The End of an Era

“The end of an era”. That’s what they’re calling it as the Field School’s only student to participate in all four seasons from 2012 to 2015 has for the first time left Vindolanda without a scheduled return date. While twenty five other students have taken the spot light on the blog for the last three years, the Field School Teaching Assistant and Vindolanda Researcher Sarah Taylor has been an integral fixture at the Vindolanda excavations.

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Sarah Taylor (left) and Sarah VanderPloeg (right) leaving Field School in 2012
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Sarah at the beginning of excavations, 2013

Sarah began her archaeological career in 2010, taking part in UWO’s field school at Nysa, Turkey. When she returned to excavations two years after as a participant of the 2012 Vindolanda Field School she was uncertain whether she was cut out for archaeology. As it happened, the climate and archaeology of Northern England suited her much better than the Mediterranean, and she quickly became an outstanding excavator. Since that season she has journeyed across much of Europe and imparted her valuable knowledge and expertise on numerous field school students and volunteer excavators. It is marvelous to have witnessed her develop from a field school student to an experienced archaeological supervisor over the years. Sarah has been one of the greats at Vindolanda, making the excavations more pleasant, exciting, enlightening, and just more fun for everyone involved and her presence will be missed.

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Sarah having the time of her life in the 2013 anaerobic excavations, finds from which would comprise a large aspect of her master’s thesis in 2015.
Myself, an inexperienced archaeologist, in 2013
Myself, an inexperienced archaeologist, in 2013

For my part, I can say that Sarah has been extremely helpful both as a supervisor during my first ever excavation in the 2013 Vindolanda Field School, but also as a predecessor to my role as this season’s teaching assistant. I must, moreover, be grateful for the contributions that many others have made toward my archaeological career and I am grateful for this amazing experience itself. It is hard for me to believe that it was little more than two years ago now that I was embarking on my first journey away from North America. Now I have excavated in three seasons at Vindolanda, and one in Italy, and I have seen so much more of this world than I ever thought was possible for me. From excavating the Etruscan remains of Rome’s beginnings eight meters below street level in the city center of Rome, to excavating Vindolanda’s astoundingly personal organic remains at the edge of the empire, I can feel that I have had an experience of Roman archaeology quite unlike any other. For all this I must be grateful to the personnel who were so inviting and edifying to me, particularly the Vindolanda Trust’s Director of Excavations Andrew Birley, Archaeologist Marta Alberti, and Educational Officer Lauren Wilkinson. Additionally I thank the members of the Sant’Omobono Project in Rome for including me on the team last year, particularly Andrea Brock and Ivano Taranto for their valuable instruction and confidence in me and my friends.

Myself in Pompeii, 2014
Myself in Pompeii, 2014
Myself, fellow field school graduate Andrew Dodd, and Professor Greene taking part in a coring survey project at Sant'Omobono, Rome, 2014.
Myself, fellow field school graduate Andrew Dodd, and Professor Greene taking part in a coring survey project at Sant’Omobono, Rome, 2014.
Andrew Dodd and I as volunteer Vindolanda excavators, August 2014
Andrew Dodd and I as volunteer Vindolanda excavators, August 2014

Of course none of this would have been possible without the generous and charitable support of numerous scholarship donors over the years. To all of you please know that your contribution is vital to the sustainability of global heritage and that you are providing opportunities to young people that have greatly increased their world view and this will benefit them for life.

Myself on my last day in the field, 2015
My last day in the field, July 2015

Lastly I owe the utmost thanks to the Field School Directors Alex Meyer and Beth Greene for their tireless efforts in orchestrating the Field School, and for all of their personal support throughout my career at Western. I truly do not know where my path would have led over the last three summers without them, but I am sure that the path would have been much shorter and far less meaningful.

Finally, thank you, the followers of the blog, for sharing in our passion for Roman archaeology.DSCF4619

Taking the High Street

The Field School reserves Sundays as the students’ only day off, and after the first rigorous week of excavation it is encouraged to catch up on activities such as homework, correspondence, or some much needed rest. For some of the Field Schoolers, however, the opportunity to go on another adventure could not be turned down. This Sunday Professor Meyer offered to take a van load of eager students to hike a mountain path in the Lakes District as a sneak preview to next weekend’s proper trip to that incredibly scenic region.

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High Street on a clear day (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The itinerary was to leave Haltwhistle at 8:00 AM GMT, arrive in the lakes by 9:30 and begin our 700m ascent on foot from Hartsop to reach the Roman road which travesreses the mountain path by late morning and finish our descent by mid-afternoon after taking in the beautiful sites of the Lakes District from high above after the morning clouds had lifted. It nearly went to plan. Nearly.

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Professor Meyer briefs us on the path ahead.

