Bittersweet Endings and New Beginnings

It really struck me at the end of Friday’s excavations that I wouldn’t find myself in a trench again at the same time on Monday. Even after four weeks of painstaking work, with my newly calloused fingers and my bright scarlet sunburn, each new find was still an exciting one. Even the smallest pottery sherd was still a thrill. It’s good to know that after all the hard work I put into excavation, and all the muscles I grew in the process, I still want to pursue a master’s degree in the Classical and Archaeological fields. With any luck, I’ll find myself in a trench again someday, happily digging away.

A view of the site from the Excavation Shed on our last day at Vindolanda

I’d like to personally thank everyone at Vindolanda for welcoming me into their community. Dr. Andrew Birley, Marta Alberti, and Lauren Bearpark were all such great sources of support and knowledge, and I’ll be forever grateful for their kindness and guidance. The Doctors Meyer and Greene were, of course, the ones responsible for my trek to the trenches, and I don’t know if I can ever thank them enough. I’ve wanted to dig since I was ten years old, so for me Field School really has been a dream come true. I cannot express my gratitude to its full extent. Hopefully I’ll see you all at Vindolanda again some day.

Each new day brought a new adventure, whether we found ourselves in a new context on site, or whether we set out across Britain for the day – from York to Edinburgh and from Carlisle to little Haltwhistle, excitement followed us wherever we went. I’ll always look back on the memories I made here fondly, and cherish my newfound friends.

To the next field school group, I wish you luck – even though I know you won’t need it. If Beth and Alex have deemed you worthy of the experience, then you’re bound to have a fantastic time. I wish you a plethora of small finds, and even more smaller finds. May many of you hold the Staff of Recognition. I hope that adventure follows you in your journeys, and that mud from the trenches at Vindolanda trails behind you wherever you go.

Best wishes,


Friends’ Night: A Celebration in Honour of Vindolanda and its Patrons

Vindolanda has touched the hearts of countless people, and is a beloved place to so many. It’s fitting that once a year, halfway through the excavation season, these people get together to enjoy a night of good food, great friends, and site archaeology.


The Friends are the valued sponsors of Vindolanda, who, with their membership, enjoy free admission to the site, an annual report outlining the results of our research, and this exact yearly event. I personally encourage any interested individual to look into a membership here; not only do members reap these benefits, but they also ensure that research and excavation will continue at Vindolanda for generations to come.

Friends’ Night is held in honour of these wonderful and generous people, and I can personally vouch for the night’s extravagance. Friends enjoyed complimentary wine and cheese, served by Dr. Meyer himself, as they queued up for the most delicious hog roast in the entirety of Northumbria.


Dr. Greene, on the other hand, proudly displayed recent extraordinary finds, such as this ceramic face, this gaming board, and this weaving comb, in the museum.

Many of us were stunned to see the great Vindolanda fireball set ablaze for the first time. Guests were encouraged to write a letter and cast it into the fire, to reenact the events which led to the discovery of the bonfire site, where a number of the Vindolanda writing tablets were found after they were set aflame outside the house of the commander of the Ninth Cohort of Batavians.

The fires are lit

Excavation directors Andrew Birley and Marta Alberti gave guests tours of the vicus and fort trenches respectively, explaining the site history and the discoveries of the excavators in these regions. With these tours came a certain sense of pride; each of us could point out exactly the areas which we helped to uncover, and marvelled at the progress we had individually made in the grand scheme of things. One small trench dug by one single volunteer can make all the difference in the world.

Though we were subjected to rain halfway through our visit, we ended the night with a marvellous view. As the sun peeked out from behind the clouds, a rainbow arced over the fort, almost as a foreshadowing of good things to come.


Isobel Brigden: Honorary Canadian

We’ve met more than our fair share of exemplary and outstanding people since we began excavation at Vindolanda, and we’re proud to say that we’ve been collecting friends from the world over! During our first two weeks of work in the vicus, we were lucky enough to meet one Australian in particular who has found herself a place in each of our hearts.

Isobel shows off a fantastic t-shirt which reminds us all that Western University should have its own quidditch team

Isobel is a 21-year-old student of archaeology from Sydney, Australia, who has been fortunate enough to work on both excavation and post-excavation during her stay at Vindolanda. While she’s interested in the behind-the-scenes elements of post-excavation, she admits to being more at home with excavation itself. Isobel chose a career in archaeology not only for the historical allure, but also for the active lifestyle it has to offer.

When asked her favourite thing about England, Isobel’s immediate response was the weather; England is quite mild in comparison with the heat of Australia. She also added that the history of the country is extraordinary, which I think we can all agree on!

