Roman Fort

Peter McKeague (RCAHMS) – East Dunbartonshire

East Dunbartonshire ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

East Dunbartonshire ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

My name is Peter McKeague and I work in the Data and Recording team in the Survey and Recording group at RCAHMS.  As Data and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) project manager, I am involved in a wide range of projects documenting Scotland’s rich heritage and presenting it online through Canmore. I am interested in how developments in information technology help our public and professional users discover more about the historic environment around them.

In 2008 I was involved in helping colleagues research and prepare maps supporting the successful nomination of the Antonine Wall as part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage Site.


‘To the NE of Glasgow, the Antonine Wall snakes through the modern landscape of Bearsden.  Two short stretches of the wall are visible at New Kilpatrick cemetery and visitors may also explore the remains of the Roman Bath House at Bearsden, part of the Roman fort now buried under houses.’ ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

To the NE of Glasgow, the Antonine Wall snakes through the modern landscape of Bearsden.  Two short stretches of the wall are visible at New Kilpatrick cemetery and visitors may also explore the remains of the Roman Bath House at Bearsden, part of the Roman fort now buried under houses

Built under the orders of the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius in AD 140s, the Antonine Wall formed the north-western frontier of the Roman Empire for a generation. Cutting across Scotland, between the Firth of Forth at Bo’ness and the Clyde at Bowling, the frontier is 37 miles long. The Antonine Wall has a turf-built rampart, in front of which is a flat area, or berm, separating the rampart from a deep ditch with a further mound beyond.  A series of forts occur at intervals along the Wall and those at Rough Castle, Bar Hill and Castle Cary may be visited.  The outline of a fortlet is set out to the west of Kinneil House. Bath houses may be seen at Bar Hill and at Bearsden. About a third of the Antonine Wall is still visible with stretches at Callendar House, Seabegs Wood and  Watling Lodge and by Rough Castle and Castle Cary Roman Forts.

However, I have chosen the two short sections of wall footing on display at New Kilpatrick Cemetery, Bearsden to illustrate the frontier.  Although closely spaced, the two sections mark a change in direction of the wall as it skirts round the contours of the hillside.  The exposed sections show the stone base, on which the rampart was built providing a rare insight into the construction of the rampart. The rampart base consists of carefully dressed kerbstones with rough boulder infill punctuated by stone-lined drainage culverts.  These two short sections present a very different view from the upstanding earthworks surviving elsewhere along the wall.


The stone footings of the Antonine Wall, New Kilpatrick Cemetery, Bearsden, viewed from west. Copyright RCAHMS (SC1340570)

The stone footings of the Antonine Wall, New Kilpatrick Cemetery, Bearsden, viewed from west. Copyright RCAHMS (SC1340570)

Beyond the cemetery wall, the frontier survives as a very slight earthwork and infilled ditch.

Culverts through the base of the wall helped drainage and prevented ponding of water against the rampart. Copyright RCAHMS (SC1340589)

Culverts through the base of the wall helped drainage and prevented ponding of water against the rampart. Copyright RCAHMS (SC1340589)

This is what I’ve chosen for Day of Archaeology, but why not tell us your favourite archaeological sites in Scotland on Twitter using #MyArchaeology.

Archaeology From Indoors – A Day in the Life of a Small Unit

We are a small archaeological unit (C.R Archaeology) based in Bangor, North Wales and because of our small size we often have very varied days! The Day of Archaeology 2012 is no exception with the two of us working on aselection of different tasks throughout the day.

Matt Jones started his day washing out a load of empty beer bottles – not our glass recycling but a lovely assemblage of Victorian bottles found at Benarth Walled Gardens, Conwy. The gardener working there seems to have had a fondness for the local ale and the bottles are all from Conwy and Llandudno breweries.

