Vale Vindolanda

Words cannot express how amazing this experience was and the impact it will have on the rest of my life. As an aspiring archaeologist from the start, getting the opportunity to achieve real world excavations was not only a very practical experience for my career goals, but also a personal dream of mine. It cemented my decision to become an archaeologist.

One of the greatest aspects I will remember about this experience is the friendships I have made and the wonderful people I have met along the way. The camaraderie that I built with these like-minded people will definitely stay with me for years to come.

The Field Schoolers celebrating Canada Day with a BBQ.
The Field Schoolers celebrating Canada Day with a BBQ.
A highlight for me was the weekend we went to Edinburgh. I didn’t expect such a beautiful city. The people were great (who doesn’t appreciate a Scottish accent?), and the restaurants were top quality. To have seen this city with some of the field schoolers was also very fun and we bonded over the experience that is Edinburgh.

A park in Edinburgh.
A park in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh architecture
Edinburgh architecture
Some beautiful words about the city of Edinburgh by one of its own poets
Some beautiful words about the city of Edinburgh by one of its own poets. Inspiring words from the texts of Edinburgh’s authors are all over the city.
Mary, Prem, Nick and I went to a interactive museum all about the evolution of earth called Our Dynamic Earth
Mary, Prem, Nick and I went to a interactive museum all about the evolution of earth called Our Dynamic Earth
I would also like to say thank you to the individual who made it possible for me to attend field school and have this experience. With your donation I had the time of my life, learned more than I could have imagined about Roman Britain, and had the opportunity to test my own physical capabilities. Thank you from the bottom heart! Without you I would have missed out on an experience of a lifetime. And a special thanks should be given to the creators of this field school, Dr. Meyer and Dr. Greene, what a wonderful experience to share with your students!

As the saying goes, time flies when you’re having fun, and this proved to be very true. It seems not that long ago I was unpacking my things and settling into our cottage, or that I was writing my introductory blog. When I remember back to the beginning of field school and to the site introduction I can note just how much we were able to get accomplished, especially with the final conclusion tour given to us by the director of excavations Andrew Birley, the difference we made on Vindolanda is clear.

Looking back on it, it is inspiring to remember that we were excavating something that was two thousand years old, that people just like us were there dealing with the same issues of life (well maybe we didn’t have to deal with invading barbarians, just invading midges!). While it is sad to think that my time at Vindolanda is complete, I am confident I will return there someday, and marvel at the new developments unearthed there, made possible by passionate staff and volunteers. I couldn’t think of a better way to have spent part of my summer and to any of you readers still on the fence of volunteering or not, I say to you, GO GO GO! You will have an awesome time, you’ll meet many friendly people, and who knows, maybe you’ll find something extraordinary!

Over and out

-Rachel McGuire

Salve Vicus!

Welcome back readers! Monday marked the beginning of the second half of excavations for the field schoolers, and while it’s hard to believe that it’s half over, I’m excited to get into the vicus. We met a whole new group of volunteers and were split off to start with our excavations. We started with taking out the clay layer; one person would dig and the other would sift through the soil to see if there was anything interesting hidden within it, like Prem when he found a Roman coin!

Prem finally got to use the stick of recognition for finding a coin!
Prem finally got to use the stick of recognition for finding a coin!

After lunch, the weather took a dramatic turn and started to rain rather hard. The dirt in the vicus turned into a congealed mess that was very hard to work with, and after much deliberation it was decided that time would be better served taking the turf off of a small section in the vicus. Among the other things found in the vicus today was an iron tool and a bottom of a pottery bowl that has a stamp in the center of it, which tells us who made it!

The iron tool that I found today, in the context bag it will be stored in
The iron tool that I found today, in the context bag it will be stored in
A piece of pottery with an interesting stamp marking who made it in the centre
A piece of pottery with an interesting stamp marking who made it in the centre

Obviously our time in England is not spent wholly in the trenches and when we get home we like to relax. Occasionally we get some animal visitors and I figure they should get in on some of this blogging action (and plus I’m just a huge fan of animals in general, so why not show some of them off!). So, coming out of the car we greeted by a few hens and a very confident rooster, who seems to like crowing at 6 pm, which is all very confusing.

A few hens and a rooster just walking around, outside of the fences
A few hens and a rooster just walking around, outside of their fences.

And as we ate dinner a few visitors of the canine variety came to say hello, and casually beg for some food.

