As mentioned in last week’s Archaeology post, several Roman cavalry barracks were found alongside Hadrian’s wall. However, one is particularly special, predating the wall itself, going back to just before Hadrian’s decision to start construction. It was at this cavalry barrack in Vindolanda that one of the most archaeology-rich discoveries was found, packed with information about the life of Roman Calvary men in Britain. The actual site itself was discovered by accident, as with many archaeology sites, and upon excavation, was found to be in perfect condition, with one of the most special artefacts being two incredibly rare cavalry swords, one still fully complete with its wooden scabbard, pommel and hilt, and two wooden toy swords, one with a gemstone in the pommel, showing that there were noblemen’s children living at the site at the time.
There were other weapons too – lances, arrowheads and ballista bolts left on the floors of the barracks, but also bath clogs, combs, stylus pens, shoes, brooches, hair pins and several pieces of beautifully woven cloth, still yet to be tested to find out if it used to be from clothing.
Interestingly, along with the stylus pens (small sharp quill-like objects) there were two wooden writing tablets found. There were quickly hurried to preservation, because they were incredibly fragile, and still have not been deciphered. It is, however, believed that they were some kind of note or letter.
So all these artefacts tell us about life at the barracks of Vindolanda, but why did they survive so well in the ground? Interestingly, it was actually the Romans themselves who caused this – though totally by accident! About 30 years after the barracks were abandoned, around 122, the Romans laid a concrete floor over the whole site, encasing it in an oxygen-free environment, thus preserving the leather, wood and textiles, which otherwise would certainly have rotted away soon after being abandoned. Brilliant!
Join us next time to keep learning about the site!