I cannot even begin to explain how thankful I feel to have had this amazing opportunity. I’m so grateful not only for having the chance to tour so much of the UK as my first abroad trip but, more importantly, for getting to spend 4 weeks excavating at Vindolanda. It was amazing from start to finish, from meeting new and wonderful people from all over, to troweling and spading through yummy muck to discover leather shoes.
I fell in love with the English countryside at first glance out of the plane window. I was extremely excited for what awaited me at Vindolanda and I certainly was not disappointed! I had the opportunity to reveal the remains of a metal shop in the fort. In the vicus, I was lucky enough to find leather shoes and even a pottery stamp in the anaerobic!
I want to say a huge thank you to everyone at Vindolanda, especially the staff and volunteers who I met along the way. I’d like to thank Andy, Marta, and Lauren for trusting me to handle these delicate matters even when using both a trowel and a pick axe.
And thanks to Beth and Alex for running the Vindolanda field school. Without this program I would not have fallen in love with such an amazing place! But thanks also for letting me, on occasion, play DJ in the van while driving to and from site!
If you have yet to visit Vindolanda, I highly recommend doing so. This amazing site has earned a well deserved place in my heart and I will be back!
You never know what you may find in the anaerobic conditions at Vindolanda. You can happen upon a piece of samian pottery or bovine bone. What really caught my eye were the two thousand year old branches and twigs! So they might not be as exciting as a leather shoe or stamp on a pottery base but you have to appreciate everything you discover on the dig site.
Here are just a few of the interesting branches and vegetation products that I couldn’t resist taking a photo of.
All of these photos were taken on my last few days of excavation in the anaerobic soil of the vicus. The thought that was always at the back of my mind was how amazing it is to be finding artefacts and vegetation that have survived approximately two thousand years underground!
On Thursday night, we had the pleasure of listening to and learning from Dr. Trudi Buck on the subject of human bones in the archaeological record. Osteology is the study of the structure and function of the skeletal system. Forensic anthropology takes these bone features and uses them to determine who an unidentified skeleton is.
There are four main features to look for when attempting to determine the identity of a person
1. Stature: It is important to understand the physical appearance of an individual when identifying a person. We can do this by looking at various features of a skeleton.
2. Age at death: When looking at the skeleton of a youth, a great indicator of age is tooth formation and stage of tooth eruption. Think way back when you lost your baby teeth–the timing was predictable and expected.
3. Sex: One of the best ways to differentiate between male and female is by looking at the pelvis. When looking at the pelvis from the front you can see how the female has a U-shaped subpubic angle where the male is more V-shaped. Also, females have a wide greater sciatic notch in comparison to males.
4. Ancestry: This is done by looking at certain features of the skull such as eye orbit shape, nasal opening shape and many more. It can be hard to define a skeleton to a single ancestry. Many textbooks outline these broadly as European, Asian and Sub-Saharan African descent, which is very narrow.
Using replicas of real human skeletons, we practiced these techniques by trying to identify their approximate age, sex and ancestry.
There have been a few cases of human bones being found at Vindolanda: the child skeleton found under the barrack floor, human skull in the Severan period fort ditch and long bones found in the North Field ditches.
A bunch of us are now working very close to the skull from the Severan period fort ditch (found by Dr. Meyer in 2002!) which was missing its mandible. Maybe we will get lucky in our last week excavating and find the rest of him (yes, it is identified by bioarchaeology at as male), or maybe even a head of our own!
Another weekend has come and gone, which means another adventure has taken place! This past weekend we explored the historic city of York. We stayed at the Fort, a quaint hostel that gave us a place to sleep and to store our bags while we toured the city.
The center streets around the Minister are laid with old fashion cobblestone. All the lanes are lined with various stores and pubs from Oliver Bonas fashion shop to Bill’s restaurant for breakfast and cream tea. One of my favorites is the open-aired Shambles Market, which just happens to be open seven days a week.
