Roman Binchester


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Hello, people of the world wide web! Predictably, I have been unable to update this blog regularly. I do however have a legit excuse this time: since the beginning of the month I have been working on an archaeological dig in Bishop Auckland. I am currently taking part in the last season of excavation at Binchester Roman Fort, which has been renamed ‘the Pompeii of the North’ (or something along those lines) because of the beauty of its well preserved walls. I am unsure on how much I can publicly state about the dig itself and our finds, but I will tell you that I am handling a lot of animal remains (which is brilliant for an osteoarchaeology enthusiast such as myself). I do however invite you to take a look at the official excavation blog if you’re keen to find out more about the dig. So far it’s been a lot of fun, albeit very hard work indeed. I am starting to think that pretty much everyone else believes I am some sort of weirdo, since I am by far the one who takes the most interest in bones by photographing each and every one of them, and punctually take out my mammalian osteology book in order to identify the fragments. Regardless of my personal fortunes (or misfortunes), I would like to share with you some pictures I took on my way to the dig one day, as it truly is a beautiful bit of countryside just outside Bishop Auckland. 11401452_10204210169362676_5790149371573526783_n 11390122_10204210172402752_8087877879132270051_n   The other day, I decided to stop by Bishop Auckland on my way back from the dig, and took the time to visit Auckland Castle once more. They are currently hosting an exhibition on the local football team, which might be interesting to those of you who are into football. However, I was mostly keen on spending time at their lovely café, which looks like the ideal place for you to pop in with a book and sip on a cup of coffee while enjoying these lovely interiors. 11251270_10204210174242798_2476881055430359264_n 11390026_10204210177122870_3736880975727190614_nI shall now leave you with a ‘humorous’ daily account of my archaeology experience at Binchester. Enjoy!

  • Binchester, day one: I’m not lazy, I’m ‘in situ’
  • Binchester, day two: ‘I am a glorified builder with a shovel in one hand and a mug of coffee in the other, searching for 2,000 year old rubbish’.
  • Binchester, day three: ‘How I learned to stop worrying and love cobbles’.
  • Binchester, day four: ‘This is my shovel. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My shovel is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my shovel is useless. Without my shovel, I am useless’.
  • Binchester, day five: ‘I love the smell of clay in the morning…smells like victory’.
  • Binchester, day six: ‘I dug. I dug until my muscles burned and my veins pumped battery acid. Then I dug some more’.
  • Binchester, day seven: ‘I have come here to chew bubble gum and dig. And I’m all out of bubble gum’.
  • Binchester, day eight: ‘This is Binchester. I mean, if you don’t have a shovel in your hand, you might as well be wearing a dress’.
  • Binchester, day nine: ‘You had me at <let me help you fill in those context sheets>’.

Falconry at Houghall Farm


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Yesterday I had the chance to be reunited with the beautiful birds of prey I have flown back in December (and written about in this post). The woodlands located just behind Houghall Farm (County Durham), proved to be a beautiful location to practise the ancient art of falconry. Falconry is in fact presumed to be as old as 2,000 years, with evidence suggesting that the practice developed in ancient Mesopotamia and Western Mongolia, to whom the falcon was a symbolic bird. Centuries later, falconry became a popular activity among English nobles, to whom it was some sort of status symbol.



This is Billy, the grumpy Barn Owl. Since he is not a big fan of wind and has a tendency to wander off and not return for some sixteen hours, we decided to fly him in an enclosed barn, with the irony that comes with flying a barn owl in a barn (of course I had to go there). Billy is perhaps my favourite bird of them all, because he is literally the Honey Badger of birds of prey (as in he doesn’t give a s***, ever).




This beautiful little one is Seth. We decided not to fly him today, as he can be a little bit difficult when he puts his mind to it. I however decided to take a few shots of him, as he truly is a beautiful bird.


This is Lady, a female Harris Hawk. We decided to fly her and Jasper (the male Harris Hawk), as they’re both usually quite receptive and easy to manage. Thankfully, they caught no weasels this time!


