Home World Archaeologists stumped by 'so many remaining mysteries' at ancient Hadrian's Wall site

Archaeologists stumped by 'so many remaining mysteries' at ancient Hadrian's Wall site


Almost 2,000 years ago, the Roman conquest of Britain began. Britain’s political and social landscape was forever changed. The Romans left a continental legacy across swathes of the country.

Much of this came in the form of foodstuffs, culture, music, religion, as well as art.

Some of the most obvious marks left by the Romans are the constructions they erected all over Britain, many of which remain today.

Hadrian’s Wall is perhaps the most famous surviving piece of the Roman Empire in Britain.

Standing at 73 miles long, the Wall spans from the banks of the River Tyne near the North Sea, to the Solway Firth near the Irish Sea.

While Britain became the empire’s northernmost land, its other territories stretched as far south as Egypt, and even reached parts of Syria and, briefly, present-day Iran.

The Romans stayed in Britain for almost 400 years.

Despite thousands of years have since lapsed, mysteries surrounding Hadrian’s Wall continue to perplex archaeologists and researchers.

While the wall kept-in soldiers and Roman civilians from across the empire, as explained during History Hit’s documentary, ‘Hadrian’s Wall: Building the Wall’, it is unclear whether it featured a path for soldiers to walk along the top of.

Many believe it would have acted as a perfect way for Roman soldiers to patrol their fort’s perimeters.

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Talking about how difficult it would have been for Briton invaders to penetrate the Wall, the show’s presenter and researcher, Tristan Hughes, said: “Outsiders would have had to fight their way through the wall itself – but what would that have been like?

“I’m walking along a possible reconstruction of part of Hadrian’s Wall.

“I say possible because there are so many mysteries that still abound surrounding Hadrian’s Wall and its construction.

“One such misery which remains hotly debated is whether Hadrian’s Wall had a walkway.

“There are still many debates surrounding that.

“And another key area is, what did the top of Hadrian’s Wall look like?

“Nowhere along the Wall do we really have a sense of how high Hadrian’s Wall was in its original design.

“We know that it was at least 12 feet high, but beyond that mysteries still abound.”

Elsewhere along the Wall remain unexplained quirks.

At the Housesteads site in Northumberland, the Wall’s English Heritage curator, Frances McIntosh, shed light on the unusual layout of the soldiers’ barracks.

Traditionally, commanders enjoyed more “luxurious quarters” with modern and spacious rooms allowing for privacy across many of the sites along Hadrian’s Wall.

The everyday soldiers, meanwhile, often slept eight to a room in cramped and cube-shaped spaces.

However, in the latter half of the Empire’s time in Britain, Ms McIntosh said: “In the fourth century, the soldiers’ barracks were amended and we don’t know if that’s because the treatment was different, maybe families were allowed to move in, but they’re no longer just eight men in a room.


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“They’re what are known as ‘chalet barracks’, so they got separated.

“It’s not one block split into rooms, they’re split into individual buildings.

“There’s actually gaps between each room, each block.

“It’s a really nice example of how much things change in the 300-year period the site was occupied.”

While the barracks at South Shields and several other locations along the Wall are segmented and small, but connected dormitories, the discovery of sectioned barracks at Housesteads is unparalleled.

Researchers have no idea why this change might have happened other than the evolving nature of the Empire’s operations.

Ms McIntosh continued: “This one is about the same size, but we just don’t know how many men would be in here and what the layout would be.

“For some reason, they’ve fully separated it, so it’s not just that it’s a wall separating each room, it’s fully separated into an individual building.

“We don’t know why, and Housesteads is only one of the places it’s been found, but we presume it happened at other forts as well, as the garrison of the fort changed and the makeup of the troops changed.”

The Romans eventually left Britain in the early 5th century, the exact reason for the departure unknown to this day.


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