On Friday Richard and I set out in his trusty VW across the frosty ‘uplands’ of County Durham and over the border into the wild lands of Northumberland.

The light dusting of snow across the landscape was perfect for a bit of feature-spotting with lots of lumps and bumps – and Roman forts – nicely defined, although Richard thankfully kept his eyes fixed on the slushy road ahead. His experience driving in the Scottish Highlands came in handy when one particular hill proved problematic, but on the second attempt – and with a good long run up – the little Beetle rose to the challenge!

Vindolanda Roman Fort in the snow

Our destination was Roman Vindolanda Fort and Museum where we were due to meet with Director of Excavations Andrew Birley, son of Robin Birley and grandson of Eric Birley, who founded the Department of Archaeology at Durham University. When we arrived, the museum staff were busy making final preparations for the start of the new season and Andrew met us in the cafe – a Roman taverna complete with mosaic-decorated tables, and an impressive mural depicting decadent delights of the Roman occupation, against the bonfire-lit backdrop of Hadrian’s Wall.


Andrew (left) and Richard (right) exchange ideas


Mural – can you spot the time travelers?

Where are you from?

Look closely and you might also spot a few modern intruders! Our objective in visiting Andrew was to explore the possibility of conducting some ethnography at the museum over the summer. We hoped to carry out interviews and participant observation to find out what people working at or visiting the museum and the excavations think about Roman (and Iron Age!) heritage.

Andrew was very supportive of our research plans and, with 43 staff, 16 site guides, 25-45 volunteers, Field Schools from the US and Canada,  and 600 visitors per day I should find plenty of people to talk to! I hope to be at the site for a week in June and then another in July, so if you are planning a visit maybe I’ll see you there and you can take part!

I’ll end with a question, suggested by Andrew, that he uses to get people to really think about their identity: “Where are you from?”