Once our birds were all geared up, we ventured into the woods behind the farm, which look stunning at this time of the year, with all those bluebells covering the ground. Little irrelevant fact: did you know that the gloves used for falconry are all left handed? That is quite possibly due to the way falconry was practised in medieval times, when nobles would carry their birds while riding a horse, and therefore using their left hand to hold the bird (and cast it onto preys) and their right hand to hold the reins of the horse.

I couldn’t take any good pictures while we were flying the birds, but I did indeed make a cheesy video of my falconry experience, which you can watch below.

The day I walked through Ragpath Wood


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After exploring pretty much every hiking trail south of Durham, we decided to set sail for the West. Following a pretty uneventful walk in Langley Park, my partner and I decided to discover Ragpath Wood, which was supposed to be a nice little trail which is frequently used by locals and nature lovers alike. We decided to access the trail from Ushaw, which gave us the chance to explore the lovely 19th century (yet very medieval looking) university college and its fluffy residents before we headed towards our access point.


It is known: if I see any sort of animal, I will stop and I will pet it. Which makes me wonder what kind of danger I would put myself into, was I ever to walk in the woods somewhere in the United States, where large carnivores are still a reality *mental imagery of myself running after a pack of wolves to pet them all


While heading towards our access point, we also befriended this unusual, moustache-bearing horse. Ever seen a stallion with a moustache? Is it a normal thing? If so, please do leave a comment down below.


We also had a chance to spot a lovely foal and his/her mummy. After spending a ridiculous amount of time going ‘awww’ at all these new friends of ours (and some dangerous walking on the side of a country road), we finally located our access points, and off to Ragpath we go. The walk was unfortunately not as nice as I had anticipated, which has probably something to do with the fact that all the trees had been put down during WW2 and a current project is now seeking to restore the woods’ old glory. Towards the end of the path, we did however get to a nice little place full of little streams. *Pictures below*




The Northern Sagas sucks at updating her blog


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Over two months following my last post, I think it has been established that I am absolutely terrible at keeping blogs regularly updated. What have I been up to? Well, I have started writing articles for Future Foreign Policy, I have been overwhelmed with papers and trying to publish in an academic journal, gave talks all over the place, and I have surprisingly been receiving training in mammalian osteology (don’t even!).

Fret not though: despite my academic, volunteering and working commitments, my life has not been short of adventures. Now that things have temporarily died down a little, I will try and keep this space updated with beautiful nature walks and historical discoveries around the North East of England. I shall leave you with a couple of shots from a lovely nature walk into Shincliffe Woods, just south of Durham.




Wildlings? White Walkers? – A day beyond The Wall


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After weeks spent reading and analysing EU-Russia relations, it was time to take a break. I thus set off for a journey back in time, when fierce Roman legions watched over Britannia. What best place to start, than with Hadrian’s Wall itself?

A journey back in time was indeed, as the further you get away from big northern cities, the more lack of decent transportation becomes noticeable. In my quest to reach Housesteads Roman Fort and Hadrian’s Wall, I had to take a train to Newcastle, to then change to the tiniest local train I had ever seen, which dropped us off at a place that I shall just call bamblefuck (if you’ll pardon my French). From there, we managed to get a decent deal off a cab driver, who kindly dropped us off at the Roman Fort. Let me tell you though, the Tolkienian journey was well worth it. We arrived to a magnificent plain field covered in white beauty.



…and already made some new, fluffy friends!


After a brief visit at the small museum located just by the fort, we wandered through the remains of the barrack blocks and the commandant’s house, imagined how life used to be like when 800 Roman soldiers were stationed here, battling the bitter Northern cold and hostile populations.


As we approached the fort, I turned into my kid-in-a-candy-shop pirouette-mode, and I have been spotted jumping up and down in the snow, hiding behind corners and examine the ruins from up close. That has much to do with my passion for ancient and medieval history, but this one time it also had a lot to do with the fact that I had never seen this much snow in my life before. The white, fluffy beauty reached my knees (which admittedly might not be saying much as I’m 5’4 tall) and I had an amazing time climbing and playing with the snow.


