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Friday, 29 May 2015

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Hadrian’s Wall was built of wood

A HEXHAM archaeologist has challenged perceived wisdom with startling claims that Hadrian’s Wall was originally built of wood.

Wall to wall: Archaeologist Geoff Carter believes the Romans built a temporary timber wall stretching 117kms coast to coast prior to the construction of Hadrian’s Wall. Top left, his sketch showing the design of the wooden wall and bottom, left how the structure would have been built behind a defensive ditch, while work to complete a permanent stone wall took place.

In a 65,000 word thesis published on his website, Geoff Carter says his hypothesis answers some age-old questions.

Archaeologists have long wondered why the ditch that runs parallel is several feet away from the Wall itself, reducing its effectiveness as a deterrent to invaders.

They also question why the ditch curves inwards towards each of the milecastles.

The answer, says Mr Carter, is that the ditch was originally dug at the foot of a timber wall that was put up as a temporary measure.

The temporary wall ran between each of the milecastles, providing a swift means of defence against marauding Scots while auxiliaries built the permanent stone wall behind.

Mr Carter has become a specialist over the years in structural archaeology and, in particular, postholes – quite literally, the holes left in the ground by wooden posts.

For some time now, archaeologists have known about three mysterious lines of postholes running in front of Hadrian’s Wall, he said.

But in his thesis he disagrees with current theory that they originally held nothing more than pointed sticks that provided another obstacle to attack.

“I demonstrate that these thousands of post holes, six posts every 4ft, are the foundation of massive timber ramparts 10ft wide, about 20ft tall, and quite probably stretching all 117kms from coast to coast.

“The temporary timber wall joined the turrets together during the six years it took to build the stone wall behind it.

“This explains why the ditch is so far from the Wall, and why it respects the postholes of the timber wall and curves in towards the turrets.”

He estimates over 2.5 million trees would have been used in the construction – making it one of the largest timber structures ever built – only to be dismantled when the Hadrian’s Wall we know today was completed.

Julius Caesar himself lends validity to the hypothesis through the descriptions he wrote in Account of the Gallic War, a book prized by archaeologist and historian alike.

It documents Caesar’s campaigns to subjugate Gaul between 58 and 51 BC.

The climax of the war, and the book, is the siege of Alesia, a hillfort in France where the Gaulish leader Vercongeterix was holed up with most of his army.

Outside, the Romans built a series of encircling siege works around the hillfort, and then a second set of defences to protect their siege works from attack.

All made out of timber, Caesar claims the first 18kms was built in three weeks.

Mr Carter said, on that basis, it could have taken as little as 20 weeks to build the wooden Hadrian’s Wall from coast to coast.

“Of course it wasn’t that simple, but the Roman army was good at this sort of thing.

“It’s what they did for a living and to some extent their lives depended on it”, he said.

“Creating the 117kms corridor was probably achievable within a year.”

It took another six years to complete the stone wall that replaced it.

Have your say

The Antonine Wall has similar pits on its berm. Did it also start with a timnber Wall, but here later replaced in turf !

Posted by David Woolliscroft on 22 September 2009 at 09:03

A real "house of cards" this amateur's theories - firstly archaeologists haven't long wondered about the incurving ditches - the milecastles had a gate through the wall and a crossing over the ditch - it was never dug at that point. Secondly the pits he refers to are all square in shape - no-one would go the trouble of squaring timbers for a temporary palisade. They haven't wondered about the gap between the wall and ditch either - it's called a berm, and it's there to secure the foundations of the wall, which would otherwise slip into the ditch.If this wasn't done, the wall foundations would need to go down almost to the full depth of the ditch to ensure stability. I agree with Gene - no-one would have gone to the trouble of building a wooden barrier that massive and 70 miles long to tear it down a few years later. The stone for the wall could be quarried very close to the wall - much probably came from the ditch itself, and certainly to the N of the wall - difficult if there's a d*** great wooden barrier in the way of getting it where it's wanted. Lastly, it would take more men, effort and more carts to bring in the wood for the palisade than the stone needed for the wall!

Posted by Tony Price on 21 September 2009 at 19:46

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