Morgan and Prem giving some love to the gentle old dog Jess of Haltwhistle
Morgan and Prem giving some love to gentle old Jess of Haltwhistle

All in all, a good day! Though, how can you not have a good day if it ends in petting a cute dog, am I right?

– Rachel

No Chip off my Shoulder!

Welcome back readers! Thursday was the fourth day of excavations and my group of field schoolers continue to excavate within the fort. Prem, Sarah and I continued to delve deeper into the road way to expose its 3rd century phase. As we all know, we’ve been working on this road since Monday, and although we’ve had our hopes dashed before while thinking that we’ve found the road which we wanted, we are now confident that we have the right road! It only took us four days! Northern England isn’t exactly known for its nice weather, but surprisingly we’ve had great weather for the past two days. We’ve had beautiful sunny skies!

Sarah excavating some of the road during the beautiful day today.
At first it was hard to distinguish whether or not something in the dirt was just in fact dirt or something much more interesting, like some sort of artifact. But note to self, something is not always something, but most likely it’s just disappointing dirt. However, I have found that it has become easier to sift through the dirt and to actually recognize artifacts. For instance I noticed that there was something in the soil today that didn’t look like dirt, but something much more interesting.

An interesting find! What could it be?
An interesting find! What could it be? (4 inch trowel for scale)
I continued to excavate around the object and noticed that it was very large indeed! It just kept going! I called Sarah and Prem over and we realized that it was a cow’s shoulder blade! It was definitely a challenge to get it out of its position, and it was already somewhat chipped. As I started to move it, it started to disintegrate, so I proceeded with caution.

It was hard to get around all the soil, and eventually I had to navigate around some precariously placed  rocks!
It was hard to get around all the soil, and eventually I had to navigate around some precariously placed rocks!

Finally I managed to coax the bone out of it's sticky position! And without breaking it too!
Finally I managed to coax the bone out of it’s sticky position! And without breaking it too!
I am looking forward to getting back into the field tomorrow and possibly finding more interesting Roman things! I’ll keep you posted!

– Rachel

10 Must Do’s on Hadrian’s Wall

Today we went on our Big Hike #2, exploring the eastern side of Hadrian’s wall from Cawfields Quarry to Vercovicium, better known as the Roman Fort at Housesteads. We accomplished the hike in record breaking time, most likely due to the threat of rain as well as the intense wind at our backs. Despite those facts, we remained dry and were even treated to a little bit of sunshine from time to time. For the benefit of those unable to join us, or even those who plan to do the hike at some point, I have compiled a “To Do List” that everyone must accomplish when they hike this side of the wall. Without further ado, I present 10 Must Do’s on Hadrian’s Wall

1. Visit the Milecastle directly adjacent to Cawfields Quarry


This milecastle has the thickest walls as compared to all the other milecastles along Hadrian’s Wall. It is thought that this is where Hadrian came to visit the wall and thus, the walls were extra thick to impress the emperor and to imply that the rest of the wall was built like this. This is purely conjecture because all we know is that Hadrian visited Roman Britain. Whether he visited this specific milecastle is unknown but it makes for a great story!

2. Use the wind for support

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The wind was so strong that you could actually spread you arms out, lean forward, and not fall down. It was actually quite a cool experience. In fact, most of the walk was spent leaning to one side to counteract the force of the wind. Today was not a day to stand near the ridge!

3. Visit the Highest point on Hadrian’s Wall


This point is actually the highest along the entire wall geographically. It is 1130 ft high and is marked by a stone pillar, shown above. It is customary to take off your toque and taking a picture with your hair wildly blowing in the wind.

4. Interact with the local wildlife


Rachel, our local horse whisperer made a new friend today. The horses are incredibly friendly. The sheep, not so much.

5. Enjoy the many picturesque views of the English countryside


6. See the second well preserved Milecastle along the route


This milecastle is great because of its positioning relative to our next attraction. The two together make an idyllic picture.

7. The Sycamore Gap


This is an iconic spot on Hadrian’s wall path. There’s really not much more to say because the picture tells all. But it is definitely a must see. It is also a great lunch spot, second only to…

8. Eat lunch at the Best Preserved Milecastle


This milecastle still has intact arches, high walls, and the foundations of rooms still on the ground. The tall walls are also great at protecting the lunches from the wind.

9. Point out Vindolanda in the Distance


Can you see the site?

