One Day More

Hello again everyone. Today is the last day of Field School, and my feelings about our one more day are bittersweet.

The North ditch along Hadrian’s wall during our second hike. Aline provides some scale.

Over the course of our time here, we have learned about archaeology and history from many approaches. In a kinesthetic fashion, we have learned about the British landscape and how the Roman’s used it to their advantage while hiking the remains of Hadrian’s wall. In a tactile approach, we have learned how to spade and trowel properly so that we do not damage the artifacts we are trying to remove, and how to differentiate between artifacts and material we discard, as well as how to illustrate the objects we find.

Avery spading in the North Field

From a visual perspective, we have visited museums and other forts along the northern frontier of Roman Britain and learned how to recognize the typical layout of a fort (hint: look for gates into the fort and for the principia, which should be approached directly by the main gate and flanked by the granaries and praetorium on either side), as well as mentally untangling the floor plans of seven of the forts built on top of each other at Vindolanda. We have learned auditorily from lectures by both of our wonderful professors, Dr. Greene and Dr. Meyer, as well as the numerous guest speakers and specialists we have heard at the site. Moreover, after learning all this information about our site, its history, and life in the frontier of the Roman Empire, we have been able to apply it directly in order to understand the areas that we have been excavating, and to explain what we are doing to curious tourists who ask!

As you can probably tell from the short list above, we have had a very busy 5 weeks learning and practicing archaeology. Here are some of my personal favourite moments.

5) Seeing the ancient jewelry at the Great North Museum in Newcastle, and at the Vindolanda Museum.

Decorated brooches. 

4) Watching Avery discover her glass perfume bottle. Like the ancient jewelry, artifacts like this help us to develop a more personal understanding of the Romans and realize that in many ways the Romans were similar to us. It is also rather uncommon, so it was incredible to see.

Avery and her perfume bottle.

3) Viewing Vindolanda’s unique collection of leather shoes in both the museum and the vicus trench. These are preserved due to Vindolanda’s unique anaerobic environment, and clearly demonstrate the presence of women and children at the fort, which has drastically changed our ideas about military life and community.

A sample display of the shoes found at Vindolanda.

2) All the wonderful people we have gotten to work with daily over the course of this trip. Thank you to my classmates who have made this trip such a fun experience, the specialists who have shared their knowledge with us; Andy, Penny, and Marta for guiding our excavation in the trenches and teaching us how to improve, the lovely volunteers from England and around the world that we have worked during our excavations, and last but certainly not least, both Dr. Greene and Dr. Meyer, who have taught us the history of Roman Britain and how to excavate, guided our excavations, worked alongside us, and without whom this course would not have been possible.

Our 2017 Vindolanda Field School class at a milecastle on Hadrian’s wall.

1) Personally finding a large and folded piece of leather (thank you Dr. Meyer for pointing out that bucket!) and a writing tablet fragment. Through these two finds, I have directly contributed to advancing our knowledge of the ancient world, and I am incredibly grateful for that opportunity and experience.

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Left: the writing tablet I found. Right: me holding a folded piece of leather.

If you recall my introductory blog post, you might remember that in addition to Classics, I study music history. One of the things about I love about art, especially music, is its ability to express emotions that we do not have the words for. For me, this experience at Vindolanda is still too recent to fully articulate how I feel, although I thank you for staying with me and reading so much of it, so to end off this blog post I thought I would give you one quotation from one of my favourite musicals, The Last Five Years. I like this quote in regards to our time at Vindolanda because of the various ways you can interpret it.

“Goodbye, until tomorrow. Goodbye, until the rest of my life. And I will be waiting, I will be waiting for you.” -Jason Robert Brown, The Last Five Years

You can read this quotation from the perspective of us Field Schoolers, saying goodbye to the site until our last day, before waiting to come back at some other point during our lives. Alternatively, if you’ll indulge me in anthropomorphizing the site, you could read it from the perspective of Vindolanda, waiting until tomorrow and the rest of her long life for excavators to return and unearth her secrets. Knowing that excavations will continue here for at least another 100 years to fully excavate the site gives me hope that I will be able to return as a volunteer excavator in the future, and continue to help illuminate Roman life at Vindolanda.

