Monday, September 18, 2006

Eyebrows Digs Archaeology

Mr. McGee and I jetted off September 2 to spend two spectacular weeks at Arbeia Roman Fort in South Shields, U.K., in the Newcastle-upon-Tyne metro area, on an archaeological dig organized through the charitable organization Earthwatch.

The trip was a gift from my fabtacular uncle and godfather Pic and his stunningly beautiful wife Patricia. (There is a really good story behind this gift. I'll tell it later.) It was also the first vacation Mr. McGee and I have taken together since our honeymoon four years ago, and the longest vacation I've taken since ... high school? So after two weeks away I'm a little confuzzled about how to start getting my life back together and what to catch up on first - house? work? sleep? Forgive the disjointed blogging until I get my head back together.

Anyway, we went to Arbeia, a Roman fort that's part of the Hadrian's Wall system, although it isn't on the Wall itself. We spent two weeks digging on the site's dig, specifically on the road foundation of the intervallum road (the road that runs around the inside of the fort wall) and the surfaces under the earthen rampart. We dug in a small area of the southeast corner of the original fort (Arbeia went through four phases, I'm sure I'll tell you all about it in future posts).

What did we find? Animal bones, limpet shells, pottery shards, bits of tile, rusted iron nails ... lots of fun stuff. Teeth were my favorite. We also participated in the care of finds after finding, including washing and labelling, and in site mapping and surveying. I was so psyched I learned how to survey. I have seriously always wanted to know what those dudes on the side of the road are doing with their sticks and telescopes. Now I do!

We stayed at a guesthouse about six blocks from the fort, where we were fed like morbidly obese kings who really like cholesterol. I lost weight. (Yay Europe's walkable cities!) The guesthouses, arranged by the expedition, fed us English breakfasts to order (eggs and bacon and toast for me, every. single. day. Heaven!), provided us with packed lunches, and fed us dinner. We never knew what we'd have in our lunches or what would be for dinner. It was great. We'd appear at the fort at 9 a.m., work when and where we were told to, stop for tea, work, eat lunch, stop for tea, work, and go home. Despite working our butts off, it was ridiculously relaxing since someone else made all your food decisions, time decisions, and everything. Most of the time we didn't even know what day it was.

We had the Saturday mid-trip off, and we visited Durham, which has a spectacular cathedral, and then on Sunday we had a group trip to various sites on Hadrian's Wall. Also a 3-mile hike along the Wall. (They put the bus at the end of the route before I got a good look at how hilly it was so I couldn't back out.)

My pictures are currently being held hostage on another computer, but I'll do the full archaeological monty over the next few days. And I cannot reccommend the trip enough -- the specific Earthwatch expedition, the fort and town as a vacation destination, Earthwatch generally. The people of South Shields were welcoming, friendly, fun, and have knock-out accents. The Earthwatch program draws a demographic for whom learning IS recreation, so it's a spectacular chance to be among kindred spirits while learning fascinating stuff, visiting strange and exciting lands, and doing something to advance human knowledge.

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