Monday, April 11, 2011

Digging Roman Vindolanda

I have been a bit light on archeology posts of late, but that will change next month.  I am gearing up for my annual digging trip to northern England, at the site of the Roman fort of Vindolanda.

This will be my fourth campaign.  The first time I went I just stumbled across their website while looking at other Roman information.  Seeing that they accepted volunteers I signed on for a hitch in April.  I was able to obtain this slot as late as early January.

When excavator slots for the 2011 season opened up on November 1st they were basically all snapped up in a few hours.

It is that cool an experience.

You are supervised by the archeology team, but really no experience is needed.  You are handed a trowel.  And assigned a square to work.  5th century Roman Britain starts a few inches under your feet, and there are in some places another 20 feet of unexplored levels deeper down going back to the 1st century.  
part of a wine flagon circa 240 ad

In the upper layers the things that survive are predictable.  Coins, bits of armor and weaponry, jewelry, and lots and lots of broken pottery.  But deeper down lie the real treasures.  The soil conditions at Vindolanda are unusually anaerobic, so some organic material comes out looking like it was thrown away yesterday.  A still green leaf, shoes, dog droppings.  And best of all the famed Vindolanda writing tablets.

These are thin pieces of wood with writing on them.  Imagine them as the post it notes or emails of ancient times.  Inventories, duty rosters, price lists, complaints, and in one famous instance a birthday party invitation.  These are a record of ancient life not available anywhere else.

So far I have not been in the deeper layers where these might turn up, but a few fragments did come out of a pit near where I dug last spring.

Of course, it is not a simple treasure hunt, the foundation that runs the site is actually doing some cutting edge archeological research.  Visit either or both of the Vindolanda links on this blog.  Wedigvindolanda is the volunteer excavator site. is the official site, with news on recent finds such as the 3rd century murder victim that turned up last summer!

1 comment:

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Many thanks for popping over to mine. Very glad my blog has inspired you! Lovely to see a picture of you here and yes, Vindolanda, weaves its spell over everyone (well: nearly everyone!)....

I start guiding again this season this Saturday and I cannot wait!

I was chuffed to bits to finally get around to doing some digging this year and would love to do it again when able/gap in schedule etc.

I'm currently setting up my "hands-on-latin" business and really hope to use Vindolanda as a base for that. Otherwise I would be digging all the time......

Good luck with your new season. Loved your piece on mudlarking in London. I lived there from 1985-1990 (give or take) - the history in London always bowls me over!