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Roman graffiti from the distant past being recorded for future generations; Romans working on Hadrian's Wall left their mark at a quarry, including a caricature of their officer. But their graffiti will soon be lost forever.

Byline: Tony Henderson

Graffiti inscriptions by Roman soldiers in a quarry -- together with a caricature of their officer -- are to be recorded by archaeologists from Newcastle University before they are lost forever.

The inscriptions were made by Romans at the quarry near Gelt Woods, close to Brampton in Cumbria,while they were repairing and re-buildingHadrian's Wall, and are known as "The Written Rock of Gelt" -- they include the image of the commanding officer in charge of the quarrying.

The markings were discovered in the 18th century but they have suffered in recent years from the gradual erosion of the soft sandstone into which they were cut.

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 207AD, a period when Hadrian's Wall was undergoing a major repair and renewal programme.

The collapse of a path up to the site in the early 1980s 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 Universityare working with specialists in climbing rock faces to record the historic markings, gaining access to the graffiti using ropes and pulleys as part of a project being funded by Historic England.

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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 the recording project.

Construction of the Wall was organised and executed by legionary soldiers.

The Written Rock of Gelt is in the quarry flanking the River Gelt, one of 50 or so Roman quarries in England -- only a handful, however, have Roman inscriptions.

The first inscription is translated as "A detachment of the Second Legion Augusta; the working face of Apr... under Agricola".

The word OPTIONE indicates the rank of Agricola. Each centurion had an 'optio', so called because he was originally nominated by the centurion. Above the first letter of the inscription there is a carved face which is clearly a representation of Agricola, the officer in charge of the working party.

Another inscription states that that part of the quarry was the working face of Mercatius, an officer in charge, who is mentioned again in the next inscription as MERCATIUS FERNI.

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A further individual's name is Eppius M while yet another inscription is translated as "The century of Julius Peculiaris; detachment of the Twentieth Legion Valeria Victrix".

The project results will be made available later this year on the 3D content sharing platform Sketchfab. This platform will allow the public to gain full access to a digital 3D model of the Roman quarry inscriptions.


Credit: Newcastle Chronicle

Archaeologists working to uncover the Roman graffiti

Credit: Newcastle Chronicle

The 'Written Rock of Gelt' left by the Roman Army in the remains of a quarry near Hadrian's Wall in 207AD. The inscriptions are to be recorded before being lost forever due to erosion

Credit: Newcastle Chronicle

Roman graffiti known as the 'Written Rock of Gelt' left by the Roman Army in the remains of a quarry near Hadrian's Wall in 207AD, including (top left) a caricature of their officer. The inscriptions are to be recorded before being lost forever due to erosion

Credit: Newcastle Chronicle

Vegetation is stripped from the rock face to expose previously unknown inscriptions, while a laser beam fixes each inscription so that an accurate 3D image may be constructed
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Publication:The Chronicle (Newscastle upon Tyne, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 27, 2019
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