The first finds are emerging from a major community exercise to investigate Hadrian’s Wall on urban Tyneside.
WallQuest is a community archaeology project led by Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and other backers, which aims to find out more about the easternmost 30 miles of the Wall between South Shields, Newcastle, Hexham and Corbridge.
Volunteers digging at Arbeia fort in South Shields have found a Roman whistle made from animal bone and a portable stone altar, inscribed with the word ‘sacrum’, meaning sacred to an unknown god.
The dig has also revealed the collapsed remains of the fort’s defensive wall, plus evidence of a gold and silversmith’s workshop .
More than 50 volunteers are also involved in digs at Hadrian School and the Pendower Estate in Benwell in Newcastle’s West End., where a Roman fort was based.
The diggers, including local residents and pupils from Hadrian School, have been searching for remains of the Roman civilian town that lay outside the fort straddling Hadrian’s Wall now under the modern West Road at Benwell.
Dr Nick Hodgson, project manager, said: “Volunteers working in trenches in the Pendower estate have already found hundreds of shards of Roman pottery, showing that the Roman settlement extended much further than was previously thought. Benwell was garrisoned by a regiment of cavalry from Asturias in Spain.
“Cavalry units were the most prestigious and best paid in the Roman army, so we might have guessed that Benwell would attract a large settlement of merchants and traders, but it is a surprise to see just how far the Roman town extended down the slope towards the Tyne.”
Volunteers are also helping with indoor work, including cleaning and studying Roman finds. This includes pottery from the last excavations at Benwell in 1937. WallQuest volunteers washing the pottery for the first time have found the names of Roman soldiers scratched on to the pots that they owned.
WallQuest digs at various places on Hadrian’s Wall will continue in 2014 and 2015.
Anyone can join in and prior knowledge or experience of archaeology is not required. The project website with full details of how to get involved is now live at: www.Hadrianswallquest.co.uk
An event based on the Northumbrian King Oswin will be held at Arbeia on Saturday.
Evidence suggests that Oswin was born at the settlement on the site of the fort on the Lawe Top in South Shields which followed the Roman withdrawal from Britain.
The event, which is part of the regional events programme for the Lindisfarne Gospels currently on display in Durham, will feature a number of re-enactments plus family activities and an exploration of the lives of the Anglo- Saxons and the history of the kingdom of Northumbria.
The event runs from 11am to 3pm. Event admission charges: £3.50 for adults, £2 for concessions, £9 for a family ticket.