Welcome Guest [Log In] [Register]

From Aug 2006 - Nov 2013 WeDig provided a live forum for diggers & fans of Vindolanda. It has now been mothballed and will be maintained as a live archive.

Here you will find preserved 7 years of conversation, photos, & knowledge about a site many people love. Vindolanda gets under the skin. (Figuratively and literally as a volunteer excavator!) It's a place you remember, filled with people you remember!

Thanks for 7 great years!

Vindolanda Museums Review

We visited the newly renovated Roman Army Museum and Roman Vindolanda (in that order) on 12 March.

As before, RAM is devoted to the Roman army with emphasis on the auxiliary army. The new Edge of Empire 3D film shows every half hour. It's a completely absorbing experience. Patricia Birley described it as "immersive" at the premiere, which is a better word, I think -- the 3D effect plus the small size of the cinema (compared to a commercial cinema) combine to make you feel you're really there. The eagle shows us the big picture about Hadrian's Wall and Vindolanda, whilst soldier Aquila gives us the worm's eye view (so to speak) of what it was like to be an auxiliary stationed on the Wall, with neat touches of humour, and references to the contents of a few of the Vindolanda tablets. I loved the CGI effect that reconstructed the fort at Vindolanda in its actual setting with Barcombe Fell rising in the background. So evocative. As well as being a spectacular visual experience, though, the film achieves a good balance of information and entertainment, with some drama attached. Great stuff!

There's also a good, well-acted film in the form of a Soldiers' Frontier Diary, giving a vivid idea of the soldiers' daily lives through the eyes of a new recruit and members of his contubernium, all of whom come across as differing personalities.

A wall panel is devoted to Hadrian's Wall and nearby is a section on Hadrian himself, putting the Wall into the context of his life and times. There's an audiovisual on the composition of legions and auxiliaries, a film showing a suitably intimidating recruiting centurion addressing you, the new recruit, to see if you come up to snuff for the military. There are reconstructions of the different types of armour, helmets and weapons. The Syrian archers, who were stationed at Carvoran, are featured and you can have a go at drawing one of their bows, which measures the strength of your pull (mine, needless to say was pathetic). Elsewhere, a veteran shows you round the bath house with a wry commentary and you can try your hand at the Roman handwriting used in the Vindolanda tablets.

Over to Roman Vindolanda. You enter the museum, which like RAM is lit with clear, warm lighting, past a wall-high display of a typical 50 or so of the 4000+ shoes found on the site so far (the most interesting shoes, eg the lady's toe-post sandal, the child's shoe and the only matching pair, are further on). All the unique finds are present, along with some new ones including the Jupiter Dolichenus altar (excavated 2009), in state-of-the-art display cabinets with brand new info captions. One section is arranged as part of the Vindolanda museum laboratory, giving a good idea of how the expert staff preserve and analyse the finds, especially the organic items which need careful and painstaking methods.

Just before you go in to see the writing tablets, there's a film of Robin and Patricia Birley talking about the discovery, preservation and importance of the Vindolanda tablets, and you can look at Robin Birley's choice of the best tablets, each one printed on hand-held boards for you to read.

Thus, cleverly and enticingly, the arrangement of the exhibits leads you on to the highlight of the museum - the nine writing tablets on loan from the British Museum (or returned home, as most of us who love Vindolanda would prefer to say). The tablets are in a special high security, temperature-controlled room. The Latin text of each, or an excerpt, is read out and there's a translation and commentary. It's quite dark inside and the temperature noticeably warmer than the rest of the museum, which makes it very atmospheric, almost like entering a shrine. To add to the atmosphere, the names of many of the people mentioned in the tablets are inscribed on the walls. Brilliant. The tablets on display include:

Tablet 262: letter from Placidus to Cerialis
Tablet 656: defense against accusation of wrongdoing
Tablet 213: letter fragment from Curtius Super to Cassius Saecularis
Tablet 659: mention of someone leaving province "in chains"
Tablet 632: seeking a place where "the horses are well housed"

Among others!

From the Tablet Room, you go through a reconstruction of Eric Birley's study, with desk, books, files etc, and on into a section about the present-day excavations of which he is undoubtedly the godfather (bravo to whoever thought of this arrangement!). This section shows the progress of excavations from initial proposal, the getting of Scheduled Monument Consent, how surveys are carried out, and sites and finds are recorded, the whole accompanied by a video featuring Andrew, Justin and some of the volunteer excavators.

Finally, there's a rather poignant display of the skeletal remains of the young girl found during the 2010 excavations.

Our overriding impression of the two museums, after having spent about 2 hours in each, is one of inspired and well-thought-out planning which gives the visitor (I'm trying to see it all through the eyes of first-time visitors who may know little about the Roman Wall in general and Vindolanda in particular) everything they need to know get the most out of their visit - and, one hopes, want to come back for more. Both museums are light, airy, spacious and welcoming. The displays and info panels are beautifully arranged to engage the visitor, and combined with the high-quality interactive elements and audiovisuals, the whole experience is inspiring - both informative and entertaining, without being overwhelming.

In short, it's fabulous and we'd like to congratulate everyone concerned in the planning an execution of a tremendous achievement, a world-class museum experience.

Page created by Sarah Cuthbert (ianandsarah), March 2011