The biggest archaeological dig on Hadrian’s Wall since the 1990s is underway, with experts hoping it will reveal more secrets about life on at the northern edge of the Roman Empire.
Historic England and Newcastle University are running a five-year excavation programme at the Birdoswald fort, Cumbria, which is part of the Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site.
The current project is examining houses, communal buildings and workplaces beyond the fort walls – giving researchers a glimpse of life on the ancient frontier.
Since the five-year project began in 2021, more than 200 archaeology students have joined the dig, using the state-of-the-art technology.
To the east, work will continue on a well-preserved bathhouse, first discovered in 2021.
The area to the west has never been explored, with data from geophysical surveys hinting there was once an open area surrounded by structures.
It is hoped the summer’s work will provide more answers.
To the north, a large expanse will also be systematically examined.
Findings to date suggest that the settlement beyond the fort walls was carefully planned, and that specific activities related to everyday life took place in designated zones.
Rather than being a shanty town on the edge of the fort, experts believe the settlement outside the wall shows people had confidence in their security living beside the fortifications.
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.”
Ian Haynes, Newcastle University professor of archaeology and project co-director said: “The archaeology (at) Birdoswald always has something surprising to teach us. Our staff and students are in for what will be a career highlight this summer.”
Visitors to the English Heritage site of Birdoswald are able to view ongoing excavation until July 7 by booking free guided tours.