experiences to share with us. Seeing our collective progress day by day was incredible enough to spur me onwards and become eager to accomplish even more the next day.

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York, my new favourite city

I loved every expedition to a new town, every biscuit, every cup of tea, every bucket of anaerobic sludge, and every raindrop. I’ve always been interested in archaeology, and this has only solidified that fact even more. The only downfall of this experience is that I’ve become so interested in so many aspects of archaeology that I’m conflicted on which I would like to pursue in the future (hopefully in the UK). Obviously, this is hardly a downfall, and I’m incredibly thankful to have this conflict.

Just as everyone else has done, I’d like to thank everyone involved in my time at Vindolanda. Thank you Andy, Lauren, and Marta for teaching me more than I could ever have anticipated, for answering all of my silly and not-so-silly questions, and always helping to keep our spirits high as we laboured away. To every volunteer I had the opportunity of working with, thank you for being such a wonderful team and for sharing stories and bantering along with me. To my Canadian crew, thank you for being my entertaining room/cottage mates, friends, transit van/travel buddies and teammates, you put up with me for five weeks and I personally think that’s rather impressive. To all the incredibly generous donors, thank you for helping me achieve this dream and making all of this possible. Finally, thank you of course to Alex and Beth for making all of this possible, for sharing your enthusiasm and encouragement, and for taking us on more adventures than I ever could have asked for. Thank you to everyone; you all helped me more than you could possibly know, and turned my summer on its head in the best way possible. I will forever be grateful for all of you and for these incredible five weeks, and hope that I can return to Vindolanda in the very near future.

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Vindolanda after some rain on Friend’s Night

Until then!

MTVindolanda’s Cribs: Excavation Edition

Last Wednesday I made a feeble attempt at creating a parody of MTV’s Cribs around the Excavation Shed at Vindolanda. If you don’t know what Cribs is, basically it’s a show where celebrities tour a camera crew around their grandiose homes. Here’s the first and only clip I succeeded in making before deciding I couldn’t get through an entire tour without laughing (watch Beth in the background).

And so I’ve created a written version for you.

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I’ll start off with an exterior view of the shed’s entrance, which is finished in a nice deep mahogany stain and stands very strong against adverse weather conditions.

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As you can see below, the interior has been thoughtfully decked out with timber planks all around for a cabin-esque feel, and let me tell you, when it’s pouring outside this room serves as an incredibly warm and cozy refuge. It houses many things, including our bags, our biscuits and our tea.

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At the very back through these rustic French doors is the post excavation area. Here, a group of lovely people work very hard to ensure that every artifact that comes though (mostly pottery and animal bone and a few iron nails) is properly cleaned and catalogued before being shipped off to the museum.

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To our left is the kitchen(ish), equipped with everything you really need including: an abundance of tea mugs, an abundance of tea bags and sugar packets, one massive water urn and a smaller kettle, a microwave, a toaster and a first aid kit. This is where the magic happens, where we all collect a few times throughout the day and most importantly for our daily ritual: tea.

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Lastly, in the shed is the rafter support beam which holds a variety of goods from volunteers through the years, including a hanging monkey, a pack of Alamo crackers and a kangaroo. Unfortunately, us Canadians didn’t think to bring anything to mark our place in the shed, so hopefully the contingents in the future have the foresight to do so. In the background you can also spot a lovely image of Shrek’s face.

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Behind the excavation shed is the Welly storage unit holding all of our smelly rainboots, which have been passed from student to student through the years. This year, a few new pairs had to be ordered, and believe it or not, the last two only arrived today. Luckily, Beth spotted two extra pairs hiding in the excavation shed last week and so we were not forced to work in the anaerobic sludge with only our hiking boots.

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Also back here is the not-very-top-secret head honcho shed, where all of the important people hang out. They’re pretty accepting of visitors though and make wonderful neighbours, and will gladly invite you inside for a chat.

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Lastly, is the wonderful tool shed, the home to… our tools. It seems dull, but really it’s very important. Without any protection for our tools they’d either go missing, or be perpetually soaked. So thank you tool shed for ensuring I always have my trusty spade, and that my sponges have a chance to dry before I go to bail water out of my flooded trench in the morning.

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To end off, here is a wonderful view from our moist patio overlooking the site, which is ideal for hanging out on when its not as drench as it was today.

(As a treat, here’s the second and last clip we filmed for the video version.)

Thanks for watching/reading!

Jenny

Placing people into binary distinctions is not usually a good thing, but I can say with full confidence that I am a dog person, not a cat person. I always try to find a way to like cats, but then they go on to do something that shatters my affections and leaves me with a few trust issues.

