How did the garrisons at Vindolanda access and harness the power of fresh running water? We can suppose that water from the sky, in the form of the good old Northumbrian rain, hardly ever went amiss at Roman Vindolanda. However, many have wondered if the marvels of hydraulic engineering witnessed in the continent made it all the way to the northern frontier.

One of the key discoveries of 2019 hints at the fact that, at least during certain phases of occupation, they did! While digging outside the boundaries of the last stone fort at Vindolanda, in the oxygen free layers of the defensive ditches, archaeologists and volunteers uncovered an amazing example of wooden water pipe.

The pipe was made of turned and hollowed out oak, with two rectangular oak blocks working as junctures between the pipe and the rest of the aqueduct system. The pipe’s considerable weight, and the fact that its tapering ends were still stuck in the blocks, made it very difficult to excavate. However, the extraction was successful, and the pipe and blocks are now in the capable hands of the Vindolanda curatorial team. We are very excited by the material the 2019 pipe is made of. Our pipes are usually made of alder, which is a lighter, softer wood. Oak can be very strong and conserve in much better conditions.

In the Vindolanda museum, in the new Wooden Underworld gallery, you will find a display of some of our other water pipes which were made from alder.