Monday, June 30, 2008

Ancient prosthetics 101

Regulars to the Scribbling Corner might be wondering if they're on the right blog. Don't worry, you are. :)

I mentioned in my post on character names that Aelius, the Roman protagonist of my Severan novel, will later gain the epithet “Argentocoxos” (Silver Foot), the name of a Caledonian referred to once in passing in Cassius Dio’s account of Septimius Severus’ campaigns in northern Britain. The big question was: how do I get from “Aelius” to “Argentocoxos”? It was going to have to be a nickname of some sort, but why was Aelius going to end up being called “Silver Foot”?

The answer turned out to be one of those things that occur to me just as I’m dozing off. “What if,” I thought, “Aelius ends up losing a foot and having a fake one put in its place? Made of silver? Like that guy from that Irish myth, only with a foot. Yeah... Zzzz...”

That seemed fair enough, and I promptly fell asleep. But then, in the cold light of day, I started reassessing it. Knowing next to nothing about medical history, I wondered, did they even have prosthetic limbs in the third century AD? And if they did, were they likely to be made out of silver? So I’ve spent the last week or so doing a bit of research on the history of prosthetic limbs, in order to come up with an answer. D’you want the short version or the long version?

Tough. You’re getting the long version. :)

Our earliest recorded description of a prosthesis is to be found in the Indian Rig Veda, which may date back as far as c. 3500 BC, but whose present form is conventionally dated to about 1700 - 1100 BC. One of the hymns mentions the warrior Vishpala, who loses a leg in battle and has an iron one made to replace it so she can re-enter the combat. The second millennium BC is also when we begin to find artificial body parts appearing in the archaeological record, the earliest examples of which are the artificial toes discovered with two Egyptian mummies. The oldest of these dates from 1295 BC, and at least one - the wooden and leather “Cairo toe” - appears to have been a functioning prosthetic, rather than a cosmetic touch.

Prosthetics also appear in the classical world, in literature and mythology, and also in archaeology. The bronze “Roman Capua Leg”, dating back to c. 300 BC, was, until the discovery of the aforementioned Egyptian toes, the oldest example we had of an ancient prosthetic. Classical historians also offer historical anecdotes of people with artificial limbs. For example, Pliny the Elder tells us, in the seventh book of his Natural History, of Marcus Sergius, the great-grandfather of Catiline, who, during the Second Punic War (218 - 201 BC) had his right arm amputated after sustaining injuries and had an iron hand created so he could return to battle.

So, we know the Romans had prosthetics. Unfortunately, we don’t know whether the Celtic-speaking peoples did. I think, however, it’s reasonable to assume that they did on some level. It’s interesting that the two documented examples I’ve already mentioned - Vishpala and Marcus Sergius - were warriors. I wonder if, in history, it was the warriors who were the most likely to want artificial limbs. The prostheses of Vishpala and Sergius would certainly have been as cosmetic as they were functional, if indeed they were functional. I suppose, especially for a warrior, a truncated limb would be a visible admission of weakness.

That brings us to the Celts. Given the nature of their culture, I imagine their healers must have been used to dealing with body parts which had got mangled in battles and cattle-raids. And with the Celts being as aesthetically aware as they were, I imagine there must have been some chieftain or other at one time who decided to go for a shiny fake hand or leg to show off to his clients. Unfortunately, we don’t have any records of Celtic prosthetics in archaeology or any historical documents. We do, however, have some myths which suggest that artificial limbs weren’t unknown in the Celtic world.

The first, and most obvious, is the Irish figure Nuada Airgetlám - “Nuada of the Silver Hand” (Welsh correspondent: Nudd Llaw Eraint). According to legend, Nuada was the first king of the Tuatha Dé Danann, who lost his hand (or his arm, depending) in single combat, and had to relinquish his leadership. Dian Cecht, the god of healing, made for Nuada a silver hand which functioned as a normal one. This was eventually replaced by a real arm made by Dian Cecht’s son Miach (which drove the god to kill his son out of jealousy) and Nuada was restored to the kingship.

Another example can be found in the legend of the Breton/Cornish Saint Melor. The story goes that the uncle of the young prince Melor decided to make a grab for the throne, and, in an attempt to eliminate a potential rival, intended to have the boy murdered. He was dissuaded from actual killing, however, and instead had Melor’s right hand and left foot cut off (wow, nice). These were replaced with prostheses made, respectively, from silver and bronze, which grew as Melor did and functioned, like Nuada’s silver hand, as if they were made of flesh and blood.

