Archaeologists baffled by mystifying feature at Hadrian’s Wall: ‘Don’t know why’

Hadrian's Wall: Archaeologists uncover ‘unknown part’

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The Roman Empire’s conquest of Britain began almost 2,000 years ago. It changed the face of the country forever. Roman culture, food, art, as well as the myriad religions that were practiced across the Empire were brought to the island’s shores.

To occupy and cordon off swathes of land the Romans erected forts and walls around Britain, many of which survive today.

One of the most notable pieces is Hadrian’s Wall.

Stretching 73 miles from the banks of the River Tyne near the North Sea, all the way west to the Solway Firth near the Irish Sea, work on the Wall started in 122 AD.

This was nearly 100 years after the Romans first invaded Britain.

People from all over the Empire trickled into the country, some of whom came from as far away as modern-day Iran and Syria.

Soldiers would have completed campaigns in Britain, staying for months or sometimes years.

An old barracks at Hadrian’s Wall where these soldiers once stayed was explored during History Hit’s documentary, ‘Hadrian’s Wall: Building the Wall’.

Frances McIntosh, the Wall’s English Heritage curator, shed light on the mystifying layout of one of the ancient garrisons at the Housesteads site in Northumberland, and revealed how it has baffled researchers.

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Commanders traditionally enjoyed “luxurious quarters” with modern and spacious living areas that allowed for privacy – a sought after commodity in the often cramped conditions.

Everyday soldiers were often forced to sleep eight to a room in cube-shaped spaces.

Yet, in the second half of the Romans’ time in Britain, Ms McIntosh said: “In the fourth century, the soldiers’ barracks were amended and we don’t know if that’s because the treatment was different, maybe families were allowed to move in, but they’re no longer just eight men in a room.

“They’re what are known as ‘chalet barracks’, so they got separated.


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“It’s not one block split into rooms, they’re split into individual buildings.

“There’s actually gaps between each room, each block.

“It’s a really nice example of how much things change in the 300-year period the site was occupied.”

Barracks at South Shields and other locations along the Wall are segmented and small though connected.

But the discovery at Housesteads is unparalleled.

The only explanation researchers have offered thus far is that the Empire simply changed its operation by the time the Housesteads barracks were built.

Although this has left many unsatisfied.

Talking through the setup, Ms McIntosh said: “This one is about the same size, but we just don’t know how many men would be in here and what the layout would be.

“For some reason, they’ve fully separated it, so it’s not just that it’s a wall separating each room, it’s fully separated into an individual building.

“We don’t know why, and Housesteads is only one of the places it’s been found, but we presume it happened at other forts as well, as the garrison of the fort changed and the makeup of the troops changed.”

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