Once this washing was finished Matt stuck with finds and went to work on his assessment of Roman finds recovered during a 2001 excavation at Segontium, Caernarfon. The Roman Fort has undergone some difficult times recently but luckily Cadw have now stepped in to administer the site. This work is being carried out as part of our commitment to help charities & community groups and is being conducted free of charge.

Whilst Matt had a day of finds Cat Rees had to attend to the much more mundane side of running a small business. The day started with checking the company emails and facebook site, writing a tender and then off to the bank to check that the money from a client had been paid in. That done it was time to process a batch of RAW photograph files into TIFFs so that they could be burnt to disc to accompany a building recording report for submission to Gwynedd Historic Environment Record. Not entirely sure this was what I had in mind when I made the decision to become an archaeologist – bit more Marcus Brody than Indiana Jones!!!

After Cats breakneck start to the day it was time for putting together a projected income for an appointment with the banks small business adviser. Then onto starting a bit of a revamp of the company website and designing some new promotional material. If this wasn’t exciting enough the day ended with the printing out and binding of a set of reports for submission on Monday.

This all sounds a bit dull but it is an important part of what we do – by setting up an independent unit the reality is that we sink or swim based on our own work and the effort we put in. But we have the flexibility to do our own thing and take on jobs simply because they interest us and having control our own time is fantastic. Not everyday is like this – the Day of Archaeology 2012 came at a strange time when we have just finished one project and are starting another on Tuesday so luckily next week will we will be free range rather than battery archaeologists!

Friday in the Office. Jake Streatfeild-James, Field Archaeologist, AOC Archaeology Group – North

I was in to work early this morning.  The sun was out as I headed around the bypass to the office. As soon as the key is in the door it starts to tip down outside, so I’m glad that, whereas I’m usually in the field, today I am helping out the conservation department process a large assemblage of Roman ceramics.  The finds come from Roman fort in central Scotland, near the Antonine Wall. During the last four days I’ve been labelling pot, some of which I remember from last summer’s excavation.

I will have worked for AOC in their Edinburgh office for a year this July, first as a site assistant and now as a field archaeologist.  In my first year I’ve learnt a lot: what it means to do a ‘watching brief,’ what to look for during an evaluation and the art of report writing, even picking up some experience of community archaeology along the way.

Carrying on from where I left off yesterday afternoon, I’m continuing to excavate the material left inside a Roman bowl.  The bowl was lifted from ground in one piece, and was discovered in the backfill of a pit which contained other Roman material. On Roman sites, pots like this often contain human or animal remains- burials or ritual deposits, but in this case there is only the backfill of the pit, suggesting that the bowl had outlived its use and was discarded.

Next there is a collection of Samian, high status pottery from Roman Gaul.  This group of sherds was discovered in a concentrated area of the site, and might make an entire vessel: time to break out the adhesive! This is a first for me and my only comparable experience is gluing a mug back together.  This is a tad more complicated.

It nearly goes back together, and I don’t have any bits left over. The conservators agree it’s a success. Would they lie to protect my feelings?

Finally there’s some preparation to do for a watching brief on Monday morning. My site box, spade, and personal protective equipment all need gathering together and checked before I leave for the weekend.


Hope it doesn’t rain on Monday.

Georgina Brown RCAHMS Day of Archaeology

I am Georgina Brown, a surveyor and cartographer in the Landscape Section at RCAHMS. The site that I have chosen is the archaeological landscape around Inveresk. At this point, I had better admit to a slight bias in choosing this site as Musselburgh is my adopted home town. Very little of the archaeology in this area is actually visible on the ground; most is buried below the modern day land surface and has only been revealed when an excavation has taken place or when it shows up as a cropmark in the fields; however, when you put all the discoveries together, they tell a fascinating story.

