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.
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.
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?”