So what’s Beyond the Wall? Turns out it’s just cattle.10945520_10204296966237106_4634696080356172454_n

A white Sicilian New Year


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Good afternoon from a very windy Britain, I hope you’ve all had a joyous holiday season! I decided to take some time off to unwind and work on my EU enlargement paper. This time I was to predict the prospectives for further EU enlargement given the current internal legitimacy crisis. In case you care to know, I argued that the EU should solve its internal challenges before it accepts any new members, as the very survival of the EU institutions is paramount. Back to more lighthearted topics, it was with much bafflement that I woke up on the morning of December 31st, only to find my Sunny Sicily covered in snow. There has been no snow in this part of the island for around 15 years, so you may understand how this could come as surprising and utterly flabbergasting.


Tons of people were coming down into the streets in their pyjamas, taking pictures of the snow. While snow might be very common (if not very frustrating for those who have jobs to go to in the morning) in England and North America, Sicilians are not used to seeing the snow. However, we can all agree that seeing a Mediterranean beach covered in snow is a pretty amazing sight. These shots were taken just five minutes drive from Messina’s city centre, on the eastern coast of Sicily.


So just like all those surprised Sicilians, I decided to come down and take a few shots myself. It wasn’t quite the holiday season you would expect when you book a flight to Sicily, but I felt very lucky to witness something this rare and special. Oddly enough, I came back to a very windy yet not snowy County Durham, which is mildly disappointing. I can just close my eyes and imagine how majestic our Cathedral would look covered in snow.


I hope you enjoyed these pictures, despite this being a very late post. Next time I will probably tell you a bit more about my trip to York and its hidden secrets. Enjoy!

On ‘Sicilian Christmas’


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Happy Holidays and a most joyful Christmas from Sicily!

This delightful holiday has given me the chance to experience a traditional Sicilian Christmas, eat plenty of delicious food and unwrap many appreciated gifts. All my presents were of course checked and approved by our official Present Inspector: Mr. Snoopy, the Ginger Cat.


Sicilians are very big on their celebration meals, this is no news. However, they are particularly fond of their Christmas Eve Dinner and Christmas Lunch. Traditionally, they mostly eat fish on Christmas Eve. This entails everything from the hyper-traditional baccalà, to king prawns and smoked fish. This year, my family prepared a selection of smoked fish meats (i.e. Sockeye Wild Red Salmon, Tuna and Swordfish), breaded King Prawns and Pasta with Clams and ‘date’ tomatoes. Needless to say, it was all very appetising and filling.

400392_2339567656875_330224985_n 395156_2339567776878_1920621214_nOur dessert choice fell onto the traditional Pandoro and Panettone, which I am unable to show you as we went through both of them exceptionally quickly. One thing I may very well show you, is our fruit selection: a load of oranges straight from our countryside property.


I would also like to draw your attention to something that is perhaps not traditional, but something very delightful all the same. My family’s Christmas tree has been adorned with entirely handmade decorations. These have been crafted using the patchwork technique, which entails covering polystyrene decorations with a variety of fabrics, pearls and sequins. Please do also notice our very own Present Inspector on the job.


 Another Sicilian (or perhaps Italian) tradition, is to recreate a nativity seen to adorn your home. This year’s nativity seen is very large and realistic (it presents a small electric fireplace, a waterfall and a variety of lights). The blue star on the left was never supposed to be there: we suspect the Present Inspector is behind it.


Although this post is not strictly related to historical trips or natural resources, I figured it would be a pleasant insight into Sicilian Christmas celebrations. I also believe  our favourite Present Inspector will steal your heart.

WWI Exhibition – York Castle Museum


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Greetings from a very sunny Sicily!

If you’re looking for something different to do during the festive season, I highly recommend you visit the WWI Exhibit at York Castle Museum. The exhibition, entitled  ‘1914: When the World changed forever‘, opened June 28 on the 100 year anniversary of the assassination of an ostrich who was hungry Archduke of Austro-Hungary Franz Ferdinand. If you’ve already been to York Castle Museum and its delightful Victorian section, you already know that they are brilliant at conveying a realistic and educational experience. Upon entering the exhibition, you will in fact be sent to the recruitment office, then shipped on a train to No Man’s Land which will see you ending up in the trenches.