Of course, these are legends, so the parts about the artificial limbs working like normal ones should really be taken with a pinch of salt. Nuada’s hand was, after all, made by the god of healing himself, and Melor was a saint, so obviously the hagiographer had to fit some miracles into the boy’s tragically short life. What’s noticeable about these stories, however, is that it’s the abilities of these metal limbs that are remarkable, not existence of the limbs themselves, which could be taken to mean that the Celtic-speaking peoples knew about prosthetics. Saint Melor belongs to the post-Roman Early Historic period - ie, in a time which has had experience of Roman surgical practice - but it’s a general assumption that the Irish myths, although written down during this same period, represent oral traditions that go back long before. It seems reasonable, therefore, to suggest that the Celts had some form of prosthetic know-how. And as far as Aelius is concerned, given that most of the prostheses referred to above were made out of metal, a silver foot is possible, from both a historical and mythological standpoint.

Which throws in a whole new plot point. Aelius will be vying for a Caledonian kingship, and an amputation will prove to be an obstacle. One of the stipulations in the Irish law tract Cóic Conairi Fuigill - “The Five Paths of Judgement” - is that a candidate for the kingship must be free of any physical blemish. This can be seen in the legends of both Nuada and Saint Melor, where their disabilities are enough to disqualify them. A real life example of this law in practice can be found in (of all things) the Bechbretha - a tract on beekeeping - in which it’s written that King Congal Cáech was put out of the running after being blinded by some bees.

So perhaps, although Aelius’ eligibility to the kingship is put in doubt after his amputation, it’s this silver foot which helps to preserve it. After all, I doubt Dian Cecht would have gone to the trouble of making that silver arm if it wasn't going to reverse Nuada's fortunes at all! I’ll see how it goes.

Whew! All that for the sake of a name. Now I just need to work out why Aelius is going to lose that foot. Frostbite? Gangrene? Freak hunting accident? Or perhaps that should be “accident” with the inverted commas?

I’m so nice to my characters, aren't I?


- Early Medieval Ireland, Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, Longman publishing, 1995
- BBC News article on the Egyptian toes
- History of Prosthetics, by the University of North Carolina
- Pliny's account of Marcus Sergius, from the Perseus Digital Library
- my lecture notes on Early Historic kingship (they'll do)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Vindolanda, week II

Finally, I'm back with the second part. This should've been up before now, only I've not really been in the mood for blogging at any length these last couple of days. Anyway, without further ado, here's week two of my fortnight at Vindolanda.

After the first Thursday, I had two days off. Friday wasn't very exciting; I went into Haltwhistle - a very charming, ever so "English" town - and stocked up on supplies at Sainsbury's, then mooched around the cottage for the rest of the afternoon. Saturday was more interesting. Rested now, I decided to go out and take in some of Hadrian's Wall. The couple who owned the farm and cottage where I was staying very kindly offered to drive me into Haltwhistle (in fact, they drove me to and from Vindolanda every day; they were absolutely lovely) where I caught the Hadrian's Wall bus out to Carvoran (or Magna, as it was once known). I had a dauner around the Roman Army Museum and its haunted gift shop. Well, how else do you explain the avalanche of books that rained down on me even though I'd barely touched one of them? Lol! I bet it was the ghost of a Roman soldier who was once garrisoned at Magna. Would explain the hostility towards me, a rogue Caledonian on the wrong side of the Wall! ;)

So, after that minor embarrassment, I started on the short (but ultimately steep walk) to Walltown Crags, where, perched on the ridge, you can find - not the remains of Milecastle 46, as I originally put - but in fact Turret 45A (thank you, Harry, for pointing out my mistake), and a very well-preserved stretch of Hadrian's Wall itself. Here's the turret; it was just one in a system of watch towers strung along the Wall. It would have been a couple of storeys high and manned by a few soldiers, perhaps just a contubernium or two, I'm not sure...

The part of the Wall still standing here really is impressive. Say what you like about them Romans, they knew how to build stuff. At Walltown Crags, part of it was still standing at about two metres high.

