Jetting back into Jet Lag

Being home after spending 5 weeks away in Haltwhistle is surreal, but nine hours of flying is always worth it when you come home to puppy kisses at the airport.

Not only has this experience been the most fun ever, but I have developed so many skills that I wouldn’t have been able to anywhere else. Realizing that I can now determine whether something is bone or pottery (and between several distinctions) is not something every 21 year can list. My top pick moment of the five weeks: watching Andy pull out the beautifully preserved and stamped barrel stave from the anaerobic mud. This is when I realized just what there is to discover, and why working the way we do is so important. It has definitely inspired me to excavate on other digs both at Vindolanda and throughout the world in the future.

But of course, to everyone that reads our blog thank you for supporting me and following along on this incredible journey. For all of those reading back at Vindolanda (here’s to you Marta, Andy, Lauren) thank you for the experience, the memories, and the best summer I’ve ever had. It goes without saying, but I love to say it anyway, thank you to Dr. Greene and Dr. Meyer for everything that you made possible. I can’t wait to come back for another season,bringing a truckload of new Canadians with me soon!


From Mud to Stud: How to Wash Your Pot

The only thing better than having a small find here at Vindolanda is washing “ordinary” (2000 year old) pottery, and claiming someone else’s. Keep in mind that we’re all a team, and that I mean this in the least vindictive way possible. It’s amazing to see what a little T.L.C. can bring out on many of the pieces that we don’t expect to be extraordinary after we send them to the shed.

Pot lid with the beginning of a maker’s stamp on the right corner.

The grand scheme of processing finds has a number of steps, and I’m here to share just a few of them with all of you. What you’ll need is:

  • Two washing basins
  • Water
  • A toothbrush
  • A pan scrubber
  • A toothpick
  • Some newspaper
  • A crate
  • Labels and a marker
  • Cookies, tea, music (optional)

Does this all sound a little makeshift to you? I promise it’s not. A little goes a long way with most of these finds. They didn’t survive for this long without a little pressure. Those that are damaged or disintegrate in the process are all usually well on their way to the same outcome before we pluck them out of the ground. This can be especially true with bones, though I promise we do our absolute best and work cautiously.

Step 1: Crate Training

Careful prep work for post excavation is imperative so that we don’t mix contexts or forget the particular locations of the finds. Take your crate and put a good layer of newspaper at the bottom to absorb the water after they’re washed. Take your labels and make sure to write one for the outside of the crate (visible on the shelving units later), and another tag for the inside. Both tags should include the context number, and the date of washing. This ensures that if one of them falls off, you have a backup plan in place.

Step 2: Scrub

No not the popular TLC song, though we love music while we work, but a good old-fashioned scrub with that toothbrush. Most of the artifacts will become surprisingly more distinguished and clean as soon as you dip them in the full water basin. For the more stubborn dirt a light brushing usually does the trick. The pan scrubber is used for larger pieces of pottery and bone, while the toothpick is used to take out dirt that is stuck in the smaller crevices of bone (and sometimes the rims of pots).

Step 3: Dip them in the second basin

I think this one explains itself. Better to rinse them off in cleaner water, than leave them coated with murky scrubbing water.

Step 4: Grouping 

After giving your newly cleaned artifacts a good look-over, place them on the prepared crate and give them time to dry. Here’s a fun and helpful tip from our very own Professor Greene: place the first artifacts on top of the labels inside the crate to prevent them from blowing away. It works. If you can, also place like items together (bones with bone and pottery with pottery) in order to have a better visual representation of how much of each material came out of a given context.

Standard setup

Step 5: Hang them out to dry

Okay so we don’t hang them, but we do dry them, and the refreshing English air takes over the work from this point on. We can’t do much with wet artifacts, but the rest of the processing takes place once this step is complete. Feel free to stack your crates with care if you run out of room. That’s all folks! I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and that all your finds looks good as new!

Artifacts being dried after washing


trench troll: /trɛn(t)ʃ/ trəʊl,trɒl/, noun: one that loves to dig, is excited by dirt, and tells everyone around them just how excited they are about the dirt. Usually found outside amongst infectiously amazing people, and collect in large numbers near the Vindolanda Roman Fort.