Roman remains were first noted at Inveresk in the 1560s but the story of the fort and its environs is still being added to today. Parts of the Roman Fort were excavated in the 1940s and many other structures and artefacts have since been discovered around Inveresk during excavations preceding building work. The remains of houses, streets and wells of the civilian vicus were unearthed at Inveresk Gate, the base of a possible viewing stand for a Roman parade ground was discovered at Lewisvale Park and, close by, altar stones to Mithras and Sol were found during the construction of the cricket pavilion. Most recently, Roman and Iron Age skeletons along with the remains of an enclosure, possibly used for storing military supplies shipped in from the continent, were found at the former Brunton’s Wireworks site. The area’s outlying features – Roman temporary camps and field systems – have been revealed as cropmarks on aerial photographs. Add to this list Mesolithic flints, a 900m long Neolithic cursus, Bronze Age burials, Iron Age house remains and you have a very rich and varied “invisible” archaeological landscape.

Map of Roman Remains at Inveresk

Inveresk Cropmark remains

To have a look at these sites and a map showing where they all lie, try the following links.

Inverest Fort

Roman temporary camps

Westfield Cursus

Altars to Mithras and Sol

Skeletons at the former Brunton’s Wireworks site


Discovering Dumfries and Galloway’s Past

Well, hello from a soggy south-west Scotland. I’m Giles, Development Officer for Discovering Dumfries and Galloway’s Past and I wanted to tell you on Day of Archaeology 2012 about the project and what we are going to be doing over the next week or so…

DDGP is an exciting new community archaeology project based in south-west, providing training in using geophysical survey to help volunteers record, understand and interpret the region’s fascinating archaeology. There’s going to be plenty of opportunity for local people right across the region to get involved in the surveys – it’s a great way to find out more about buried archaeology without having to excavate.

What is geophysics, and what can we find out using it?

Not all archaeology is about excavation – you may have come across ‘geofizz’ on TV’s Time Team where it’s often used to plan where to put the trenches in. Geophysics is a way of mapping buried archaeological deposits – be they ditches, pits or building material – without ever breaking the ground surface.

There are two main techniques for geophysical survey:

Glasgow University archaeologists undertaking resistivity survey

Resistivity: By passing a small electrical current into the ground, and measuring the amount of resistance that results, it is possible to locate buried remains of archaeological interest.

Resistance is related to the amount of moisture in the soil. Around buried walls, for example, the surrounding soil will often be dryer. The current cannot pass so easily through this dry soil, so stonework can often show up as areas of higher resistance. This technique is therefore ideal for locating building walls and foundations.

Glasgow University archaeologists undertaking magnetic survey

Magnetometry:  This technique detects extremely small variations in the earth’s magnetic field, caused when the ground has been disturbed by previous activity. Burning, for instance, will often leave a significant magnetic trace.

Magnetometry is excellent for locating ditches, pits, middens, hearths and kilns – and is great at covering large areas quite quickly.

The great thing about geophysical survey is that the results can be rapidly downloaded on site to a laptop, and even with minimum processing it is possible to define ‘anomalies’ which can represent buried archaeology. For volunteers on the project surveys this is great – they can see the fruits of their labours in the field. We are aiming to get these very quickly into reports which will be uploaded onto our website, to share them with as wide an audience as possible.

Our next survey
It’s all a bit hectic in the office today as we put the finishing touches to our programme for next week’s survey. We’ll be undertaken both magnetic and resistivity survey at the nationally important site of the Roman fort at Birrens. This continues work that the University of Glasgow have been concentrating on – looking in and around Roman military sites in Eastern Dumfriesshire.

Magnetic survey results around Bankhead Roman fort, Dalswinton

This has looked at fabulous sites around Lockerbie, such as the Roman fort at Dalswinton. As you can see this has added loads of detail (as you can see on the right) to both the inside of the fort of Bankhead and the surrounding area – which aerial photographs have shown to be really interesting.

At Birrens Roman fort, near Middlebie, we’ll be focusing on similar things. A group of 6 volunteers will be joining us for 3 days next week to carry out some resistivity survey on the interior – hopefully we’ll get detail of the street pattern, as well as an idea of how the buildings – both the barrack blocks and administrative headquarters of the fort – were laid out.

