Anca Barbat's Diary
|Tuesday, February 7, 2006
||Wednesday, July 26, 2006|
|Thursday, July 27, 2006
||Friday, July 28, 2006|
|Saturday, July 29, 2006
||Sunday, July 30, 2006|
|Monday, July 31, 2006
||Tuesday, August 1, 2006|
|Wednesday, August 2, 2006
||Thursday, August 3, 2006|
|Friday, August 4, 2006
||Saturday, August 5, 2006|
|Sunday, August 6, 2006
||Monday, August 7, 2006|
|Tuesday, August 8, 2006
||Wednesday, August 9, 2006|
|Thursday, August 10, 2006
Tuesday, February 7, 2006
Hello. My name is Anca Barbat, and I’m a horticultural engineer. I have worked as a general foreman at AFL Automotive in Romania since 2003.
This year, I was lucky enough to gain a place on an Earthwatch expedition. I wanted to apply last year, but I received the information about the program too late. Before I filled out the application in December for the 2006 expeditions, I read all the diaries from previous years. They were amazing!
I can tell you that I was very emotional about being selected, especially when I heard the good news that my colleague, Alina, was selected for an expedition to study glaciers in Iceland. All of our colleagues congratulated us and wished us good luck.
These days, I am waiting to receive the expedition briefing by mail. I already started to make lists of all the things I need to take and do, such as study the expedition briefing and the bibliography. Later on, I have to apply for a visa and get my inoculation for tetanus.
I am very happy that I get to go on the expedition to study the Roman fort on the Tyne River in England. One of my hobbies is ancient history, especially the Roman Empire.
Between 86 and 246 AD, 16% of Romanian territory was under Roman occupation, and this contributed enormously to the creation of our people and our language. The Romanian people were born from Romans and Daces during this period of time. There are a lot of traces of this period in our country, starting with the provincial capital (at that time) of Sarmisegetusa Ulpia Traiana—a wonderful city. The name of the Roman province in Romanian territory was Dacia Felix, which means Dacia the Happy in Latin.
A previous Earthwatch expedition was in Romania to study a Roman fort on the Danube River. Because of these reasons, the subject of this expedition is very interesting to me.
I was in England 10 years ago on a scholarship during my last year in college. I found it to be a nice and interesting country. I will be glad to see it again, thanks to Alcoa’s Earthwatch Fellowship Program.
Fortunately, I have already read one of the books on the expedition bibliography—“The Decline and Collapse of the Roman Empire” by Edward Gibbon—several times last year. I also read a lot of other literature about this period (“Quo Vadis” by Sienkiewitz; “Caligula”; “Julian”; and “Fire Chariots”) and saw the movie “Gladiator” eight times!
I am very curious to know more about this subject and the reasons why the Romans were such a successful people in the past. “Hard work wins everything” was one of their favorite phrases. It seems that this is true, taking into consideration how vast and strong their empire was and how many years it succeeded.
I am sure this will be a great experience. I would like to thank all of the people who were so kind and helped me with information: Kimberly Colletti, Shamsa Khan, Casey Stratton (he will be my Alcoa team colleague in England ), Nikki Tanzer, and especially DeeDee (Dietmar) Bago, my colleague from Caransebes who helped me a lot.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Today was a long day for me. I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to close my luggage and finish the preparations before the flight.
I had to take a plane from Timisoara to Paris and then another one to Newcastle upon Tyne. From Newcastle to South Shields, the final destination, I traveled via the Metro.
Other than a long time (more than three hours) of waiting in the Paris airport, the travel was okay. My luggage arrived at the same time as I did, so it was not lost.
I am staying in a guesthouse owned by Liz and Clifford Elliot that is only a five-minute walk from the museum, which is where our research site is located. Liz works at Tyne and Wear Museum as a logistics officer, and Clifford is a retired mechanical engineer who now takes care of the guesthouse. Both of them are very kind and perfect hosts for the next two weeks.
My room is in the second apartment, and lucky me, I am alone! In the same guesthouse are the other Earthwatch team members: Kaitlin, Irene, Alex, Matthew, Emily, and Ben. All of them are from United States, and they will arrive the next day. The rest of our Earthwatch team will stay in other guesthouses close to ours and the museum.
After I made myself comfortable, I went for a short walk to see the surroundings. I could not wait to see the North Sea, which was announced by a lot of seagulls flying all over the place, even in the Metro station.
South Shields is a small town situated in northeastern England in Tyne and Wear County. It is located at the mouth of the Tyne River between the former Tyne Estuary and the North Sea. It has many guesthouses and restaurants and even a small casino. During the summertime, it’s overcrowded by tourists. There are many informative displays for tourists that tell you exactly where you are and show details about town’s history and its points of interest.
South Shields has three coastal parks—North Marine Park, South
Marine Park, and Bents Park—that were created in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Today I visited North and South parks. Both of them have a large variety of trees, shrubs, and plants, and one of them has a lake in the middle that hosts many water birds, permanently or temporarily. The visitors, especially kids, were very delighted and gave them food. I also liked a small Chinese pavilion, painted black and red and located in a very quiet place, that invites you to meditate.
Because it was getting dark, I returned to the guesthouse.
I received from Liz an envelope with the program for the next two weeks, a map from Tyne and Wear Museum, and a Metro schedule, which will be very useful if we want to travel around South Shields. Also in the envelope was a name badge that I have to wear tomorrow.
At 2 p.m. tomorrow, we all have to meet at the Arbeia Roman Fort for a welcome and site tour. Arbeia is the name of the Roman Fort, as was indicated in a Roman document.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
Because my country is two hours ahead of England, I have an advantage in that I can wake up early in the morning without any problems.
