I’m going back to Vindolanda at the weekend for the start of the final two-week volunteer excavation session of the year.
This is an activity I’ve enjoyed the last two years and although there are many places of great beauty in this country, the part of Northumberland near Hadrian’s Wall has become one of my favourites.
Archaeology was something I’d only ever enjoyed before from the comfort of an easy chair, watching episodes of Time Team. During my first time at Vindolanda, I was thrilled to take part in the hands-on experience even with the uncertainty of whether my knees would hold up with the long periods of kneeling. I didn’t find this to be a hardship—it was my wrists that felt the strain.
Part of the reason for going to Vindolanda the first time was to do some research for my debut novel, Starting Over. I had finished the first draft but knew that there were gaps in the archaeology aspect of the story. The information gleaned from talking to the archaeologists and experienced excavators on site was invaluable, as well as having time to explore the museum thoroughly.
Volunteer excavators come from all over the world. Last year, just from the small group staying in the on-site accommodation there were three from Australia, one from Canada, and the Nicola Sturgeon fan from Scotland (He not only had a framed photo of himself and NS that he’d brought with him, but also a football shirt with Sturgeon in big lettering on the back). The year before it was two Americans and the man from Munich. There’s a complete mix of nationalities, ages, and a fairly even male/female ratio.
So I’m looking forward to another two weeks on my knees, scraping through soil to uncover artefacts from two thousand years ago. Whether or not I strike gold, every item revealed has its own value in telling the stories of lives lived all that time ago. Cow bones, potsherds, and nails are the most common finds in the areas I’ve excavated before but there’s always the chance of stumbling across a jet-inlaid ring or a toga brooch.
Check out the Vindolanda blog to see what’s been discovered so far this season.
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