Marta joined the Vindolanda Trust in 2015 as site archaeologist and has since then become a familiar face for both visitors and volunteers who chose to spend some time at our fantastic sites. Marta comes from Northern Italy: she relocated to the UK to get her Masters degree in Archaeology from Newcastle University, then decided to stay for good. She is known for her booming voice, Italian enthusiasm, and ever-changing choice of haircuts. At the Trust, her role has many aspects: she assists the Director in supervising the excavations, keeps the excavation archives in order, delivers outreach talks and assists with writing articles and reports. She has many research interests, but her favorite topics are spinning as a gendered activity on Hadrian’s Wall and volunteer participation in archaeological heritage practices. She is so interested in the latter that she is pursuing a part-time PhD on the subject while working full-time for the Trust.

We have asked Marta to give us her top 10 finds from the Vindolanda collection, and here is what she had to say:

10) Spindle whorls. Hundreds of spindle whorls form the ever increasing Vindolanda collection: hardly a year passes without some new fabulous whorls being uncovered. Made predominantly of recycled pottery, but also of worked bone, stone, lead, jet or shale, these unassuming objects would have played a key role in women’s life at Vindolanda and on the frontier. My favorite whorl is a shale one, illustrated by Mark Hoyle. On its side is a small incision, which seems to indicate which way up the whorl should have been inserted in the spindle rod.

9) The broken sword. There are three magnificent swords on display at the Vindolanda museum. One of them even has a preserved handgrip and pommel! However, my favorite sword is also the most broken. This fragment of sword was in the process of being turned into a different weapon when it was abandoned. If the visitors look closely, they will see an array of nicks and notches on the cutting edges. Nothing brings you back in time like seeing the marks of age-old training and combat.

8) The baby boot. Shoes are a key element of the Vindolanda collection, and no top 10 chart would be complete without at least one shoe in it. This baby boot, on display in our shoe gallery, has an intricate cut out pattern and would have been a very expensive item for a small boy or girl. It was found in a latrine’s drain and suggests tales of toddlers’ mischief.

7) The miniature lamp. In 2019, the team uncovered a lovely miniature lamp, manufactured in the Rhineland in the 2nd century. We do not have many lamps in the Vindolanda collection. This one is special to me because it comes from one of the most complex periods of Vindolanda occupation, the Antonine period, dated circa AD 120 to 180.

6) The human skulls. Found at opposite ends of an imposing defensive ditch dating to the Severan period (AD 208-212), these two human skulls tell us of the tale of two men whose life ended violently. The more complete skull belongs to a man who had grown up in the north of Britain but had Italian ancestry. The less complete skull was found under my supervision in 2018, by a bursary winner and archaeology student. Her expression when she uncovered this extraordinary find made up for the weeks of deep and wet excavation required to get to the bottom of the ditch.

5) The hair moss helmet crest. On display at the Roman Army Museum, this extraordinary find was uncovered many years before I joined the Trust. It is, as far as we know, the only surviving example of a helmet crest in the Empire. I never fail to admire it when visiting the museum: it reminds me that we are all part of the continued effort to uncover our special sites, and that we stand on the shoulders of many archaeologists who came before us.

4) The Antonine ‘wash-house’. This enigmatic building, excavated in 2016 in the South-Eastern corner of the last stone fort, was originally interpreted as a latrine. Three main drains flowed through it, and the water was expelled through an archway towards the valley and the creek to the south of the site. The building stood 11 courses of masonry tall and featured a small water tank within its walls. Following the drains against the water current allowed the archaeological team to uncover their source: the Antonine’s commanding officer house. The ‘wash- house’ has been consolidated by Vindolanda’s own stonemason and will soon be ready for visitors to admire.

3) The Matri Patri ring. Some stunning jewelry is on display at the museum at Roman Vindolanda and would have been worn by both men and women. This ring is inscribed with the words ‘mother’ and ‘father’ in the dative case. The dative case is a grammatical termination of Latin which indicates something is given to or done for someone. So, the writing could be translated as ‘to/for the mother and the father’.

2) The wooden shovel. Many marvels are on display in Vindolanda’s wooden underworld. There is a wooden toy sword, a box lid with a bird carved on it, a brush made of pigs’ bristles mounted on a wooden base. However, my eyes are always captured by a complete wooden shovel: perhaps because its modern equivalent one of is my favorite digging tools, perhaps because of its simultaneous strength and fragility, this wooden object is my favorite in the whole gallery.

1) In his top 10, the Director of Excavations mentioned the Verecundus archive of Vindolanda Tablets. I’d have to agree with him, especially now that 4 new tablets have gone on display at Vindolanda to celebrate the Trust’s 50th birthday. However, I must admit it: my favorite item of the Vindolanda collection is the one that is still under the turf, waiting for our teams to discover it.

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