But, I think what's most compelling about Hadrian's Wall is how closely it follows the topography of the Stanegate ridge. It must have had a profound effect on the Caledonians who watched it being built, this edifice that dominated the horizon, rising and falling as the land did. I wonder what the Iron Age equivalent for "OMGWTF!?" was. ;)

Here it is, looking east, rising towards the milecastle:

Imagine the manpower involved in building that thing. And imagine the jaws of Hadrian's staff hitting the ground as he outlined his plan for a bloody big wall stretching from sea to sea.

Anyway, I stayed up there for a while, taking in the views south - where you can get brilliant views of the South Tyne Valley - and, of course, north. It was glorious sunshine, and I'd brought a packed lunch with me, so I settled myself down next to the milecastle and sat there munching my Danish, perched on the very edge of "civilisation". Looking north from there, it was possible to see just why they chose the ridge for the ultimate frontier. Miles of empty land, stretching away north to the shadowy line of hills in the far distance...

Of course, sitting there by myself, I was very much a sitting target for the plotbunnies who happened to be lurking in the area. While I sat and gazed northwards, I encountered a few tense Roman sentries, Dux Fullofaudes (nope, I don't know what he was doing there either) and some die-hard Picts scaling the precipice. The effect might have been more phantom-like if it had been the dead of night, rather than high noon. But you know what plotbunnies are like; they'll risk anything to snag an unsuspecting author. ;) Anyway, after telling the various characters I'd think about their proposals, I managed to make my escape, 'cause my bus to Housesteads was due. They complained, but I think I managed to get away before any of them stuck seriously.

So, yeah, Housesteads (Vercovicium). Yet another Roman fort, just to the east of Vindolanda, and situated quite awkwardly, I thought, on the side of the hill. I mean, it was quite a step up the via principalis, and the slope puts the praetorium, the commanding officer's house, at quite a wonky angle. But, hey, those Roman builders knew what they were doing, and it's stood the test of time, so what do I know?

Anyway, I was on the via principalis - that is to say, climbing the slope, when I was caught behind a very slow-moving group of posh people, so I had to listen to them. For an insufferable smart-arse, I have an odd aversion to listening to other people trying to be clever. Ah, life's little mysteries. The best part was when one of the women remarked, "It looks very Roman, doesn't it?"

You don't say.

After looking around Housesteads - more lovely Roman stonework! - I'd intended to go on to Carrawburgh/Brocolitia to have a look at the mithraeum. Unfortunately, I'd had a bit of a mix-up with the bus timetables earlier in the day (ie, my timetable was telling fairy tales), so I'd lost a good couple of hours, and didn't have the time. Ah, well. Next year, maybe. :)

After Saturday, it was back to the daily grind. After one week, they tend to switch people about from one part of the site to another, to let them get a wider view of the site. This week, I ended up working on the east wall of the other granary, right next to the headquarters building (principia). It was pretty much the same idea as the previous week: we were to get down to the road level and see if we could find the wall. In order to do so, we first had to clear away the backfill from previous excavations carried out in the 30s (I think). Which meant that for the first two days, what bits of bone and pot we did find were out of context, and had simply been overlooked first time round. Still, if it's gotta be done, it's gotta be done.

The previous week, I'd noticed, there had been quite a few students involved; this week, there were less students and a good few retired couples who had been coming for the last few years. I met one couple who had come down from Edinburgh: the husband was an ex-Latin teacher and had, as a student, excavated at Birrens under Professor Anne Robertson, so at tea-break we chatted about Roman Scotland, the Antonine Wall and the Gask Ridge. Then I had a smart-arse moment when I corrected another guy on something to do with the Inchtuthil nail hoards. I don't think he took too much offence, though; he came over to talk to me the next day. Then there was the other guy who asked me if I'd broken all my nails yet. Cheeky sod.
I got on all right with pretty much everyone, though there was that time when someone asked me what I was doing at uni and I told them: Archaeology, Celtic Civilisation, and Latin. A woman I was working alongside - an otherwise perfectly nice woman - paused and said to me earnestly, "You do know the Celts didn't speak Latin, don't you?" (facepalm)

I'd had a bit of a cold over the weekend, and on Tuesday, I felt too lousy to go out. So I sat around the house, moping and thinking, "Bet this is the day they find something amazing." Still, I felt a bit better in the evening, so I figured I'd see how Wednesday went before deciding whether or not to go home early.

