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Pre-Hadrianic Vindolanda

Vindolanda and its setting


The conquest of northern Britain

Vindolanda and its northern context

Locations around Vindolanda

Pre-Hadrianic Vindolanda

Period 1

Period 2

Period 3

Period 4

Period 5

Forts and military life



Reading the tablets

about this exhibition

View of Vindolanda, looking north-west from Barcombe Hill.

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View of Vindolanda, looking north-west from Barcombe Hill.

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Records of vegetation preserved in ancient pollen sequences, plough marks beneath Hadrian's Wall and the existence of many settlements show that much of the frontier area was being farmed before the arrival of the Romans. Pollen from Vindolanda itself suggests that its surroundings included wet meadow, areas used for pasture and heathland. Tree cover was limited, with alder predominating. There is no currently no sign of pre-Roman occupation, although any evidence will lie deeply stratified below the stone fort. The name 'Vindolanda' might mean 'white' or 'shining' enclosure, in a Celtic language. The place could have been so named by the local population or by the garrison, partly recruited from a Celtic speaking area.

The site lies on a plateau, open to the west but bounded on the remaining three sides by steep banks falling to burns that flow south towards the Tyne. Thus defended, and with an abundant water supply, it was suitable for establishing a fort. Vindolanda also lay c. 17 miles, or a day's march, from Corbridge along the Stanegate, a suitable stopping off point for soldiers on the move. The first timber fort only occupied perhaps half the site, but the subsequent timber forts extended across the whole of the area now covered by the stone fort and vicus. The principal late 20th century excavations of the timber forts, have identified the western ditch of the very first fort and parts of the central buildings and defences of the later timber forts. Further excavation is required to confirm the layout and extent of the site in this period, which continues to offer surprises. In 2000 and 2001 two new buildings were identified that date to this phase, a bathhouse south of the fort and a temple to the west, both on display.

The environs of the fort are likely to be equally rich in archaeology, so far little explored. North of the Stanegate road geophysical survey has revealed the existence of many structures, perhaps tombs, civilian settlement and further military structures, perhaps construction camps, annexes, or even a fort earlier than those documented on the main site, contemporary with Agricola's advance into northern England and Scotland. The tablets show that the fort's environs may have provided clay, timber and stone (155, 156): stone from quarries on Barcombe Hill was certainly exploited for building.

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