Here at Ald White Craig Cottages, we have a wide array of animals milling about including a friendly dog named Fred, and a sneaky cat named Jenny. Evidently, I am here to talk about Jenny.

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Jenny soaking up some English sun

I’m not sure what Jenny does when we’re not around, because though she is an outdoor cat, she spends an awfully large portion of her time pestering us to let her inside of our cottages. And we almost always do. At first I was skeptical, I only have met cats who like to claw everything in sight. However, she quickly took a liking to me despite my best attempts to ignore her, and soon Jenny was waiting outside of my bedroom door while I showered, she would jump a bannister and a door frame to enter my room, and she would snuggle up beside me without any sort of invitation.

I was annoyed, I must admit. But she was and continues to be incredibly adamant on seeing us each day that it is truly heartwarming. Though she glowers in your general direction when you eat food, her love of us (or of our warm homes) has gone so far that she often cries outside of our doors at night, hoping to be allowed in. Just the other day she laid siege on our cottage, bolting to every window and door she could find in an attempt to get inside, narrowly missing her chance as we opened the door for a mere split second.

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A cat and a couch

Annoyance has turned into acceptance, and even love. Upon our return from York, we hadn’t seen Jenny in a few days and we were concerned she had disappeared forever. All of the times I’d begged her to leave my bed flashed in my head, which was riddled with guilt. But she appeared again yesterday, and this time with a present (a dead mouse) in tow as though to apologize for worrying us.

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Jenny and her thoughtful delivery

What I’m trying to say is that Jenny is much more than a cat. She is a watchful protector who looms over our cottages and comes to show us love when we least expect it. She is also a metaphor for this journey in general; forcing me to accept change and new experiences that may make me uncomfortable or annoyed.

I’m not sure how Jenny has done it, opening my heart to a cat so much that she receives her own blog post. Perhaps she is a spirit, or an apparition sent here to teach me a lesson. One thing I know for sure is that I’m thankful to have had my adventures with Jenny, and will miss her soft fur and her disapproving stare.

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The disapproving stare

New Friends feat. Veronica and Roxanne

I’m here today to introduce you all to some of our new friends here at Vindolanda! Every day each of us work alongside numerous volunteers who spend two or more weeks of their lives excavating the fort in the summer, and I can’t say enough about how wonderful it has been to interact with so many wonderful people from so many different places.

Shannon and I have been working with two fantastic ladies since Monday, and while we’ve chatted about a number of things, and exchanged some ghost stories, I asked them each a few questions to learn some more about them.

Introducing…

Veronica and Roxanne!!

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Veronica on the left, Roxanne on the right

Veronica is from Banbury, Oxfordshire and Roxanne is from Friday Harbour, Washington, though she grew up in Calgary, Alberta, like me! I learned that both of the ladies are recently retired; Veronica worked as a teacher previously, most recently in a prison (which she felt was interesting but stressful), and Roxanne was a physiotherapist, and currently writes a monthly column for a yacht magazine.

In attempting to be a proper interviewer, I asked the ladies what brought them to Vindolanda, the most important question of all. Veronica excavated at Vindolanda last summer for two weeks, though she’s been interested in archaeology for a while and even did continuing education at Oxford in archaeology for two years. She has also excavated at a Roman site near Oxford, as well as at a Mesolithic site near Scarborough, and discovered the opportunity to volunteer at Vindolanda while walking Hadrian’s Wall with her husband. Like Veronica, Roxanne also walked Hadrian’s Wall with her husband and a friend two years ago and discovered the opportunity at Vindolanda through the adventure and excavated last summer for the first time.

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Roxanne, Veronica and Shannon hard at work

And while I’m still waiting to uncover something completely unique, both Veronica and Roxanne have seen some rather interesting things! Last year, Veronica was present when a carving of a dog and a hare was found on the underside of a stone that was about to be smashed into pieces with a sledge hammer. She also found a strip of leather in an unexpected place within the fort last week! Roxanne made a great number of finds last week including a spear, a knife and a helmet handle, but her favourite of all was a delicate piece of metal mirror frame.

Being the fantastic reporter than I am, I asked the ladies what their favourite animals are (so creative, I know), and learned that Roxanne loves fawns and thinks they’re absolutely adorable (rightly, so) and that Veronica loves dogs and has a 12 year old collie at home. I followed up with a more reasonable inquiry, where would you like to travel if you could go anywhere? Roxanne’s favourite vacation spot is Maui where she goes with her husband, as well as Paris, but she would also like to see the maritime provinces of Canada, a destination often missed by many of us. Also keeping it close to home, Veronica would like re-visit Scotland, travelling to the Shetland and Orkney Islands where the archaeology is fascinating.