Wednesday morning was all right, though I still felt a bit light-headed, and you could follow me around the site with the help of the trail of used snot-rags that fell out of my pockets. Most of the backfill had been cleared out of one section, where a buttress had been uncovered, leading us to hope that there was more wall to find. So, while I cleared away the last of the dirt to get down to the road surface, another guy's taking a pickaxe to the rubble and dirt to find the wall. Unfortunately, after hours of back-breaking work on his part, all that turned up was another robber trench. Turns out the stone-robbers of antiquity had done a pretty thorough job on this side, though for some strange reason they'd left that single buttress standing there by itself, and given us all false hope. >:( It wasn't all bad, though. Now that most of the backfill had been cleared from the road, I and the couple who were excavating just along from me were now on the surface where artefacts could be found proper. They found a nice little coin, which was bagged up and taken away to be cleaned at the lab.

By the end of lunchtime, I'm feeling rotten again. Guy next to me is still having no luck, and he remarks to me, "You know what? I'm going to build a time machine, go back in time and wait for those stone-robbers with a gun, then I'm going to come back and excavate again, and the wall will still be here!" I offered to help. Damn, inconsiderate stone-robbers.

It gets to about four o'clock, and suddenly, I have this splitting headache that comes out of nowhere. I'm convinced now that I'm not going to make it through another day and I'll be spending this evening packing my stuff. Then, I'm brushing up some soil, when something suddenly pops out from where it was wedged between two cobblestones. I pick it up and look at it. It's a die, a bit brown but otherwise in perfect condition. Now, for most of that week, the backfill layers had turned up things like ballpoints and batteries, so when I pick up this perfect little die, I decide it has to be modern. I'm about to chuck it away, when the guy next to me, obviously desperate to be away from the Robber Trench of Doom, suggests he'll go and show it to Andy anyway, for a bit of a joke. So I give it to him and get on with my sweeping. Then I realise he's taking his time, so I glance up, and Andy and Beth are taking a hell of an interest in it, and some of my fellow volunteers are coming over, too. Andy shouts across to me, but the wind's in my ears and I can't hear him. I clamber out of the trench and the shout comes: "Kirsten, it's Roman!"

For a moment, I'm speechless. "R-Roman?"

"100% Roman," says Andy.

Roman die, made of bone, with the number dots incised. By now, my 100% Roman die is attracting a lot of attention, a lot of people oohing and aahing and running for cameras, myself included. Andy jokes that he reckons it's one of the commanding officer's dice. Turns out that dice are pretty special little finds. And I found one. On my first ever dig. I'm grinning like an eejit right now as I type this. :D

And here it is, my star find. The zoom on my camera isn't all that great, but if you click on the photo here, you should be able to just make out some of the numbers on the faces visible:

My personal favourite find of the fortnight. It earned me a thumbs-up from Andy, who told me, "Kirsten, over the next few years, you'll go on hundreds of digs, but you'll be hard-pressed to better that." My headache seemed to disappear after that. Talk about a miracle cure. :)

On the phone that evening, my mum said, "Now you'll have to bring in a character who likes dice." I laughed and agreed, then I realised if I did, I ran the risk of creating a Romano-British Ryuuji Otogi. And I really don't want to have that on my conscience. ;)

So I stayed for the Thursday after all. I didn't really find anything else that day, though we managed to uncover most of the road surface in our section, with some really frantic trowelling and shovelling during the last twenty minutes. More than anything else, I just wanted to prolong my time with the folks on the dig. It was quite a sad moment, really, when the time came for us to tidy up and sit on the granary walls for the end-of-the-week speech and group photo.

Here's my trench, with the buttress and a bit of road:

And here's the group, flocking to the arse-parking spot at the end of the day:

Of course, that was the day for buying rubbish from the gift shop for the folks back home. The Vindolanda shop has a rather droolworthy stock of books on Roman Britain, though amongst them I found The Wall: Rome's Greatest Frontier, by a familiar name, Alistair Moffat. I haven't entirely forgiven that Before Scotland travesty, so, it was with morbid curiosity that I flicked open The Wall to a random page. First thing I saw was yet another rant which added up, more or less, to, "Waaa! No one studies the people who lived on the sites of the forts before they were kicked off their land by that ebul Roman army!" (As Andrew pointed out to me, if there are British settlements beneath the forts, they're underneath up to eight or nine layers of Roman occupation, and several feet of stratigraphy, which makes studying their inhabitants kinda difficult, to say the least.) So I... didn't buy that one. I did, however, buy myself a little beanie Roman legionary. Guess what I called him. C'mon, guess.

