Briar Bennett-Flammer

Briar Bennett-Flammer

Ottawa, ON
Neuroscience and Classics (double major)

Unearthing history

Briar Bennett-Flammer

Most of us learn about history from books, but as Briar Bennett-Flammer will tell you, history can often be told from what is found in the ground.

The Ottawa, Ontario native has always been passionate about ancient history and discovering new locations and artefacts belonging to the ancient Romans and Greeks.  As a young girl, she travelled to a site called Vindolanda, located in Northumberland, England near the Scottish border. Back in the 1st century A.D., a strategic fortress was built for the construction of Hadrian’s Wall, which separated the new Britannia from the barbarians in the north.

The historical significance and richness of this place stayed with Briar throughout her time as a student at Bishop’s University. When the application deadline for the B.E.S.T. Project Fund was announced, she jumped at the opportunity to go back to Vindolanda, this time as a volunteer with the on-site excavation program.

“I’ll be spending the first two weeks digging and excavating artefacts and whatever else I find, working with a 15-member team of other volunteers like me,” explains Briar. “Then I’ll be working alongside two professional archaeologists to analyze everything we have found, which means cleaning, dating and categorizing all the objects.”

The current excavation project at Vindolanda is in its final year. “I went there four years ago, just before they started the project, so it will be interesting to see how much they’ve accomplished,” says Briar. “At the time they had uncovered outlines of the rooms of the fortress as well as a few artefacts.”

Of particular interest to Briar are the writing tablets that have been discovered at Vindolanda. These thin slivers of wood are said to be the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain and have been voted “Britain’s Top Treasure”. The tablets are exceptionally prized by archaeologists and historians as they give a glimpse into the lives of people living and working at Vindolanda nearly 2,000 years ago.

“I’m a bibliophile so I’m really hoping I get to see these tablets!” exclaims the 21-year-old.

Briar credits B.E.S.T. with helping her gain experience in a field that’s been close to her heart for most of her life.

“I’m really hoping to apply what I’ve learned in my Classics program in this excavation, which means using my Latin and applying my knowledge of Roman art,” she explains. “I’m also interested in the techniques they use. Unless you take an archaeology class, these things aren’t explained to you.”

“I would ultimately like to recover ancient books,” she says. “Currently we have a very small amount of the literature from the Roman and Greek periods because so much of it was destroyed in the fires of Rome and Alexandria, for example. I’d love to go to North Africa, which, for me, is the next frontier of archaeology.”