Vindolanda: The Missing Dead

In 2010, during the excavations at the Roman Site of Vindolanda, the archaeologists made an unusual discovery… Buried under the clay floor of what was once a 3rd century barrack room for the soldiers at the fort, was an incomplete set of bones. At first glance they seemed too small to be human, but they did not appear to look like the animals you would expect to find at a fort either. The bones specialist confirmed the find: the bones are human, but they belonged to a child aged around 8-10 years old (find out more in our FACT FILE). Whether the skeleton was that of a female or male is difficult to determine (although it is most likely female), but scientific analysis of the teeth indicate that this child grew up in the Mediterranean before moving to Vindolanda around the age of 7. There is no sign of trauma or ill health, but Romans did not bury their dead within their settlement – certainly not under a barrack room floor. How this skeleton came to be there, therefore, is a mystery…

Our game ‘The Missing Dead’, played on the Vindolanda site, takes the player back in time from that first archaeological discovery in 2010 to c. 230CE to try to solve the mystery. With Aquila the Eagle as our guide, we learn about what life would have been like at Vindolanda in the 3rd century AD by exploring the diverse community that lived there. Users follow Marcus, a Tribune at the nearby Roman Fort of Magna (next to the Roman Army Museum), who receives a request from his friend Vitalis to help him find his missing slave.

Throughout the game Marcus visits different buildings on the site including the west gate of the fort, the bath house, the tavern, a temple, toilet block, the granaries and the barracks. There is a map that navigates the player around the site and the game reconstructs the buildings to what we believed they would have looked like in the past. Marcus collects objects for his inventory (objects that can be seen in the Museum) and writes case files on the people he meets.  His last stop is the home of the commander of the fort, Sulpicius Pudens, where he reports what he has found. By following Marcus on his journey, our players are immersed in the world of ancient Vindolanda, and as they follow the narrative of the game they discover more about the life and times of the fort’s people, but also learn that not all mysteries can be solved. We don’t know what really happened to the skeleton and this is just one of many possible stories.

The app is aimed at Key Stage 2 students (7-11 year olds) but can be enjoyed by any age. It deals with difficult, real-life subject matter, but handles this material with sensitivity: students learn about their past in a way designed to make them ask their own questions and to piece together the clues and information they are given to help them solve the mysteries, just like a real archaeologist! At the end of the game there is also an opportunity to go to the museum and to see the objects that appear as evidence in the game. They can also see the skeleton and discover for themselves how archaeologists have used the information available to learn as much as possible about its past.

The app and its associated activity packs will help children to look at terms used in the Roman period as well as creating and organising relevant historical information. It will also help them to understand the impact of the Roman conquest in a fort on Hadrian's Wall. They will also develop problem-solving skills and knowledge of how to use an app in an outdoor setting.

Available on android and IOS – please download from the play store or apple store. 

Activity Packs



       Vindolanda: The Army at the Wall - Pack 1      The Empire at Vindolanda - Pack 2


         Vindolanda: Life of the Officers - Pack 3       Archaeology in Action - Pack 4

Teacher's notes - the Missing Dead

The Missing Dead app was short listed for the Newcastle University Engagement and Place Awards 2021

The Missing Dead gaming app was produced in partnership by Newcastle University and the Vindolanda Trust.


The Missing Dead Activity Packs were created in collaboration with the UK video games developer, Creative Assembly.

The project was funded by Arts Council England, The Roman Research Trust and the Institute of Classical Studies.

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