Today we host a guest post written by one of our volunteer excavators, Emily.

Emily was one of the two winners of the Vindolanda young person bursary 2018. This yearly opportunity sponsors students between 16 and 18 years old, and up to 25 years old if in full time education. It covers the costs of participating to the excavations as well as the cost of full board on site accommodation. This is what Emily had to say about her Vindolanda experience:

‘My first - and only - experience of archaeology prior to Vindolanda consisted of a 6-week online course and while this course was an excellent introduction to the field, it never felt ‘enough’. I’m happy to report that my fortnight at Vindolanda has taught me far more about what archaeology is really like, and in about a third of the time. 

During Period 9, the team I was part of was excavating part of the Severan ditch, which dates from the early third century AD. Finds here tend to have been discarded by those living at Vindolanda (a ‘mystery garrison’ in the Severan period, since as of yet there is a lack of evidence to confirm their identity), but are anything but rubbish to archaeologists today, with different finds informing us about peoples’ lives at the site. During my time in the trenches, the team uncovered some excellently-preserved animal bones, a cremation site with fragments of pottery and burnt bone and even two writing tablets. 


The Severan ditch on  the first Tuesday of my stay

The Severan ditch on the last Friday!

What I’ve learned at Vindolanda has gone far beyond the study of Romano-British history alone. For example, I’ve been taught how to use a variety of tools to excavate to different levels of delicacy (for example, a mattock for heavy-duty work and a trowel, small spade or manual sorting for finer excavation), as well as the ability to identify different finds (such as objects made from pottery, bone, glass and wood) and to build an effective excavation team alongside people of vastly different backgrounds and experiences. I’ve also gained a far greater appreciation for the sheer hard work and toil that goes into uncovering finds. I think we often take for granted the artefacts we see on display in museums without considering the hundreds of hours of physical labour that have been put in by archaeologists.

When I first arrived at the site I was quite nervous about my lack of prior experience and working alongside people I’d never met before for two intense weeks, but the team at Vindolanda have been totally welcoming and friendly to all their volunteers. I’ve been given the invaluable chance to work alongside and learn from volunteers and professionals far more experienced than myself, with this passed-on practical knowledge bound to come in very useful when applying to dig at other sites.

It has been a really unique experience for me as a student who has never studied practical archaeology to be able to volunteer on such an established and yet still evolving site such as Vindolanda, so I feel incredibly lucky to have been offered the Young Persons Bursary that meant I was able to participate. This bursary is fantastic: it covers all costs of the dig, including accommodation at the Hedley Centre, meaning that young people from all backgrounds can have the chance to work at the site and build on experience to help a future desire to pursue archaeology. I, for example, am going on to study Classics at university and am hoping the experience and knowledge I’ve gained this fortnight will help me gain placements on different excavation sites, though I would certainly love to return to Vindolanda in the future as well.’

We wish Emily all the best in her studies. We are also happy to announce that, thanks to our generous donors and to the commitment of the Vindolanda Trust to making archaeology accessible to everyone, further young person bursary places will be available for the 2019 excavation season.