That’s it for today, here is a picture of the progress the ladies have helped us make this week!  Cheers!

Three Johns in a John

Following our departure from the north field yesterday, a few of us began working in the fort itself, and Shannon and I began digging next to an Antonine stone loo (but more on that in a bit). The two of us are working on pulling up a 4th century floor to eventually reveal a Severan period surface beneath, and while our fellow workers across the sites are uncovering finds regularly, we managed to find a singular pottery sherd today. However, after hours of hauling rather large stones and building muscles in every part of our body, we were thankful for the small piece, and seeing the progress even from morning to afternoon is definitely exciting enough to make up for our seeming loss.

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The 4th century floor Shannon and I are removing

But the loo!

The loo is to the south of us and is currently being excavated by three wonderful men named John; the fun part here is that the Johns are working on the John. The Johns have been keeping things interesting for Shannon and I, sharing their own finds with us and even carting some of our massive stones off for us. The kindness and enthusiasm of all the other diggers around us is incredibly encouraging, welcoming and never fails to amaze me.

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I didn’t get a quality photo of the loo, so here it is above mine and Shannon’s excavation

More on the toilets. The toilets are in a room with a drain running from the north into a water tank and through the building, and into these drains is where people would have done their business. The most fantastic part about this (to me) is that some of their business has stuck around, and the Johns discovered 1800-year-old human waste. Poop. Yes, the fort has ancient poop and I’ve never been so excited about such a thing. The thing about fecal matter is that we can find out what these people were eating; things such as seeds often remain in these samples and can be analyzed by experts to better understand lifeways of the Romans here in Vindolanda. As a student of bioarchaeology, this topic definitely stole the spotlight for today!

Until next time!

PS: I hope all of the Johns spell their name this way and I’m very sorry if I got it wrong.

Some Site Seeing

Hi everyone!

Today was a break from upper and lower body workouts as we were carted around the region to various sites along Hadrian’s Wall.Though we swept through so many new experiences today, I’ve chosen to highlight my top five moments for you!

1)    The stores in the basement of the Corbridge Museum

Unfortunately, I’m lacking in photos from this point in the day, but I can say that we found the rows upon rows of boxes of artifacts from the region rather incredible! It was amazing to see the mass amounts of items that have been discovered and stored, but that have not been put on display in museums.

2)    The Roman Baths at Chester and the views along the River Tyne

I took plenty of photos at Chesters Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall and I believe that they will be able to speak for themselves!

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The view walking down to the Roman Baths at Chesters

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3)    A Roman Diploma

There were many incredible inscriptions and items on display at Chesters, but among the most intriguing was definitely this Roman Diploma, which a Roman soldier received upon his dismissal from the army. IMG_1493.jpg

4)    The Mithraeum at Brocolitia

The Mithraeum was a stunning insight into frontier ritual spaces and practices, and even had replicas of the woven wattle and daub benches and walls used by the Romans.

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The Mithraeum

 

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Altars in the Mithraeum

5)    Presentation on photography in the Hedley Center at Vindolanda

We ended our day with a fascinating presentation given by four Visual Arts professors from the University of Connecticut. It was amazing to learn about how differently the artists perceived and photographed the beautiful landscape of northern Britain and provided insight into how each of us here focus on different aspects of our shared experiences.

Until next time! Cheers!

Hey!

Hey everyone! My name is Christine Englot, I’m from Calgary and I’ve just finished my third year at Western. I’ve changed my modules more than a few times, but am hoping to graduate next year with an Honours dual degree in Bioarchaeology and Classical Studies, and this trip to Vindolanda perfectly feeds into both of these subjects. I’ve been interested in archaeology for a long time and have had a little bit of hands on experience before, but I am truly looking forward to the four weeks ahead to learn more about the Roman Frontier and archaeology itself! Also, because I’m looking into potentially applying to grad schools in the UK, this is a fantastic opportunity to experience the culture and environment of this beautiful country.

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After our first large ascent during our hike along Hadrian’s Wall.

My first few days here have been filled with journeys throughout the stunning landscape, including today when we went for a challenging, but rewarding hike along Hadrian’s Wall.

Here’s to hoping the sunny weather will continue for a little while longer!

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A panoramic view of the incredible weather we were lucky to have today!