Rock inscriptions date to 207AD and are at risk from erosion
Graffiti left by the Roman army in the remains of a quarry near Hadrian’s Wall at Gelt Woods in Cumbria, is being recorded before it’s lost forever. The project is funded by Historic England and is being carried out by archaeologists from Newcastle University.
The inscriptions, made by the Romans while they were repairing and re-building Hadrian’s Wall, are known as ‘The Written Rock of Gelt’ and even include a caricature of the commanding officer in charge of the quarrying. The markings were discovered in the 18th century, however they are being recorded now, having suffered in recent years from the gradual erosion of the soft sandstone into which they were cut.
This site is one of only a handful of Roman quarries in England to feature these kinds of inscriptions. The information recorded is of particular importance because it gives the names of men and in some instances their rank and military units, while one datable inscription referring to the consulate of Aper and Maximus offers proof of rebuilding and repair work to the Roman frontier in the early third century AD. This inscription dates to 207AD, a period when we know Hadrian’s Wall had a major repair and renewal programme.
The collapse of a path up to the site in the early 1980’s put a halt to the public being able to view the inscriptions. This project sets out to record the graffiti as well as allowing the public to once again view it via a 3D media platform.
The archaeologists from Newcastle University are working with specialists in climbing rock faces to record the historic markings, gaining access to the graffiti using ropes and pulleys. After dropping 30 feet down the quarry face, they will use structure-from-motion (SfM) photogrammetry to produce a 3D record of the writings. This record will also help archaeologists to better understand the condition of the inscriptions.
Mike Collins, Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Hadrian’s Wall at Historic England, said: “These inscriptions at Gelt Forest are probably the most important on the Hadrian’s Wall frontier. They provide insight into the organisation of the vast construction project that Hadrian’s Wall was, as well as some very human and personal touches, such as the caricature of their commanding officer inscribed by one group of soldiers.”
Ian Haynes, Professor of Archaeology at Newcastle University said: “These inscriptions are very vulnerable to further gradual decay. This is a great opportunity to record them as they are in 2019, using the best modern technology to safeguard the ability to study them into the future.”
Historic England and Newcastle University have worked in co-operation with the landowner, Brampton Parish Council, Natural England and CAS Ltd on this recording project.
The results will be made available later this year on the 3D content sharing platform, Sketchfab. This platform allows the public to gain full access to a digital 3D model of the Roman quarry inscriptions.