The morning started well enough; after arriving only slightly behind schedule from an impromptu stop for coffee, we began our ascent under cloud cover without any of the forecasted rain, and with low wind speeds. We were met on our path by numerous other hikers, bickers, and their canine companions. Spirits were high on the ascent, and the intense activity mixed with the mild weather had most of us down to a single layer of clothing. Yet as we approached the first high point of the hike, which still remained obscured by clouds, we put on our waterproofs and prepared for rain.

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Professor Meyer with the path of our ascent in the background
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Our first summit, “The Knot”, rising into the clouds.

Once we entered the clouds, we would not leave them until we descended. Walking through clouds is trying; there is no shelter or refrain from the icy moisture which settles in from all around. Worst of all visibility was minimal, which not only eliminated completely the beautiful scenery below, but was also very disorienting. Only due to proper care and attention did we prevent straying from our path. Occasionally that path included glimpses of the Roman road, but sadly this too disappeared into the mist.

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Rachel, Prem, and Morgan come into sight.
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At the summit of The Knot
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The Roman road escaping from sight.

We lunched shortly after noon with the protection of a high point marker before beginning the descent down a steep rocky slope and then through a different valley back towards Hartsop. Within minutes of our gradual descent through the rocky path, we finally broke cloud cover and witnessed the striking views of two separate valleys. Despite the tedious mist which hindered our trek along the mountain pass, the vantage from our descent alone made the entire hike worth while. In the end we made it back to the car on schedule and even made a quick stop at a nearby waterfall. Hopefully the weather will allow for the Lake District to reveal all its beauty next weekend, but until then this will have to do.

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The final high point marker
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The rocky descent
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Just beneath the clouds
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Well worth the day off.
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Aira Force waterfall where we ended our adventure.

Now we all really must get some rest and dry out our soaking wet boots before we head back to Vindolanda for an even more exciting week of excavations.

Get On The Bus

Today brought the Field School’s first long haul in the “EcoCab”, a mini-bus with seating for all eleven of us and more. The first stop was Newcastle’s Great North Museum, with a detailed look at the Roman exhibit therein. The Great North Museum houses artifacts from across the entire northern frontier, and so it served as a valuable introduction to the region and the discipline of Romano-British archaeology. A large-scale model of Hadrian’s Wall made the imminent trek over the Wall’s central sector seem far smaller than it truly is. Tomorrow’s 12 km hike will surely bring to life the frontier country in a way that no museum can.

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The EcoCab in action
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Professor Greene points out the numerous sites to be visited in the coming week.
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Birdoswald Roman fort, the starting point of tomorrow’s hike

Stay posted for more blogs coming soon on the city of Newcastle, and the nearby Arbeia Roman army fort!

Welcome to the 2015 Vindolanda Field School

The UWO Vindolanda Field School has officially begun for its fourth season! As a field school alumnus from 2013, and an avid follower of this blog, I am thrilled to mark this momentous occasion. All of the students arrived in Haltwhistle this afternoon and the traditional photo with the Field School’s flag has been taken. Look at all that purple! These soon to be Vindolanda excavators have all just spent the last 24 hours in the air and on the rails getting here so they are all in need of a long night’s sleep before work begins.

We have a week full of exciting museums, sites, and hikes ahead so stay posted to meet our 2015 Field School members and hear what they have to say about the marvelous sites of the Roman frontier country in Northern England.

Thanks for joining us for another fantastic season and we hope to see you all here on the blog soon.

The Field Schoolers
The Field School Members (From left to right: Professor Alex Meyer, Mel Benard, Sarah Taylor (former TA), Morgan Chornoboy, Sarah Chin, Stephen Neumann, Prem Ramani, Rob Woodcock (TA), Rachel McGuire, Nick Tibollo, Mary Spinks, and Professor Beth Greene)

Vindolanda Field School Preseason 2015

It is with great honour that I make the inaugural post for the 2015 Vindolanda Field School, presenting this year’s students:

2015 Field School
What a great bunch! They can’t wait to get in the field.

With only a week to go before excavations resume at the Vindolanda Roman Fort , things are happening behind the scenes at Western University. Take it from a veteran Vindolanda excavator, this year’s group has the right stuff! Keep a look out for more preseason news over the next two months as we get ready to dig in at Vindolanda. For those who can’t wait to see more excavation news before Western’s new team (Cohors IV Canadianorum) arrives, head over to the Vindolanda Trust’s excavation blog, at:

http://www.vindolanda.com/_blog/excavation

The View from My Window

The View from My Window
The View from My Window
A late night moonrise
A late night moonrise

The view from my window is beautiful. There are woods, green fields, rocky hills, grazing sheep and a brilliant blue sky. I look out of the window here sometimes and imagine what’s out there over the hills. At first I imagined something that I had not yet seen, and now I remember what I have.

