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,

Holly

 

Update on the East Ditch

Hi everyone, today I will be giving you an update on the progress of the ditch system in the eastern trench! As we have heard from Cassandra in the East Ditch Introduction, this newly excavated trench could be quite an exciting area and could produce some great finds. As of last week, we were beginning to dig and sort through top soil (which is a brown colour) and we continued to do so into this week. Within the top soil up to this layer, there were a few finds such as pieces of pottery and bone, as well as a coin, game piece, and spear base that was mentioned in the previous introduction. Soon we found a more grey layer of silt, probably a sediment from the water flowing through the ditch. In the past few days, we began to dig through the topsoil to try and expose an adjacent clay layer and try to determine where the edge of the ditch is. It took a lot of hard work, some powerful spading and troweling but eventually we got there. It turns out that the ditch is more complex than we had first thought. As is the case with most excavations at Vindolanda, we have layers of ditches on top of each other. The excavated clay edge probably belongs to the 3rd century ditch and the other end of it is underneath a later re-cut ditch. Finding these sorts of features requires careful and patient excavation.

While we were doing this, some of the new Michigan students continued the de-turfing efforts further down the trench. Once they had finished, our goal was to clear the topsoil to the edge of the berm and define the rocks again. While clearing the dirt I came across a small black glass gaming counter which was exciting since it was different compared to the clay ones we had previously found in this trench. Along with the game piece a few coins were found as well as pieces of bone, teeth, and pottery.

 

My glass game piece

 

But by far the most exciting part of the week was when we got the go ahead to drop down another layer. This is very exciting because now we are truly starting to dive down into the ditch itself, and hopefully it will produce some great finds. Again we can see that this is a darker grey layer and a more mucky soil to try and sort through. Around this dirt we also uncovered a few larger rocks, which could possibly have fallen into the ditch. Here we can see the layer of dark soil and rocks as compared to the brown dirt earlier in the day, before we dropped down.

Our drop down trench and the difference in soil colour
You can see the excavated clay edge just to the right of the yellow buckets


Unfortunately, while there were no small finds in what we looked through, this is only the beginning of what will surely be a great excavation and I’m so glad I got to be a part of this experience from the very beginning!

 

A Superb Sundae

What a way to end a wonderful relaxing weekend! Everyone together, eating a delicious meal that was once again prepared and enjoyed by all. In a similar fashion to taco Tuesday, everyone pitched in this Sunday to make sure our burger dinner was a success – and it was. Some made the burgers while others chopped the veggies and the finished product was absolutely delicious. With our freshly made burgers, we sat down to watch a movie. Today’s movie of choice: Jurassic Park. However once the meal was done, some sadness began to set in: we had all too quickly finished the amazing food we cooked. But wait, there was more. The sundaes! Once again the excitement rose as we hurried to retrieve the ice cream from the freezer. With many toppings to adorn the chocolate, vanilla, or mint chip ice cream (special shout out to Professor Greene for the ice cream), we were in dessert heaven. There were Oreos, gummies, and chocolate sauce, just to name a few. Everyone created a different masterpiece and each looked just as good as the next.

Creations by Avery (left) and two bowls from Holly and Cassandra

After our a brief and delicious ice cream break, we all sat down to finish Jurassic Park… but before that could happen, we of course had to open a “few” packs of Lego cards, which most definitely made the night even better than it already was. (If you don’t understand why, read Garett’s post!) But, what made the night the most special was that we could all share a meal and movie together, enjoying some laughs and delicious food, all while knowing that the next day, we would be ready to get back into the trenches! It was truly a superb Sunday.

The Rain Can’t Stop Us

As we started the day, we all had some hope that we would begin the day as usual: in our respective trenches continuing the hard work from the day before. Unfortunately that was not the case. The weather gods did not look fondly upon us today as the skies opened up upon arrival at the site. Thankfully however, because of this rain we got to hear a wonderful lecture given by Dr. Andrew Birley on some  of the history and finds at Vindolanda. He talked about Vindolanda as a fort, frontier, and community as a whole. According to Dr. Birley, the difficulty with a site like this is to untangle the time periods from the finds along with the different groups that belonged to each period, and how they all work together in the span of time. One thing that I found very interesting within this lecture was the statistics on the shoes found and the relation between their sizes. This specifically concerned shoes found within the barracks inside the walls of the fort. The plot of the shoes found shows “men’s” shoes found vs. “other”, which includes women, children and slaves. This is interesting because when we look at the plots, we see a large amount of men’s shoes within the barracks, hoping to prove that these were male quarters. However, as we demonstrated by an experiment of our own during the lecture, this may not have been the case. Just like today, we could have seen a crossover between the sizes of shoes worn by both men and women, not to mention teens and older children.

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Dr. Birley taking the poll, with the Vindolanda shoe plots to the right as reference
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Results of our modern shoe size poll

In the lecture, we took a poll of shoe sizes (in UK size) of all, both men and women. As we could see there was a definite crossover in sizes mainly with size 7. As well, we could see an isolated amount of men with larger sizes and women with smaller sizes. Now we can possibly assume from this experiment and data collected from the shoe finds that there could have been a crossover and therefore we do not know exactly who wore some of these shoes. This brings into question whether all the men’s shoes were in fact worn by men. In that case, if they weren’t all men’s, then we could possibly see a transition of these living quarters to incorporate women from outside the wall or perhaps families. This could mean that the residents outside of the wall at one point moved inside the wall and could have actually taken up residence with the male soldiers in the barracks.

