Workers replacing a pipe in the West Road area of Newcastle, England, recently made a surprising discovery: a previously unknown, ten-foot-long section of Hadrian’s Wall, one of the country’s most iconic ancient landmarks.
A team from Northumbrian Water unearthed the partition, which dates back 1,900 years to the heyday of the Roman Empire, after digging 20 inches below one of Newcastle’s busiest roads, reports Josh Halliday for the Guardian. The newly uncovered section features large stones, suggesting it was built in the early days of the wall’s construction; later phases used much smaller stones, writes Flaminia Luck for Chronicle Live.
“Despite the route of Hadrian’s Wall being fairly well documented in this area of the city, it is always exciting when we encounter the wall’s remains and have the opportunity to learn more about this internationally significant site,” says Philippa Hunter of Archaeological Research Services Ltd., which is helping to preserve the find, in a statement. “This is particularly true in this instance where we believe that we uncovered part of the wall’s earliest phase.”
Hadrian’s Wall spanned 73 miles of northern Britain, stretching from Tyneside in the east to Cumbria in the west. Though the wall is the largest surviving archaeological feature from Roman Britain, just 10 percent of it remains visible today, according to Harry Atkins of History Hit. When initially constructed, the wall measured 10 feet wide and around 15 feet tall, researcher Nic Fields told Owen Jarus of Live Science in 2012.
“We have to envisage an area of Britain where there wasn’t all that much stone building, certainly no monumental masonry. So it would have been a totally alien thing,” said archaeologist Miranda Aldhouse-Green in a 2006-07 BBC “Timewatch” documentary. “It would be like a visitation from another world, and people would be gobsmacked by it.”
Roman emperor Hadrian ordered the wall’s construction in 122 C.E. to defend southern Britain from invasion by the “barbarian” Caledonian tribes of the unconquered north. The Picts of what is now southern Scotland posed a particular threat to the Roman province, engaging in guerilla warfare tactics like stealing livestock and capturing enslaved people, reported Carly Silver for Smithsonian magazine in 2017.
One of England’s most popular tourist attractions, the landmark became a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1987. (A new part of another World Heritage Site linked to Hadrian—a breakfast chamber in his villa at Tivoli, near Rome—came to light earlier this year.)
“It is amazing that we have been able to make this brilliant discovery, and we are glad to be working with Archaeological Research Services to make sure that it is properly protected going forward,” says Graeme Ridley, a project manager at Northumbrian Water, in the statement. “This is an incredibly special part of North East heritage and we are honored to be a part of it.”
Northumbrian Water is currently cleaning about five miles of pipelines in the area. The company confirmed in the statement that the route can be diverted to leave a buffer around the excavation area.