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Skip to 0 minutes and 9 seconds So I’m standing here at the vicus or extra-mural settlement of Vindolanda. And just like South Shields, the fort wall and gateway are right behind me here, mapping out two potential different uses of space. But was the fort wall really a great divide? Was there really a huge difference between the people who lived and had their daily lives in the town out here, or the people who lived and worked inside the fort? Can we really divide the community so cleanly between one space and another? Or was it all one mixed community– everybody knitted together– the military community personified, really.

Skip to 0 minutes and 41 seconds And the only way to answer that sort of question is to look at the material culture– the artefacts and the spaces in which they come from– buildings like the one I’m standing in– and say, how is this space used, and by whom? And when we do that, when we look at the data– the actual archaeology on the ground, the artefacts, material culture– we get quite a surprise– a lovely surprise. Ironically, we find more evidence for soldiers in the town in terms of their military kit weapons– belts, buckles– than we do inside the walls of the fort very often. And in the town, we get a lot of evidence for women and children.

Skip to 1 minute and 12 seconds But of course we also get a lot of evidence for women and children in the fort, too. So artifactually, it would appear that there is no great divide– no great difference– between the two spaces. So was there really ever a great divide? What it as great as perhaps it could have been portrayed?

The fort wall: a great divide?

Over several years of intense excavations at Vindolanda, Dr Andrew Birley has examined the distribution of finds both within the Severan period fort (the fort used in the early third century) and in the area beyond its walls.

Studying the distribution of finds is not as straightforward as it might first appear. It is not enough simply to note where an object was found.

Archaeologists have to take into account ‘site formation processes’, the process by which sites are made. The sites we investigate are not as they would have appeared nearly two millennia ago. Understanding their evolution is a vital part of archaeological investigation.

A whole range of factors, some resulting from human activity, others resulting from natural processes, will transform or destroy the objects deposited by their original users and often move them from place to place. We would not (normally!) expect to live amongst the discarded items of our daily lives, and the people of the Wall would not have done so either. Complex systems of waste disposal were used, and we need to understand how they operated.

Taking all these factors into account Andrew has been able to reach some interesting conclusions about life beyond the fort gates. In this video he shows us that many types of activity were not limited to the interior of the fort, or to the area of the extra-mural settlement, but were found in both. The fort wall need not therefore have operated as the great divide many have imagined.

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Hadrian's Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier

Newcastle University

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