Excavation showcases Hadrian's Wall history giving glimpse to life on the Roman frontier

The project is giving an insight into life on the Wall. Credit: Historic England

The biggest archaeological dig on a section of Hadrian’s Wall since the 1990s has begun, with experts hoping it will reveal more secrets of daily life on the Roman frontier.

It is expected that a "big picture" of frontier life will emerge from the archaeology of fort settlements with findings showcasing that settlement beyond the Roman fort of Birdoswald, on Hadrian's Wall, was carefully planned.

The work at the World Heritage Site is being carried out by Historic England and Newcastle University with areas east, west and north of the fort under excavation.

Many items have been discovered throughout the excavation. Credit: Historic England

Tony Wilmott, Historic England Senior Archaeologist and project co-director, said: “One of the strengths of this project is that the military area within the fort was excavated extensively with modern techniques in recent decades, so the evidence we’re gathering right now outside the walls can be directly compared.  

"This means that Birdoswald is incredibly well-placed to provide insights into the relationship between civilian and military life on the Roman frontier.

“We were hugely excited by last year’s discovery that intensive domestic and industrial activity took place north of the wall, and the deliberately planned nature of civilian life there. 

"This was no temporary shanty town of camp followers clinging to a fort. This indicates the people had confidence about their security outside the fortifications, with the wall functioning more as a backstop rather than as an active front line for much of its operational life.”

The project focuses on examining houses, communal buildings and workplaces beyond fort walls.

Since the five-year project began in 2021, more than 200 archaeology students will have joined the dig, using the latest high-tech equipment.

The excavation has been ongoing since 2021. Credit: Historic England.

People can go and visit the English Heritage site until 7 July through guided doors.

Work will continue on a well-preserved bathhouse, first discovered in 2021. The area to the west has never before been explored, with data from geophysical surveys hinting at an open area surrounded by structures. It is hoped that this year’s work will provide further clues about its use and significance.

Ian Haynes, Newcastle University Professor of Archaeology and project co-director said: It is a pleasure once again to return to Birdoswald and to work with our Historic England colleagues on this exciting site.  The archaeology Birdoswald always has something surprising to teach us. Our staff and students are in for what will be a career highlight this Summer.”

Michael Williams, English Heritage said: “We are looking forward to running the archaeology tours here once again. These have proved hugely popular in the past and are a must for anyone interested in history, Romans or just want to see how an excavation works.  This year we will also have a small exhibition highlighting some of the finds from recent years and this, together with a wander around the fort, provides a fascinating day out.”

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