Moles and archaeologists work together to study Roman fort!
Altogether Archaeology volunteers have been developing a new archaeological survey technique at Whitley Castle (Epiacum) Roman fort near Alston – surveying molehills! This work is done in partnership with Epiacum Heritage Ltd (www.epiacumheritage.org) which plays the lead role in the management of the site, working in close collaboration with the local community. In 2013, the Epiacum molehill survey was featured on national TV and radio: a live broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today Programme’ was followed by a piece on the ‘One Show’ on BBC1.
A well-preserved Roman fort
Epiacum (Whitley Castle) is one of the least known, but best preserved, Roman forts in Britain. Recent survey work by English Heritage, as part of the Alston Moor Miner-Farmer project, demonstrates that it survives within a complex multi-period archaeological landscape that offers huge potential for exciting future discoveries. The fort itself was probably built in the early second century at about the same time as Hadrian’s Wall. It was garrisoned through until about AD 400. It lies on the Maiden Way, the Roman road from Kirby Thore to Carvoran on Hadrian’s Wall, and was almost certainly linked in some way to Roman lead and silver mining.
Moles do the digging
The fort is a scheduled ancient monument, so it is illegal to disturb the ground here without special consent. However, moles are not subject to scheduled monument legislation, and they continue to dig around inside the fort disturbing archaeological deposits and bringing pieces of pottery and other finds to the surface where they can be picked up from molehills. Ideally, the moles would be removed from the site, but this is not currently a feasible option. Consequently the Altogether Archaeology volunteers decided to work with the moles to carry out an investigation of the fort. Using canes stuck in the ground, the fort was divided up into a grid of 10×10 metre squares, and the molehills within each square were sieved and all finds retained and accurately plotted on a large-scale plan. The finds will now be analysed and it will be interesting to see what they tell us about life in the fort throughout the Roman occupation. It is hoped to repeat the survey each spring, and that all the finds will eventually be displayed locally.
IMPORTANT: If visiting Whitley Castle please do not pick up any objects or otherwise disturb the ground as to do so is strictly illegal. If you notice any finds lying on the ground surface at any ancient monument in the North Pennines please report them as soon as possible to the AONB’s Historic Environment Officer.
When analysis of the finds is complete, an illustrated report will be produced and will be available for download here.
For further information about this work, or any other aspect of the Altogether Archaeology project, please contact the Project Manager, Paul Frodsham: firstname.lastname@example.org