Wall Mile 8

Wall Mile 8 [HB 162]

There is not much to see in this coming Wall Mile, which chiefly requires us to negotiate our way across the junction cautiously and end up making our way westwards, heading up the ramp leading off the southern carriageway of the A69: the Military Road is now joining the line of the curtain wall, rather than following the ditch.

We must perforce cross the road very carefully (traffic whips round off the roundabout extremely quickly) following the road sign pointing to Blucher. Stay on the southern pavement once on the western side of the roundabout. We now have a housing estate to our left that soon gives way to open fields and we gradually swing back onto the line of the curtain wall.

This huge grade separated junction and the insertion of the A69 dual carriageway destroyed over 200m of the curtain wall and ditch. Where is the detailed publication of the intensive archaeological excavations undertaken to record it? You may well ask. They never happened. Compare and contrast the more recent attitude, when the Western Bypass was inserted and the Wall studied in some detail over a much shorter length.

Protection of the archaeology of the Wall has increased substantially since the late 1960s. There are two noteworthy (and teasingly euphemistic) doctrines that are nowadays applied: Preservation In Situ and Preservation by Record. PiS means leaving the archaeology in the ground on the assumption that this offers the best protection for it (not always true, especially in the proximity of rabbits). PbR means it is physically removed archaeologically but that the records kept of its systematic destruction (e.g. scale drawings, photographs, and textual descriptions) should enable its virtual reconstruction.

Before we reach the upcoming terrace of houses, with the fields still to the south of us, we reach the site of Milecastle 9, on a corner near a park bench and a flowerbed.

Milecastle 9 (Chapel House) [HB 162–4; haiku]

Site of Milecastle 8 from the air

Site of Milecastle 8 from the air

A special milecastle. ‘Why is that?’ you may justifiably ask. Well, this is the one Eric Birley was digging when Chesterholm (Vindolanda) was put up for auction and he decided to buy it. This long-axis milecastle was excavated in 1929, 1951, and 2000, when details of an internal building were noted, whilst outside the south wall, three skeletons (one of them headless) were found. They were thought to be Roman or post-Roman, but it is interesting to note that there was a curious trend in headless burials from the late 3rd century AD onwards which has caused much speculation amongst scholars (executions and barbarian beheadings being invoked). Some of the stones of the milecastle itself were marked with Roman numerals and it is thought this may relate to the way in which they were quarried.