Research and Excavations
The first serious attempt to explain the form and function of Hadrian’s Wall was by the Elizabethan antiquarian, William Camden, in Britannia (1600). Further descriptions were compiled in the 18th century, the most notable of which was by Revd John Horsley in Britannia Romana (17xx). Antiquarian’s also noted inscribed stones originating from the Wall which were in private collections, at the sites or re-used in later buildings.
The mid-nineteenth century saw the start of excavations by John Collingwood Bruce, at the same time as John Clayton acquired substantial lengths of the Wall and Housesteads Roman Fort, Chesters Roman Fort, Carrawburgh and Great Chesters. A further campaign of excavation started in the 1890’s at Great Chesters and adjacent lengths of Wall and at Housesteads fort under R C Bosanquet. Further campaigns of research excavations took place between the wars and after the Second World War. Extensive excavations have been carried out at Roman Vindolanda, Housesteads Roman Fort, Birdoswald Roman Fort, Segedunum Roman Fort, Baths & Museum and Arbeia Roman Fort & Museum.
Excavations at Roman Vindolanda and Arbeia Roman Fort are ongoing. Much has also been learned about Hadrian’s Wall from excavations carried out in advance of development. Brief details of the results of excavations are given each year in Britannia, published by Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies. Since the mid 1990’s much information, particularly on civil settlements, has been gathered from geophysical surveys at Birdoswald Roman Fort, Halton Chesters, Castlesteads, Burgh by Sands and Maryport. In the 1980’s the former Royal Commission for Historic Monuments of England carried out a detailed field survey of the Wall corridor and English Heritage’s National Mapping Programme is currently transposing aerial photographs onto digital mapping of Hadrian’s Wall.
Despite four centuries of research, there is much that is not known about Hadrian’s Wall. Excavations before the 1970’s tended to be small scale and carried out with specific questions in mind. Excavations tended to focus on the military aspects of the Wall and research focused on such questions as the units that served on the Wall and which forts they served in. Very little in comparison is known about the civil settlements and the impact of the Romans in the environs of the Wall. Resources for excavation and research are limited and a research framework is being developed for the WHS, assessing firstly what is known and where the gaps are, deciding where the potential exists to fill the gaps and prioritise, through discussion among the archaeological community, how resources should be best directed in the future.