After breakfast, I spend one hour ironing some of my T-shirts, which were not in very good shape after the traveling. Because the meeting was in the afternoon, I had about four hours to walk around, and mostly I was on the beach.
We all met at the museum 10 minutes before 2 p.m. Our team consists of 15 volunteers whose ages range from 17 to more than 80. For this project, the principal investigators are: Paul T. Bidwell, head of archaeology; Nick Hodgson, principal keeper, archaeology; and Graeme Stobbs, assistant keeper, field archaeology.
We were welcomed by Nick, who introduced each of us (he had a list with our names, and he tried to remember each—that was very kind of him). He next gave a presentation on the research project, museum, and fort.
Nick is a professional archeologist employed by the local Museums Service here in Tyneside. For a number of years, he and his colleagues, Paul Bidwell and Graeme Stobbs, have had the privilege of conducting research on one of the most important Roman military sites in northern Britain.
As early as the first century AD, the Romans occupied the site at South Shields because it defended an excellent anchorage. The fort became part of the frontier system instigated in AD 122 by the emperor Hadrian: his famous wall starts only 6.5 kilometers (four miles) west of South Shields and runs for 80 Roman miles (a Roman mile is approximately 5,000 feet, or 8,047 kilometers) across the island of Britain.
The interest in Roman military sites goes back a long way. Following are excerpts from the expedition briefing on the staff and the project.
Paul Bidwell has excavated widely, with a record of publication of major reports that is rivaled by few of his generation. He is best known in England for: discovering and excavating the great baths in the fortress of the Second Legion in the city of Exeter, in Southwest England, in the early 1970s; his work on Roman pottery; and his many excavations on Hadrian’s Wall.
Nick Hodgson has excavated on many sites on the northern frontier in Britain, and he has published numerous articles about Roman Britain and the Roman frontiers. He gained his Ph.D. in the same subject.
Graeme Stobbs is a field archaeologist of many years’ experience and an acknowledged expert on Hadrian’s Wall.
There are several forts that can be visited on Hadrian’s Wall, but what makes South Shields special is the permanent, large-scale excavation that they are carrying out. This means that there are constantly new discoveries at the site, and that they are producing a more detailed picture of the inside of a Roman military base of the first to fourth centuries than has ever been gained before.
In 2005, they found deposits beneath the main Roman road that ran into the fort in the third and fourth centuries AD. It was rich with findings, with earlier road surfaces underneath. Beneath all that, they expect to encounter more pre-Roman Iron Age finds. They also worked on a stretch of the defensive wall of the Roman fort. Finds in 2005 included a pair of lead sealings (small seals for sealing packages). They are inscribed with the initials CVG—short for C(ohors) V G(allorum), meaning the fifth cohort of Gauls (Quinta), the military unit that guarded the supply base at South Shields.
From the fourth century, the fort was known as Arbeia. The evidence of this comes from the army list called the Notitia Dignuitatum, which refers to the Praefectus Numeri Barcariorum Tigrisensium, Arbeia. Translated, this means Prefect of the Unit of Tigris Bargemen (Iran) at Arbeia. So, Arbeia meant place of Arabs.
In 2006, the work was carried out in a so-named area of reconstructed buildings. In this area, archaeologists have found the foundations of the south wall of an earlier fort that did not extend as far south as the fort presently does. The foundation of the old fort wall can be seen running along the south edge of the area.
The original angle, or corner tower of the fort, can be seen where this foundation joins the side wall to the east. This older wall and tower were demolished when the fort was enlarged to become a supply base during the campaigns of the emperor Septimius Severus in Britain in AD 208-11.
Behind the wall foundation, there would have been a rampart, or mound of earth and clay. Beneath this, archaeologists are looking for clues about the whereabouts of the earliest, as yet to be located, Roman fort at South Shields.
Projecting from the northern section are the walls of Roman buildings with buttresses. These are the southern ends of granaries (grain warehouses) belonging to the supply-base.
There is much to do, and it is for this reason that they have again requested assistance from Earthwatch in order to help them complete the task. The Earthwatch volunteers of 1993-2005 played an essential role and impressed the researchers with their skills, enthusiasm, and capacity for hard work.
Today, we visited the museum, the reconstructed gate, and the archeological site.
Next week, we will have some evening presentations with more details about the history of the fort and Roman pottery.
Friday, July 28, 2006
Today is our first day of real work. The day begins at 9 a.m. and finishes at 4:45 p.m., with two 15-minute tea breaks and a 30-minute lunch break.
Our activity in the research field will be supervised by Terry and Kevin. Both of them have bachelor of arts degrees in archaeology and have experience working with volunteers. Every day, the principal investigators also come around to see how the work is progressing and to give us more detailed explanations.
First of all, Terry provided training on working safely so we don’t get injured during the work. The Earthwatch volunteers were then divided into groups of three or four, with the groups being rotated among the tasks on the excavation project. My team consists of Barry, Alex, and me. Each of us also can choose a day to work with the pottery specialists in the laboratory.
We started work in a corner of the street (intervallum), between the granaries foundation, the east tower foundation, and the rampart space.
At the beginning, the area should be measured and recorded (the level of important elements, mainly stones). The entire research area has indicators with the latitude and longitude, so each point can be positioned exactly. Before starting to measure, we needed to draw a map as accurately as we could using a scale of 1 to 20. For a better evaluation, there are some white grids (one or two, depending on the area) on the ground. Each grid has exact dimensions (1 meter/1 meter or 1 meter/2 meter) and is split in smaller quarters of 20/20 centimeters.