I will leave you to a few shots I took when I visited the exhibition. There isn’t really much to say about the artefacts themselves, as they consist of your usual objects from everyday life at the front and back in England. I visited a very similar exhibition at Alnwick Castle earlier this year, but as a WWI enthusiast I always want to visit them all! All in all, I highly recommend you to embark on a journey back in time and visit ‘1914: When the World changed forever‘.

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The Northern Sagas goes South


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By the time you read this post, I will be sitting on a balcony wearing shorts and sipping Zibbibo wine. This Christmas, The Northern Sagas has decided to take a trip down south in the land of oranges, mandolins and mafia: Sicily. I have decided to share with you a nice shot I took from the plane and one of my drive back to my family’s place.


Wishing you a joyous holiday season!

Vikings did not wear horned helmets!


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It was the greatest disaster since Olaf the Hairy, high chief of all the Vikings, ordered 80,000 battle helmets with horns on the inside

Edmund Blackadder


I always love a bit of Blackadder, but people who think Vikings used to wear horned helmets get on my nerves. So do those who think Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas, for that matter. While I have your attention, the hall in Asgard where great warriors who die in combat end up is called Valhöll, not Valhalla. That, together with the horned helmet gobbledygook, is something the Victorians came up with when they eventually got bored of looking at portraits of ill children praying.

Now that we have cleared the air, let me guide you through the Jorvik Viking Centre and its Norse treasures. The museum is located in the heart of the city of York and offers you the chance to revive York’s Viking past through reconstructions of the old viking town and the display of some interesting artefacts. Despite having really enjoyed my visit, I felt that the £8 ticket was somewhat excessive (bear in mind I qualified for student discount) for seeing very few artefacts and going through a reconstructed viking village, which is indeed a very pleasant experience, but it tends to get rather tedious unless you’re a family with children.


This guy looks like he has a lot of his mind, perhaps he just received a hefty gas bill. I will however say one thing in favour of the viking village reconstruction experience: it was indeed very realistic. And when I say it was realistic, I mean that the place also stunk as it used to do back in medieval times. You may very well think that it does not seem very pleasant, but I highly appreciated the effort to recreate the village in the most realistic way possible. As you travel around the streets, you will get a blast of smoke in your face from the blacksmith’s furnace and be delighted by the smell of home-cooked stew. It is also worth noting that the animatronic Viking characters speak Old Norse.


As we got off the little car that drove us through the streets of Old Jorvik, we moved onto the artefacts. All of these items have been dug up beneath the Centre between 1976 and 1981 by archaeologists of the York Archaeological Trust. One striking detail is that the Vikings loved their combs. As these were however pretty expensive, having long hair/a long beard was a sign of wealth in the Viking Age, and those proud comb owners would always hang it off their belt to show everyone that they could afford one. I guess that was the Viking equivalent of swag.


Viking combs were made out of bone and antler. Unlike modern combs, these were made up of several different parts, meaning that if you ever broke a plate you would only have to replace the broken piece as opposed to the whole comb. Jorvik is also home to two skeletons of respectively an adult male and female. Both bodies present a number of genetical defects and malfunctions. Surprisingly enough, the male was about 5ft.3 tall, making him shorter than me. Not quite how you would imagine a Viking to look like.

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As mentioned in my previous post, one of the ‘highlights’ of my visit was the renowned Viking poo. Probably not the nicest of sights, but it did tell us a lot about what the vikings used to eat.


Here are parts of men who died in combat. I hope they made it to Valhöll!

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If you are interested in Viking History, make sure you pop by York and take a look at the Jorvik Viking Centre. Although I did say that I found the price of not extremely good value for money, I believe it is still worth a visit. You should especially consider visiting during the Viking Festival, which will take place from February 14th to the 21st. The week-long celebrations feature a Viking banquet, a guest reading of Beowulf and a spectacular battle simulation. I will try to attend myself as it sure sounds like an unforgettable experience!