To begin, I just want you all to know how much this trip has meant to me. From a very young age, my biggest wish was to come to the British Isles and to see this beautiful place for myself. This trip has allowed me to fulfill this childhood dream and has given me the experience of a lifetime. I have gotten to know so many new and exciting people and I have gained an extended family that I never expected. Being as close as we were, in both the trenches and at the cottages, we got to know each other in a way that only this type of experience can allow. That said, there are so many people that need thanking for this wonderful opportunity to have played out the way it did. At the very top of this list are Beth and Alex. Without them, none of this would have been possible. They have helped me to begin a new passion for travelling, and have reminded me that I do need to come out of my comfort zone if I expect to get places. Next are Andy, Marta, Lauren, and the rest of the team from Vindolanda. They always made us feel so welcome and energized us with their passion for what they do. Thank you to everyone for giving us this experience. I’ve decided that I’m definitely going to have to come back in the future, if only to see the changes to the site.
My final thank you, is to my companions from Cohort V Canadiorum. With anyone else, this could have ended up so differently. It would not have been the same without each and every one of our eccentric personalities and unique mindsets. In my opinion, we became the wonderful balance between insanity and brilliance (though we do lean a bit towards insanity). I’m so glad that I got to know each of you and if you ever need me, I’ll be there for you. See you all back on campus, and have fun wherever the rest of the summer takes you.
One thing that I absolutely love about England is that I can get so many amazing pictures that turn out so beautifully. I just thought I’d show you all some of my favourites.
From this cute little waterfall to the amazingly blue sky, I wish my camera could capture the same array of colour and texture that I see with my eyes.
Even in cloudy weather, there are silver linings to be seen and captured if you have your camera handy. The night sky is no different, with many opportunities if you can stay up long enough for the sun to set.
And sometimes you get a great picture by focusing on something you weren’t expecting.
On an archaeological dig, you often find yourself face to face with new things that you want to find out more about. Some of the things that I’ve found myself becoming interested in are:
1. Osteology/ Biological Archaeology
We find so many bones, or pieces of them, as we are going through material that it would be very interesting to know what we were looking at. To be able to tell the difference between a leg bone or an arm bone and from what animal that the bone likely came from would be a really cool thing to know.
It is hard to ignore the many “pretty stones” we find in our trenches. I would love to learn more about them and how to differentiate between their types. You can tell what a few of them are just by looking at them, such as sandstone, but others are much more difficult identify.
Occasionally, coins are found at Vindolanda. This is not unusual, but they are favorites for a reason. They’re totally relatable, easily identifiable and sometimes quite shiny. They also get even more interesting when you get into them. You can find out what the words around the edge of a coin mean, what the figures on the back are, and how the coins were made. They can then tell you a lot about the lives of the people who used them.
4. Historical Consolidation
At Vindolanda many of the buildings we excavate are preserved for visitors to see. In order to do this the buildings have to be made safe without changing them, so that visitors see them just as we found them. Jeff and Kenny do this work at Vindolanda. They use a special type of mortar that can be removed relatively easily, but that is still very strong and durable, and sometimes they have to replace “rotten” stones. It would be interesting to learn more about this process and to be able to help them.
There are a lot of bugs in the dirt! I would love to know about the creepy crawlies that share our trench. We see many different beetles, worms, and flying insects. When we are not being swarmed by biting midges it’s super interesting.
Some of the most common questions that we get asked, both online and in person, are about our living situation. So, I figured I’d let you all in on how we’re set up. While we are here, we are renting two lovely cottages for the students and another one for Prem. In Coach House there is Cassidy, Christine, Justine, and Cody; while Shepherd Cottage is temporarily home to Sam, Meghan, Sarah, Ben, and myself. Each cabin does things a little differently, but food is not supplied for us. We cook our own meals each day, and buy our own groceries at the local Sainsbury’s twice a week. Sam is an amazing cook and has been giving us in Shepherd a lot of lovely meals. We have recently set in place an alternating schedule of dish washing duty in pairs so that those of us who didn’t cook can still help around the house. Laundry wise, we do our own individually, but once a week one of the owners, a lovely lady named Sue, washes our sheets and towels for us. The cabins are a wonderful place to come home to at the end of a long day of excavation, and Shepherd has the most amazing leather couch I have ever laid on! So squishy and comfortable, I just wish I could take it home with me at the end of our stay.
Our first week of excavation is over! It was long and exhausting, but very rewarding as you have all found out. On Saturday, we took a day trip to visit the fort of Arbeia at South Shields, where we saw a reconstruction of the West Gate. It was larger than what I had pictured in my head, so it was very informative to see the difference. The three story structure was impressive, and allowed me to imagine the height of the walls surrounding the fort compared to the foundations we normally see on site and at other places we have visited.
After visiting Arbeia, we made our way to Newcastle. We made a quick visit to the museum before we were let loose on the streets for free time. Ben found out that a medium coffee here is not the same as at home.
It was wonderful not having to wake up to an alarm today, as it’s a lay around day that we have no set plan for. Sarah was a cutie and made pancakes for everyone this morning (very delicious). We are happy that we can use today to recuperate for the start of our second week of excavation.
Today began the first day of excavation for our group. We will be working North field this year, a way away from the main site. Reaching our trench, we were excited to see that our shed was still standing: proof of our great team building skills.
During our time here in England, it has been exceedingly sunny, making our trench very, very dry. The layer of clay has been transformed almost into stone, making the beginning of our dig more difficult than we expected it to be. We received little bit of a shock when Alex told us that what we needed to do first was clean up the trench. How does one do that? Well, he ended up explaining to us that we needed to get all of the lose pieces of dirt, rocks, and other debris out of the way so we could begin excavating below. It took me a while to get the hang of alternating between using a brush to get the small pieces and a trowel to scrape up the bigger bits.
While we were cleaning, we had a few interested neighbours wander over to find out what we were doing.
It was tough work, but we did get the trench clean enough for us to start going deeper. Before we knew it, the end of the day arrived and we had to pack up to go home. It was a very exciting first day, full of learning and sweat (it was really warm here today), but I can’t wait to see what tomorrow is going to bring.
Hey everyone, my name is Shannon, and I’m so excited to be a part of the Vindolanda 2016 Field School. I just finished my second year as a Classical Studies Major with a Minor in Medieval Studies, so this is a great addition to my education.
Outside of school I like to read and do crafts to keep my mind busy. Mostly I knit and crochet, but I like to try other types of crafts too. After the first three of us arrived at the aiport, Alex took us to see Vindolanda for the first time on our way to the cabins.
Ben, Shannon, and Christine in front of Vindolanda site for the first time of many
As this is my first time being outside of North America, I am so excited, even with the jet lag. To help us stay awake long enough to adjust to the time change, Alex brought those of us who were here on a hike around the area between our cabins and Haltwhistle, the nearest town. The scenery was so beautiful that it was hard to decide what to take a picture of and when to try to catch up to the rest of the group.
The hill beside the burn we walked along during our hike
All in all, it was a brilliant first day with many more to come. I’m so happy to be here as it has been a lifelong dream to come here, with the added benefit of taking part in an actual archaeological dig!