Barry, who is an art teacher, accomplished this task for our team, drawing a very accurate map. We next needed to measure and record the height of the main elements of the surveyed area using a theodolite. Kevin showed us how to center and use the theodolite, which is something I already knew from topography courses in college. I read the values, and Alex and Barry recorded them on paper.
As a reference point for the altitude, we use a fixed point with a known altitude named TPS, which is situated on one corner foundation. Using this point value and the measured values of the other points, we can calculate the real height (altitude) for each point in the research area).
This activity ended in the afternoon. After the lunch break, we started the excavation.
It is not real digging, because we only have to remove the soil layer by layer and see what is under each of them. The soil has different colors, depending on the composition and the time when it was formed. An experienced archaeological eye can see when a period of time ended and when another began. We don’t have the ability to recognize this yet, so we ask Terry often.
Because we were working in the former Roman street, we first encountered a layer of medium-sized stones that were very compacted. Even if we would have liked to use the brush to clean the stones better and faster, Terry said that this is not recommended since we cannot see the colors very well. So, goodbye brushes!
Today was a very hot day (compared with normal temperatures in England this time of year), and the surface of the research area had to be watered from time to time in the morning and during the working day so it wasn’t too dry.
The kneeling position that we should adopt when we work was not as tiring as I thought it would be at the beginning. After few hours, you get use to it. You can straighten your back when you are emptying your full and heavy bucket in the wheelbarrow. If you wish for more, you can go and empty the wheelbarrow.
This first day we found some things—many animal bones (mainly from sheep and pigs, with the most disgusting being ancient teeth), shells, charcoal, some pieces of pottery, and some nails. All finds are collected in labeled trays for analysis later. If something looks like it might be important, we photograph it, determine the exact position, and place it in a small plastic bag for carefully analysis in the laboratory.
Everyone wants to discover something important, so every time we find something, we ask Kevin and Terry if it is a piece of pottery. We are very disappointed when the answer is no, it is just a piece of stone. Maybe we are luckier next time. For this kind of activity, you should be very patient and very careful at the same time.
The most interesting findings from today’s work are pottery pieces of different colors (red, yellow, or gray-black). The nicest is the black one. It is thinner than the others and perhaps was shinny when it was new. Some pieces belong to the same vessel and can be put together to see what type of vessel it was.
The first day finished at 4:45 p.m. and was quite interesting for me.
Saturday, July 29, 2006
Today is Saturday, and we have to work today because we lost a day at the beginning with the welcome speech and site tour.
In the morning, I noticed that my skin had turned to an intense red color caused by too much exposure to the sun, even though I used a sunscreen protection lotion with SPF 30! The truth is that I put that lotion on my skin only twice yesterday, and it seems that was not enough. Beside this, I have some nice mosquito bites, with most of them on my neck and arms (I fell asleep with the window open last night).
Every day, I spend at least 10 minutes on the beach in morning and in the evening, looking at the ships that come into or leave the Tyne harbor.
I very much like that the direction to the Roman fort on the information panels is symbolized by a Roman soldier’s helmet. In the park, the way to the Roman fort is shown by six javelins (three on each part of the way) and two red Roman shields with the inscription SPQR, specific for Rome.
On the expedition team, the majority of the members are from the United States except for Andrea, Jackie, and me. They all are very nice people, and we have a good time working together.
I would like to mention Shirley, who came along with her daughter, Brenda. Every day, I admire Shirley, because even though she is the oldest volunteer on the team (she is more than 80 years old), she accomplishes the daily tasks almost as good as we do.
Today, we excavated in the same area as yesterday, on our corner street. When we cleaned the level of bigger stones as well as we could, Terry came along and said to us: OK, now you can remove them to see what is underneath!
Normally, a question rises in my mind: if we have to remove them at the end, why should we spend so much time cleaning them? Because this is the procedure. In this way, we are sure that we can see everything.
Under the first level of stone, we found another one with smaller stones that are even more compacted and uniform, which shows clearly that there was a circular street in this area. We discovered a ditch, recognizable by the big aligned stones that form it. There is a lot of dirt to be removed from that ditch, and we will work on it next week.
Also inside, we found a lot of shells, bones, and small parts of broken pottery. The soil that should be removed has a gray-black color, different from the yellowish clay and sandy soil that is under it and was originally there when the street was made.
The main find of the day was a big piece from a mortarium, a kind of big vessel used by Romans to mix food ingredients.
The excavation work is interesting, because every little structure or item found can give significant and valuable indications about past times—the way they lived, what they ate, etc. What amazes me every day is the fact that we stay just near the original granary foundations, which are almost 2,000 years old and still look very good!
In the courtyard of the museum today was a display of skills and customs from medieval ages, which attracted tourists, mainly kids. If you wished, you could get a textile bracelet in a few minutes, made right in front of your eyes!
I appreciate that the museum organizes a lot of activities to popularize knowledge of history. Many of the activities are for children, who are very curious and inventive and who very much like the Roman helmets and soldiers’ clothes.
Other things that attract visiting kids are some black talking boxes with a handle. When the handle is turned, from inside the box can be heard the voice of a Roman character who would have lived here many, many years before. In this way, the characters, such as Victor, a Roman slave, and a commanding officer’s wife, can tell you their story.
There will be a great Roman festival at Arbeia Roman Fort, but, unfortunately, it will take place after we are gone.
Today we finished earlier, at 4:15 p.m., and we are free until Monday morning.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
Today was Sunday, and we had a day off. From the many options I had to spend this day, I chose to take a long walk along the coastline, from the mouth of the River Tyne to Souter Lighthouse. This lighthouse is approximately 7.5 kilometers (4.7 miles) away, and from a far distance you can see how it is guarding the sea.
