The Roman army was very good at making the best use of what it had here at Vindolanda. Across the collection we see pottery with lead staples to join broken pieces, patched tents and shoes and even the reworking of artefacts that started life as one object and were adapted into something completely different. Nothing was wasted. Even cow skulls were used as target practice.

The Romans recycled on a grand scale and the humble barrel is the ideal object to illustrate this practice. The wooden barrel staves which have been found during the excavations have been identified as being made from either larch, spruce or silver fir, all species not native to Britain. The collection contains around 350 objects made from these woods, and many originally started life as barrels.

The barrels probably originated in Gaul (modern France) and may have been emptied and reused several times for carrying different goods before reaching Vindolanda. Bung and vent holes on some surviving examples show that liquids, as well as dry goods, were the intended cargoes.

The Vindolanda barrel staves vary greatly in size. Some were small barrels of around 30cm to 50cm in height and other were up to c.100cms. The largest were over two meters in height.

Depending on condition, the barrel might be refilled and continued its life as a container for goods, end up as firewood or be recycled to form new items. Open topped tubs form a large percentage of coopered remains at Vindolanda. These tubs are the product of reworking barrels, and it is reasonable to assume that this work has been carried out at Vindolanda using discarded parts from the largest barrels. Some staves from reused barrels ended their recycling process by being used as floorboards. Other objects like a fine example of a bucket was probably fashioned from a small barrel. Further recycling can be seen in objects such as cooking utensils, lids, window frame elements and possibly some locally made writing tablets were also made from recycled barrels.

The Vindolanda Trust is proud to be continuing this ancient tradition on its journey to a sustainable future, for our visitors, our Roman sites and collections that we hold in our care.