Remains Found At Hadrian’s Wall Suggests The Fortress Had A Civilian History

Hadrian’s Wall fortress has been long seen a symbol of Roman military might for centuries now, but recent discoveries made by researchers at the historic site that it might have had a history of domestic residence.

The discovery at the wall were the remains of a woman and a five-year old child, presumably a mother and her offspring, which challenges the common perception that Hadrian’s Wall was a strictly military site. The two civvies were discovered in Roman cremation urns, which will soon be displayed as part of an English Heritage project totaling to £1.8 million.

The English Heritage project is aimed at giving life to the stories of the men, women and children that lived in the Roman Empire’s northwestern frontier. Part of the project will put infant feeding bottles, the remnants of dolls, and other household items uncovered at the site.

The urns were discovered back in 2009 during a cemetery excavation, a rare endeavor, and will be going on display near the discovery site, in Birdoswald Roman Fort, in Cumbria.

Medical analysis of the remains, specifically the dentals, suggest that the child, gender indeterminate, was about five years old, whilst the woman was somewhere in her 20s or 30s. Experts believe that the bodies, believed to come from around the Third Century AD, being in such close proximity to each other was no accident, a sign of their relation to each other. Goods found with the remains in the urn include a section of chainmail from armor, which has the archaeology team wondering why an item usually used to mark the site of a male burial.

Curator for English Heritage’s Roman Collections, Frances McIntosh says that Hadrian’s Wall wasn’t just a military installation, but also a thriving locale of residential life. According to him, even though Roman soldiers weren’t permitted official matrimony until 197AD, it was common for superiors to ignore the regulation, and many families lived there, alongside the civilians that took residence in the fort in order to service the site better.

He says that the discovery of these remains is fascinating, and leaves many questions, including their relations, and the reason as to why the woman was buried with armor. He adds that the biggest thing is that it reminds the world of how rich and diverse the lives of the people were in Hadrian’s Wall.


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