I started my trip at Groyne, a pier near the river’s mouth. It was 8 a.m., and many fishing boats were leaving the port to go out to sea, even though it was Sunday. A huge ferry also comes every morning to make the connection with Baltic ports in Scandinavia.
I was always fascinated by ships and sea traveling. My sign of the zodiac is Sagittarius, which has a lot to do with traveling and foreign countries. Some of the most famous sea explorers were born under this sign. I remember that when I was child more than 20 years ago, my favorite book was one about sea adventures. The name of the ship was Hope. I had many maps, and I followed the boat around the world—in my imagination, of course.
From where I was staying, I could see the pier at North Shields across the river and the ruins of Tynemouth Priory and castle. The coastline area from South Shields to the Souter Lighthouse is known by the name of the Leas.
I had to pass Little Heaven Beach, South Pier, Herd Sand, Trow Point, Frenchman’s Bay, Marsden Bay, Mardsen Rock, Lizard Pint, Mardsen Grotto, Marsden Village, and finally the lighthouse. Here are some details about each of them.
River Tyne flows into the North Sea via an estuary, which, longtime before, was full of sand banks and was very dangerous to enter by ship. Many ships wrecked here during storms (81 wrecks between 1863 and 1963), and the place is designated as a grave for the good ships and seamen. To improve the estuary’s condition, two massive piers were built, and the river’s mouth was dredged. It became deeper and larger so big ships could enter easily.
The beach at Herd Sand was formed from sand brought here by ships coming from London to take on coal. Most of sand came from the Thames River. On this morning, there were many jellyfish on the beach. I wanted to throw some back into the sea, but there were too many.
Although it was a sunny day, the water was pretty cold. Very few people were swimming in the sea, although the beach was crowded, especially with families with kids.
I saw a small baby seal that was thrown from the sea onto the beach. I called the lifeguards, but it was too late. The seal was already dead because the sun was to hot for it. Poor baby seal. I felt so sorry for it!
Trow Point has had extensive quarrying for limestone, notably for the construction of the Tyne piers in the nineteenth century. Now the quarries are closed, and the entire coastline area is under National Trust protection. This protects flora, fauna, the beaches, and the landscape so they can be preserved in the best way to keep them unspoiled and pollution-free.
The coastline is diverse, with something for everyone to enjoy. The National Trust takes care of repairing the footpaths, improving the access, and restoring the original beauty of the beaches affected by industrial development. The entire area is for leisure, and I met many families, cyclists, joggers, and people walking with their dogs, enjoying the sunny weather and the beautiful landscape.
Marsden Rock deserves a special mention due to its interesting shape (an arch). It was very popular in the past, as its location in the sea near the shoreline made it accessible to the tourists. There was a way to climb to the top, and I even saw a picture showing a Victorian male chorus (with their interesting clothes and hats) singing on the top of this rock! Unfortunately, due to a strong frost in the last decade, a part of the rock collapsed and had to be removed for safety issues. For the locals, it was a real lost—like they lost a friend. Nowadays, there are thousands seabirds (seagulls and cormorants) on the rocks, forming one of the biggest seabird colonies in Britain.
Marsden Grotto was a place where Peter the Hermit lived in the eighteenth century with his wife. They did not have any place to live, and they decided to stay in a cave near the beach. That cave became their home. They enlarged it and made it more comfortable. Today, a restaurant is located in this cave, which is unique in Europe.
Marsden Village, which not longer exists, was built during the mine exploitation and had 135 houses and 600 inhabitants. In 1960, after less than 100 years, the village was demolished and the land was leveled and planted with grass. I had a very strange feeling standing in the center of this now empty area, thinking that over there lived people and I cannot see any trace of that. Only the old post office is still there, but it is in ruin.
Finally, after two hours of walking, I arrived at Souter Lighthouse, the end point of my trip. In its time, it was the most technologically advanced lighthouse in the world, being the first to be powered by electricity. Now, it is no longer used, but it still impresses the visitors. Its location, on the top of a huge cliff, offers a beautiful panorama of the North Sea. From here, the South Pier, the place where I started in the morning, looks so small and far away.
I rested 20 minutes on a bench, enjoying the view and observing the omnipresent seagulls. They are so fast, noisy, and gracious when they fly. Terry advised us to not get too close to them, especially the babies, because the parents can be very aggressive. It was not the case today, as they were flying very close. This was their territory, where I was the intruder.
I once again admired the lighthouse and the view, and then I turned back. Today was a beautiful day for me. Most enjoyable was the bird colonies.
Monday, July 31, 2006
I slept very well after yesterday’s long coastal walk. This morning, I was fresh and ready to start another week of excavations.
Today was a normal day of work; we excavated in our ditch. It’s amazing how many shells come out from here.
The finds were the same as in previous days, with most of them being bones (if the Romans would have been vegetarians, we would find nothing!). The preserved pieces of red pottery (samian pottery) are very good; they still have that shine from when they were made. I found a nice piece of black pottery that was from the mouth of a vessel.
Each day, the principal investigators came around to see how the work was going. Graeme Stobbs, another principal investigator, came to the site today. He was very friendly and spent almost all day with us.
The weather conditions started to be worse than last week. It was cloudy and windy, especially in the afternoon. This was an example of typical English weather!
In the evening, Nick Hodgson gave a presentation about Arbeia Roman Fort. Here’s a summary of what he said.
- The excavations at South Shields started in 1875. The first area to be excavated was the central zone of the fort, where the praetoria (headquarters) was located.
- The Romano British period was between 43 AD and 410 AD.
- The Romans stretched to the north, but they never conquered Scotland.
- Emperor Hadrian (117 to 138 AD) decided to maintain the frontiers as they were and to not try to extend the empire.