Goodbye for now,



Bonus picture: I left my own temporary inscription on the sand at the beach in Newcastle during our day trip there.

P.S. Did you catch the other musical reference?

The importance of observation: archaeology and flowers

Observation is one of the skills archaeologists need to develop. In order to identify changes in the soil layers and potentially different periods, to distinguish between pottery and rocks, to pick out a writing tablet from an off-cut of wood, and to identify the shapes and structures beneath the soil that could indicate a Roman fort, one needs to pay close attention to detail and be observant of the environment one is working in. But observation comes in handy in areas outside of archaeology too, so for today’s blog post I though I would use my keen observation from archaeology and combine it with another passion – photographing flowers – to introduce you to the flowers around Vindolanda.

Foxglove flowers along the North Field wall.

The first flower I would like to showcase is one you may recognize from you garden: foxglove, or Digitalis purpurea. This beautiful plant is native to Europe. A fun fact about it is that it has a variety of medicinal properties: in small doses, the leaves can be a heart stimulant to treat heart failure, while in larger doses the same compound that can treat heart failure makes this plant poisonous. This plant was found along the side of the wall for marking the North Field where we started excavating in our first week, although you often see it growing along the sides of roads too.


Rhododendrons in the Vindolanda gardens.

The second flower is the rhododendron, which you might also see in your garden. The name rhododendron refers to a genus (which includes many species), and is primarily native to Asia, although there are some species native to Europe and North America. This flowering plant was found in the gardens at Vindolanda outside the museum, although you may also see rhododendrons along the sides of the roads since one particular species –  Rhododendron ponticum – is actually an invasive species in the United Kingdom.

A fun fact about rhododendrons is that they love acidic soil, unlike most other plants. (For science nerds like me, most plants do not like acidic soil because they need to extract ions- specifically cations like Mg2+, Ca2+, etc. that are nutrients needed for growth. These cations are attached through attractive forces to negatively charged soil particles- just like magnets where opposite charges attract. One of the ways plants can access these nutrients is to release H+ ions into the soil; the hydrogen ions are more attracted to the negative charge than the other ions and they displace those nutrient ions into the soil water, which the plant roots can then uptake them. H+ ions make the soil acidic; if the soil is already acidic, it is harder for plants to get their nutrients. I do not know why rhododendrons enjoy acidic soil – but if there is any rule to go by in biology, there are always exceptions to the norm).

Bluebell flowers.

The third flower is the bluebell, or Hyacinthoides non-scripta, which we observed growing in the fields along Hadrian’s Wall. This flower is native to Europe and the UK. A fun fact is that this plant is actually protected in the UK, and is typically blue, although it may also be white and rarely is found in pink.  This is one of my favourite flowers.



Some of the lovely bluebell flowers we saw during our second hike.
Cow’s parsley above some buttercups and dandelions.

The fourth flower is the cow’s parsley, or Anthriscus sylvestris. We have observed this growing among the fields surrounding Hadrian’s wall, as well as in the shade along the road. This plant is native to Europe. It has several look alike plants in regards to its leaves and flowers, including fool’s parsley, hemlock, and giant hogsweed. Unlike the latter two (hemlock is poisonious, and giant hogsweed is a dangerous invasive species), this plant is safe.



Blue forget-me-nots.

The fifth flower is the wood forget-me-not, or the Myosotis sylvatica. This is a plant I’ve seen back home in Ontario, Canada, although it is also native to Europe. A fun-fact about this species is that it is found throughout England, Wales, and the Isle of Mann. While you might not be able to tell because this picture is a close-up, the flowers on this plant are tiny!


The final flower I’m going to briefly discuss is the buttercup, a member of the genus Ranunculus. Like rhododendrons, Ranunculus is a genus that includes many species, and I believe the one featured here is likely a creeping buttercup, Ranunculus repens. A fun fact about buttercups is that they are poisonous to livestock, although they apparently have a bitter taste which discourages animals from eating them in the first place.

Buttercups in the grass at Vindolanda.

We have seen many other flowers throughout out trip, from garden roses to wildflowers to weeds (which are just plants in locations we do not like, in my opinion).  I’ve posted some more pictures below – I hope you enjoy them, and can apply the lessons of observation from archaeology to the subjects that interest you.