One of the must visit attraction is of course the Minister, the largest gothic style cathedral in Northern Europe. We all climbed the 275 steps up in a narrow spiral to get to the top of the tower. Climbing up 230 feet allows you to see York from the highest point possible. You can also see the extraordinary gothic structure of the roof trusses and the towers from an interesting point of view.
Front of Minister
Gothic roof trusses
View from the central tower of front tower
And you cannot miss the statue of Emperor Constantine seated near the South Transept with his sword. This is very appropriate as his father, Constantius, died in 306 AD in York. They soldiers of York proclaimed Constantine their emperor where he then united the Roman Empire under his rule and legalizing Christianity as the state religion.
Another must do while in York: walk the city walls. These were built by the Romans to act in defense. Most of the wall is well preserved where you can walk along the top or along it. The photo of the wall shown is of one of the towers where the builders did not quite line up their edges. You can see how one edge sticks out further than the other.
Something you might not know is there is a great history of chocolate making within York with family names like Rowntree and Terry producing the Kit Kat and Chocolate Orange for example. We took a tour where we learned to be expert chocolate tasters and made our own chocolate treats. This photo shows the wheel of possible flavour sensations you may taste within a piece of chocolate.
York is a beautiful city with so much history to offer from Roman to Medieval to Chocolate. The cobblestone streets only adds to the city feel.
My apologies for the late post due to technical and electronic problems.
Somehow Sam and I missed the minibus back to Haltwhistle from Newcastle on Saturday and ended up in Alnwick for the night. While we were here, we took advantage of this quaint little town and visited the Alnwick Castle and Garden on Sunday. Although the weather was a bit wet with rain and fog, this only added to the mystical feel of such a magical place.
With my biology background, I have wanted to visit the legendary Poison Garden which is home to hundreds of plants that could kill you. Of course we couldn’t forget about the equally as legendary castle right next door. Alnwick Castle was even used as a set during the filming of the Harry Potter movies.
A sample of flowers in bloom at Alnwick Garden
Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos of the estate to share with you. But if you are ever in the area, we highly recommend visiting the Castle just to see the library. This was most definitely our favourite room.
The current Duchess of Northumberland initiated the formation of the Garden and the idea of the Poison Garden was also hers as well.
The entrance gate into the Poison Garden
There are so many aspects to the Garden such a mini bamboo maze, Cherry tree patch, water works, rose garden and much much more. There is even a quest to save the Beauty from the Evil Queen. You answer riddles as you tour the Garden with hints as statues or figurines.
We had such a fun day, even though we got a taste of the British rain. We do recommend that if you happen to find yourself in the Northumberland area, take the time to visit Alnwick.
This past weekend we had the opportunity to take the train into Scotland and visit the city of Edinburgh. We were lucky enough to have sunny skies and no rain. Here is just a taste of all our many adventures that we found ourselves on. Click on the images below to see and learn more about our adventure!
Hill side view of the city of Edinburgh as a few adventurous students hiked Arthur’s Seat.
Afternoon tea pastry rack at Colonnades at the Signet Library. A proper afternoon tea to relax our feet and work our senses.
The Edinburgh castle, the largest tourist attraction.
Group photo in the Mary King’s Close which is an underground tour of the old town closes where the plague ran rampant and history now remains.
The national monument of Scotland, which was never completely finished due to the lack of funds.
Writing on the bathroom wall in the Elephant House done by J.K. Rowling
A red “telly” booth and a must for a tourist to take this classic photo.
Sam and Meghan on a scotch-whiskey tour. We may not have the taste buds for whiskey but I am sure we can work on that.
We had lots of fun in Edinburgh but also learned so much from this amazing city. After such a great weekend, we’re excited to start our first week of excavation
Hello everyone! My name is Meghan Beutler and I’m going into my fifth year of biological studies. Although classics may not be my major, my interest in Roman history and archeology continues to bloom as I travel the UK.
I was fortunate enough to travel to London as well as Newport, Shropshire for two weeks with my mother before arriving at Haltwhistle. It truly was a dream come true!
The dream continues as for the next five weeks, I get to wake up to amazing views of the English countryside hills spotted with sheep and cows. And of course learn how to excavate at the Vindolanda field site!