- To defend the empire, the Romans strengthened the frontiers. In Britain, they started building Hadrian’s Wall in 122 AD. (We will have another presentation by Graeme Stobbs about the history of this wall in the next days.)
- At the beginning, there was a small fort supplied by a port on the River Tyne.
- The exact position of the Roman port has not been located yet; there are some suppositions to be taken in consideration.
- The exact location of the first Roman fort is still unknown, and the archaeologists are trying to find some more precise indications about this.
- At about 160 AD, another fort was built. It was made of stone and was bigger and more important. A large civil settlement, named Vicas, developed around it.
- When Emperor Septimius Sever visited Britain in 200 AD, he decided to start a military campaign against the north tribes. For that reason, the fort was enlarged and transformed into a supply base for the forts and garrisons stationed along Hadrian’s Wall.
- These supplies were loaded onto barges to be taken up the River Tyne, probably as far as the fort at Benwell on Hadrian’s Wall.
- The south wall was demolished, and more granaries were added.
- An extension of the fort, including a gate with only one arch, was completed, and the original south gate and fort wall were demolished.
- The interior of the original fort was occupied by granaries, and the extension would hold the barracks and other buildings for the garrison.
- This was one of the biggest supply bases in the Roman Empire, having 24 granaries (warehouses for food, primarily grains).
- The fort had a rectangular form, like a playing card, with four gates for access. In 1985, the east gate was reconstructed and became a symbol for the Arbeia Roman Fort and the museum.
- Inside the fort were many other buildings besides the granaries. These include the headquarter (praetoria); the commanding officer’s house, built in the Mediterranean style because this commander was a Mediterranean aristocrat; barrack blocks for soldiers and horses; baths; water tanks; tile kilns; and workshop.
- During the fort’s development, some of the buildings were demolished and in their place were built other ones. At the final stage of development, the buildings were located in four quarters, separated by two streets at a right angle. People from all the corners of the Roman Empire came here.
- In the fourth century, the fort became known as Arbeia.
- Among the results of excavations by previous Earthwatch teams are an entire set of armor made with rings; a circular Iron Age house; a patrol area that is squared with big rocks and very clean (this impressed me much, because after few days of digging, I knew what laborious work needed to be done).
- Military units stationed in the fort were the First Cavalry Regiment of Asturians (ala I Asturum), located in the initial fort; and the Fifth Cohors of Gauls, between AD 207 and the end of the third century.
- The name of the place was changed during its existence: Horrea Clessius (the granaries on the fleet), Arbeia in the fourth century, and Caer Urfa in the post-Roman period.
This presentation was very interesting, and Nick Hodgson is always very enthusiastic.
Tuesday, August 1, 2006
Today was a normal working day. At Terry’s request, we left the ditch area for now and moved our digging to another area where the majority of the team was working.
In the Romans days, a rampart existed here but was demolished when the fort was enlarged. A workshop was built to take its place.
The soil excavated in this area was deeper, and now the level is at the beginning of the Roman period and the end of the Iron Age period.
I miss the shells and bones found before, because here we do not find anything very often. It is only cleaning and cleaning, over and over in the same area. Where the soil is more compacted and dense, this may be a sign that an earth structure existed there. An Iron Age house was discovered as a big circular area in this way. A previous Earthwatch team contributed to this discovery, and a small replica of this house is on exhibit in the museum.
There are some pits dug to about one meter (3.3 feet) deep to see the soil layers inside. Andrea, who is an Austrian psychologist, had the luck to work in this area all the time.
She said that this activity is very good as therapy for some people, because it requires a lot of patience and you have a lot of time to meditate. We fully agreed with her opinion!
In the afternoon, I paid a more careful visit to the reconstructed gate. This gate is located on the east wall, and it was reconstructed in 1985. The architect in charge was David Ash, who won a prize with this project.
When the fort was finally abandoned by its inhabitants, the stones from the walls of its buildings were robbed for use elsewhere. As a result, few of the walls survived much above the level of their foundations.
Most Roman buildings in Britain, whether in forts, towns, or the country, have been robbed of their stones. The only way of finding what they once looked like is through archaeological excavations and research. Written descriptions, models, and drawings also can give some idea of these vanished buildings. A full appreciation can be obtained through the reconstruction of Roman buildings to their original size using the correct materials and buildings methods.
This fort had four gates, all built in the same design. The north gate is the best preserved, and many of its details have been copied in the reconstructions. The site of the east gate was completely excavated in 1985. Apart from a short length of wall, only the foundations of cobblestone set in clay had survived. These are preserved beneath the reconstructed gate, protected by a raft of concrete.
From the filling of a late Roman defensive ditch came much stonework from the gate, notably a window head. The excavation also showed how the defensive ditches in front of the gate were originally laid out.
When the gate was designed, the architect took into consideration many aspects, such as the defensive purpose of the gate and the similarity with other fort gates from the same time.
Inside the reconstructed gate is a gallery where much information about the history of the fort is displayed. The last level displays a small workshop for Roman military equipment.
From the tower, it is a beautiful view across the archaeological site. You can see the Tyne River, which is very close, and the North Sea.
In the ancient times, when the surrounding area was not covered by houses as it is now, the Roman soldiers could see every movement on the river and on the sea. This is one of the reasons the fort was located here.
Wednesday, August 2, 2006
Today, the weather became colder. We worked only a few hours, because a very heavy rain started and we had to stay inside.
We took shelter for a half hour in the barrack block, experiencing the conditions in which Roman soldiers lived. I did not like it. The windows were too small.
Graeme Stobbs decided to make a very interesting presentation about Hadrian’s Wall, a subject in which he is an expert. This information will be very useful to us on our Sunday trip.
