Peter has just provided me with another blog piece - but this time it is not about his illustrations, rather it is about his recent experiences at Vindolanda - a Roman fort and settlement on Hadrian's Wall - juset down the road from Housesteads!
On a visit to Vindolanda last Autumn my partner Magie and I fell into conversation with Justin Blake, one of the Archaeologists there, who told us about the scheme for volunteer excavators. It seemed unlikely that a world class site like Vindolanda would allow complete novices to poke about in their diggings, but they do.
So we\'re just back from a week in the Roman trenches. They have a five year programme of excavation underway, this is year two, and morale was sky-high in our bit of the fort as three weeks ago they found a beautifully inscribed altar to Jupiter Dolichenus in a cult temple setting inside the fort - terribly rare.
When we arrived we were met by Alex Meyer who was directing our bit of the dig and within half an hour we were set to excavating along the back wall of the aforementioned temple, with the mission of tracing it to find the corner and the cross wall which would define its size. I must admit that I hadn\'t realised how important the wheelbarrow is as an archaeological tool and we certainly shifted some earth in our week. They seemed to be building a rival rampart with the spoil. Charging up the earth ramp with a barrow was a regular interruption to the compulsive work of trowelling the earth , hoping for something exquisite to appear.
We didn\'t find anything astonishing, but I turned up a perfect whetstone, which I intend to feature in an illustration the first chance I get. A sizeable decorated fragment of Samian ware and a complete boar tusk were other highlights amongst a lot of animal bone and square section Roman nails. A nearby excavator found half a dozen coins in a doorway area. I don\'t think we missed anything in the dirt, but of course, luck plays a major role - you have to be in the right place.
The National Geographic Channel team were on site for a couple of days filming the famous recent find. Andrew Birley the director of the whole Fort excavation did a brilliant and extensive piece to camera apparently off the cuff. Andrew and Alex were constantly helping and advising. They were funny, good natured and expert.
Would I do it again? I certainly would, but I think Maggie\'s worked excavation out of her system. Go to www.vindolanda.com for details of the volunteer scheme and the costs. November 1st is the key date when booking places as excavators begins. They fill up very quickly - no surprise as it\'s a great experience to be part of such an important project.
Did we find our end wall? Well, we think so, but alas, despite finding a nice corner stone, the cross wall looked as though it was robbed out pretty thoroughly. We came to the end of our time before we could get more than a few feet along where the wall should have been. That will be for the next team of volunteers to expose.