Date Published: 18/05/2020

Welcome back…you’re just in time to join us for the top 5 countdown. My name is Louise and you’re listening to Radio Vindolanda.

I’m from Cramlington in Northumberland, about as far across the county from Vindolanda as it could possibly be. I first visited the site on a middle school trip in the 1980s and it made a huge impression on me. Having moved to Haltwhistle 13 years ago, this is my eighth season working at the Roman Army Museum for the Vindolanda Trust…or at least it should be. The country is in lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which currently has the world in its grip. We are unable to welcome visitors to our sites on what is our 50th anniversary year.

 

Straight in at number 5, the only surviving Roman helmet crest…

Situated in a glass display case at the Roman Army Museum, is a Roman helmet crest made from hair moss. It is the only one in existence and it’s a wonder that such a delicate item has survived. This can be attributed to the anaerobic soil conditions at Vindolanda where it was discovered. Whilst it would have been red in colour, the oxygen it was exposed to at the point of excavation quickly changed it to black. I have chosen it as my ‘most requested artefact’, as of all the objects on display at the Roman Army Museum it is the one I am most frequently asked to direct visitors to.

At 4, numbered barrack room doors…

The Wooden Underworld at Vindolanda, which opened in 2018, houses hundreds of wooden items discovered over many years of onsite excavations. Amongst these are two numbered barrack room doors. I like to imagine well served soldiers trying to locate their rooms having arrived back from a night in the tavern, something I’m sure we can all relate to in the present day. It is for this reason that I have chose them as my ‘humorous artefacts’.

Making it into the Top 3, the Gladiator glass…

Originating from the Rhineland, this beautifully painted glass depicts scenes of gladiators fighting and has a very interesting backstory. The section of glass is displayed as a whole in the museum at Vindolanda, but it’s actually made up of four separate pieces found in different parts of the site over a period of some 35 years. That, to me, is phenomenal and the reason I have selected it as my ‘quirky artefact’. With an estimated 150 years of archaeology still to be tackled at Vindolanda, I only hope I’m still around to see further pieces unearthed…to see all of it would be a dream come true.

 

Knocked off the top spot, at number two…a full set of hipposandals…

In 2017, I visited all ten of the sites taking part in the Hadrian’s Cavalry Exhibition and I wasn’t disappointed. The artefacts that fascinated me the most were a set of hipposandals on display at Chesters. Imagine my excitement when a full set were discovered at Vindolanda during the 2018 excavations and put on display at the Roman Army Museum in 2019. Whilst the name always conjures up, for me, a ballet dancing hippopotamus from Disney’s Fantasia, there are several theories on the actual purpose of a hipposandal, the most popular being some sort of horseshoe; although, there are other schools of thought that they may have been used as leg restraints, for medicinal or offensive purposes or to gain traction in wet or icy conditions.  I don’t think the fact I have chosen them as my ‘most wished for artefact’ needs any further explanation.

 

And a new entry at number 1, a leather baby shoe…

It was thought for a long time that the only inhabitants within the fort walls at Vindolanda were men, no women or children allowed. Something that disproves this is the large collection of excavated shoes that continues to be added to year in year out. One such example is a tiny, intricately worked, leather baby shoe.  The fact that there is no wear to the sole suggests that it belonged to a babe in arms and one from a high status family at that. The baby who wore this expensive shoe was supposed to be seen and admired. I wanted to end with my ‘most relevant artefact’. On the 11th March 2020, one week before lockdown, I became a Grandma for the first time. The fact that we are quarantined as we are means that my family is unable to show off our little cherub in the same way the family of the Vindolanda baby were able to do so. It is, however, important to look for silver linings. Having been furloughed from work at the Roman Army Museum, I was asked by my daughter in law to switch household to assist with my granddaughter. Whilst I miss my place of work and colleagues terribly, I fully appreciate the precious time that I am able to spend with the youngest member of my family.

That’s it for this week. Join me, Louise, next week on Radio Vindolanda.