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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!

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Vindolanda in archaeological journals
Quite right!

:D

The 2007 excavations season
Well,

Here we are, one weekend to go before the 1st of April and it is minus 4 degrees on site, and bright and sunny with a steady northern breeze :D . I am looking forward to meeting the brave gang of April and this is just a reminder to say:

wrap up warm
bring your wellies (wellington boots)

and that I expect to see the following people at 9am at the main car park on the 1st of April:

Alex
Madeline
Alan
Heather
Sarah
Samantha
Nicola
Fiona

Have a safe trip up here.

best,

Andrew

P.S.

I will be out of contact from the 27th of March to the morning of the 1st of April (down at at conference in London) so if any of the above need to contact me prior to arrival please do so before then. Alternatively email fiona at info@vindolanda.com

2007 season prep
Hi Harry,

Good idea, let me think about it. The weekly end game round ups are going to be a little more difficult this year for cross team fertilization. One of the reasons for this is the fact that we are only working three days together on the site, but I will try and keep this going as well as I can. It is important that everyone on the site gets an appreciation of all the work that is being done.

On the Video front, we have to be a little bit careful. I say this because of the metal detector threat to the site. If we have a video of coins being found, or .. Justin or myself go 'live' and say 'this is a temple', we could have a huge problem on our hands. So we need to be a little careful about this one. I had similar problems with the idea of a webcam/videocam on the site all year round. It is a balancing act really. We are dedicated to keeping people involved, and want to allow people as much access as possible, while at the back of our minds, always knowing that we must be wary of people who are more dangerous to the site than spammers. So my official line is not a NO!, but a cautious yes, and I will insist on some editorial control.

best,

Andy




Timbers from 2006 season
Chris,

Current thinking....possible granaries or another type of storage facility. We will have to wait until we get more of the building this year. Of course, you can get a copy of the main report..out by the end of May that will tell you everything we know up to this time.

Nic,

Sorry mate, the website is in for re-development this summer, and as such is a little fallow at the moment. We have had some staffing and admin issues since the birth of my Daughter, ie, Barbara is on Maternity leave and not due back until June. We just don't have the cover at the moment and are trying to do a great deal to get the new season ready (which starts in two weeks time). The next 5 years of research needs to be sorted out by a new SMC, and the report is in its final editing stage as well. Nothing but excuses I know, but they are at least all real ones. I am still described as the assistant director of excavations on the website, now there is a real injustice!

:)

Andy




Whither the Vindolanda Tablets?
Harry,

There is nothing new under the archaeological sun. I was once asked by an insepctor of ancient monuments if we did 'proper plans'. I replied that yes, we did, and they were accurate to 0.4cms. That we used a total station. He then replied, 'no, I mean plans with tape measures'.

I was pretty much astounded, but, I could reasure him that we did indeed at times use tapemeaures if we needed to and he seemed quite happy with that. Archaeology in the UK is a strange old business. :rolleyes:


Andy

Whither the Vindolanda Tablets?
Hi Chris,

Here is an essay. But before you get started reading this,

Don’t beat yourself up. Nobody that I know of excavates like we do in those layers, despite the fact that it is simple (ridiculously simple) and efficient and the results speak for themselves. ‘Why’ this is the case has a back history which is only now being (I hope) put to rest.

It starts with the fact that 'Mud is sticky'

Back in the 1970's Vindolanda's name was (to be frank) 'mud' in some archaeological quarters. This was down to a number of reasons which included a clash of personalities, jealousy and a few people who had deeper axes to grind. In short, it had all the ingredients of a good thriller! (and will be very familiar to anyone who has worked in archaeology for a time) HW had just emerged froma great period of academic activity, lots of definitive books had been writen, careers were in the making, and Robin had the teremity to find something like the tablets in the middle of it all.

The Vindolanda Trust was a new and revolutionary set up. No state funding, a charity, deeply involved in education and very very active. All of which are regarded as perfectly respectable and desirable ambitions today (to most people), but in the climate of the 1970’s things were sometimes very different, and some in the archaeological world saw it all as rather …. well…… vulgar. The idea of bringing archaeology to masses was seen as particularly vulgar, the opposite of today (hopefully). The site was being excavated by volunteers (more vulgar people, yes that's right, you lot were regarded as 'the great unwashed'), some of whome were 6th form pupils on history courses. This gave people who had no previous experience a chance to gain some, and some of those people went on to become Professors, one even became a famous presenter on Time Team. For some of those opposed to the Vindolanda excavations, the courses run with sixth form pupils were especially enraging, the Trust accused of using 'child labour'. For our non UK nationals reading this, sixth form pupils are 16 - 18year olds. Today we still accept volunteers from the age of 16 or over.