It is time to embrace the trench troll in us all. In the words of our very own Andrew Birley, “archeology is made up of people who like to make a mess, and then like cleaning it up even more”. Wear your mud-stained trousers with pride and hold your chin up as you put on your dusty worn in t-shirt every morning. Take pride in smiling when you realize it’s going to be a muddy day, and that you’ll camouflage extra well with the ground that afternoon.

We do. 

There is something amazing about the people here at Vindolanda. The people that love to dig, be outside, and further our understanding and love of history and archeology. Remember to remind each other that together we do great things with great people. When you find yourself in a community that embraces and encourages you to state “what a pretty rock!!!” every couple of minutes, a moment of silence is deserved. So here’s just a sweet little reminder to everyone that being a troll isn’t always a bad thing.

A trench troll that is. Rock on team.

Haha, ‘rock’ on.



Everyday on site we work in close range to tourists from all over the world. Young and old, everyone is naturally curious about the dirt covered Canadian contingent working away.  You asked and we’re here to answer. Without further ado, the top seven questions we get asked on site:

Are you archaeologists?

The short answer is no, we’re not! But we are students from all different disciplines (insert every introduction post here) and being here at Vindolanda compliments our degrees in some way or form.

How do you know you’re finding everything?

You can never really be sure, but we are as careful about our work as we possibly can be. We have three great supervisors with us at all times, and when something looks even remotely like a find, we ask about it.

Do you reconstruct the site when you move everything?

Once you remove walls and pieces, you can never put them back in the exact same place you pulled them from. That’s why we both 3D model and survey all finds and walls at Vindolanda. If we needed to know exactly what a portion of the site looked like 15 years from now after it’s been backfilled, we can absolutely do it.

What have you found today?

Disclaimer: it changes from day to day and hour to hour. Today we found several sherds of amphorae, some Roman glass, and the everyday hoard of assorted pottery pieces!

Where are you from?

Proudly from the London of the Great North is the answer we want to give. More often we describe it as: the London two hours outside of Toronto. We think it’s just as great.

What tools do you use?

This answer also changes depending on what our job for the day is. We always have our trowels, spades, shovels, wheelbarrows, buckets and hand shovels. Depending on what the weather is that day we might also take a few sponges into our trench to bail out excess water from the day before. We have needed a few of those lately.

Do you get to keep the artifacts?

No, no, no and no. We don’t. Everything that we find belongs forever and always to the site. Besides, we wouldn’t even want to take it home! How would we keep it safe or preserved? Better that it stays here in it’s home where we have the ability to learn everything from it as we possibly can. After all, that’s what we’re here for.

Velcome to the Vicus

Day two of excavation and we’re getting into the thick of it! Although we were all very sad (unwillingly) abandoning our team to the north, the melancholy didn’t last long. Andy kept us all on our toes, perfecting our troweling, and teaching us some invaluable spade handling tips.

Our trench sans turf – time to trowel!

I am proud to say we found a few pieces of black burnished ware, and all of us were very intrigued to see the small etches into the sides. Finding them was a relief after hours of shoving ‘pretty’ rocks at Andy, convinced they were something fantastic; more often than not, they were just rocks.

Black burnished ware

As exciting as being in the vicus is archaeologically, it was also a chance to interact with both the other excavators in the field as well as many different visitors to the site. It was so lovely to hear words of encouragement and affirmations from people coming to view the site. It definitely gave us all a better handle on explaining our site, and solidifying what knowledge we have about our trench in context to the site. It left us all feeling closer to the other teams, working in the same area, and sharing in their finds (which included a silver coin!)

I’m excited to see what tomorrow brings as we dig deeper into our trench. Here’s to a great day, with many more to come!

Hey everyone!

My name is Justine, a third year Criminology student with a passion for photography (selfies not included), and Roman archaeology. This is my first time in the UK and I’m more than excited to see what’s here waiting on the other side of the Atlantic.IMG_3942

So far, I can say this: cheese lovers everywhere, look no further than the charming city of Carlisle. Surrounded by rolling hills and brimming with some of the most helpful people I have ever met – I can tell you with confidence that I have never had so much fun grocery shopping. The realization that you are in England never hits you quite as hard as when you step into a whole aisle dedicated to just tea time.

IMG_4227.JPGIf our first day was any indication, this month will be pretty awesome. Cheers!