Published 12th November 2020

The festive mood is starting to fill the air here at the Vindolanda Trust! As the air gets colder and the nights get darker, we all begin to plan what presents to give to that special someone who made 2020 more bearable. With the high street closed, Vindolanda Site archaeologist Marta has put together a top 10 list of archaeological gifts for all pockets, which you can buy from our online shop and have delivered to your or your loved ones’ address! Here they are, listed from the cheapest to most expensive, with some precious archaeological nuggets of information to pop in your Christmas card!

  • Golden ticket – from £10.00 for a Children’s ticket, £15.00 for an Adult

Ideal for a limited budget, perhaps for your Northern based office Secret Santa, this special ticket allows the ticket holder to visit both our museums as many times as they want between the date of purchase and December 2021. The Golden ticket is special because it celebrates the 50th year from the foundation of the Trust. The Trust was founded in 1970 with the aim to excavate, research and preserve the Roman remains in its custody for all to enjoy. Hop on the trend of gifting experiences: they don’t take up storage space, and they enable excellent memories to be made.

It is hard to say what forms of lighting the Romans would have used at Vindolanda. It is possible that torches made of organic material would have been the most common type of lighting. There are only 27 complete or fragmentary oil lamps in our collection and some, like the one found in the 2019 extramural excavation, appear to have been used for votive purposes. Why not illuminating your home with Vindolanda exclusive candles? The Gladiator Pillar Candle is perfect for long hours of burning on the mantlepiece or as a table centrepiece. The Advent candle is meant to be burnt a little every day, to mark another sleep until Santa!

Did you know that, in 50 years of Vindolanda excavation, we only found one gold coin? It is an Aureus of Nero, which would have been in circulation even before the site was founded. To learn more about the Vindolanda coins you can head to our coin blog or… you can buy yourself and your loved ones this little coin book. It features coins found at Vindolanda indexed by Emperor and goes very well with a small collection of reproduction Roman Coins. If your budget stretches a bit further, pair the book with our Sestertius of Hadrian’s Necklace for £28.00.

Rodents would have been widespread on the frontier and were a pest problem at Vindolanda. However, effective countermeasures would have been available. For example, did you know a study was conducted on owl pellets containing rodent bones as part of research on the Granaries at Vindolanda? Head to our report page to read the academic article! If there is a kid in your life who is curious, resourceful, and intelligent like a little mouse, surprise them with this combo of Minimus book and maze puzzle. Suitable for grown ups too!


 Roman Shield umbrella (£29.99)

Unfortunately, despite the anaerobic conditions some of the Vindolanda artefacts are preserved in, we do not have a complete shield in our collection. We do, however, have some of the metal parts that would have been on the scutum:  the shield boss, which would have doubled as a percussive instrument to beat the opponent with, and the copper alloy edges sealing the layered leather which made up the shield. We are not suggesting you use this amazing Roman Shield umbrella in combat, but perhaps you could buy more than one and practice your testudo move with members of your bubble!

Cosying up on the sofa with a good book is one of the great joys of the holidays. Buy these two volumes for your budding archaeologist friend, or for anyone interested in Vindolanda. The Band of Brothers book deals with the contents of the world famous Vindolanda Tablets, while the Roman Frontier book explains clearly all the different layers which compose the Vindolanda site. You might not know that the authors of the books are brothers! Robin Birley and Anthony Birley are the sons of Professor Eric Birley, who named them after two important scholars of the Wall, Robin Collingwood and Anthony Hedley.

This replica brooch is moulded on an original found at Vindolanda in 2018. The original was made of solid silver and was found in the fill of a third century ditch. Ditch excavations can be very exciting, but also frustrating: the wide and deep defences of the forts at Vindolanda can easily fill with rain or spring water. Finding such a delicate and well-preserved artefact in such a tricky context was the highlight of the experience for the volunteer who unearthed it.  We hope that those who find this duckling under their tree will be equally delighted.

The Vindolanda collection includes quite a bit of evidence for gaming in Roman times. In fact, a total of 16 gaming boards was found at the site, making it the largest collection of gaming boards in Roman Britain. We also have 971 counters which could have been used for gaming! Dices are less frequent in our collection, with only 13 examples, the last of which was found in 2017. In 2002, we even found a dice that appears to have been loaded! If you know someone who has a passion for board games, this set of Vindolanda wood dice jewellery is perfect for them.

Copper alloy and wood are two of the volunteers’ favourite materials to excavate. When preserved in anaerobic conditions, copper alloy objects shine like gold. In 2017, a cache of cavalry-related copper alloy items was found scattered in a timber barrack, almost 3 meters below the current ground level in the south Eastern quadrant of the fort. In the same area, several wooden artefacts were also uncovered, including a beautiful toy sword. However, not all the wood at Roman Vindolanda makes it into our wooden collection store. Sometimes, the demolition layers reveal chunky structural pieces of long-gone buildings. Once the archaeologists establish that the wooden fragment is not part of a large object or does not bear any important marks, and once all the appropriate samples have been taken, the wooden fragments can be discarded. A local craftsman however takes the largest bits and transforms them into unique and precious gifts. This copper fountain pen is not only a top-class sophisticated present, but it is also made of 2000 years old wood that a Roman hand felled. Unmissable.

So you want to push the boat out, then? If none of the presents listed so far will do, this replica Vindolanda horse Standard is sure to hit the spot. We only have two available, so order early to avoid disappointment. The original Vindolanda horse was found in 1971: it is made of copper alloy and is mounted on a hollow octagonal base, which is round on the inside to fit a dowel. It is a find that is very dear to the hearts of the Vindolanda team and has become a symbol of the Trust. The horse’s head is on our excavation t-shirts, hoodies and many other items in the shop. This replica is sure to go down well with collectors and will make a strong statement in homes and offices everywhere!

One final thought...if we have helped make 2020 a little more bearable, whether through our social media posts, blogs or perhaps our Closer Look video then you can give us a gift! Our survival appeal is still open and we really appreciate your support. You can buy us a virtual Christmas pint for just £3.67!

We hope you have enjoyed our guide to archaeological Christmas shopping on the Vindolanda website and have learned some interesting archaeological facts in the process. Happy Holidays from the Vindolanda team.