Left: a field poppy from Wallsend, middle: a rose from the Princess St. Gardens in Edinburgh, right: a rhododendron (one of the non-invasive species) at Vindolanda.

Archaeological CLUE – Unravel the clues and find the real artifact!

Scandal! In the vicus, with the anaerobic preservation, orange sandstone tried to pass itself off as Samian pottery.

Hello again everyone! Today was another exciting day on excavation in the vicus, finding fragments of bone, leather, and pottery. Now that we’ve been here a few weeks, us first time excavators have learned to recognize the difference between artifacts and rocks! Furthermore, not all the material we find during excavation is worth keeping, and a surprising amount of it is discarded because we cannot gain information from it (for example, twigs that were used to fill a floor). So if you’ll indulge me, we’ll play Archaeological CLUE to find the real artifact hidden among our many suspect materials. Our “room” and “method” will be the vicus trench and anaerobic preservation, so we’ll just need to find the culprit!

Suspect material one is pottery, a common archaeological find. During our first few days working in the North Field at Vindolanda, I struggled with differentiating between red herrings-like rocks and actual pottery. The two cases of mistaken identity were orange sandstone and orange Samian ware pottery, and black pottery and thin black shale. Below are two pictures: what differences do you see?

Spot the pot! Is this pottery or orange sandstone?
Spot the pot! Is this pottery or orange sandstone?









Make sure not to be distracted by shiny rocks- cool for geology, useless for archaeology.

Pottery and stone are very different materials, so there are some differences that we look for to differentiate between them.  First, pottery may have a different visual appearance. Pottery is often smooth and even in size, while rocks are often asymmetrical and of varying thicknesses. Furthermore, pottery often has a curved edge to it that in combination with the other visual cues distinguishes it from rock. But there are other tests too. Pottery has a different texture; while rock is rough and cold, pottery almost feels warm and usually at least one of the sides is smooth. Some archaeologists use taste tests, although that isn’t something we do here. Colour can sometime be used in combination with the other clues, such as for the bright orange, high-quality orange Samian pottery, but you’ll have to be careful not to be misled by colourful rocks.

The second suspect material in this excavation is glass. Glass is a material that continues to be used in the modern era, which makes it a sneaky suspect in shallow trenches that include the plough zone- where layers of archaeology have been mixed together during ploughing and ancient glass may be found alongside modern glass. (When we were in the North Field, we had a real-life example of this when we found lots of Victorian glass, and you can see a beautiful example of ancient glass in the Vindolanda Instagram post about the glass perfume bottle Avery found last week.) There are some clues to look for the distinguish between these characters: modern glass often has fewer bubbles than ancient glass, and modern glass can be much thinner than Roman glass. Ancient glass also has a slight green or blue colour, although this particular clue is used in combination with other features.  However, if you are beneath the plough zone and know the ago of other artifacts in the trench, the glass will be from the same period and this step is unnecessary. All the glass we find in the vicus is ancient, because we’re digging through material from 90-105 CE.

Some glass fragments that have been cleaned. Do you see the thickness and slight colour?
A beautiful piece of wood with vivianite, indicating anerobic conditions.
Suspect material three is wood. Wood is one of the organic materials that are preserved because of the unique anaerobic conditions at Vindolanda (which means the artifacts are preserved in soil without oxygen). One clue we can use to determine whether we have anaerobic conditions is whether the blue and white iron compound vivianite is present; if it is, anaerobic conditions with high phosphorous concentrations are present. Wood is our most difficult suspect, in that much of the material is discarded because we cannot gain any information from it. Yet every now and then there are pieces worth keeping. Do you think we would keep any of these pieces below?




A large wooden stick. Would we keep this?
A piece of wattle and daub fence. The curve at the top is where this piece was in contact with other pieces. Do you think we’d keep this?












The types of material that we discard are often ones that have no identifiable purpose, such as off-cuts of wood and rough piece of uneven thickness. For example, wooden posts from rooms are discarded once they have been documented. Small material such as twigs and leaves used to fill floors are searched for other material, and then removed.  But, hidden among the rubbish may be even writing or stylus tablets. Writing tablets in particular may contain remnants of ink that we can still read today, and pieces like this we keep because they can give us unique insights into life in the Roman world. (Make sure to check out Garett’s post on writing tablets at Vindolanda). To make wood even harder to classify, small pieces of wood coated in mud may look like bone and need to be carefully checked.

