Archaeology Awards: The Wall of Gelt and Star Carr

Alex Gervas on two NCL uni projects that won top honours at in archaeology

Alex Gervas
23rd March 2020
The magazine Current Archeology, has recently published the results of the Archeology Awards with Newcastle University involved with the winners of the project for Rescue and Research of the Year. The award winners, voter by the magazine subscribers and the general public, were “Roman Writing on the Wall” and “Life beside the Lake”. 

The Rescue Project of the Year, “Roman Writing in the Wall” is part of the “Written wall of Gelt” archaeological site in Cumbria. The site revolves around inscriptions found during a quarry on Hadrian’s wall. The award was accepted by Jon Allison from Newcastle University. 

Together with Historic England, Newcastle University used cutting-edge technology to recreate 3D models of the inscriptions. To reach the site, archaeologist abseiled nine metres down the rocky wall. 

Hadrian’s wall is approximately 1000km long, and went from one side to another of the island, separating Britain from the Roman Empire. The 50km of stone surrounding the Cumbrian coast was used as a strategic point to control the ships moving across Solway Firth. Investigations on the “Wall of Gelt” began in the 1960s. Still, research was challenged during the 1980s when the path leading to the writings collapsed.  

Since then, these inscriptions from the 3rd century were being damaged by wind and water erosion. The origin of the engravings come from soldiers repairing the 5.5km section of the wall. Within the findings, archaeologist observed capitalised initials, in cursive and “graffiti form”, and ‘doodles’ (including a caricature and phallic imagery).

Engravings were part of the Roman culture. They were used “as religious dedications and tombstones, as records of building work, and as milestones, and also a tradition of inscribing weapons, tools or domestic utensils, ingots of metal and so forth, with the names of the owner.”

Archaeologists believe that this piece of culture is more than just art. The drawings are also evidence of the skill set and the tools of the authors. “The inscriptions are also a good example of rough and unskilled work cut by poorly trained masons, and thus illuminate the contrast between this type of inscription and that produced on many public buildings,” said Historic England.

For the second time, Star Carr’s archaeological site has won Research Project of the Year. The 11.000-year settlement in North Yorkshire has been deemed one of the most relevant discoveries in the UK. 

By the lakeside rests a hunter settlement dates back to 9000-4000 BC, to the Middle Stone Ages. The site has been under work since 1947 when it was discovered by John Moore. Now the archaeological research continues across its 10 sections with Dr. Chantal Conneller from Newcastle University. The project is carried in collaboration by the Universities of York, Chester and Newcastle. 

Star Carr meant a change in attitude towards what experts thought about Mesolithic people. Initially, they were thought to be nomad hunters, who made the lakeside their home after the ice age. However, the objects found in the trenches indicate that they were more than a primitive society. 

The official site reported finding “flint artefacts and waste including scrapers, probably used for cleaning hides of animals, axes for woodworking and ‘microliths’ which were used as the tips of arrows.”

But apart from these, the most shocking findings were headdresses made from deer skulls. Experts believe they might be part of ceremonial rituals and animal sacrifices. 

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