Construction of Hadrian’s Wall began in 122 AD in what is now northern England, and the wall was used to denote the northernmost limit of the Roman Empire. As the ancient Romans expanded, they built the Antonine Wall around 20 years later in what is now central Scotland. It was a brief expansion, however, and the dividing line eventually became Hadrian’s Wall again.
Most research regarding this region has focused on the Roman side of history to learn more about their roads, forts, camps, and the iconic walls they used in their quest to control the northern Great Britain. -Brittany.
Manuel Fernández-Götz, Head of the Department of Archeology at the School of History, Classics and Archeology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, wants to discover the other side of history: the impact of Roman rule over the lives of Britain’s native Iron Age communities.
“It is one of the most exciting regions of the Empire, as it represented its northernmost frontier, and also because Scotland was one of the few areas in Western Europe on which the Roman army never managed to establish full control,” said study author Fernández. -Götz by e-mail.
“It is therefore an excellent case study for analyzing the impact of imperial powers on societies on the fringes of their political borders – a theme that is also relevant for later periods in history.”
He is leading a project called “Beyond Walls: Reassessing Iron Age and Roman Encounters in Northern Britain”, which will explore an area of Durham stretching to the southern Scottish Highlands until August 2024. The project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust British and started in September. 2021.
The first phase of research focused on exploring the 579 square miles (1,500 square kilometres) around Burnswark Hill fort in south-west Scotland, where the Roman legions concentrated their efforts as the he Roman Empire was pushing to expand northward.
This site is home to the largest concentration of Roman projectiles found in Britain, a testament to the firepower these legions carried with them. For centuries, northern Britain was a “fluctuating frontier zone characterized by dynamic patterns of confrontation and exchange between Iron Age communities and the Roman state”, write the authors in the ‘study.
Although written sources from this period are scarce, the landscape retains human imprints which may provide further detail.
Fernández-Götz and a team of archaeologists studied lidar data from the area. Lidar, or light and detection ranging, uses lasers to capture an area in 3D. The lidar data revealed 134 previously unrecorded colonies, despite the fact that this area has been well-studied in the past.
Lidar essentially reveals sites in a landscape that could be easily overlooked if you were to survey it from the ground or from the air, Fernández-Götz said.
“This is an area where new technologies and new ways of looking are really making a difference, revealing a great deal of previously unknown information,” he said.
This brings the total number of Iron Age settlements in the region to 704. Many of these newly discovered sites are small farms. Structures – not just the fortifications of the rich and powerful – were essential to how these Iron Age people lived.
“In this way, they help us build a picture of how the mass of the population lived their lives – how close their nearest neighbors were and how they may have used the landscape for agriculture and grazing animals,” said Fernández-Götz.
While it is clear that there was considerable conflict between the local population and the Roman army, it is possible that they also experienced moments of exchange and collaboration “as local farmers connected to the big logistical supply lines that fed the Roman army, for example,” he said.
The location of the sites indicates that there was an organizational pattern behind when and where these indigenous communities settled, the researchers said.
“The important thing about finding many previously unknown sites is that they help us reconstruct settlement patterns,” said study co-author Dave Cowley, survey program manager. aerials to Historic Environment Scotland, in a statement. “Individually they are very routine, but cumulatively they help us understand the landscape in which the indigenous population lived.”
As archaeologists continue their research, they will revisit some of the notable discoveries made so far using geophysical tools and radiocarbon dating to better understand these settlements and the people who built them. Their findings could paint a picture of what life was like before, during and after the Roman occupation – and how much the imperialists disrupted the lives of local communities.