Suspect material four is metal. Metal can be found in coins, moulds, weapons, and jewelry. But metals can be red herrings because they can change colour due to corrosion. Metals like iron often corrode to browns and reds as they form iron oxyhydroxides when exposed to the oxygen in the atmosphere. Many Roman coins consist of brass, an alloy of copper and tin. As such, they can produce green and blue tinged corrosion around them. Lead and zinc both leave white corrosion. Conversely, coins that have been preserved in anaerobic conditions are often not corroded and will retain their original colours; primarily yellow for brass coins. Just like in CLUE, we need to know not just the suspect, but the location and the weapon: in this case, the material, the location, and the conditions of preservation. Between our red rust, orange Samian, yellow brass coins, green corroded copper alloy, blue vivianite, and black soil, we have a rainbow of colours to work through when looking for clues for our real artifact.

An unmistakable piece of bone.

There are some totally innocent bystanders in our archaeological game. Leather, bones, and metal nails are so distinct that they rarely have a case of mistaken identity. Likewise,  large wooden posts that are too big to be hiding as writing tablets are hard to mistake, and can be discarded if the excavation is proceeding to a lower level and the posts have been recorded.


I hope you have enjoyed this brief introduction to finding and assessing archaeological artifacts. Now I hope you’re ready to play archaeological clue. Can you pick out the guilty subjects that are actual Roman artefacts that modern archaeologists would keep? Can you spot the pot? Good luck! (I’ll post the answers tomorrow).


IMG_1413[1].JPG Round one: wood with streaks of vivianite. Is this an artifact worth keeping?










Round two: a piece of quartz. Is this an archaeological artifact?








IMG_0842[1].JPGRound three: pottery or rock?


The Sun Will Come Out, Tomorrow

Rain in England is not an uncommon occurrence. However, today was the second day that the precipitation has been so intense and prolonged that excavation was temporarily cancelled. In the two weeks that we have been excavating so far, Tuesday was our first rained out session (which you can read about in Holly’s post) and this morning was our second. But it was still an educational day at Vindolanda, despite the inclement weather.

Tea in the tea shed while waiting for the rain to clear.
We started this morning with the hopes that the rain would pass and we would be able to continue excavating after clearing the trench of accumulated water, as we did yesterday morning. You can see below the amount of water we had to remove yesterday for those of us who are excavating in the vicus (the settlement outside the fort proper). To pass the time, we enjoyed tea in the tea shed! After another half hour of listening to the symphony of rain droplets pounding against the roof, we changed plans and had a wonderful lecture on women in the frontiers with the Roman Army by our very own Dr. Greene!


The water we had to clear before excavating yesterday. We hoped we would be able to repeat yesterday’s strategy, but the rain was too much for us in the morning.
Dr. Greene’s lecture greatly expanded some of the ideas touched upon in Dr. Birley’s presentation on Tuesday, especially in the use of leather shoes preserved by the anaerobic conditions at Vindolanda. These shoes indisputably demonstrate the presence of women and children at the fort, despite the previously held belief that forts were primarily or even exclusively male spaces.  Below, you can see a few of the slides from Dr. Greene’s presentation. The first slide shows Dr. Greene explaining a variety of the different types of shoes at Vindolanda, from sandals in the top left to children’s shoes in the bottom right. The middle image shows a plot of the locations of female, adolescent, and children’s shoes found in the barracks at Vindolanda. The excavated portions are in black and the unexcavated in white; this plot demonstrates that while archaeological evidence for women and children is not found in every room, it is certainly present. Moreover, this is but one building on site, and every excavated structure from period 4 (105-120 AD) at Vindolanda has found women and children’s shoes. This suggests that women were present at the fort, and that they occupied spaces that were traditionally assumed to be male only. It also demonstrates the importance of good record keeping during excavation so that we can accurately plot and analyze the finds to answer new questions. The final image on the right shows a beautiful decorated shoe of the type that Dr. Greene has worked with in the Vindolanda museum.

