Many miles of Hadrian’s Wall survive beneath turf and rubble, unexplored and often under threat from erosion, people, and animals. A recent excavation at Walltown Crags in Northumberland, undertaken in advance of fixing some of this damage, revealed sections of the Wall that had not been seen for centuries.
The dig took place in October as part of the WallCAP project. Run by Newcastle University and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the project aims to draw local volunteers into investigating and protecting the many Heritage at Risk sites along the Wall.
Two small trenches were opened, running both across and up to the Wall. The first trench ran across an Edwardian ditch and bank, and also revealed one new course of wall, which was found to be sitting directly on weathered bedrock. Below the early 20th-century spoil, large stones from a previous wall collapse were discovered. These earlier excavators had left no mementos of their work, and the trench may simply have been an attempt driven by local curiosity to expose some of the wall-face and create a local attraction.
A second trench was positioned just east of the Edwardian trench, and ran from the south, over the buried curtain wall, and down the north face. This section of the Wall had been hidden for some time, probably for centuries. Excavation revealed up to seven surviving courses of wall, which were almost completely unweathered and clearly constructed without bonding, indicating that it probably remained unaltered from its original construction – an unusual occurrence. The wall was again constructed directly onto bedrock, but here it was pristine and sharp, reflecting the centuries it had remained unexposed to the elements.
In addition to conserving the Wall, the WallCAP project is conducting research, including on the source of the stones used to construct it. During this excavation, it was noted that, while the majority of facing stones were locally quarried sandstone, one south-facing stone glowed an orangey pink, suggesting that it had been hewn from igneous rock, probably from the Cheviot Hills to the north.
To learn more about the WallCAP project, visit the website: https://wallcap.ncl.ac.uk/.
TEXT: Jane Harrison, Rob Collins, and Kathryn Murphy