The excavation season hasn’t begun yet but the Vindolanda Roman fort has launched the 1900th anniversary year of Hadrian’s Wall with a surprise archaeological find: a stone altar. It wasn’t even at the excavation site. The altar was found in Vindolanda Stream next to the site’s museum when staff were cleaning a tree felled by violent storms the weekend before last.
The altar is damaged, broken and heavily worn from exposure to the water and harsh elements of Northumberland. There is no visible inscription to identify the dedication, but archaeologists believe it dates to the 3rd century.
Andrew Birley said: “Originally, it would have stood well over a metre, but the surviving part is around 40 – 45cm tall. Looking at it, it’s most likely from the 3rd century – most were made in this buff, grey sandstone. It’s probably a local stone.”
“It’s another piece of the jigsaw. It’s probably part of the edge because it’s smashed! But if other pieces come up, maybe we’ll be able to cobble it together. All the finds are important, even if this one doesn’t tell us a huge amount because there’s no writing on it. However, it’s part of the rich fabric of the site.
More parts of it may turn up as the water levels drop, so Vindolanda staff and volunteers will do a follow-up search around the find site when the weather permits.
Vindolanda has an exciting year planned to celebrate the 1900 years since construction of Hadrian’s Wall began, as are other communities along the wall. Historic England has funded 10 bursaries for students between ages 16 and 19 who attend school near the wall to join in the summer dig at Vindolanda. If you are lucky enough to be that young and are attending or have recently attended one of three high schools in the Tyne Valley, apply here by February 18th. Learn more about events and activities that will be held this year at sites across Hadrian’s Wall on the website of the 1900 Festival. Also behold the awesome cake custom made by a local baker to celebrate the launch of the festival. Happy 1900th birthday, Hadrian’s Wall!