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Left: Dr. Greene explaining various shoes and what we can learn from them during her lecture. Middle: one plot demonstrating the presence of women, adolescent, and children’s shoes in the barracks at Vindolanda. Right: a decorated shoe in the Vindolanda museum, of the type Dr. Greene works with.

While there were many other interesting aspects of Dr. Greene’s lecture, including the legality of marriage for soldiers in the Roman army and whether this aligned with social customs, and the impact of women and children on life in the fort, what I enjoyed seeing most was the incorporation of feminism in archaeological research. The idea that women were a part of the Roman army, and were fundamental to daily life for the army, is a relatively recent area of research in archaeology that took off as late as the 1990s. To me, this demonstrates the importance of feminism in academia and how much we can still learn about Roman civilization, depending on the types of questions we ask.

Elizabeth is clearing water from the vicus after the rain. Nearby are other Vindolanda volunteers.
But our day was not over yet. By lunch, the rain had eased enough for us to work. We set out to clear our trench with bucket chains, quite literally singing in the rain to speed the time.  It seems that Fate has decided we had suffered enough by missing a day and a half of excavation, and rewarded some of us with exciting finds. The highlights ranged from the usual pottery shards and bone fragments, to leather scraps, and even a beautiful fragment of a glass perfume bottle found by Avery (which has a better picture on the Vindolanda Trust Instagram)- who can clearly see Roman artifacts whether the rain is gone or not!

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Three of Avery’s finds today. Left: a piece of Samian pottery. Middle: a piece of leather with the stitching visible. Right: the glass perfume bottle.

Excavating in England means learning to work through the weather whenever possible, while also recognizing when to acknowledge defeat and move indoors. Today we were lucky to do both and continue our education in archaeology both inside and outside of the classroom.  All we have to do now is wait for the sun to come out, tomorrow. (And maybe sacrifice a goat to the gods as insurance).


P.S. Did you catch the musical and song references?

Experimental Archaeology- Roman pottery

Experimental Archaeology- Roman pottery

Experimental archaeologist and potter Graham Taylor.
Today was our fourth day of excavation in the North Field trench. However, since we’ve had so many great posts on excavation so far (check out Garett’s and Cassandra’s posts on starting excavation and Elizabeth’s on the realities of excavation), I’m going to go in a slightly different direction today. One unique thing about our program at Vindolanda is the number of specialists we get to meet. In fact, over this past week we had a demonstration of experimental archaeology with the potter Graham Taylor, who was firing clay pots in a replica of a Roman kiln. I’ve interviewed Mr. Taylor about Roman pottery making and his career as an potter working with Roman techniques.


First, let’s briefly go over how Roman kilns worked. As you can see in the reconstruction below, they were built with thick walls of clay. These thick walls trap heat inside, and allow the combustion chamber to reach temperatures of 1100oC- although the temperature yesterday was only 900 oC. The walls themselves are reinforced with wood sticks inside the clay, and overtop you can see a temporary clay dome that is removed to get to the pottery inside. Roman kilns could also be built underground for even better insulation than just the clay alone. Ultimately, these types of kilns had a high success rate of around 90%, as they distributed the heat within evenly. Care, however, must be taken to increase and decrease the temperature slowly around 250 oC and 570 oC because of the silica in the clay, which rapidly expands and contracts at those temperatures in a thermal inversion and can crack the pottery (although the Roman wouldn’t have known the reason for this!)

Reconstructed Roman kiln and fuel pile at Vindolanda.

This particular kiln at Vindolanda contains about 30-40 pots per firing. Building this kiln took 4 days, and this week was only it’s second firing, although it will likely be used at least once every two to three months. While it could be used more, the frequency of use at this site will be determined by whether there are enough pots to fill the kiln and justify firing it. (It uses an incredible amount of wood to reach the necessary temperatures. Can you make out the enormous wood pile in the picture above? Consider for a moment just how much fuel a Roman city would require between its various industries, heated homes, and bath houses.) The first firing of this kiln was primarily to dry the kiln out, as it was constructed from wet clay, and this week was its first firing for pottery. Below, you can see one finished black earthenware pot. (Earthenware refers to the temperature of firing, under 1150 oC, as opposed to stoneware and porcelain at temperatures above 1200 oC).

