Vindolanda, week 1

I was a bit apprehensive on our first day of digging! I’ve never really thought of myself as an outdoorsy person, despite growing up in New Zealand and spending several years living on a farm. And outdoor sports, with mud, rain, and cold? No thanks!

However, there’s something very invigorating about the country air, and surprisingly I didn’t suffer at all from hayfever while I was there, so my energy levels were high. We were each given a wheelbarrow, a bucket, a spade, a shovel, a hand shovel, trowel, garden kneeler and brush. Armed with these we followed our supervisor Beth up the road, through a gate and into what was called the North Field. This was actually part of a neighbouring farm where we had permission to dig.

Beth explained that the building we were digging up was some kind of aisled barn – one very large room, divided into aisles by columns. We could also find traces of walls from an earlier building, and to the north some drainage ditches that were possibly used for some kind of industry. The building had already been excavated right down to floor level; our job was to dig under the floor to the natural clay below, to see if we could find any more clues about what the building was used for.

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The first few days were rough going, as the patch we’d been assigned to contained a lot of large rocks. However, it also contained various bits of Roman pottery and extremely rusty iron nails. The digging got very addictive, as we never knew what would be under the next rock. I started to build some muscle up and rocks that I couldn’t lift at the start of the week, I could effortlessly lob onto the spoil heap by the end of the week.

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This is Beth holding up a slate roof tile someone found on the first day of digging. Beth was thrilled as before then we didn’t know whether the building had a slate or thatched roof.

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Typical pottery finds

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Base of an amphora handle, from the huge pottery jars that were used to store and transport olive oil, wine and other goods.

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Tania found these lovely pieces of Samian ware. This kind of decorated pottery was made in France and imported.

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Some kind of iron pin. This was my first “small find”. Most of the items we found just got put into large bags that were labelled with the area we were digging in. These would be cleaned and then sent to the museum. Slightly more important finds got their own “small find” bag.

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Ignore me and the nail I’m holding, and look down by my feet. The rocks down there are the beginning of a wall I found near the end of the week. This would have been from the earlier building on the site.

One day we arrived to find that some ramblers had opened a gate, letting some cows into the field. One of the cows had a calf so we were a bit wary. We managed to get past them to the dig site safely, but then they got curious and came over to inspect:

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They were a bit aggressive but finally lost interest and wandered off. It definitely lent some excitement to the morning though.

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Tea break! The North Field is visible over my shoulder.

On the final day of the week we were rained off. Work stops if the rain is just too heavy to work in. So we spent some time in the Vindolanda museum before driving down the road to Chesters fort. Chesters has been well excavated and includes an impressive bath house:

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Cubby-holes in the changing room.

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The hot bath.

There’s also an underground strong room in the headquarters building.
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