PRESS RELEASE - Earliest known wooden toilet seat discovered at Vindolanda

Vindolanda Trust - Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Finding something that you can relate to is always a special moment on an archaeological dig. At Vindolanda this is a common occurrence, a site where the special qualities lie not only in the discovery of gold and silver or artefacts which relate to the military might of the Roman Army but also of everyday ordinary items which nearly 2000 years later become extraordinary to the modern day visitors, volunteers and archaeologists alike. Personal letters, worn shoes, baby booties, socks, combs, jewellery, tools and textiles are just some of the items preserved in a remarkable condition that provide you with a unique window into the lives of people stationed at this most northern outpost of the Roman Empire.   


Now archaeologists have another piece of this very personal human hoard at Vindolanda, a wooden latrine (toilet) seat, was discovered by the Director of Excavations, Dr Andrew Birley, in the deep pre-hadrianic trenches at Vindolanda. There are many examples of stone and marble seat benches from across the Roman Empire but this is believed to be the only surviving wooden seat, almost perfectly preserved in the anaerobic, oxygen free, conditions which exist at Vindolanda. Although this wooden seat is not as grand as a marble or stone toilet bench, it would be far more comfortable to sit on in the cool climate of Britannia.  The seat has clearly been well used and was decommissioned from its original purpose and discarded amongst the rubbish left behind in the final fort at the site before the construction of Hadrian’s Wall started in the early second century.


Dr Birley commented on the find ‘there is always great excitement when you find something that has never been seen before and this discovery is wonderful....’ Andrew went on to say ‘We know a lot about Roman toilets from previous excavations at the site and from the wider Roman world which have included many fabulous Roman latrines but never before have we had the pleasure of seeing a surviving and perfectly preserved wooden seat. As soon as we started to uncover it there was no doubt at all on what we had found. It is made from a very well worked piece of wood and looks pretty comfortable. Now we need to find the toilet that went with it as Roman loos are fascinating places to excavate - their drains often contain astonishing artefacts. Let’s face it, if you drop something down a Roman latrine you are unlikely to attempt to fish it out unless you are pretty brave or foolhardy’.  Discoveries at Vindolanda from latrines have included a baby boot, coins, a betrothal medallion, and a bronze lamp.



Archaeologists now need to find a ‘spongia’ the natural sponge on a stick which Romans used instead of toilet paper, and with over 100 years of archaeology remaining and the unique conditions for the preservation of such organic finds a discovery may just be possible.



The wooden seat will take up to 18 months to conserve and once this process is complete the artefact will be put on display at the Roman Army Museum.






Photos attached:  Latrine (toilet) seat.

For further information please contact:

Sonya Galloway, The Vindolanda Trust, 01434 344277 


Notes to editors:

Vindolanda Charitable Trust

The Vindolanda Trust is an independent archaeological charitable trust, founded in 1970. The Vindolanda Trust does not receive any annual funding and relies on the visitors to both Roman Vindolanda and the Roman Army Museum to fund its archaeological, conservation and education work.

Roman Vindolanda and the Roman Army Museum are both situated in the heart of the Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site, Roman Vindolanda is just to the north of the village of Bardon Mill and the Roman Army Museum is next to the village of Greenhead.

Roman Vindolanda is regarded as the most exciting archaeological site in Europe with its wealth of archaeological remains and ongoing excavations. Vindolanda is home to the world famous Vindolanda Writing Tablets, voted as Britain’s top archaeological treasure by the British Museum, these thin hand written wooden notes have revealed an astonishing amount of first hand information from the people who lived at this site 2000 years ago.

For further information visit or telephone 01434 344 277



Vindolanda Trust - Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Eleven sites across Hadrian's Wall Country will stage an exhibition featuring 11 prints and photographs from the National Portrait Gallery this autumn.

'Wall Face: Portraits of people who revealed Hadrian's Wall' is being organised jointly through a partnership of heritage organisations across the Wall - Vindolanda Trust, English Heritage, National Trust, Senhouse Museum Trust, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery Trust and the Hadrian's Wall Trust.

Nigel Mills, the exhibition project director for the Hadrian's Wall Trust said: "We're celebrating the pioneering archaeologists and antiquarians who recorded, protected and promoted understanding of the Hadrian's Wall frontier.

"Each portrait will be displayed with the life story and achievements of the individual at the site, or sites, associated with their important work. 

"Without these people much of what we see now would have been lost. Their characters, activities and achievements have earned them each a place in the archaeology 'hall of fame'.

"Archaeologists today use different methods to investigate and conserve sites across the Wall but still refer to their work.

"With this exhibition we're aiming to encourage people to visit the 11 main sites and museums across the 150 mile Roman frontier zone, which all have something different to offer.  The more sites you visit, the more you find out."

The exhibition and accompanying information leaflet, mobile app, talks and events at the sites are being funded by a £124,000 grant from Arts Council England through its Renaissance strategic support programme.

Jane Tarr, Director North, Arts Council England said: "I'm delighted that the Arts Council is supporting this project through our Renaissance strategic support programme, particularly as it is the first time that all the museums and heritage sites across the Wall have collaborated in this way.

"It is an excellent opportunity for visitors and people living along the Wall to view art from the National Portrait Gallery as well as enjoying local exhibitions and engaging with the learning programme."

Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, said: "We are delighted that a selection of the National Portrait Gallery's collection of portraits of archaeologists and antiquarians will be displayed at some of the very sites with which their pioneering work was associated. We are grateful to the Hadrian's Wall Trust, Arts Council England and all the partner organisations for helping to make this happen."   

Each of the sites, listed east to west, will feature one of the pioneering archaeologists and antiquarians from 21 August to 9 November:

Arbeia Roman Fort and Museum, South Shields – Sir Mortimer Wheeler (1890 – 1976)
Segedunum Roman Fort, Baths and Museum, Wallsend – John Hodgson (1779 - 1845)
Great North Museum, Newcastle – John Leland (1503 – c1552)
Corbridge Roman Town – Sir Ian Richmond (1902 - 1965)
Chesters Roman Fort – Sir Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis Budge (1857 - 1934)
Housesteads - Roman Fort Museum, William Hutton (1723 - 1815), Visitor Centre John Clayton (1792–1890)
Roman Vindolanda – William Camden (1551 - 1623)
Roman Army Museum, Greenhead – Sir Mortimer Wheeler (1890 – 1976)
Birdoswald Roman Fort – William Stukeley (1687 - 1765)
Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle – Robin George Collingwood (1889 - 1943)
Senhouse Roman Museum, Maryport – William Camden (1551 - 1623)

-       The Hadrian’s Wall Country Trails app provides more information about the Wall Face exhibition and characters in the portraits and where to see them. Download the app from iTunes here or Google Play here.


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"Very interesting and informative. Saw a spade excavated - very exciting!" SH, England - Vindolanda