Hadrian’s Wall in England Built to Keep Out Barbarian Hordes Has New Enemy: Climate Change

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Nineteen hundred years after it was built to ward off barbaric crowds, archaeologists at Hadrian Wall in northern England are facing a new enemy – climate change, which threatens the vast treasures of its Roman artifacts. Thousands of soldiers and many of their families lived around a 73-mile (118-kilometer) stone wall that crossed the west coast from England to the east coast, marking the boundaries of the Roman Empire and making Britain’s largest Roman archeological feature. The wall was erected in 122 AD during the reign of Emperor Hadrian and marked the boundary between Roman Britannia and invincible Caledonia, helping to keep the barbaric invaders out of the empire.

The Roman soldiers who lived there abandoned not only the wooden structures but also the fascinating vicissitudes of everyday life that allow archaeologists today to reconstruct how they lived in a wind-swept area north of the empire.

It includes the castle of Windolanda, about 33 miles west of the modern-day city of Newcastle upon Tyne, the Roman settlement at the original eastern end of the wall, later renamed Ponce Elias.

“Many of the landscapes on the Hadrian wall are preserved under peat bogs and marshes – very wet, very moist soil that has protected archeology for almost two millennia,” said Andrew Birley, director of excavations and chief executive of the Windolanda Trust. AFP.

“But as global warming occurs, so does climate change,” he added.

The soil heats up faster than the air temperature, which cakes the previously moist soil and allows oxygen to enter through the resulting cracks.

“When that oxygen gets there, things that are really fragile, made of leather, cloth, wood, cracked, rot and get lost forever,” Birley said.

Under threat

Over the years, the dramatic landscape around the wall has yielded stone and wood structures, leather shoes and clothing, tools, weapons and even handwritten wooden tablets, giving insights into what Roman life was like in Britain. Only about a quarter of the Windolanda site has been excavated, and the castle is one of 14 adjacent to the Hadrian wall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987 and one of Britain’s most famous ancient tourist attractions.

“All this, all this masonry, all the land behind me was under the ground. It was down a farmer’s farm 50 years ago, ”Birley said.

“Less than one percent of the Hadrian wall has been archaeologically excavated and much of that landscape is preserved in this wet peat soil environment and is a landscape that is really at risk.”

Behind it are displayed dozens of Roman shoes of all genders, ages and social levels, just a small sample of about 5,500 leather items found so far on the site alone. Thanks to the black, PT clay, many of the artifacts retain the sleek level details.

“They are wonderful because they have completely changed our perception of the Roman Empire’s Roman army. They are replacing it with male defense and running around a lot of women and children,” he said.

“And without these artefacts surviving, we would not have that information and that is material that is at risk due to climate change.”

The race is on

Events are taking place throughout the year to mark the 1,900 years since the construction of the wall began. Birley says the anniversary is an opportunity to make sure how the wall and its artefacts will still be in another 1,900 years. “The Roman army started on one of the largest construction pieces in the whole empire,” he said.

“In this wonderful rural landscape around me, they changed it, building the wall of Hadrian, which is a barrier in the heart of the country.”

Now, instead of defending Roman Britain from unconquered Caledonia to the north, there is a tussle between archaeologists and climate change. “Can we find out what’s going on at these sites? Can we intervene wherever we can to secure the sites? And can we save the content before it’s gone forever?”

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