Lego Quest: An Update

As we wrap up the field school for 2017, our field schoolers have gotten a chance to reflect on their time here, remember some of the great memories and moments during our time here, and sadly, say goodbye to Vindolanda. If you haven’t had a chance to read them, check out some of the sign off posts.

Amidst this somber atmosphere, there is a note of joy to report in the form of an update on our Lego Quest. If you aren’t familiar with this particular part of field school, here’s some background.

After countless trips to Sainsbury’s, a few puppy dog looks at the cashiers, and generous donations from our wonderful friends at Vindolanda, (thank you Angie, Ken, Sally, and Dolores!) we’ve finally collected all 140 cards. With our own stack of cards totaling to well over 1000 cards, this quest has been successful. We even could complete the story of the Lego book following Sam and Lily as they travel around the world.

Our individual decks and the official Lego story book

Nothing will beat the thrill of sitting around in a circle, each of us holding a new pack of Sainsbury’s cards and eagerly tearing the package open to see if anyone has found one of the missing cards. As we found more and more, a new find became rarer and rarer making the process even more exciting. To have a complete deck is an inexplicable feeling but one that wouldn’t be possible without the collective effort of our friends.

Thank you everyone!


Vicus Update!

Much has happened since Anna’s video tour of the trench in the vicus (which you can watch here). Anna’s tour explained some of the things we were working on during our first week in the vicus, however, that was almost three weeks ago! Since then, everyone in our crew has moved to north side of the trench.

We spent last week uncovering the remains of what is believed to be cavalry barracks from Period III/IV. A sprinkling of vertical wooden posts marks the outlines of rooms and wattle and daub fences. Each has its own small white square nailed into the top to highlight its location. We worked methodically, digging down to a new layer. We began at the northernmost wall and headed south until we reached the wooden drainpipe that cuts through the trench. Then, nearing the end of the week, we turned around and began to dig from the pipe, back towards the northern wall.

Alex explaining the wonders of the vicus at the end of our first week in this trench. He is standing by the water pipe in the south end. Our excavation efforts for weeks 2 and 3 in the vicus focus on this area between Alex and where the photographer stands. Please note the large puddles of water. Photograph by Avery Lafortune

As we dug past the Period III/IV flooring bracken, it became clear that our site is host to several clay pits. These pits likely date towards the end of Period I or early Period II. For the past few days we have dug and troweled around the clay to discern the shape and size of these pits. Believe it or not, not all earth was created the same and we can tell the difference between what is part of the pit and what is simply top soil based on colour and consistency.

Controlling the water in the vicus is an ongoing battle (which Liz tells us about). Our days usually start with a (well-practiced) draining of the small lake that forms overnight. The water is either a result of rainfall or leakage from the Roman water pipe at the south end (incredibly, this pipe still works!). As part of our attempt at water management, a sump has been dug in the north end. Over the weeks, we have had to enlarge it to better suit the needs of the excavators.

Panorama of the Vicus trench (click to enlarge)

With all this digging, we have found many wonderful things. Common finds include jaw bones, ribs, and teeth from animals (mostly cows), pieces of scrap leather (often parts of tents), oyster shells, and bits of pottery. We usually find most, if not all, of those things every day. However, we have also found some different, unusual, and exciting objects. Particularly, large tent panels and leather shoes have been found (for more information on shoes see my post). We also found two copper-alloy sewing needles and thin, riveted pieces of copper-alloy which were likely used in tent-making. Aline found a bookmark that seems to be made from a writing tablet and she along with Victoria and Andy have all found parts of tablets. These are very exciting finds because they may have ink writing on them that will tell us more about life at Vindolanda. Large pieces of bright orange samian pottery have also been found, many of which have decorative designs. There are even a few pieces that were found individually yet are clearly part of the same vessel! We did not unearth many metal objects, however, today, Anna dug up a thin piece of metal that is believed to be a hairpin. These are just some of the notable finds we have discovered in the vicus over the past two weeks. The finds will be processed by the post-excavation team or down at the museum, preserved, and studied to add to our growing understanding of the activity in the vicus.

A basket of artifacts from the vicus post-cleaning. There are several bones (including a jaw bone with teeth) and a large piece of a mortarium. Photograph by Avery Lafortune
A basket of freshly washed pottery from the vicus. Note that bright orange samian ware! Photograph by Avery Lafortune

We will continue to drop the trench until the end of the week. There is an extra sense of hustle this week in particular because these are the last few days of excavation for this area. Our goal is to dig straight to the bottom and find as much as we can until Friday. Once completed this will be the end of the vicus trench, not only for us field school students but also for the site. Afterwards and after everything has been recorded, the trench will be back-filled and our work will be covered. Excavators will move to new sites. Excavation is a timed search. We dig and we retrieve and when the trench is deep enough and the clock runs out we refill and move on.

Working in the vicus has been a wonderful experience. There is so much to learn and discover and we will continue to do so right up until the last minute of excavation time on our last day.

Buckets lined up and ready for a big day of digging! Photograph by Avery Lafortune

Update on the East Ditch

Hi everyone, today I will be giving you an update on the progress of the ditch system in the eastern trench! As we have heard from Cassandra in the East Ditch Introduction, this newly excavated trench could be quite an exciting area and could produce some great finds. As of last week, we were beginning to dig and sort through top soil (which is a brown colour) and we continued to do so into this week. Within the top soil up to this layer, there were a few finds such as pieces of pottery and bone, as well as a coin, game piece, and spear base that was mentioned in the previous introduction. Soon we found a more grey layer of silt, probably a sediment from the water flowing through the ditch. In the past few days, we began to dig through the topsoil to try and expose an adjacent clay layer and try to determine where the edge of the ditch is. It took a lot of hard work, some powerful spading and troweling but eventually we got there. It turns out that the ditch is more complex than we had first thought. As is the case with most excavations at Vindolanda, we have layers of ditches on top of each other. The excavated clay edge probably belongs to the 3rd century ditch and the other end of it is underneath a later re-cut ditch. Finding these sorts of features requires careful and patient excavation.

While we were doing this, some of the new Michigan students continued the de-turfing efforts further down the trench. Once they had finished, our goal was to clear the topsoil to the edge of the berm and define the rocks again. While clearing the dirt I came across a small black glass gaming counter which was exciting since it was different compared to the clay ones we had previously found in this trench. Along with the game piece a few coins were found as well as pieces of bone, teeth, and pottery.


My glass game piece


But by far the most exciting part of the week was when we got the go ahead to drop down another layer. This is very exciting because now we are truly starting to dive down into the ditch itself, and hopefully it will produce some great finds. Again we can see that this is a darker grey layer and a more mucky soil to try and sort through. Around this dirt we also uncovered a few larger rocks, which could possibly have fallen into the ditch. Here we can see the layer of dark soil and rocks as compared to the brown dirt earlier in the day, before we dropped down.

Our drop down trench and the difference in soil colour
You can see the excavated clay edge just to the right of the yellow buckets

Unfortunately, while there were no small finds in what we looked through, this is only the beginning of what will surely be a great excavation and I’m so glad I got to be a part of this experience from the very beginning!


All Quiet on the Western Vindolanda Field School Blog

Today begins our free weekend where the students can visit different parts of the United Kingdom and Ireland and experience everything the culture here has to offer. Some are in Edinburgh, others in Dublin, and two in Durham. As a result, the blog might seem a bit quiet but don’t worry, we’ll be back in full form on Monday!

Let me just take this moment to thank you, our readers, for staying with us, commenting, interacting, and being the best audience we could ask for. It’s been a pretty creative year so far so I myself am excited to see what’s in store in the next few weeks.

Until then!