We finished today at 1 p.m. Because it was still raining hard, we left to go to the guesthouses. I wanted to go and visit the city museum, but I gave up. Instead, I again visited the museum for the fort.
The museum has two galleries. Displayed in one are different stones found here; a commemorative plate with the name of the Emperor Sever Alexander chiseled on it; bases of the columns found in the commanding officer’s house; an altar; a keystone from the gate; two statues of Mercury (the god of commerce); an inscription that certifies the Fifth Legion of Gauls (Cohorus V Gallorum) were stationed in the fort; and some pinecones made of stone that were positioned on the roof corners. For the Romans, they symbolize the masculine power.
The most important exhibitions are two original tombstones—Regina’s and Victor’s. Regina was the wife of a Roman soldier, Barates, who came from Syria (Palmyra). She was a local woman from the Catuvellauni tribe who died young, at 30 years old. The inscription on her tombstone is in Aramaic, the native language of Barates. A replica of Regina’s tombstone is displayed in the city in the supermarket parking area, exactly in the place where it was found.
Victor was a Moorish boy (from Morocco), who was initially a slave but was freed by his master, Numerianus, who was enrolled in the Cavalry Regiment of Asturians.
The tombstones are very well preserved, except the faces are damaged. These items offer important indications about life in the Roman fort, showing that people from all corners of the Roman Empire were here.
In the other gallery of the museum are displayed objects and information that refer to the Roman style of life, soldier’s equipment (weapons and clothes), religion, domestic life, and skills.
Here’s a brief summary of the presentation about Hadrian’s Wall that Graeme Stobbs made:
- The idea of frontiers as the limit of the Roman Empire appear in the Roman mind after they lose three whole legions—15,000 men—in 9 AD in Germany, east of the Rhine; after that date, the boundaries of the empire became more or less static, except for the addition of two provinces: Britain and Dacia.
- The first who came to Britain was Julius Caesar, in 54 BC. After that, Claudius came in 43 AD.
- It took another 40 years to conquer the British Isles, except Scotland. The Romans had a big victory in 83 AD at Mons Graupius (located in Scotland now), but they could not sustain the advance and withdrew in stages to the Tyne-Solway isthmus around 100 AD. Here, a chain of forts connected by a road known to us as the Stanegate (the Roman name is unknown) formed the limit of occupation for 20 years.
- The Emperor Hadrian (117 to 138 AD), Trajan’s successor, decided that the frontiers of the empire should stay as they were. In some cases, the frontiers were on rivers, such as the Rhine, Danube, and Euphrates. Where no natural barrier existed, artificial barriers were constructed (a ditch and timber palisade in Germany between the Rhine and Danube), with towers and forts attached.
- In Britain, a wall named after Hadrian was built slightly north of the Stanegate in 122 AD. The aim was to separate the Romans from the barbarians, as stated by historian Dio Cassius in Vita Hadrianii.
- The building of the wall ended in 160 AD. It covered 80 Roman miles (73 modern miles, 117 kilometers) from Wallsend-on-Tyne to Bowness-on-Solway and marked the northern extent of the Roman Empire.
- A road already existed in the northern territories (the Stanegate), running between the forts at Corbridge and Carlisle. Hadrian’s Wall followed the same line, but also used natural features.
- Work started in the east with a stone wall. Farther west, the wall was initially built of turf blocks but later was rebuilt in stone. The width of the wall was 10 Roman feet at the beginning, but parts built later were only eight feet wide.
- To the south of the wall was a road, the Military Way, and another ditch flanked by banks called the Vallum. The Vallum was built after the wall and was an earthwork construction running the length of the frontier from the Tyne to Solway. It was generally built 50 to 90 meters (164 to 295 feet) behind the wall and defined the rear of the military zone, controlling the movement of people into the military area. The wall was further strengthened and manned from a series of turrets, milecastles, and forts.
- Air photos revealed a lot of evidence of the native settlements both south and north of the wall. Most sites in this area have been leveled by plowing and are only visible as crop marks in dry summers.
- At intervals of one Roman mile along the wall was built a small fortlet, known as milecastle. Between each pair of milecastles were two turrets.
- The milecastles were defended by gateways. Their main role was to control the movement through the wall. Each contained two barrack buildings for troops.
- The turrets were observation points and shelters for soldiers on duty patrolling the wall.
- Along the wall, at intervals of five to 12 kilometers (three to 7.5 miles) were the forts built to house the soldiers that manned the frontier. These forts provided the main garrison of the wall, each of them accommodating 500 to 1,000 auxiliary troops, cavalry, infantry, and mixed troops. The best known of these is at the Housesteads, built in the second phase of construction when the forts were built alongside or even astride the wall.
- Over time, a number of changes were made. In the second half of the second century, large proportions of turrets were demolished, the north gateway of the milecastle was reduced in width, and a new road connected the forts, milecastles, and turrets. Probably late in the second century the Vallum went out of use.
- During the fourth century, the wall’s function as a barrier declined as Roman power waned. In 410, when they asked help from Emperor Honorius, the British received the answer: look to their own defense. From that time onward, the Roman occupation in Britain officially ended.
- After the Roman period, the fort buildings and the wall were destroyed, becoming a handy source of stone for new buildings, such as houses and monasteries (e.g., Jarrow).
- The Roman occupation in Britain was a significant event for the British Isles. It influenced the culture, language, and architecture.
This was just part of the information that Graeme presented in his speech.
Thursday, August 3, 2006
The weather is still unstable, with some rain, but we can work outside.
Except for Rita, Jackie, Brenda, and Shirley, who were working near the granary foundations, the rest of the team was working in the workshop area. We did not find anything important.