A good example of the 'feeling' in those days was the reaction to the proposal by the Trust to open a coffee shop at the museum (the first on a Hadrian’s Wall site). Some commented at the time that this was ‘bringing the monument into disrepute’ and another commentator actually went as far as to liken it to turning HW into ‘Disneyland’. I can only presume that this person had never been to Disneyland. However, if any of you feel the urge to complement out staff on the food, you might like to make a comparrison. I am sure they will appreciate it.

We can laugh about such a statement today but back in the early 1970’s with a small and new Charitable Trust trying to survive on very few resources, such a 'opperational climate' made things very tough. By the 1972-73 season it was clear that The Vindolanda Trust needed some extra things to get going to the higher level if it was to survive, and so the Trustees started to plan to do these things (although even a board level, there were disagreements, with some resigning over things which may now be seen as very small beer) and which would be regarded as perhaps perfectly sensible today:

A telephone line (some could not see the reason an Ancient monument might need one!) (and yes, I am being serious).

Water supply (non on site when Trust was founded)

A museum (was two tin Nissen sheds by 1972, no museum until after 1974)

A car park (thousands of visitors and no car park, with the small east gate car park built in the early 70’s which can only hold 20 cars, and no busses!)

Some toilets; up to this point the director of excavations had the dubious pleasure of having to empty a series of alsan chemical toilets every few hours, gents had a turf urinal (interesting to note National Parks recent murmurings about testing turf loos on HW for walkers) .

The creation of the main western car park was a job undertaken by the county council/Nat Parks, and to do this they had some heavy plant machinery to roll in the new surface (they were hardly going to do it by hand), and to remove old spoil heaps (which were to be re-used on the Bardon Mill and Hexham bypasses). This was seen by some as the final straw, and a story went out in the times newspaper that claimed Vindolanda was like 'an open cast quarry' and that the excavations taking place there should be turned over to state control (ie the previous incarnation of EH) to be done 'properly'. They thought that the Trust was too small and disorganised to cope with such a site. In short, they wanted the Trust taken over or shut down.

Now, after many years and once the dust has settled, you can see what may have been in part as a tussle between those who had a Romantic view of the profession and HW and those who really wanted to challenge perception of the wall and find out as much as they could in a lifetime. Those who thought that the site should be either totally private or state controlled and those who were prepared to offer another way.

The Vindolanda Trustees themselves could be crudely divided into the two groups, of course there were other factors, but this was certainly a part of it.

This was then a dark time for the Trust, and some brave Trustees and Robin & Pat took the Times to the high court over the publication of the slanderous letter and won (brave because had they lost they would have all been homeless and penniless, which incidently would have made me homeless as well, not that I had a say in the matter!), on the basis that the article was inflammatory and simply untrue. The Times later printed an apology but the damage had been done, and the archaeological community divided over the issue. Mud as they rightly say….. sticks, and for the Vindolanda Trust this was true. Robin was getting advice at the time from some well respected colleagues along the lines of 'shouldn't you forget about the tablets and do some 'proper archaeology'? Quite what this meant I am unsure.

The result, Vindolanda and some of the techniques employed on the site were regarded with suspicion in many quarters. While not a reviled, it was seen as risky.

Today it has taken 37 years of success to show that the methods employed worked, and that the Trust can survive as an independant body, and provide a valuable service to people wishing to learn about our past, whoever they are and whatever their background. But .. 10, 20 years ago, despite the obvious fact that the Trust was successful at finding writing tablets in large numbers and the fact that nobody else seemed to be finding them in such quantities, this was ignored by some, put down to ‘luck’ by others or a few held the view that Vindolanda was more ‘special’ than other sites. When a colleague of mine joined Bournmouth Uni as an undergrad in 1996 he was told in one of his lectures that the tablets were made from lead, so ignorance must have played its part too.

Of course, we must remember that the tablets are only a part of the story, and that while they have perhaps rightly dominated the debate, their context and the wonderful other finds from the site also have much to say about how life once was at Vindolanda. It is perhaps for this reason more than any other that a few of the tablets belong at home, in their context, as every day items, surrounded by the rest of the archaeological archive. By doing this it reminds us that they are a part of the story, not the sum total of it.