You can find out more about Birrens fort – known to the Romans as blatobulgium (literally the ‘flour sack’) here.

We’re having an Open Day on Saturday July 7th – it’ll be a great chance to show the public the results as well as an opportunity to show just how geophysics ‘works’ – including the amount of walking in straight lines that’s involved! The response has been fantastic locally – so here’s hoping for some sunshine!

I hope this has wet your apetite both for ‘geophysics’ and the project – please see our website to keep up to date with the latest –

The project is jointly funded by the Scottish Government and The European Community, Dumfries and Galloway Leader 2007-2013; The Crichton Foundation and The University of Glasgow.

Rebecca Jones RCAHMS Day of Archaeology

My name is Rebecca Jones and I’m a Romanist. My regular work at RCAHMS is as an Operational Manager in the Survey and Recording group where I am responsible for Data and Recording, overseeing a range of projects relating to the data in our online database, Canmore, and its mapping application, and working in partnership across the sector to deliver information to the public. Information Management is one strand of my research interests but another is very firmly placed in Roman military archaeology.

View of the eastern defences of the Roman fort at Ardoch (©Rebecca Jones 2008)

Scotland is one of the best places in the Roman empire to study the archaeology of the Roman army. Repeated attempts to conquer Scotland left a legacy of remains that are the envy of the rest of the Roman world. One of the places where this is most evident is the Roman fort of Ardoch in Perthshire.  This is the location of one of the best earthwork Roman forts in Britain, and the plain to the north of the fort was a marshalling ground for large armies on campaign through Perthshire to the north.

The fort itself was occupied several times leaving a legacy of multiple ditches still surviving as earthworks. I have accompanied several tours of the site and visitors never fail to be impressed by the scale of the defences. Some of these were excavated in the late 19th century by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and some of the photographs from those excavations are amongst the most fascinating early excavation shots held in the Collections at RCAHMS.

But not only is the fort an amazing site. To the north lie at least five marching camps. These were temporary structures occupied by invading armies who were housed in rows upon rows of leather tents. We are fortunate that they built ramparts and ditches around the perimeter of their encampments, for it is these that leave visible archaeological remains. Imagine a field of tents from T in the Park or Glastonbury: after the weekend is over and the tents have gone – what have you left? No doubt a sea of litter but the Roman’s did not live in our disposable culture. Once the litter is cleared you probably have a muddy field. But then six months later? Is there any evidence that those tents were there? But if a regular perimeter rampart and ditch with particular rounded corners and entrance protection is built, then that leaves an archaeological footprint that we can detect as Roman. The majority of the camps at Ardoch have been levelled through centuries of ploughing and only the perimeter ditch can be seen from the air through differential cropmarkings in dry summers, although stretches of three still survive as upstanding earthworks.

Rebecca Jones explaining the camps at Ardoch

A handful of other camps in Scotland have revealed internal rubbish pits and ovens through aerial and geophysical survey and excavation but for most camps, it is the perimeter which we can identify. The camps at Ardoch witnessed one of the largest Roman forces that ever took to the field in Britain, with the largest camp enclosing over 54 hectares / 130 acres.

It’s this combined evidence of the transient Roman army plus the troops stationed in the fort here for several years, that make these seemingly peaceful fields in Perthshire so fascinating.

New Roman discoveries in the offing

My name is Martin Tuck, a Project Officer with GGAT. My role alternates between fieldwork and  office based report writing. At the moment I am engaged on the preparation of an archaeological excavation design, including Scheduled Monument Consent from Cadw, for additional work relating to the site of a Roman fort in Neath, where the Trust carried out an archaeological excavation during 2010, which continued through to the early part of 2011. The  Roman remains discovered related to a 1st century Roman fort, which included defensive ditches and associated rampart, cooking areas and an internal circuit road.  The forthcoming works are likely to reveal details of part of the barracks.