10. Visit Housesteads


Housesteads has some of the best archaeological features along the wall. The principia, praetorium, the barracks, and the granaries are all clearly visible. You can see the detailed structures of the 4 gates, the hospital, and the bathhouse. There is even a murder house where skeletons of two middle aged adults were found, one with a broken sword still in the ribs. It even has latrines with visible plumbing! For more information about our trip to Housesteads, see Nick’s post from today.

Bathhouses in Roman Britain

Welcome back readers! So today we visited the impressive Roman site of Chesters. The remains are remarkably well-preserved and make for a superb outing to see Roman ruins. One of the buildings there is a bathhouse, and for those of you who don’t know or aren’t as familiar with Roman Britain as they’d like to be, the Romans built bathhouses outside almost every fort they built. As you might expect, bathhouses were among the most complex of all Roman military buildings and needed careful consideration of where they might be built. Obviously not just anyone could or would know how to build a bathhouse but the military infantry (legions) would still be expected to undertake the task, albeit under the supervision of a legionary architect. When the Romans came to Britain they brought the technology of the bathhouses with them, and the local people would continue to use them long after the Romans would leave Britain.

The apodyterium of the bathhouse in Chesters. You can the niches where patrons of the bathhouse would have left their clothes in.
The apodyterium of the bathhouse in Chesters. You can the niches where patrons of the bathhouse would have left their clothes in.
Us and the random musicians that were playing in the bathhouse
Us and the random musicians that were playing in the bathhouse

Bathhouses allowed soldiers the opportunity to bathe regularly. Oddly enough, soap wasn’t used by the Romans, instead they used oil and then scraped it off with a utensil called a strigil, a specially curved metal tool made especially for this purpose. Bathhouses consisted of my different rooms: the adoyterium, or changing room was usually the first room entered to change out of their clothes, then the frigidarium, or cold water room, was mainly used for cooling down. The tepidarium, the warm water room, was used to acclimatize the bather before they entered the full heat of the next room, which was the caldarium, or hot room. This room would have been very humid at 60 degrees Celsius and too hot to touch the floor without sandals. All of this would have been heated by the furnace and and the hypocaust system of floors that were heated by the hot gases generated from the furnace which then heated the walls of the bathhouses as well. All in all, the heating system of the bathhouses were unquestionably efficient!

Us within the bathhouse
Us within the bathhouse
Us in the niches of the apodyterium
Us in the niches of the apodyterium

The Hike Along Hadrian’s Wall: Part 1

Welcome back readers! Today we walked from the Roman fort of Birdoswald back to our accommodations in Haltwhistle. We started walking at about 9:30 in the morning and ended at about 3pm. We passed through many mile castles and turrets along the wall and also Willowford bridge, an important river crossing the river Irthing. The hike was incredibly beautiful and difficult at times we went up and down four steep hills. We hiked through farmers fields along the footpath and came across a friendly horse and a baby sheep. All in all, a good day! I am excited to continue hiking along the beautiful paths along Hadrian’s Wall on Saturday.

The section of Hadrian's wall that we hiked today.
The section of Hadrian’s wall that we hiked today.
The starting point of our hike along Hadrian's wall
The starting point of our hike along Hadrian’s wall
Professor Meyer teaching us about the history of the frontier in Roman Britain
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Us posing in front of Hadrian’s Wall
The day was filled with beautiful views
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Lots of amazing views
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A very friendly horse we met in our travels today

Hello all!

rachel Hello all! My name is Rachel McGuire and I am going to be entering my third year of an Honours Specialization in Classical Studies this coming September. I am absolutely delighted to be participating in this archaeological dig which is exclusively for Western students. As an aspiring archaeologist, I feel this opportunity is a great way to gauge the way archaeology is carried out in the field. We had an introduction to the Vindolanda site today, and I am excited to learn more about the history of the site, the centuries of Roman occupation and the importance that Vindolanda had in the bigger picture of Roman Britain.

Travel has always been important to me and I am incredibly excited to be in the British countryside. As an avid BBC and PBS viewer, I feel as though I am walking through a television set of one of the beloved TV shows that I watch. The people have been very hospitable and I look forward to getting to know both the members of the Vindolanda Trust who we will be excavating with and the people of the charming town of Haltwhistle. Also, I am thrilled to say that a local ice cream truck will be making frequent stops to our cottage, so bring on the ice cream!