There are of course other sites that share Vindolanda’s environmental conditions, and I can’t believe that at Vindolanda we have simply been 'lucky for 37 years'.


Best,

Andy


P.S. Robin is writing a new Vindolanda book, and this will be full of interesting stories about the early days of the Trust. It is a history of both Ancient and Modern Vindolanda. Hopefully it will be completed this year.

Whither the Vindolanda Tablets?
Hi Sue :D

This is of course a legal issue, so I cannot be too specific but generally you could consider that the follwoing normally holds to be true:

The current deal is that once tablets have been found, conserved, photographed and the initial research has been conducted at Vindolanda they end up in the BM. The early processes can take many months, even years, but eventually the BM comes knocking and asks for the tablets. To give the BM credit where it is due, they help to pay for some of costs towards the conservation of the tablets (retrospectively of course) which is a big help.

The BM is publically committed to forging better links with the regions and regional museums in the future, and we (in the regions) can only see this as a positive step forward. So it is not all doom and gloom on the potential tablet front.

If we found something very ususal, such as a book or a diary at Vindolanda, this may not be covered under the same terms as the writing tablet agreement with the BM, and as such, this type of artefact would be expected to stay at Vindolanda.

Hope this helps,


Andy

Whither the Vindolanda Tablets?


Hi Chris, Good questions ļ

Thousands of tablets should have been found on many sites since the discovery of the tablets at Vindo in the 1970's. Alas, although a few have been, most notably at Carlisle (London, and a few others), the revolution in tablet finding and information has yet to come through. Why? Perhaps it is simply because most archaeologists are married to their trowels, and you don't easily find something you can read (tablet wise) with a trowel. We have to work in a very specific way when we get into the pre-Hadrianic levels. Tablets are like damp blotting paper in the ground, so running a trowel over them does not tend to work too well. This method of excavation is not followed anywhere else to the best of my knowledge, and I think it has a great deal to do with the lack of these documents on other sites. Worse, I think it is possible that they are being unrecognised and destroyed on other sites, through a combination of technique and a lack of knowledge about how they look before they are conserved and are in the ground. The only way for me to prove this would be for either Justin, Myself or Robin to go somewhere else, and there is simply no incentive to do that for any of us at present (certainly not Robin!). All we can do is talk to people and offer the following argument ; ¡¥ here are the results of the Vindolanda excavations.... are you interested or not, and are these relevant to your own site?

An important aspect to recovery and reading is a rapid recovery and start to the 8 week conservation process. A tablet does not do well once oxygen hits it, so you have a limited time to start the conservation. On many excavations, the finds can wait months before they start conservation (sometimes years), too long a time frame for most writing tablets. This is why we have our own labs on the site. A tablet can be in cleaned and in conservation in under 1 hour after being recovered from the site. It takes less than 3 minutes for an exposed tablet to go from brown wood to black, from readable by the naked eye to unreadable. It takes 8 weeks to conserve a writing tablet, followed by the infra-red photography, finally, (hopefully) the reading. So if we get some this year, and we may, we won't have the results until after the end of the excavation season. But they are worth waiting for. And should we get some, I promise to post the results as we get them.
Best,

Andy

Whither the Vindolanda Tablets?
Hi Chris,

Well, I agree with both you and Harry on this one. An ideal solution would be a selection of tablets at Vindolanda, and at the BM. Hopefully this years excavations will fill in the first part of that requirement. And as for Harry.....The Western defences,

Errrrrhhhmmmm, which one Harry? :-) Ok, the western western defences.....ask me in 30 years time and I'll let you know.

Andy

Whither the Vindolanda Tablets?
It was great to have the cup back in the area. Of course there is a hope with the tablets, and Vindolanda Trust has initiated communications with the BM on the subject.However, we have yet to get a reply........

The request is a very difficult one for them to handle, and things like this may take some time to get resolved. In the meantime, fear not, for this year we very likely to be getting some more and there is nothing quite like fresh tablets with new information to get things moving.

Of course, it is impossible to say what we may find for certain. But I remain very confident that this seasons excavation areas will prove to be very exciting on the organic remains front. It will be our last foray into such areas for a while, so we must be sure to make the most of this opportunity and glean as much information as possible about the early levels of the site.

Watch the www.wedigvindolanda.com space for more as the season progresses.

Andy