Authour: Penny Trichler

Published: 18th May 2020

Penny was introduced to Vindolanda through the volunteer excavation programme and joined the Vindolanda Trust team in 2017. Now the Activity Officer Penny's role is to help people to engage with the sites, the research and the museums in new ways and to help them learn and be inspired. Here are her Top 10 including places, people, finds and more.

  • The Library – Hidden in the basement next to my office is Vindolanda’s Library – a great way to get to work in the morning. As an avid reader it’s great to be so near to so many books, the knowledge of generations collected together. My interest in the Romans began through reading Caroline Lawrence’s Roman Mystery series. These take you on great adventures through the ancient world and I hope that through the activities, events, visits and research here at Vindolanda we can continue to inspire children (and adults) to grow an interest in archaeology and the Romans.


  • Wattle and daub – On display in the Wooden Underworld gallery. Uncovering wattle and daub walls somehow seems to bring the past closer, the wood looks as though it was only maneuvered into position yesterday. It really feels like the past is rising up as you excavate down, and it is easy to imagine the hands that worked to build it. The wattle and daub walls of the earlier forts on site cannot all be conserved and are mainly left in situ for preservation. Being able to have some of this amazing craftsmanship on show for the visitors is fantastic, the display really does it justice.

  • Westgate Views – Walking onto site from the westgate where you get your first view of it sprawling out in front of you. When you lead groups out you often hear gasps from the people behind you as they realise the expanse of the site. This feeling is mirrored in the aerial photos of the site. Now with the Trust’s drone, we get to see new and different views and that wow feeling never goes away. You really grasp the size of the site from above and just how many people would have been living here getting on with their daily tasks and chores.

  • Writing Tablet Video – This video just outside of the Writing Tablet Gallery is a favourite of mine despite having heard it more than a few hundred times. Robin & Patricia Birley talk so emotively about uncovering and researching the tablets. They experienced the tablets differently to most of us today. They had never been seen before and they revealed so much information at once, it must have been surprising, intriguing, exciting and overwhelming all at once. This is a great video to explain why the writing tablets found here survived so well, why they are worthy of the title Britain’s top Treasure, and how they changed the way we thought about Vindolanda, Hadrian's Wall and Roman Frontiers across the empire.

  • The Archer’s Story at the Roman Army Museum - On display is the wonderful leather archer’s thumb guard, and you have the opportunity to test your skill with the interactive bow. From a dedication on an altar by the prefect of the First cohort of Hamian Archers found at the site, we know there were Syrian archers stationed at Magna Roman Fort. These soldiers would have travelled so far, perhaps facing similar trials to some of the Syrian refugees who now travel to live in this country. It’s a great reminder of how connected we all are and how our histories link and connect in strange ways.

  • Butcher’s shop – My first job here at Vindolanda was as maternity cover for Lauren, our Education Officer. One of the key roles was to talk to the school parties that visit Vindolanda. This was normally done from the butcher’s shop, although the kids weren’t to know that at first. Part of their experience is to put on their ‘archaeologist hats’ and begin to think about the clues that archaeologists use to learn about the past. They get five clues to help them understand the building they are in, starting with large features like the countertop and the drain, to being told the some of the finds that were found there. Watching as they add each clue to the last and the picture begins to build up is such as great experience. I hope the children enjoy piecing together a small bit of Vindolanda’s history as much I do.

  • Hedley Centre – As a volunteer 8 years ago I arrived at Vindolanda not really knowing what to expect. I was staying in the Hedley Centre for the next 2 weeks under the caring and watchful eye of Pauline. The volunteers and I staying there were well taken care of, supremely fed and fast became friends despite different backgrounds and age differences. This to me is one of the truly magical experiences of Vindolanda walking in strangers and 2 weeks later walking out friends who keep in touch to this day. Today, the Hedley Centre has once more become my home at Vindolanda. I have moved here to continue to work throughout the lockdown period. I feel very lucky that I am able to work and live in such an amazing place that holds so many memories for so many people.


  • Bringing Vindolanda to life – The sound of metal clanking and boots stomping to a rhythm, watching the legionaries march over the hill onto site and set up ready for the day. Having reenactment groups on site gives Vindolanda a very different feeling you can open some of your other senses to just a small part of what life at Vindolanda might have been like. Smelling the cooking and listening to the call of the Centurions instructions. It’s such a great way for the public to engage with the site ask questions and see what some of the finds in the museum may have once looked like or been used.

  • Strength Report – This is probably one of the most well-known writing tablets at Vindolanda. Dated to the 18th May (unfortunately it doesn’t give a year) it gives a sense of time and also the banality life as we write the date in our diaries or school books, this person was doing the same almost 2000 years apart. The tablet is a report of the strength of the First Cohort of Tungrians, it gives the total strength of the unit and then it breaks that down into a list of where everyone is and what they are doing. There is great visual representation of this tablet at the Roman Army Museum on the café wall. It shows the full number and colour coordinates the individual groups as laid out in the rest of the tablet. It’s a great way to fully understand the ratios of who was actually fit for duty at Vindolanda on that day.


  • Activity and Guide Volunteers – The Vindolanda Trust wouldn’t be able to continue without the support from its volunteers and the group that I work with the most are the activity and guide volunteers. They create amazing experiences for our visitors and help to share the knowledge and stories that come from Vindolanda. They continue their learning in their own time and share a passion for educating people about both of our sites and Roman history.