The site of Vindolanda is an incredibly precious archaeological resource. Over 50 years of excavation have uncovered many of Britain’s top archaeological treasures but many more of its secrets remain hidden and locked below the present ground surface.

Aerial View of ancient monument Vindolanda Roman Fort

Those deposits are preserved in waterlogged or reduced oxygen environments but these are sensitive to environmental changes and could be lost forever if they become affected by rapid changes to the climate. To help the Vindolanda Trust preserve and manage the buried remains its archaeological team, working with world leading ground monitoring specialists at Van Walt, have installed a series of deep probes into the ground to measure environmental conditions.

The buried probes monitor several different variables including water level, water quality, soil moisture and pH. An important parameter is how much water is in the soil at different depths, with potentially sensitive archaeology known to lie between about 0.5 and 4 metres. If the soil dries out completely, or is subjected to natural drying and re-wetting cycles, the sensitive buried environments can rapidly change, leading to decay and destruction of artefacts. In this scenario organic materials - writing tablets, leather, wood and textiles - would rot away before archaeologists can rescue them and even the generally more robust inorganic remains - bone, pottery and metals - would also be badly affected.

All the monitoring probes are linked to a Vindolanda weather station. This meteo station gives us live data on wind, temperature, rain and atmospheric pressure at the site, providing accurate updates every 15 minutes. As the seasons change and the months roll into years, this ground monitoring system will silently and diligently report back to our scientists and archaeologists and provide an unparalleled picture on what is happening below the ground at Vindolanda.

The monitoring probes will allow us to see how much climate change can impact our buried past as well as our present and future. 

The Vindolanda Trust extremely grateful to the work of its partners and teams. Especially Professor Brian Huntley and Dr Jacqui Huntley, Dr Gillian Taylor, Dr Andrew Birley, David van Walt and Vincent van Walt and colleagues at Historic England.

The Van Walt team have also written a blog about the installation.. with an intriguing title!

"Whisky and Paracetamol - When the customer assists in a multi-sensor network installation."