As our final day of digging came to a close I couldn’t help but feel a sense of loss. This trip has been the experience of a lifetime, it’s shown me new things that I realized I love, and given me many new relationships with some amazing people. I knew two years ago that I wanted to be a part of this field course, back when Professor Greene first mentioned it in her Ancient Cities course when I was in second year. Even now, as I’m writing this on my third connecting flight home it still seems almost like a dream that I got to take part in something as amazing as this.

Early on in the trip, I realized that this experience is what I make it. I realized I wanted to take every opportunity that came my way, luckily the Global Opportunities award made that possible. Without it things like my Sunday trip to Newcastle, and a lot of the fun we had in the Lake District would’ve been out of my reach financially, but thanks to that I had the opportunity to make the most of my experiences here and for that I am very grateful.

The past 5 weeks have taught me many things about myself. Such as my ability to guilt trip myself. For many of the extracurricular hikes, such as High Street, and Loughrigg, I was always on the fence about whether I wanted to do them at all. I’m not the greatest hiker, uphill stretches, especially steep ones, feel like my mortal enemies, and I was holding myself back because of that. But then I thought about it and realized I was going to miss out on these once in a lifetime opportunities because I was doubting my own abilities. So I guess I learned more about myself (not just my self guilt-tripping!) but about my own determination and perseverance.

I would call this experience life changing, and eye opening, and can confidently call it the best 5 weeks of my life, no matter what weather and insects were thrown our way. It may be over, but the midgey bites will last for a little while yet.

Steel Rigg, on Hadrian’s Wall
Hexham Abbey
Start of the first hike!
Alex finding the Samian cup, Day 2!
Recap of my first find! Proud moment.
Lunch break during our hike up Loughrigg in the Lakes District.

Exploring the Border Abbeys!

Saturday, while many of our peers were out and about in Edinburgh, Melanie, Sarah, Beth and Alex, our Canadian friend Andy, and myself took a drive up to the border abbeys of Scotland. Stopping for a photo opportunity at the border crossing we continued on to our first stop, Dryburgh.

At the border!
Dryburgh Abbey

The border abbeys are all in varying stages of disrepair and abandonment but Dryburgh, founded in 1150, was destroyed by fire 3 times, and ravaged by war four times, abandoned by 1584, and then later in the 18th century bought and turned into a “romantic ruin” by David Erskine, the 11th Earl of Buchan. He was later buried there along with famous novelist Sir Walter Scott. Despite everything the abbey has been through it still remains a quite complete and it’s a very beautiful location.

Dryburgh Abbey
Dryburgh Abbey
Dryburgh Abbey

Our next stop was Kelso abbey, founded in 1128, it was a home of the Tironesians monks, who also later inhabited Arbroath abbey to the north. The Tironesian order was founded based on poverty and penance, and as occurred at Arbroath, this was later shrugged off and the compound became quite wealthy. Unlike Arbroath and Dryburgh, there is not much left of Kelso, but what is left is quite striking. Being so close to the borders it became a focus of destruction during the wars of independence in the early 13th century, with further damage being caused by English incursions up until the mid 16th century. It was finally abandoned and left to ruin in 1545.

Kelso Abbey
Kelso Abbey
Kelso Abbey
Kelso Abbey
Arbroath Abbey
Arbroath Abbey
Arbroath Abbey

Our last stop before heading home to get ready for the friends of Vindolanda night was Jedburgh Abbey. Founded in 1138 by the Augustinians and meeting its end after the reformation and many attacks and raids throughout the 16th century, it was favored by royals and served the royal castle in Jedburgh. King Alexander III was married, and his death apparently foretold, there in 1285. The Augustinians were always close to royalty and their other homes include Holyrood Abbey beside Edinburgh castle.

Jedburgh Abbey
Jedburgh Abbey
Jedburgh Abbey
Jedburgh Abbey
Jedburgh Abbey
Jedburgh Abbey

We didn’t get to visit the fourth border abbey, Melrose Abbey, but I had visited with my family before coming to Haltwhistle. So to round off the border Abbey photos here are a few pictures I took then.

Melrose Abbey
Melrose Abbey
Melrose Abbey
Melrose Abbey
Melrose Abbey

It was a nice change to see a little history from another time period of the UK but starting Monday it’s back to Vindolanda and Roman Britain!

The Fort: Session Two

Tile with paw print found in the ramparts. Dog? Cat? Who knows!

Today we had a very productive day in the fort. While my area, a “sandwich shop” that we are dropping down to a fourth century road is yielding very little, the fort ramparts excavators had a banner day. They discovered a tile with a small paw print in it before lunch, prompting hot debate over whether it was a dog or a cat.