One black earthenware Roman style pot from the reconstructed kiln at Vindolanda.
There’s some interesting science going on behind the colour of this pottery. It was created by starving the kiln of oxygen at the very end of the firing, by sealing up all the openings with clay. This creates reducing conditions, because the burning of the fuel that provides the heat for the kiln consumes all the oxygen that remains. With the depletion of oxygen, the iron oxides present in the clay are converted from an orange colour to  a black colour. This needs to happen at the very end of the firing; if the kiln were starved of oxygen earlier in the firing, the lack of oxygen could prevent the rest of the fuel from igniting and keep the kiln from reaching its proper temperatures to turn the clay into pottery.



Such experimental archaeology obviously requires some research to guide the reconstructions. The sources Mr. Taylor primarily draws upon include excavation reports, visiting excavations in person, and museum store rooms for evidence on the types of pottery and its construction.  This is a unique way to approach archaeology, and so I asked Mr. Taylor how he entered this field.  Mr. Taylor is a potter by trade, although he has always been interested in archaeological techniques and incorporated aspects of the techniques into his own contemporary creations. About 15 years ago, he moved to experimental archaeology and reconstructions of archaeological works, which is what he has focused on since. He considers himself to be both an experimental archaeologist and a potter, rather than just one of those options. While the new kiln you’ve seen featured in my photographs today is at Vindolanda, Mr. Taylor has also worked a kiln at the fort Segedunum at Wallsend for much longer. (For those of you not familiar with detailed English geography, Wallsend is the modern town where Hadrian’s wall ends; you can see pictures in Aline’s post from last weekend). Finally, I asked my most difficult question of all: what his favourite reconstructed work was. After initially suggesting all of it since each piece was so different, he answered that some of his Bronze Age reconstruction works were his most recent favourites.

A panoramic view of Segendum at Wallsend. We visited here last weekend and Mr. Taylor used to operate a kiln here before starting the one at Vindolanda featured above.
If you’re interested in Mr. Taylor’s works, I’ve included a link to the gallery portion of his website, where you can see images of the various works he has recreated, ranging from the Bronze Age to Roman to Cold War teacups for a museum gallery.

For me, the most interesting part of my experiences with Mr. Taylor was seeing the numerous ways one can approach and contribute to our understanding of history.  As a student with academic experience in diverse areas including music, environmental science, and classical studies, it was enjoyable to see that when one specializes in a field distinct from archaeology and classical history, it is possible to continue to contribute to our understanding of history, and to apply this specialization in order to bring a unique perspective to history. I hope that in the future, I will be able to do this with my own studies.


A Day on the Town

Hello again! Today was an exciting day for us, as we headed out to South Shields to see the Roman fort Arbeia, before heading out to Newcastle at the Great North Museum (Elizabeth’s blog post will focus on the Great North Museum in detail, so make sure to read her post too!).

Avery giving a presentation on Roman defenses and gates in front of the reconstructed West Gate at Arbeia.

Our first stop of the day was the site of the Roman fort Arbeia. While this site was not as fully excavated as some of the sites we have visited, such as Chesters, what made this site unique was its reconstructions. Arbeia houses a reconstruction of the West Gate with its double arches, the praetorium—commanding officer’s house—with its painted walls, and the barracks for the soldiers. These reconstructions are incredibly helpful in order to visualize just how large these military structures would have been. While the West Gate and the praetorium were much more spacious than I expected, the barracks were tiny. Can you believe that eight men would have been housed in one of these rooms?

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From left to right: the reconstructed West Gate, a centurion’s room in the barrack (marginally larger than the soldiers’ rooms), and the decorated hallway of the praetorium (commanding officer’s house).


                                                            The Latin inscription of a gravestone from Arbeia. Can you find the second inscription?

We followed a tour of the site with a visit to the museum. One particular noteworthy artifact was an inscribed gravestone. This inscription demonstrates the extent of travel that was possible in the Roman Empire, and instilled in us the importance of detailed observation in interpreting artifacts. The inscription reads “to the spirits of the departed (and) of Regina, freedwoman and wife of Barates of Palmyra, Catuvellauni by birth, died aged 30.” This tells us that the gravestone was for a woman who was from a native British tribe and was set up by her Palmyrian husband. Furthermore, beneath the Latin inscription was a Palmyrian one. As Dr. Meyer explained, the inclusion of both inscriptions can give us a great deal of information about the intended audience. The deliberate inclusion of inscriptions in two languages may indicate that there were individuals capable of reading such an inscription in Roman Britain, and/or individuals potentially incapable of reading the Roman alphabet, which could potentially indicate the presence of a Palmyrian community in Britain. This raises interesting questions about travel and identity in the Roman empire, and certainly gave us much to think about on our way to the next stop of the day.