In the afternoon was a heavy rain, and I wanted to see the storm on the sea. It wasn’t really a storm, but the wind was strong enough to wash high waves over the piers.
During the night and when the weather is bad, access to the pier is forbidden. I did not have enough courage to stay very close to the sea.
In the evening, we had a presentation about pottery by Paul Bidwell.
Friday, August 4, 2006
The sensation of the day was a small piece of roman glass found by Matthew. In the Roman period, glass was rare and expensive. This piece had a green transparent color and was a bit imperfect, with small air bubbles inside. Because it was something important, it was photographed, the exact position was determined, and it was placed in a small plastic bag to be taken to the laboratory.
Matthew was very proud of his piece of Roman glass. At dinner, he explained that he found it in some strange matter. He had observed that the soil was different from the other soil around it. Dan said it looked like horse manure, and Kevin, who came along, confirmed that supposition. A few minutes later, Matthew found the glass.
We finished earlier today, at 4:30 p.m., because it was Friday. Tomorrow, we have a day off. Sunday will be busy all day with the trip to Hadrian’s Wall. Related to this, Nick Hodgson gave us an informative speech, so we found out more details about this subject. We look forward to seeing this famous wall, which is included in the World Heritage Sites.
In the evening, we were at an Internet café. This was very expensive—half of a British pound for 15 minutes. I searched on the Internet and showed Matt and Ben some pictures from Romania and another Earthwatch volunteer from Alcoa, who was in Romania at the Roman Fort on the Danube. Matt was impressed, and Irene asked me many questions about my country. She wanted to learn a few words in Romanian. She’s a second-year college student in New Jersey studying classic literature. I told her how to say good morning, which in Romanian sounds like buna dimineata. It was a bit difficult for her, but she tried to pronounce it correctly.
Matt is 17 years old. He just finished his last year of high school and is from Milwaukee. Here he became a good friend with Dan (physics teacher) and Ted (librarian). They worked on the same team.
Saturday, August 5, 2006
Today is Saturday, and we had a day off so we could rest after the work during this week.
I spent the day putting my things in order, cleaning up my room, and walking on the beach. Even when the weather is not very good, I enjoy the sea. I don’t know exactly the hours when the sea starts to rise during the tide. One evening, I tried to measure, and I observed that a bigger wave came every three minutes.
In the morning and in the evening when the beach is not populated by many people, the seagulls come in a big number.
The sunshine on the sea is beautiful. It has a violet and red color with hundreds of nuances.
Tomorrow, all the day will be busy with the visit to Hadrian’s Wall. We will travel by bus until Housesteads Fort, where we will walk about three miles along the wall. After that, we will have lunch in a local pub, and we will visit the Vindolanda Fort.
Our guide will be Nick Hodgson. He already gave us an introductory speech about this yesterday.
Sunday, August 6, 2006
Finally, the big day for the trip to Hadrian’s Wall has arrived. We started in front of our guesthouse at 9 a.m. The day seemed to be dry and sunny after the rainy days.
When I left the house, Cliff was on the stairs and looked questioningly at my feet because I was in slippers, which are not proper shoes for climbing the hills. He didn’t know that I had another pair of shoes in my rucksack!
The bus headed to Newcastle, stopping at Segedunum Roman Fort (in Wallsend) to pick up Nick Hodgson. Newcastle-upon-Tyne is a big city in continuous development. From the bus, we could admire the famous castle, many other old buildings, and its renowned bridges.
We left Newcastle and headed west. The road sometimes followed the path of the old Roman road, and we could see along it some fragments of the wall and the very well-preserved Vallum.
The landscape was beautiful, with many green hills and farm animals (sheep and cows).
Just near the road, Nick showed us an original Roman milestone. He explained in more detail how the road, forts, and wall were built.
We arrived in Northumberland National Park (the portion of wall that we were visiting was located in the south part of the park), and the bus stopped at the National Park Visitor Centre.
When I got off the bus, I didn’t feel very good. I was a bit sick.
After 10 minutes for refreshment, we started to walk toward the wall. After 10 minutes of walking, Housestead Fort appeared. Nick presented some information about it. It was time for me to change my shoes.
Since 2005, Hadrian’s Wall has been a part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site. This also includes the part of the frontier in Germany between the Rhine and Danube rivers, and could, in time, include the whole line of the frontier from the Solway Firth to the Atlantic coast of Morocco.
Some of the forts along the wall are Birdoswald, Vindolanda, Housesteads, Chester (Chester came from the Roman castror), Corbridge, Segdunum, and Arbeia. In total, there were 17 forts along the wall.
The foundations of some of these forts have been excavated and can be seen by the visitors. Sections of the stone walls still stand, particularly at Housesteads, although the stone has been removed for local houses and churches.
Housesteads is the most complete Roman fort in Britain. It has a spectacular position with commanding views, barracks, hospital, and other buildings. For this walking, you should have a good fitness level, because you have to climb many hills, some of them pretty rocky.
The landscape became more hilly and the weather more windy and cloudy. In the north could be seen Scotland, looking green, dark, and threatening. Nick explained that the wall is not exactly following the actual boundary between England and Scotland.
After we climbed some hills and passed through a little forest, we arrived at milecastle 39. The final point of our walk is milecastle 37, so we will walk two Roman miles.
The wall is very impressive as it is now. Imagine how it was when it was built! It was a symbol of Roman power.
The landscape was not friendly at all, and neither was the weather, but this had not stopped the numerous tourists, among them kids, to walk here from both directions. At some points, the wall was just on the edges! I try to imagine what huge work had to be done when the wall was built!
The footpath was narrow, and we had to walk in a row, one after the other, which I didn’t like, being a bit claustrophobic. At the next stop, I took a little rest.