And that, as they say, was that. I had a brilliant time getting in and involved in a real dig, and I'll definitely be going down again in the future. And plotbunnies ran unchecked across the South Tyne valley. I noticed that on the very first evening, when I went out for a walk with my dad. Everywhere we looked, there were bunnies scampering across the roads and through the fields. Big, epic ones that sat there and refused to budge, and little, shy ones that were there for a moment, then hopped out of sight before you could get a good look at them. Sure, they looked cute, but I recognised them for what they were! I'll be writing all July. :)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

I'm back from Vindolanda!

Kirsten Campbell, to all her blogger friends, greetings. :)

I'm finally back from digging in the dirt at Vindolanda. Well, actually, I got back on Friday afternoon, but this is the first time I've been sorted and recovered enough to sit and down and type up this little account of wot I did on my holidays. I tell ya, it wasn't easy spending a fortnight without the Internet, especially when I was needed to look up certain bits of trivia. One evening I had to phone home because I'd been struck by the urgent, inexplicable need to know when Marcus Junius Brutus was born (85 BC, btw).

In short, I had an absolutely brilliant time. Being lectured on archaeological practice is fine and all, but it's nothing compared to actually getting in there and getting your hands dirty (figuratively and literally!). A great experience, along with (mostly) great weather and great people.

But you probably want some more detail than that. Detail, and pictures. :)

So... um... yeah. Vindolanda. Celtic name meaning "white field", Roman auxiliary fort, pre-Hadrianic Stanegate frontier, famous writing tablets, etc., etc. The current excavation project is trying to ascertain, according to the Director of Excavations, the learned and fantastic Andrew Birley, whether the fort walls really did form a great divide between the garrison inside the fort, and the population living in the vicus - the civilian town outside, with excavations focused on a section of the vicus, and on the granaries in the central range of the fort. Must say, this was what really got me interested, as the soldier/civilian split is a theme which pops up more than once in my books.

Me, I was working on Andrew's team around the granaries, where they've uncovered a nice stretch of the via principalis, the main street of the fort, and, to quote Eddie Izzard, a "series of small walls". And a very nice series of small walls, it is, too (where the later stone-robbers haven't made off with parts, of course). Feast your eyes on the pretty, pretty Roman stonework (the tags have something to do with soil sampling, I think), here -

- and here (black bag leaning against the buttress is mine):

The first day (Sunday), I was working on the via principalis. After a morning of de-turfing (aaargh), I managed to uncover a couple of paving stones, and also the cobbles of the earlier metalled road beneath the paved surface. During the course of the day, I managed to find my first shards of pottery and glass, and the first of many, many nails. Nails turned out to be a regular fixture over the two weeks, scattered willy-nilly through the rubble layers. Honestly, it's like they just chucked them about when they were done with them. And I'm not even talking wee nails here; I'm talking those big, mean Roman ones with the square heads ("Jesus nails", as Andrew called them).

Actually, my very first find, almost as soon as I put trowel to soil, was a fossil, which no one cared about, so I was told I could either throw it away or take it home with me. So I stuffed it in my bag and brought it back with me. I was kind of surprised to find it there, since in stratigraphic terms, a fossil shouldn't be above a Roman road. I'm guessing, since it was in with the rubble, that it came from the quarry on the hill.

So, after the first day - after all the physical labour, fresh air and sunburn - I fell into bed around half seven, woke up again about half ten, then back to sleep again about eleven. Then it was up at cockcrow (literally - for the first week, there was a cockerel who made it his business who sit under my window about five in the morning and crow incessantly till eight) for day two.

Spent the second morning dislodging more stubborn rubble with a pickaxe, then after lunch, me and another girl, Miranda, were whisked round to the back of the granaries to start getting rid of more rubble in order to get down to the road surface. Over the course of the week, this area gave up loads of nails, bits of bone (we decided we must have uncovered the equivalent to at least one cow!) and charcoal, as well as a few shards of Samian pottery (the people in the next trench found some very nicely decorated bits) and some bits of greyware (standard army pottery). Miranda also unearthed an interesting wee anomaly:

See those two slabs of stone lying parallel on the left? They definitely appeared to be there on purpose, though, as Andy pointed out, they tend to be associated with the ramparts of a fort, and shouldn't've been lying in the middle of the road like that. Verrry interesting and, silly me, I forgot to go and see on my last day if they had made any headway in finding out what they were doing there. Damn.