Isobel urges anyone considering a trip to Australia to not fear the creatures that roam its lands. They’re really not as scary as we all think. However, she was very adamant to warn us of the threat of drop bears; these creatures will attack indiscriminately, and a hearty helping of vegemite is the only thing to ward them off.

Isobel has been so much fun to have around during these past few weeks, and I think we at the field school are proud to call her an honorary Canadian.

Weekly Wednesday Workouts!

Each Wednesday evening, after toiling in the trenches at Vindolanda, the field school group rushes into the town of Haltwhistle to partake in activities a little less archaeological, and a little more extracurricular. We meet up with Dr. Birley and some locals every week to play badminton!

The field school group, ready for some athletic action!

Although a majority of us hadn’t played the sport since our first year of high school, we jumped right in and did our best. Needless to say, the Doctors Meyer and Birley were relentless against even the least experienced of us, and defeated us without mercy. Our games can get quite intense, and we occasionally leave the recreation centre with some scraped knees and elbows.

Not only is our weekly workout a great way to unwind after a busy day of excavation, but it’s also a great way to meet and get to know some locals! The citizens of Haltwhistle are both lovely folk and very talented athletes. We make sure to end every game with our new friends with a sportsmanlike handshake and a smile!

After a cold English summer day (cold in comparison with a Canadian summer day, at least) it’s wonderful to work up a sweat and have fun in the process. We’ll be continuing this tradition until the end of our stay in two weeks.

All challengers welcome! We’ll see you on the court!

Various Victories in the Vicus

It’s day three of our excavation in the vicus, and within such a short time we’ve already made stunning progress! We’re very excited to be digging our very own trench, and hope to find something extraordinary here within the next few weeks. After clearing the area of turf on Tuesday, we’ve dedicated our time to digging beneath the vicus building itself to the older ditch hidden below. The building on the highest level here was from around the year 213 CE, and the ditch (where we expect to find all manner of exciting things) would have been from the Severan era. We’re currently extending our trench down to the highest level of the ditch, and expect to be excavating the Severan level by Monday.


It’s exciting to note that this is the area in which Dr. Meyer found a human skull in 2002, just a couple of feet from our new trench! We’ve all been holding out hope that we’ll find some human remains of our own this summer, but only time will tell.

While our finds have consisted of mostly pottery and bone, we have had the occasional interesting find. Just today, Ben uncovered a peculiar feature in the trench which turned out to be a wall from the Antonine period!

Dr. Birley inspects the new feature and advises our course of action

As for objects, today gave us our very first glass shard and this wonderful pot lid.

Bonus marks to anyone who can guess the function of this artifact before it became a pot lid

We’ll keep you posted with our latest exciting finds from the vicus as we descend into the Severan era. Until next time!


How Many Western Students Does it Take to Build a Shed?

We’ve done the math, and it turns out it takes exactly nine students, one TA, and two professors! We are very excited and very fortunate to be excavating a new trench in the north field at Vindolanda, and though the digging had already begun by the time we arrived on site, it was up to us to build ourselves a shed.


The corrugated plastic structure came to us in pieces, slightly warped, but we dove in head-first with determination. It was a challenging three hours, and quite the emotional rollercoaster, but each and every one of us put in our best effort and came out the other end as a team. With the hope that it doesn’t blow away with the wind, we left it until excavation begins on Monday.


Today was our first look at the Vindolanda Museum, and it must be said that the gardens on its grounds are beautiful. We were tasked with finding several artefacts within the museum with only clever limericks as our guide!

We attended a fascinating lecture this afternoon from Dr. Clive Bridger-Kraus on Roman Xanten. This settlement in Germany once housed the Legion VI Victrix – a legion we’re growing quite familiar with, as it was one of the legions which would later travel north to construct Hadrian’s Wall!

All the best!



Hello, all!

Happy orientation week! My name is Sarah Bentley, and I’ll be going into my third year at Western to pursue a major in Classics and a minor in Greek and Roman Archaeology. It’s been a dream of mine for quite some time to one day work in the archaeological field, so field school for me has been a dream come true! I’m excited to learn the methodology of excavation and the history of Northern England, my family’s origin.

Atop the fort wall reconstruction at Vindolanda

I’ve been getting my bearings over the past few days, and the beautiful weather has helped me immensely! The entire experience has been like something out of a fairy tale, complete with fairy tale creatures. The lovely folks at White Craig Cottages have the friendliest animals and friendly animals are a fantastic cure for jet lag.

We’ll get back to you soon with our first hike along the wall! All the best.