|Travis digs Vinovium.|
From June 28 to July 28, 2013, I participated in an amazing field school in the north of England at the Roman fort of Vinovium (Binchester) built in the late 1st century AD. During the excavation season we lived in the nearby town of Durham, which is located about a 30-minute drive from the site. Our accommodations were provided by Durham University, which sponsors excavations at the site during the summer. Our team consisted of students from several countries, including the United States, Nepal and Australia. We were assisted by a large number of students from the University of Durham and local volunteers from the area surrounding Binchester. The site itself consisted of two trenches: one focused on the fort and the other on “Vicus,” or the town. We had the option to work in either section and I chose to be a part of the team working in the fort itself.
During the dig I was moved around constantly to different sections; this was an excellent opportunity for me to get to know all of my awesome trench-mates and work in different parts of the fort. During the first week I worked in one of the barrack blocks and our group was given the extremely difficult task of excavating Roman cobbles. I was then moved to the Roman latrine where we excavated down until we reached the stone bottom of the structure. We were constantly running into a number of massive stone items which were identified as two wash troughs and two sections of stone that turned out to be toilet seats. I was lucky enough to find three round Roman tokens engraved with numerals which were later discovered to be game pieces and a bronze belt buckle. It seems that at every field project the most exciting thing is discovered near the end of the dig. During our last week, as we reached the bottom of the latrine, we discovered was appeared to be the top section of an arch. Upon digging down further, we uncovered the full arch and determined that it was one of the drains that evacuated water and waste outside the fort.
Our typical workday schedule was to eat breakfast at 8:00 and then head off to the site to begin work at around 8:30. As to be expected while in England, we had a mandatory “tea break” around 11:00 and then lunch around 1:00. One of the surprising things about my experience at Vinovium was the heat and the severe lack of rain. During the middle of the day temperatures would peak at around 93 degrees and we only had one day of rain. This led to a large portion of the team returning home with tans or major sunburns.
On the weekends we went on field trips organized by Dr. Devore and Dr. Chatfield, directors of the field school. Our trips included a five-mile hike along Hadrian’s Wall to the fort of Housteads, a unique experience touring Durham including watching the miner’s gala, and a trip to the west coast of England to visit a museum about Roman Britain. Each student had the opportunity to work on a number of projects related to the site out of the field. One option was to work in the lab facilities at the University of Durham classifying and learning about different types of pottery and the processes through which they were made. Another option, which I chose, was to assist in the virtual reconstruction of the fort that was to be presented to the public in an online environment. The final option concerned the conservation of artifacts, mostly coins, iron fragments, gold artifacts and glass. One of the best and most rewarding aspects of my field school was the opportunity to work with a diverse and dedicated group of people from various backgrounds. Our team became more than just a group of students working at a site; we became a group of friends that came home after a day under the hot sun covered in dirt and still be able to laugh and enjoy the experience. I think that everyone on our team, students and professors alike, left the field school feeling a huge sense of accomplishment and pride in our work. I know I did.