Release date 4th July 2023

Excitement builds as new archaeological dig commences at Roman Magna, Hadrian’s Wall.

The modern excavations started at the Roman site of Magna on the 3rd of July, the beginning of a new and substantial five-year archaeological and environmental project for Hadrian’s Wall. The projects’ goal is to achieve a better understanding the continuing impact of climate change on the buried archaeology of the Roman frontier at Magna. This ground-breaking research at a site which has not been the subject of modern excavation before has been supported with a £1.625m grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The Vindolanda Trust expanded its archaeological team to undertake the research and the focus is to explore how the ancient landscape has changed through two millennia of use so that it may be continued to be preserved for future generations.

Dr Andrew Birley, the Director of Excavations for the Trust said: ‘Magna has waited patiently for thousands of years to start to tell us its story and history and that time is now. The project is vital, as it comes at a time when the rapidly changing climate is having a devastating effect on the preservation of some of the most precious buried archaeological deposits. This threatens our future ability to explore and understand our past’.

The project will be supported by hundreds of volunteers over the five year period, the first of which are putting their spades and trowels into the ground over the remains of a Roman Milecastle, number 46.

Milecastles like this were once small but heavily fortified bases that were used to monitor and control the passage of people and goods between the empire and its northern neighbors, a border and customs post. The subsequent dereliction and destruction of the milecastle and its later land use will tell us a great deal about how the site has been managed since Roman times.

Locating the remains of the milecastle’s walls, barracks and structures may not be easy as it is believed to have been stripped down to the ground by stone robbers and later castle builders. But the project lead archaeologists, geoarchaeologists, scientists and volunteers are  ready for the challenge and determined to find out what happened to this important part of the World Heritage Site during this summer’s excavations. 

Rachel Frame, Senior Archaeologist at Magna said: ‘This is an exciting start of the important research into the site of Magna and Milecastle 46. Not only does this project takes us back into the lives of people living here nearly 2,000 years ago it will also inform future generations, giving us valuable data that can help to create wider research and preservation strategies for both this monument and others facing similar challenges.’

The archaeological team will be on site Monday-Friday, weather permitting until the 22nd of September for the 2023 season and visitors to the adjacent Roman Army Museum are welcome to visit the dig site as specified times throughout the day. The team are also keeping a Dig Diary which can be accessed online.


Notes to editors

About the Vindolanda 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. Magna is a unique Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall which lies adjacent to the Roman Army Museum and is under the care of the Vindolanda Trust. Magna holds some of the keys to understanding the biggest questions about the people of the Roman frontier. The site includes half a milecastle, part of Hadrian’s Wall, the Vallum ditch, a large town, rubbish dumps and pits, cemeteries and the fort itself. It’s the junction point between three Roman roads, the Military Way, the Stanegate and the Maiden Way. The site covers an area larger than Vindolanda and has the same preservation layers of organic remains and it is now under threat from climate change.

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Images (c) The Vindolanda Trust