Information on this page:

How old do I need to be to excavate?

How fit do I need to be to excavate?

What are the risks involved in excavating?

What does the typical week look like on the excavations?

How about post-excavation (finds' washing and categorising)?

What do I need to wear?

Where will I be excavating?


Volunteers on our excavations need to be 16 years and accompanied by a responsible adult or over 18. This is due to the long days and physical work that is involved in excavating. This is a great opportunity for young people to see if archaeology is for them if they are thinking of it as a career path.

Physical Fitness

Excavation is physically demanding, and very different from what you see on TV, or read in books. If you decide to join us on the excavations you will need to have good level of physical fitness, to carry out the following tasks (listed from the most strenuous to the least):

  • Using a spade to remove turf, or blocks of anaerobic material= most strenuous
  • Using a pickaxe to remove debris, such as crushed stone or layers of demolished buildings. You will also need to use a shovel to remove your spoil from the trench.
  • Tipping your buckets into your wheelbarrow and taking the wheelbarrow to the spoil heap.
  • Using a trowel (a smaller hand tool) to remove debris from surfaces
  • Lifting and carrying bags and trays of finds= most moderate

We aim to make your experience with us a well-rounded one: we want you to leave Vindolanda feeling you have had a taste of most, if not all aspects of field archaeology, and that you have become part of a team. To do this, and to be fair to all, we cannot allow you to spend your day exclusively trowelling, barrowing or cleaning the finds. However, you can trust our team of experienced archaeologists to make the right adjustments and to make sure your skills have a chance to shine.

If you wish to have more information, please do not hesitate to contact our staff on 01434 344 277 before you make your booking. 

Health and Safety

Health and Safety is a primary concern on any excavation.  We work predominantly in an outdoor environment, which can be very warm or very cold. You could get sunburnt or catch a chill. We use hand tools to perform actions that require a certain degree of fitness. We provide instructions, mentoring and supervision but by not paying attention, overexerting yourself, or not following instructions this could result in injury. In order to protect you, and the archaeology, we have a thorough risk assessment in place and ask that all volunteers read the excavation Health and Safety Policy and agree to abide by its rules. We will also hold a health and safety briefing the first Monday of each period. The archaeologists hold the right to dismiss any volunteer, if it is believed that this person is behaving in a manner that might compromise the Vindolanda Trust's Health and Safety Policy. We will issue you with hard hats and other safety equipment when this is deemed appropriate by the health and safety officer for the excavations. Failure to wear issued H&S equipment may also result in dismissal from the excavations.

Typical week of a Vindolanda excavator

Excavations run Monday to Friday, 9:30 am to 4pm. We will be working in a single area, and your supervisors will be the director of Excavations Dr Andrew Birley, Deputy Director Marta Alberti and site archaeologist Penny Trichler. 

First Monday of each period:

9:30am - All volunteers meet at the Hedley Centre- this is the building you encounter on the drive to the museum, and where some of you will be staying.

9:30am – 11:00- Induction: this will include a health and safety brief, a post-excavation brief and a tour of the excavations.

11:00-12:00 – Let’s get to work! Tasks are assigned and one to one explanation of your excavation area is provided by the archaeologists.

12 noon - 1pm – Lunch break: you can bring your own packed lunch to eat in the Archaeology Centre on site, or visit our café.

1 pm - 2:30 pm – Excavation & Post-Excavation: Return to the excavations and some of you will have the opportunity now to wash and categorise finds. Everyone will take at least one post excavation turn, to have the opportunity to familiarise yourself with the material culture we find on site.

2:30 - 3:00 pm - Tea Break: in the Archaeology Centre on site. Coffee & Tea are provided though please bring your own mug or flask.

3:00 - 4:00 pm – Excavation: one last session for the day.

4:00-4:30 pm - Help us keep a tidy Archaeology Centre! The day’s digging might be done, but the archaeologists still have some paperwork to do. Everyone will be assigned days to a cleaning rota to help keep the Archaeology Centre clean and tidy and make sure the tools are stored properly.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday
9:30 am- Park in the east car park (NE47 7JN) and walk through the site to meet the archaeologists at the Archaeology Centre. They will have more information on what is happening each day and will guide you on to the excavations. Do not enter the excavation area without at least one staff member present.

9:45 - 12 noon - Excavation
12 noon - 1 pm – Lunch Break
1 pm - 2:30 pm - Excavation
2:30 - 3:00 pm - Tea Break
3:00 - 4:00 pm - Excavation

During the 2 weeks we also take a team photo (normally on the day with the best weather) which is a great opportunity to show off your Vindolanda Excavation T-shirt.

On the last Friday of each excavation period work will stop at 3:30pm to give you time to tidy your tools and belongings and the archaeological staff will deliver a summary tour of the excavations, to recap what has been achieved in the two weeks. 


During your time on the excavations, you will uncover many amazing finds: pottery, bone, tile, iron, glass are all common finds at Vindolanda, together with leather and wooden objects. Post-excavation, or finds' processing, is a key part of the archaeological process. Post-excavation is integrated into the excavation experience to provide a well rounded excavation programme for all our volunteers. Learning how we wash and prepare finds for specialist analysis will help you make more informed decisions when excavating on site, and will deepen your knowledge of the site and Roman Britain. Download our post excavation guide to learn more.

Please note there will be no 'post-excavation only' places available. If you book a volunteering space, you will be expected to join in all activities including trowelling, wheelbarrowing and spading. You will take turns with your teammates to head to the Archaeology Centre for a spot of post-excavation, or we might decide to learn more about finds processing all together if the weather is too inclement to excavate!

What to wear

The most important requirement for your clothing considerations are comfort and warmth.We suggest you pack multiple layers and bear in mind that your clothing will get muddy. Waterproof over-trousers and a waterproof jacket are strongly recommended as it sometimes rains in Northumberland! You should also consider a warm hat and sun hat.

You will also need a good pair of sturdy boots (walking or similar) and a pair of Wellington boots.

If you arrive and discover you are missing a vital piece of clothing or footwear we can recommend the Eden's Lawn Garage in Haltwhistle which has a great selection of affordable outdoor clothing or there are specialist outdoor clothing stores in Hexham.  

What else should you bring

We are asking all our volunteers to bring their own personal re-usable water bottle, their own mug or flask and their own gloves. Some volunteers like to bring their own trowel and kneeling mat but we also supply these on site for you to use.

Packing List

About the Current excavations

Currently we are excavating in the South West quadrant of the final fort at Vindolanda. You can get up to date on the latest from the excavations by looking reading our excavation blog and you can find out more about our current research programme and scheduled monument consent.