On Tuesday, I finally met the Dutch students who were staying on the same farm as I was. They were working in the vicus group and were dead nice, though one of them was a bit quiet. Either he just didn't have as much English as his friend, or I scared him. My ugly mug has that effect on people. See:



Anyway, on the Tuesday I unearthed my first find which merited its own individual bag. Oh, yeah! It was the first of three arrowheads I found in the trench that week. I asked Alex, one of the supervisors, if it was Roman, or more likely to belong to the post-Roman period of occupation that the granaries saw. He said it was hard to tell straight away from the typology, but it was probably Roman. Yay! A Roman arrowhead! I didn't expect to find anything like that. :)

That was in the morning, and in the afternoon it was back down to earth to uncover more nails and bone. Managed to find the near-entire shoulder blade of something bovine, but it was so spongy it came apart almost as soon as I touched it. :( Spent the rest of the afternoon shovelling rubble, trowelling soil, and wheeling my barrow up and down the spoil heap. I'm quite an indoor sort of person, but I actually relished all the physical work, aching muscles and cramping hands, and all. I think the sense of anticipation stopped it from being complete drudgery. You never know what'll come out of your next trowel-ful; you'll see something small and round-edged peeking out from the dirt and you'll stop and think - to steal yet another joke from Eddie Izzard - "Is that a bit of grit? Is that a piece of money? Or is that the treasure of the Sierra Madre??" For me, it always turned out to be a bit of grit. I didn't find any coins (though others did), and I definitely didn't find the treasure of the Sierra Madre. ;) Though I did rack up some cool little finds over the course of the fortnight, mwahaha.

On the Wednesday morning, before excavations started at ten, I went for a short walk to find the Chesterholm milestone, one of the only Roman milestones in Britain still standing in its original place. I found it easily enough. It's very weathered and you can't read anything on it any more, and standing there by itself in the shaded corner of the field, it looks like something that would transport you back in time if you touched it, in a sort of Romano-British Outlander, lol. It actually gave me an idea for a daft time-travel comedy along those lines. :) Here it is, anyway:

And I just couldn't resist taking a photo of this place here, next to the milestone. It looks like the sort of place you'd expect to see some Hobbits having a picnic! :)

That day, we were joined by Andy, who was trying to find more of the granary wall while we carried on with the road. Turned out most of the stretch had been pretty much taken away by later stone-robbers, leaving one of those damned robber trenches. I had a good laugh that day, though, 'cause when Andy found out I was at Glasgow, he regaled me with tales of "Mad Bill" Hanson, one of my professors, who apparently starts foaming at the mouth if you suggest the possibility that not all extramural settlements were necessarily called vici. (If Professor Hanson should at all chance to read this, I'd like to make it clear that I didn't say any of this. I just listened.) Apparently, things can get a bit intense in the Romano-British field of archaeology! ;) Anyway, I spent the day listening to Andy and Alex nattering, and occasionally talking myself. I'm not sure what impression I give from this blog, but I can actually be quite shy, and it takes a while for me to realise that it's okay to talk to someone, that they're not going to eat me. ;)

Andrew also mentioned the possibility of there being the traces of round huts under our stretch of road, built during the Severan period (208 - 212, or thereabouts) to accommodate African soldiers while they fought against my lot, as he put it. I made a mental note to include some round huts in my Severan novel. ;)

Thursday, I made another friend. A feline one. I don't know what it is, but cats like me. One tried to follow me into one of the university buildings once, and I'm the only one our Cleo actually likes (my "familiar spirit", we call her). This one, I met on the path outside the Vindolanda site. It was balancing on a fence some way away, but when it saw me, it came over and started mewing and rubbing itself against me. I stayed and talked to it for a few minutes, then I went on my way. And it followed me. And kept on following me. Down the path, and then up again, until I was beginning to worry it'd end up trailing me into the excavation site. And it did the thing Cleo does, where she follows me, then goes on ahead for a little bit, then stops to wait. I'm still trying to work out what it is about me that they like. Anyway, we seemed to reach some unspoken agreement, because the cat eventually stopped trailing me and sat on the path, watching me leave. Weird. And here's a picture of him, with the fort wall in the background. He was a nice cat. I'm sorry I never found out his name.

