Hello! For those avid followers of the blog you may recognize me from last year’s Vindolanda Field School. My name is Sam Urquhart and I’ve just finished my undergraduate degree at Western with a double major in Comparative Literature & Cultures and the School for Advanced Studies in Arts & Humanities (with an unofficial minor in Classics as well). I’m making a cameo this year for the field school’s first period of excavation – I loved it so much last year I had to come back!
Last week while the field schoolers were exploring out in the North Field, I have been in the vicus with other volunteers. For most of the week, I have had the pleasure of digging with Helga, a brilliant PhD student working on the leather and other bits from Vindolanda. Helga brought great enthusiasm to our trench and kept spirits high singing Heigh Ho in Icelandic. It’s always such a pleasure getting to know people from all over while digging together.
Our place in the vicus saw a great deal of change throughout the week. We began by removing a clay shelf above a Hadrianic surface, then the surface itself before moving into smaller teams and different sections to get down into the very dark muck below. I am very glad I got to dive back into the anaerobic level and see all of the pristine pieces of leather and wood that have been buried for more than a thousand years come back into the light. This coming week, I’ll be moving into a fort ditch!
This week I get to move into a new trench and reunite with Prof. Greene, Prof. Meyers and Prem and have the chance to get to know some of this year’s field school in the field. I can’t wait to see what our new assignment has in store!
Hello, one last time. I cannot believe how quickly my time at Vindolanda has gone! The past five weeks have exceeded any expectations I had before crossing the ocean. Not only have I explored some new places here in the UK and gained an appreciation for the whole archaeological process but I have also gained a new branch of my ever-growing family. It was a pleasure to work with our Canadian cohort as we got to know each other and enjoy their company. I feel so fortunate that I know this crazy crew will be on campus this upcoming year.
Not only have I come to care greatly about my field school classmates but I have also learned so much from everyone over the duration of our time together. Having friends who are able to be your teachers is always amazing.
It was a joy getting to know other Vindolanda volunteers from around the world and share my experience and knowledge about the site with the visitors. The team at Vindolanda made us feel so welcome and have shared their passion for the site. I am truly thankful for everything that Andy, Marta, Lauren and the rest of the team at Vindolanda have taught me and for making sure my time there was brilliant and always interesting.
Our home at White Craig cottages was warm and welcoming and I’m sure we will all agree that breakfast just isn’t the same without Jenny waiting at the window.
Finally, I’m not sure how to express my gratitude towards Beth and Alex for taking us on and guiding us all through this adventure. I’m not entirely sure how they managed our group but we are very grateful and have so much love for you both – you’re certainly part of this family as well. Thank you.
I hope everyone has enjoyed reading these posts, I daresay I will miss writing them. Thanks for coming along on the journey with us all and I wish you well!
As we all know, there is more to archaeology than just playing – I mean digging – in the dirt. Information is constantly being recorded and analysed. Along with that papers and extensive research are done on subjects related to the areas and artefacts that have been dug. An aspect of archaeology that is thought of less in the days of digital is the hand drawn illustrations and interpretations of finds from the trenches.
This year the field school students were given a crash course in archaeological illustration from the brilliant Mark Hoyle who often works with the Vindolanda Trust. We spent the morning learning the basics of technical illustration and the key differences from an artist’s rendition of an object.
Starting with an average group of modern coffee mugs we learned how to use a set of tools and guides that help to accurately represent these objects. Unsurprising to anybody who has drawn a still life we also experienced how useful feeling an object’s surface can be.
From here we progressed onto drawing actual pottery bits and pieces. The first challenge of most of these was to determine which way they were originally situated in order to draw them in the correct orientation. As with the other objects the pottery was ideally drawn from multiple different views and sometimes this included the ornamentation along rims or other places.
