Very interesting item from the Hexham Courant:
A HEXHAM archaeologist has challenged perceived wisdom with startling claims that Hadrian’s Wall was originally built of wood.
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.
There’s a very full summary of the argument at the archaeologist’s blog … I think this suggestion might have some legs …
- Hadrian’s Wall was built of wood (Hexham Courant)
- Hadrian’s Wall Originally Wooden, Speculates Expert Ahead of Major Congress on Roman Frontiers (Heritage Key)