Vindolanda seen from Barcombe Hill. The small woods at the top left can be seen from my bedroom window.
Vindolanda seen from Barcombe Hill. The other side of the small woods at the top left can be seen from my bedroom window

Over the hills is one of my favourite places in the world, so familiar that it’s hard to say that I don’t know when I will see it again. I have sweat and laughed and learned and loved and dug and dug and dug over there. But that’s not all that I have seen and done over the hills in my window.

Jedburgh Abbey through an archway
Jedburgh Abbey in Scotland through an archway
The Roman fort at Hardknott Pass seen from the bus window.
The Roman fort at Hardknott Pass seen from the bus window

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have walked many miles of Hadrian’s Wall, an impressive stretch of land. I have also gotten to know the trails around Haltwhistle on weekends and evenings. I have seen this country coast to coast and many amazing places along the way.

Part of a Victorian era ruin at Haltwhistle Burn
Part of a Victorian era ruin at Haltwhistle Burn
Watching out for rabbit holes
Watching out for rabbit holes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will miss you too, Jenny-Kitty
I will miss you too, Jenny-Kitty

 

I have met many friendly people and animals too who will be the hardest to say goodbye to. I always have my camera with me having taken over 2000 pictures since I left home in May. The best thing that I have done is to have made memories that I will take with me wherever I go.

 

 

My little water proof camera was perfect for digging at Vindolanda
My little water proof camera was perfect for digging at Vindolanda
Meta
Meta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And as I look out this window once more, and maybe for the last time, I at once remember it all so well and imagine what’s out there over those hills.

The view across the Tyne Valley from the cottage's garden
The view across the Tyne Valley from the cottage’s garden

I will be home soon.

Thanks for reading,

Rob

The Lasting Impression: Archaeological Recording

The North Field is marked here by a bird in flight
The North Field is marked here by a bird in flight seen from Barcombe Hill

Experts estimate that complete excavation of Vindolanda will take another century. It was not until the beginning of this century that the Vindolanda Trust acquired the North Field and began excavations there in 2009. Now excavations there are directed by Drs. Alex Meyer and Beth Greene and provide an optimal training ground for the students of their UWO field school. The field school enacts the four tenets of the Vindolanda Trust: excavation, conservation, research, and education.

Ordnance Survey Point on Barcombe Hill
Ordnance Survey Point on Barcombe Hill

In six weeks of excavation the field school along with many volunteers has completed a very successful first half of the 2013 season. A stretch of a fort ditch running diagonally through the south-west corner of the trench was defined, as well as a narrower and shallower ditch running elliptically through the north half of the trench. Victorian water works are present in the trench, delaying progress, destroying aspects of the archaeology, and causing anxiety should they lead to flooding. Protected by the shallow, elliptical ditch, there are the remains of an oven for cooking clay for either pottery or tiles. In recent days it has become more apparent that another ditch runs between these two and may have been cut out by the shallower ditch. Other interesting features have been excavated and in all cases numerous finds of pottery and bone and occasional small finds occurred.

Amanda holds the digital level's ranging pole in a training exercise
Amanda holds the digital level’s ranging pole in a training exercise

The students of the Vindolanda Field School learn more than excavation techniques alone because responsible archaeologists must conserve their material in carefully detailed records for future research and education. The entire trench position has been recorded in the national grid in relation to the nearest ordnance survey triangulation point on Barcombe hill. This provides future researchers and archaeologists with the exact position of the trench and its features and finds. A digital level is used to triangulate the exact position of finds in the trench. In a training exercise, the students recorded the measurements of an excavated building in the site’s civilian settlement with the digital level and used that information to produce a plan drawing of the building.

The results of the exercise
The results of the exercise

The position of an artifact or isolated feature would not be useful without a system for recording the archaeological contexts in which these items fit. Students learn to be aware of the number assigned to the context in which they are excavating and how this context relates to those around it. No feature is isolated in the trench and all features in some way interact with others. Interpreting the relations of contexts to one another provides for them a timeline once dates have been assigned to processed finds. Students all fill out a standardized context record sheet in order to demonstrate their awareness of the context they have excavated and those that surround it.

Front of context sheet for a pit feature
Front of context sheet for a pit feature
Back of context sheet with a plan of relevant sections of the trench
Back of context sheet with a plan of relevant sections of the trench
The pit feature: 23N, before excavation
The pit feature: 23N, before excavation

The ultimate goal of the Vindolanda Field School is education: the education of its students on and off site, and the education of students abroad through the excavation, conservation, and research of Vindolanda’s archaeology. Through practical and theoretical training the students have gained valuable experience in all fields of archaeological research and their efforts will help to progress the future of Roman Britain’s history.