Milecastle 38 was not excavated yet and is still covered with grass and located near a farm. The view was beautiful, with a lake and a forest edge, which of course, would be climbed by us. For sure, I will remember this day. We finished climbing one hill, went down, and after that came up another! It seemed to never end.
Finally, milecastle 37, the endpoint, appeared. It is very well preserved. From here, we had to walk around one kilometer (.6 miles) to the parking lot, where the bus was waiting for us. It started to rain, so this part was not very pleasant.
When I looked back, I could not believe that I walked all this way! We had to congratulate Shirley, because she made that trip with us. At her age, that was amazing!
We had lunch at a pub and afterward visited Vindolanda. Here are extensive remains of the fort and civilian settlement; the excavations are ongoing, but because it was raining, the team had stopped. They are also volunteers, but they really have to dig a lot.
Andrew, the archaeologist in charge, told us about the site. The fort was built of wood, together with another six wooden forts (including Carlisle and Corbridge), in approximately 80 AD, when the building of Stanegate Road was started. From 122 to 160 AD, Hadrian’s Wall was built to strengthen the frontier defense. Also between 128 and 138 AD, 17 new stone forts were built. Two of the older forts, Corbridge and Vindolanda, were rebuilt in stone as an additional support.
Some of the most important things found at Vindolanda were many written wooden tablets, found in 1973 in a clay layer and very well-preserved. They were mainly official documents and letters written in ink and are the oldest historical documents known from Britain. They’re now displayed at the British Museum.
The letters written by the inhabitants of the Roman Fort offered precious indications about their life in that time. For example, one of them was written by a commanding officer’s wife (Sulpicia Lepidina) to another one (Claudia Severa). She invited her friend to an anniversary dinner and complained about how boring her life was on the northern frontier. These are considered the first written words by a woman in the entire Roman Empire. In another letter, one soldier referred to the local British population as Britunculi (little Britons).
Because the soil conditions were different here from Arbeia, they have been able to find better preserved objects, which are exhibited in the museum. These items include weapons, domestic tools, pottery, statues, objects for religious worship, weapons, and soldier’s equipment. I liked a nice collection of shoes made from leather and wood and a helmet decoration made from hair. I was impressed by a kind of parade mask for a horse made of leather and decorated with bronze.
We were not allowed to take pictures inside the museum, so we just looked very carefully.
At around 5 p.m., we had to return to be back in time for the dinner. Today was a full day, but it was very interesting one that for sure I will remember.
Monday, August 7, 2006
Today is Monday. We have only two days left. They passed so rapidly!
Today was my lucky day! I found, in the ditch, a small green object, and I asked Terry what it was. He told me it was a bronze piece, but to be sure what it really was, he took it to the laboratory. After 10 minutes, we had an answer. It was a bronze piece from a Roman helmet, used to fix the helmet on the head. The small object was put in a plastic bag and the exact position was recorded.
I also found two big pieces of tile, and a specialist from the laboratory came to see if they had a stamp on them. Unfortunately, they didn’t.
Another discovery was made by Graeme. Looking carefully at the granary foundations, he observed an inscription on the stone. Everyone was very enthusiastic, and the inscription was photographed a lot. Because the inscription was upside down, the conclusion was that this piece of stone was initially used in another building and reused when the granary was built. The inscription indicates that the building was made by the soldiers of Lucius (this was the centurion’s name). Nick said that this inscription was not so important, but for us, it didn’t matter. It was ours!
Tuesday, August 8, 2006
This was the last day at the excavation site. I felt so sorry for that! It was an interesting experience for me, and I think that it was for the rest of the team, too.
We cleaned the excavation site so it would be in good shape for when the next team will start. This summer there will be another two Earthwatch teams (a total of six teams will be here in 2006).
In the evening, we had a farewell dinner. Some of the team members were involved in its preparation, and we had a barbecue in the courtyard of commanding officer’s house. In the house’s courtyard, we put the stone with the inscription in a wheelbarrow so everybody could admire it.
The weather was cold with rain, but the dinner was okay. We had hamburgers, sausages, fruit and vegetable salads, sweets, wine, juice, and a nice and tasty Earthwatch cake made by Terry’s mother. Unfortunately, we started to eat the cake and only afterward thought that we should have taken a photo with it!
Some of the team members wanted to see how the Romans could eat laying on the beds, and they went to the triclinium (the name of the Roman dining room).
Dan brought the laptop, and we listened to music and looked at the pictures taken during these two weeks. Only then did I observe how dark my skin had become because of the hot sun in the first days!
Yesterday, each of us received a CD with the pictures taken by all the team members. For that, we have to thank Dan and Alex.
Because it was too cold outside, Nick decided that the party should be moved into a pub, and all the team agreed with him.
Because I have to wake very early in the morning to take the plane from Newcastle, I said goodbye to all of them and went to the guesthouse to finish packing my luggage.
Wednesday, August 9, 2006
Finally, I am home after a crazy day. My luggage was lost in the Paris airport, I almost missed the plane to Timisoara, and my card did not work in the automated teller machine!
I have to thank to Liz and Cliff Elliott for their help (they offered to give me a ride to the Newcastle Airport at 4:30 a.m.).
Thursday, August 10, 2006
I picked up my found luggage. All the things inside were there, but the suitcase was a bit damaged. For that, I received compensation from the airline company.
I made an extensive presentation about the expedition to my colleague Dietmar, a former Earthwatch fellow (in 2005 for the orca project). The presentations to my work colleagues will be made after all of them are back from holidays.
I would like to thank Alcoa and Earthwatch for this chance and also my manager and all those who helped and supported me.
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Roman Fort on Tyne
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