Finally, we were allowed the privilege – or should I say challenge – of drawing a small find object in the Vindolanda catalogue. These ranged in size and material and each came with its own set of obstacles. As Mark explained, these objects allow more artistic freedoms than standard pottery drawings. While they are technically correct, including a scale and precise measurements, they also give the artist the chance to showcase specific features of what they are illustrating. This may mean that every pip and scratch is emphasized or it could mean that the damage done to an artefact is reversed to show it as it could have been.
Although I am not a particularly skilled artist I certainly appreciated the opportunity to learn more about archaeological illustrations. I enjoyed the technical aspects much more than freehanded sketching and hope to be able to improve my skills so that I am able to produce accurate illustrations when working with collections in the future.
Something I wondered about before arriving at our cottages was what our textbooks would be like. We had all been reassured that our books would be available for our use upon arrival but what I didn’t expect was an entire (miniature) reference library!
The books of Shepherd’s Cottage live in the cubbies underneath the television and are in regular use for readings and presentation consultation. As you can see, there are also many books that are great for general information about things we may want to know more about when digging at Vindolanda.
Of these books, there are 4 acting as our textbooks with assigned readings. Of course they cover basic archaeological methods since most of us are digging for the first time and a great deal about Roman military life and structure. Between the two books focusing on Vindolanda itself both the many years of excavation on the site as well as the life of the soldiers and villagers in the extramural settlement we have all gained a better understanding of the history we are adding to.
In conjunction with our continuous learning on site, evening lectures at the cottages, peer presentations and field trips these books have certainly helped to fill in the blanks these last 4 weeks.
P.S. Am I the only one who can’t believe we only have one more to go?!
After having a day in the anaerobic I better understand the excitement of finding bits of ancient material incredibly preserved. Although our Canadian Crew was not in the deep at the end of last week there were some excellent discoveries made (this post was unfortunately delayed due to our trip to York this past weekend). Serendipitously, one of Thursday’s finds was a shoe, the very thing I was giving a presentation on later in the afternoon!
I believe this boot best fits the description of the Fell style. It has a studded sole, which can be seen in the second image, and holes to be laced along the top of the foot. The boot found is particularly interesting because it still has all of its features.
This style of boot was very popular during Period V (120-130) of Vindolanda. The adjustable lace-up design allowed for expansion but also coverage unlike other styles such as the more intricately cut boots, especially as it reaches the ankle (a feature still in tact on the boot above). I imagine that this sort of boot would be preferable in the Vindolanda climate.
On Friday, when our Canadian Crew finally began to go down into our ditch (in our last day), I also had the joy of finding a shoe! Well, a sole at least. Although it was missing a toe, the tapered shape was definitely more thin and elegant than the base of the shoe above. Unfortunately, due to the chronic archaeological condition of Very Muddy Hands as well as general excitement of the moment our team did not actually get a picture of my find. Alas, the moment was one I will hold dear in my shoe-loving memory. I’m quite proud to have had a piece of Vindolanda’s extensive shoe legacy in my time here.
After a week of digging in dry trenches with the sun overhead we have returned to Vindolanda under a proper English summer. In the vicus we learned the art of bailing out a trench, sponging it with care and hoping the puddles are not refilled just as quickly.
One way to brighten up a group of digging students’ rainy day? Present them with their very own trowels! Luckily for us we even got to use them despite the rain and things began to dry up by the afternoon.
At the end of the day, everyone seemed to have grown attached to our new tools. Thanks Beth and Alex!
Since we have had such sunny weather in our time here so far, I had almost forgotten the air of magic and mystery waking up to a blanket of fog over the English landscape could bring. The colours always come to life under a watery atmosphere, charged even more vibrantly in contrast to the darkened blurry backdrop.
The knowledge that we travel along an ancient wall on our way to the site each day already carries the feeling of adventure. Proximity to history and possible discoveries keeps us curious in the rain and raging sun. But this first (of many) foggy mornings inspired an edge of magical excitement I had not yet felt on this trip and I already anticipate the next!