Our senior student Prem wearing the Western flag at the top of the reconstructed West Gate at Arbeia.


Of course, before leaving South Shields we had to capitalize on the photo opportunities presented by the reconstructed two story tower over the West Gate. To the left, you can see the inner edge of the platform between the two towers of the gate, the excavated area of the ground behind the gate, the reconstructed barracks in the distance, (some residential housing of the modern city even further in the distance), and of course, our senior student Prem modelling the Western flag as a cape.



Our next stop was the Great North Museum in Newcastle.  While the Great North Museum had some wonderful alters including ones for Mithraism (a mystery cult from the Middle East that spread throughout the empire) and an impressive replica of Hadrian’s wall, my favourite items were the more personal ones: the jewelry and the cooking equipment. Below is a compilation of my favourite pieces of jewelry, and I think you could even wear these pieces today. Please comment below and let us know if you have a favourite from these pieces too.

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My favourite pieces of jewelry from the South Shields and Great North Museums. From left to right: glass hair pins, a decorated metal pin, painted bead bracelet, and a broach.



My modern key and an ancient key are remarkably similar.

Likewise, it’s fascinating to think that certain household objects haven’t changed at all in 1800 years. Look at these keys and colanders! For the colander especially, you can see the fine holes if you look at the pattern of shadows beneath the artifact.

An ancient metal colander that looks almost identical to the one in my kitchen!

After finishing this second museum visit and third stop of the day, our class spent several hours exploring the city of Newcastle. We greatly appreciated the beautiful buildings- from historic Medieval towers to churches to modern architecture. Today has been one of many days this week that have provided us with the opportunity to learn about Roman history and the modern cities in England, which truly is a unique learning experience.


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A brief compilation of the buildings we saw in Newcastle.


Adventure No. 1

Hello again! My first impressions after landing in Northern England was that England was very green and dotted with numerous sheep, and this was confirmed today during our first big adventure: visiting the Housesteads Fort and hiking Hadrian’s wall. We started our day bright and early with a tour of the Housesteads museum and fort.  One of our first challenges today was to identify what caused these indentations/holes in a wall were. We were stumped: do you want to try and identify them? (Comment with your best guesses and we’ll reveal the answers tomorrow!)

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A water storage tank at Housesteads with three features we identified and discussed. Can you guess what they were?

One of the things I enjoyed seeing the most about the fort at Housesteads was the small details from daily life that made the site more personal (and I’m sure we’ll see more of that once we start excavating at Vindolanda proper). One example of this was a hole and ditch in one of the stones at the entrance to the site; the wearing of the stone here shows where the original gate to the site was located. Such a small, almost mundane detail is what brings these sites to life for me.

A stone showing where the original gate post and gate of the fort would have been.


The start of our hike.

The next stage of our adventure was our approximately 12.6 km hike along Hadrian’s Wall- or 18 000 steps or 96 flights of stairs according to Aline’s iPhone health app. This hike showed us the gorgeous landscapes of northern rural England, including sheep, forests, lakes, cliffs, and rolling hills.

In addition to this diverse splendor of natural beauty, we saw Hadrian’s wall, milecastles, and turrets. What I found astounding was the sheer extent of the ruins. This was visible in both the thickness of the milecastle walls (approximately 8-10 feet thick), and the length of Hadrian’s wall over the landscape.

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Our group behind the gate of a milecastle.
Dr. Greene in front of another milecastle.






The extensive, picturesque landscape that Hadrian’s wall covers.


At the end of the day, we had our first taste of Roman forts and our first glimpse’s of England’s beauty. We also had our personal triumph over the tremendous hills and valleys, reached the highest point on Hadrian’s wall, and had a successful first adventure. Make sure to  stay updated for the answers to our earlier question!