When they uncovered a small altar to a deity, with a symbol incised in the flat surface, everyone crowded around trying to get a look and it was all quite exciting even if the symbol looks something like an alien according to some people. This makes the second small altar found in the fort during our time here at Vindolanda, with Eugene finding the small corner of a personal altar during our first session. Sadly when we turned the altar over it appears to have been broken and there is no inscription on it, so no champagne celebration for us, but it is a very cool find none the less and hopefully the rest of it will turn up in further excavations. Watch out for live updates and more information on this artifact and more at the Vindolanda Trust’s official facebook page https://www.facebook.com/TheVindolandaTrust?fref=ts

Because the ramparts are built and filled in with random bits and pieces and rubble from other areas it will be difficult if not impossible to find the original home of this altar. We also had a visitor to stop by today who had last visited the site 50 years ago as a school boy and had a very cool picture he took of the praefects house at that time, looking quite different. As Andy said “oh that’s when we had grass in there.”

All in all an interesting day, with many good finds!

Wrap Up in the Vicus

Well the end of our first session has sadly come. I have spent the last two weeks in the vicus and it has been an eventful two weeks. Starting just our second day, with Alex finding the full Samian ware (terra sigillata) cup, going straight through to this past Thursday with the find of a stylus tablet and wooden pot lid.

Stylus writing tablet
Samian ware cup found by Alex
Wooden pot lid placed in water to prevent deterioration

What started as a gravel expanse dating to 1971 has now become a multilayer trench with an Antonine period ditch dating to the mid 2nd century AD, as well as wooden wattle and daub posts and walls dating to Timber Fort 4, in the early 2nd century AD.

My trench with Antonine ditch and wattle and daub fencing

Excavating down through the history of the site has brought many learning experiences to all of us, from the practical physical excavation tips, to observational methods to see changes in the stratigraphy of our sites, to learning the overall history of Roman Britain and how our site fits into that picture. We’ve gained the comraderie of the trenches and become closer friends with each other and got really muddy throughout the whole process. In Steve and Nick’s trench they uncovered a flagstone floor and then a wooden floor from an earlier period showing obviously differing levels of occupation.

Steve and Nick’s trench at the end of two weeks with flagstone in the foreground and wooden floor in the background

Sarah uncovered flagstone ground covering underneath an Antonine road and then began work in the lower anaerobic layers of the next trench discovering many bone artefacts including a carved dagger-like object and many animal skulls.

Bone, possibly antler with carved handle
Sarah’s anaerobic trench

Between the multiple sites we found two shoes, three coins, a spindle whorl, a partial glass bangle, two beautiful complete or near complete examples of pottery, as well as a few examples of almost complete larger coarseware cooking vessels.

Spindle whorl found by Steve
Coin found by Steve
Coin found by Steve
Near complete coarseware pot
Partial glass bangle found on Sarah’s road

I’m sure there are many more magnificent finds to come in the next two weeks as the next group swaps into the vicus for excavations and I’m sure they’ll have as much fun as I did.

Day One: The Vicus

First find!

Monday was our first day of excavation! I was one of the group that is digging in what is known as the vicus, or the extra-mural settlement (the town outside the wall of the fort). I spent most of the day degraveling, my entire body is sore, but no matter how insignificant my find of a tiny sherd of pottery was it was my first find ever and I was super excited. I have determined that upper body strength and arm strength are crucial when removing the upper layer of gravel at least and of these I have basically none, but that will improve by the end of my time here at Vindolanda (hopefully!). But after scraping away with our trowels for a few hours we decided to speed things up a bit by using shovels, and then I got to just search the clumps of dirt my two trench mates were tossing in the wheelbarrow and that was a much easier job for me. All this hard work made me work up way more of an appetite than I usually would and I learned the hazards of being too lazy when packing your lunch, note to self: never skimp on the food. Luckily the biscuit bucket of communal cookies was there and I got to supplement my lunch with those as well as a quick stop in at the museum café. Despite the aches and pains, I think we’re off to a good start with our excavations, and I’m excited for what tomorrow will bring! Along with the cookies I bought at Sainsbury’s for lunch.

The more efficient way of removing gravel.

Corbridge Museum!

A possible furniture adornment.
Rachel with a sherd of life sized face pottery.

Hi everyone! Morgan here. Yesterday we visited the Corbridge museum and Roman fort site. We were shown around the site by the lovely Graeme Stobbs and then were given the amazing opportunity to go into the store house for artifacts that were not on display with Frances, the Curator of Roman Collections for Hadrian’s Wall. The majority of artifacts recovered from any archaeological site are never put on display for the general public to see and we were given the honour of viewing and handling a few of these artifacts. With every new generation of archeologists, new techniques and methods of recording are used to refine the process and increase the learning potential. She discussed with us the difficulties of attempting to understand and interpret finds that had been documented during early excavation, and complications that arise while trying to properly categorize and digitize the current collection at Corbridge. I found myself relating the process to what I have experienced with my mom working in records management, going through old records and cataloguing and digitizing. I enjoy seeing the overlap with her work as much as I enjoy the overlap between my science and classics majors. I really enjoyed being able to handle the artifacts, and you may laugh but I may see a bit of the records management coming through in the future! I’d love to get my hands on organizing something like this. Overall it was a great day at this wonderful site, and the two others of Brocolitia and Chesters, with the added bonus trying to photo bomb the BBC music productions!

Stacks of catalogued artifacts plus Rob.
The hazards of slacking on your record keeping.