Reading Hadrian’s Wall: 6

6. Rushworth and Croom Segedunum Oxbow

If you are interested in Hadrian’s Wall but have never read an excavation report, you need to do so at least once. Having myself started out co-writing one (Corbridge) and contributing to a second (Housesteads), I vowed never to become involved with the third of the then major English Heritage Wall backlog sites: Wallsend. Reader, I must tell you I failed. I am one of the contributors to Segedunum (I was self-employed by then and needed the money, so sold my soul to the devil and wrote-up the NW corner). An excavation report is a technical report and, as such, is a dance to a particular tune which has to be done in a certain way in order to accomplish its aim: present facts. There must be a structural description (‘layer 2678, sitting over 2679 and butting against 2433, was a maroon loamy sand containing flecks of charcoal and well-preserved fingernail clippings…’ and so on and so forth), specialist reports on the various categories of finds, and then – if you’re very lucky – a guess (or as we call it in the trade ‘perceptive synthesis’) of what all this gobbledygook tells us about the site. It might even have an index, but let’s not get too ambitious here.

Excavation reports are nearly always laughably expensive when they first appear, so here’s a hint. Either get it for free (because you contributed to it or, better still, know some juicy Damoclean tidbit you can hold over the excavator’s head) or wait until it is remaindered by the publisher when it reaches the b*gg*r-this-for-a-game-of-soldiers point of its life and they decide to cut their (inevitable) losses. Few publishers ever have the bright idea of selling them cheap from the start (the Carlisle Millennium reports being a notable exception).

If nothing else, excavation reports are a) A4 in size, b) difficult to read cover-to-cover, and c) truly superb at weighting down the lid of your scanner when that awkward book just won’t sit flat without breaking the spine). If the hardback is too pricey for you, there are ebooks available. Amazon  Hive

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