New Roman graffiti found in project to record ancient quarry carvings

Crudely drawn penises and caricatures of the boss: Graffiti near Hadrian’s Wall shows how Roman soldiers used schoolboy humour to cope with life at the outpost

  • Roman graffiti made centuries ago by soldiers repairing Hadrian’s Wall found
  • Carvings discovered at the remains of a quarry at Gelt Woods in Cumbria
  • They include a caricature of the commanding officer in charge and a phallus
  • This would have been a general good luck symbol to the Romans who created it 
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Archaeologists have discovered for the first time Roman graffiti made centuries ago by soldiers quarrying stone to repair Hadrian’s Wall.  

Carvings at the remains of a quarry at Gelt Woods in Cumbria include a caricature of the commanding officer in charge as well as a phallus which would have been a general good luck symbol to the Romans who created it.

The drawings also include an inscription dating to 207AD, a period when Hadrian’s Wall had a major repair and renewal programme. 


Carvings (pictured) at the remains of a quarry at Gelt Woods in Cumbria include a caricature of the commanding officer in charge


The drawings also include an inscription dating to 207AD, a period when Hadrian’s Wall had a major repair and renewal programme

Experts from Newcastle University are recording the inscriptions before the soft sandstone in which they were made is eroded. 

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Archaeologists will descend 30ft (9m) down the quarry face to record the ‘written rock of Gelt’ in a project funded by government agency Historic England.

The graffiti was uncovered when vegetation off the rock was cleared to record inscriptions, with new writing and lettering – which was thought to have been lost to erosion – also found during the first day of surveying of the site.


Experts from Newcastle University are recording the inscriptions before the soft sandstone in which they were made is eroded


Archaeologists will descend 30ft (9m) down the quarry face to record the ‘written rock of Gelt’ in a project funded by government agency Historic England

The markings were first discovered in the 18th century but have suffered in recent years from the gradual erosion of the sandstone into which they were cut, prompting the decision to record them.

WHAT IS HADRIAN’S WALL?

For around three centuries, Hadrian’s Wall was a vibrant, multi-cultured frontier sprawling 80 Roman miles (73 miles / 117 km) coast-to-coast.

Permanent conquest of Britain began in AD 43. By about AD 100 the northernmost army units in Britain lay along the Tyne–Solway isthmus. 

The forts here were linked by a road, now known as the Stanegate, between Corbridge and Carlisle. 

Hadrian came to Britain in AD 122 and, according to a biography written 200 years later, ‘put many things to right and was the first to build a wall 80 miles long from sea to sea to separate the barbarians from the Romans’. 

Hadrian’s Wall became the north-west frontier of the Roman empire and crossed northern Britain from Wallsend on the River Tyne in the east to Bowness-on-Solway in the west.

Built by a force of 15,000 men in under six years, it’s comprised of Milecastles, barracks, ramparts and forts.  

Hadrian’s Wall resisted all comers in its day and defended an empire that stretched from Britain in the west to Jordan in the east.

Although mainly built by legionaries, the Wall was manned by auxiliaries. They were organised into regiments nominally either 500 or 1,000 strong and either infantry or cavalry or both. 

The 500-strong mixed infantry and cavalry unit was the workhorse of the frontier. Each fort on the Wall appears to have been built to hold a single auxiliary unit. 

Hadrian’s Wall was made a World Heritage Site in 1987.  

The site is one of a handful of Roman quarries in England to feature these kind of carvings which hopefully hold important information of names, and in some cases their rank and military unit, of men who worked their.

One carving which refers to the consulate of Aper and Maximus can be dated to 207AD and offers proof of rebuilding and repair work to the Roman frontier in the early 3rd century.

The collapse of a path up to the site in the 1980s put a halt to the public being able to view the inscriptions. 

As such the project will make a 3D record of the graffiti for people to be able to see them.

In order to record the carvings, the archaeologists from Newcastle University are working with rock climbing specialists to gain access to the graffiti on a system of ropes and pulleys.

They are using an imaging technique known as ‘structure from motion photogrammetry’ to produce a 3D record of the writings. 

These will be for the public to help them better understand the condition the markings are in.

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.’


Built by a force of 15,000 men in under six years, Hadrian’s Wall (pictured) was made a World Heritage Site in 1987


Hadrian’s Wall resisted all comers in its day and defended an empire that stretched from Britain in the west to Jordan in the east

WHEN DID THE ROMANS OCCUPY BRITAIN?

55BC – Julius Caesar crossed the channel with around 10,000 soldiers. They landed at a beach in Deal and were met by a force of Britons. Caesar was forced to withdraw.

54BC – Caesar crossed the channel with 27,000 infantry and cavalry. Again they landed at deal but were unopposed. They marched inland and after hard battles they defeated the Britons and key tribal leaders surrendered.

However, later that year, Caesar was forced to return to Gaul to deal with problems there and the Romans left.

54BC – 43BC – Although there were no Romans present in Britain during these years, their influence increased due to trade links.

43AD – A Roman force of 40,000 led by Aulus Plautius landed in Kent and took the south east. The emperor Claudius arrived in Colchester with reinforcements. Claudius appointed Plautius as Governor of Britain and returned to Rome.


In 43AD, a Roman force (artist’s impression) of 40,000 led by Aulus Plautius landed in Kent and took the south east. The emperor Claudius then arrived in Colchester with reinforcements

47AD – Londinium (London) was founded and Britain was declared part of the Roman empire. Networks of roads were built across the country.

75 – 77AD – Romans defeated the last resistant tribes, making all Britain Roman. Many Britons started adopting Roman customs and law.

122AD – Emperor Hadrian ordered that a wall be built between England and Scotland to keep Scottish tribes out.

312AD – Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal throughout the Roman empire.

228AD – The Romans were being attacked by barbarian tribes and soldiers stationed in the country started to be recalled to Rome.

410AD – All Romans were recalled to Rome and Emperor Honorious told Britons they no longer had a connection to Rome.

Source: History on the net

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