Climate Change damaging peat threatens discovery of Vindolanda Roman artefacts

Nineteen hundred years after the construction of Hadrian’s Wall began, the experts working in the area now fear climate change is not only risking taking away our future, but it could also take away the artefacts of our past.

Scientists and archeologists fear much of the North East's buried heritage could be lost, as the peat bogs protecting and preserving them dry out.

Many historic sites, including those along Hadrian's wall like Vindolanda, could be affected if oxygen levels rise in the soil, allowing preserved artefacts to rot away.

Director of Excavations at Vindolanda, Dr Andrew Birley told ITV News Tyne Tees the climate change is to blame.

He said: "If that peat desiccates it starts to dry out. It drops or it gets washed away and the archeology beneath or within the peat becomes exposed and then really vulnerable.

"Its vulnerable to modern agricultural practices. It’s vulnerable to weathering, such as the wind and the rain, but also of course, anything that’s organic and preserved in that landscape will probably disappear."

Roman shoes discovered at Vindolanda Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees

Many of the Roman Empire treasures discovered in the UK have been located in Northumberland.

At the Vindolanda museum they have many artefacts, including old leather shoes, wooden swords and even a pair of leather boxing gloves which were discovered in the peat in 2017.

Deputy Director of Excavations, Marta Alberti, said: "We use an interesting technique for excavation.

"We cut blocks of these peat like material and as they break open these beautiful objects appear just on the fault lines, so it’s very exciting, very smelly, very delicate, it can be very tense, but overall it’s extremely rewarding.

"Without these peat like layers we wouldn’t be understanding as much about Vindolanda as we currently do."

Peat bog Credit: ITV News

Scientists at Teesside University are analysing the Northumberland peat to see exactly why it is drying out.

Dr Gillian Taylor said: "We’ve taken those bore holes back to the laboratory at the National Horizons Centre and that gives us a chance to really look at the chemical and microbial signatures.

"It’s very carbon rich and also it’s very low oxygen content, what we term an anoxic environment. What we’re seeing is a drying of that peat, introduction of oxygen and thus, damaging to artefacts which may still be buried in the ground."