Thursday was one of my best days when it came to miscellaneous rare finds. In fact, that was the day Alex remarked, "Kirsten, you're on fire today!" My first find was this half of a pair of Roman tweezers:

I also found two more arrowheads; here's a nice close-up of arrowhead no. 2:

- and this thing, which might either have been part of a bronze bracelet, or part of a post-Roman penannular brooch (two examples have already been recovered from the granary sites):

I also recovered these small finds:

From left to right, they are: a hobnail from the sole of an army boot, a boar's tooth (the guy in the next trench found a tusk!), and a "T-clamp", used in hypocaust construction. Not a bad little haul! :D

Needless to say, after Thursday's success, I was all flushed and excited by the time it came to pack up early in order to switch over with the group in the vicus and take a look at their excavation site. Their supervisor, Justin, talked us around the trenches, which have turned up the traces of a metalworking workshop, amongst other things, judging from the brooch-mould they found. Earlier on, a small altar-stone was also turned up at the edge of the vicus site, and it's a baffling little find. It's not that it's untranslatable; it's illegible. They put a couple of photos of it up in the excavation hut, and it really is impossible to read. I thought I could make out an E, but that was about it. It looks like it was carved by someone with only the vaguest idea what the Roman alphabet looked like!

Anyway, I think this is the ideal place to pause, since I'm getting tired, and Blogger's freaking out about the number of photos I'm trying to upload. Stay tuned for week two, in which I visit Hadrian's Wall, ridicule some posh people (strictly in my head), am accosted by plotbunnies, and uncover my most exciting find (possibly ever).

Btw, in other news, when I got home the other day, I found out that my exam results are out. I passed them all! Hurray! I've cleared the first hurdle! Also, I got a letter from the university, letting me know that I've been awarded the Weston Robertson Memorial Prize, for distinction in my Celtic class. I was over the moon, especially (I admit it) when I found enclosed a cheque for £60. Now, what's that catchphrase? "Screw the rules, I have money!" ;)

Glad to be back! I'll be over to snoop around your blogs and see what I've missed soon!

Friday, June 6, 2008

I'm away to dig up Roman stuff!

Salvete, mei amici Bloggeri. Or something.

Well, I'm finally packed up, and the day has finally arrived! That's right, this is the day I cross Hadrian's Wall to join the diggers at Vindolanda! Can't actually describe how excited I am; let's just say, it's a good thing I'm typing this, 'cause last night the only thing I could say was, "Wheeee!"

Um... yeah.

Anyway, I can't stay long; I've got to catch my train to Carlisle (or should I say, Luguvalium?) in a couple of hours, and there's still one or two bits and pieces I need to look out. Just wanted to let you all know that I don't know when/if I'll have access to the Internet, but when I do, rest assured, I'll be over here to let you all know how I'm getting on. I've got the camera with me, too, so there'll be pictures, even if I don't get the 'Net while I'm down.

Oh, yeah, and the voices in my head are finally returning (yeah, I totally identify with Yugi Mutou!), so I might very well get some writing/editing done while I'm away. Hoping I'll soak up some inspiration while I'm down there. Knowing my luck, though, I'll unearth a whole herd of plotbunnies while I'm digging away. (Do plotbunnies move in herds? Or packs? Or marauding vigilante groups? I'll never know.)

Anyway, that's me signing off for now. Missing you already. :)


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Ugly Duckling? I think not...

Woo-hoo! The cygnets have finally hatched! This year, we have a swan couple nesting on our side of the dam bank, and I was getting a tad worried, 'cause they've been there since April, and there was no sign of any babies, even though the female was sitting diligently on the nest all through May. Good news, though, the babies have finally hatched - five of them! - either yesterday evening, or sometime today. The parents brought them round to show us. :)

Aren't they cute? They seemed healthy enough, cheeping away as they swam around in circles. :)

We've always had a good rapport with the swan families around here. They've been known to come up to the garden in the summer, demanding food. Here's this year's Daddy Swan, affectionately named "Bonzo", paddling on the patio with a couple of tacky gargoyles, and an even tackier pharaoh (Mum's acquisitions; she has a fixation on tacky garden ornaments):

Oh, aye, summer's definitely here! The cat's taking every opportunity to sunbathe on the lawn, and the dog's had his annual haircut (a necessary evil). And it's now only three days till I go down to Northumberland to get digging (well, it's past midnight now, so two days, then!) I've got to pick some things up in town tomorrow (today, rather), then that'll be me all set! Can't bloody well wait! :)