Because of this information, we must then try and piece together the dynamic of the group that lived there at this time and how they worked as a community in their time, as well as how it relates to other periods. This is a very fascinating subject which Dr. Birley so interestingly presented. In this way, it was actually good that the morning was rained out because it proved an amazing learning opportunity.

  • H.G

The World of Excavation Fashion

As the excavators enter the trench we see a varying display of dig attire, however most are sporting a t-shirt type as it is very warm and sunny in northern England today. The noteworthy trends of the summer 2017 are demonstrated here by some of our more stylish models. First down the dirt walkway we have Prem exhibiting the high-waisted and cuffed green trousers that are a major trend this year. This style is often paired with a dirty t-shirt, which is great for multiple days of work, and the outfit as a whole is comfortable and allows for great mobility while digging and pushing wheel barrows. A tip to increase the stylish nature of this look: we would recommend a bright yellow hard hat, this way you get protection from things (such as rocks) hitting your head, as well as the added bonus of being easy to spot in a crowd.

Prem with two versions of a trendy outfit

Next down the muddy aisle we see a group three, all wearing the same shade of blue (more or less). Here we demonstrate the use of bargain brands as a way to save money while also looking very stylish on the dig site. These t-shirts are very versatile as they can be paired with multiple different trousers, for the ideal movement or working situation, demonstrated here by myself (left), Stephanie, and Cassandra. Another way to change up your look on site is to roll up the shoulders of the t-shirts to create a sort of make shift tank top. Not only is this a big trend with our field school models (here shown by Avery), but it is a handy way to avoid those awful t-shirt farmers tans (or burns).

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Myself (left), Stephanie, and Cassandra in blue
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Avery sporting the cuffed sleeves

We will now see the very stylish and very desirable trend of zip-off work trousers, shown by the always fashionable model Aline. These are great to wear on days like today when the site gets hotter by the hour and you feel the need to cool off a bit. These are a highly recommended article of clothing by our excavators.

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Aline with zip-off trousers

If we move on to accessories the most common is the very versatile bandana, as well as the occasional hat. These items are great for covering your head from the sun as well as keeping those unruly hairs out of your face. Both items are ideal to have and wear while excavating and have the added bonus of being able to be worn in all sorts of climates. Bandanas preferably are used because of their ability to transform into different fashion-forward styles, as demonstrated by Anna and Stephanie. All these looks have a purpose and all are equally as stylish this season, and we can look forward to even more elegant and chic items with the upcoming rain, as we will bring out the always popular, always spiffy rain jacket.

 

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Anna (left) and Stephanie showing the versatility of bandanas

Until next time,

  • H.G

Hot and Humid Hike

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Altar at Great Chesters

What a beautiful day it was to begin our second hike along Hadrian’s wall! The sun was shining through the few clouds adorning the blue sky as we ventured west from our cottages in Haltwhistle to Birdoswald. Not only was this a great learning opportunity, but also a great group bonding activity because we all struggled to push through the humid and hot air. We began our journey with a trip through Great Chesters fort where we stopped to look at the remains (still buried) as well as a preserved altar within it.

 

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Prem with his new friend

This is an interesting site to see because it is a good example of how archaeology can provide clear details about human action. On our way out, we got a visit from the animals of Hadrian’s Wall and what a happy surprise it was! It is always exciting to make new friends (especially non-human ones) along the way, and more so when they follow you through the fort.

Unfortunately we had to say goodbye to our new friends to continue on our hike as we had a time to keep! The dark clouds were ominously looming behind us and helped us keep pace. We powered on through the heat and humidity, triumphing over large hills, as some stopped to take in the beautiful sites down below.

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Liz and Prem taking in the beautiful sights and warm breeze

 

One of the most iconic parts of the hike was the stunning remains of Thirwall Castle. Here we see the remaining stones that made up the castle. It was built in the 12th century, and later strengthened using stones from Hadrian’s Wall, which is nearby, The castle, however, began to fall into disrepair in the 17th century. This is an example of how the Roman stones were repurposed into later architecture and we see evidence of this not only here, but in other sites along the wall, including objects such as modern field walls or farmer’s houses.

 

 

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Thirwall Castle

Nearing the end of our hike, we stopped to see the large Poltross Burn milecastle. This is a special milecastle for many reasons. It has the inclusion of an oven, stairs which indicate the existence of a second floor (which otherwise doesn’t remain), and the structures of its north gateway. This was the largest milecastle we have seen so far.

Further on, we stopped once more to view the remains of the old bridge (at Willowford), and some even decided to experience what it would have been like to be the River Irthing, which flowed through here at one time, before the river changed it’s course.

Avery (left) and Aline living like the River Irthing

Overall, the hike was a success (even in the heat and humidity), having learned a lot while at the same time all having fun together, enjoying this beautiful landscape that Hadrian’s Wall runs through.

Updating you soon,

  • H.G

Brilliant Badminton

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Cassandra lines up a shot

She lunges forward. The beads of sweat slip their way down her face. Her arm is outstretched and her racket at the ready, about to make the shot… and… oh so close…. but not quite. Unfortunately this is how it ends for a lot of us, well, “less experienced” badminton players. These are some disappointing attempts to get the perfect shot while on the other hand, the semi-pros execute exemplary elements of the sport, with daring dives accomplished and perfect power presented with every blast. We watch in wonderment as we begin to develop the skills to one day face such polished players.

As the newest of all, Victoria grasps the game quickly and graciously, proving to be a fine contender in this game, while Garett tumbles towards triumph with every shot. But no matter the skill level, badminton night was a fantastically fun experience for all. What a wonderful way to spend Wednesday evenings.

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Elizabeth (left) and Victoria as a badminton team