Aerial survey has told us an awful lot about the campaigns of the Romans north of Hadrian’s Wall. Photographs that are taken from airplanes can show us differential things in the summer months. They show us aspects of the campaigns of the Roman army that are invisible to the eye when you’re standing on the ground. But crops grow differently over the features in the summer months, and buried ditches will give us deeper crop growth, more moisture, meaning the crops grow taller, and they change colour at different times.
And it is these differences that we can pick up from the photographs that we take that tell us more about the activities of the Romans in Scotland, and in all areas north of Hadrian’s Wall. Here, we’ve got the fort at Newstead, which is on the A68 Dere Street coming into Scotland. We’ve got the Trimontium Hills– the Eildon Hills here. We’ve got a Roman fort here, which you can really only see properly in the summer months, and is surrounded by a succession of marching camps.
The fort was occupied during different campaigns of the Romans in Scotland, as were the camps, and we’ve got a character of aspects of the Roman invasions coming through in just this one site through this bend in the river Tweed. Here, we’ve got the remains of a Roman camp in Perthshire in Scotland, and you’ve got darker features here, which is the ditch that would’ve gone around the boundary demarcating the outside of the camp here. And you can see specific aspects here, which are the remains of gateways, and these are particular types of Roman entrances that they built on these camps.
And you’ve got to imagine inside here rows upon rows of leather tents, and here you can see a whole succession of little pits that are in a line. And what you would have had is a row of tents running down here, and these would have been ovens for cooking. But also, pits for rubbish disposal, and potentially toilets for the Romans to dispose of everything. And this would have been occupied by Roman soldiers for a night, a few nights, maybe a week or more, but for a very short period while they’re campaigning in Scotland.
Dr Rebecca Jones is Head of Archaeology Strategy at Historic Scotland, and a Newcastle University graduate. She is a specialist in aerial photography and Roman camps. Her book, (2012) Roman Camps in Britain, published by Amberly (ISBN 1848686889), is recommended for anyone trying to understand these extraordinary testimonies to Rome’s campaigns in northern Britain.
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