Archaeologists find a lost Roman fort in Scotland

Archaeologists in western Scotland have found the foundations of a Roman fort dating back to the 2nd century AD According to the government-run historic preservation commission, Historic Environment Scotland, this fort was one of 41 defensive structures to be built near the Antonine Wall, one of six UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Scotland.

[Related from PopSci+: How Scotland forged a rare alliance between amateur treasure hunters and archaeologists.]

This fortified wall made mostly of wood ran approximately 40 miles through Scotland as part of the Roman Empire’s failed attempt to extend its control throughout Great Britain from approximately 410 to 43 CE. The Antonine Wall was defended as the northernmost border of the Roman Empire. Emperor Antoninus Pius ordered the construction of the wall in AD 142. C. as an overcoming of his predecessor Adriano. The famous Hadrian’s Wall was built in AD 120. C. about 100 miles south of the Antonine Wall.

The Romans called the people who lived in Scotland “Caledonians”, and later called them Picts from a Latin word meaning “painted people”, referring to their body paint or tattoos. The Romans withdrew to Hadrian’s Wall in 162 CE after 20 years of trying to hold a new northern line at the Antonine Wall.

In 1707, the antiquarian Robbert Sibbald said that he saw the fort in the area around Carleith Farm in West Dunbartonshire. During the 1970s and 1980s, excavation teams searched for it but were unsuccessful.

Archaeologists used a non-invasive geophysical technique called gradiometry to find the fort’s foundations. CREDIT: Historic Environment of Scotland.

New technology allowed Historic Environment Scotland’s archaeological research team to find the buried remains. The team used a geophysical surveying technique called gradiometry to look below ground without digging. Gradiometry measures small changes in Earth’s magnetic field to detect buried archaeological features that cannot be seen from the surface. He identified the base of the fort, which remains buried underground. Turf would have been laid on top of this foundation. The team found the fort in a field near Carleith Elementary School.

The fort would have been occupied by 10 to 12 Roman soldiers who were probably stationed at Duntocher, a larger fort nearby. The fort would have been formed by two small wooden buildings.

[Related: SlĂ inte mhath! The oldest piece of Scottish tartan fabric has been identified.]

“It’s great to see our knowledge of history grow as new methods give us new insights into the past,” Riona McMorrow, assistant director of world heritage at Historic Environment Scotland, said in a statement. “Archaeology is often part detective work, and the discovery at Carleith is a good example of how an observation made 300 years ago and new technology can come together to contribute to our understanding.”

While as many as 41 blockhouses may have lined the Wall, only nine have been found so far. This new discovery marks the tenth known forlet, and Historic Environment Scotland is currently reviewing the site’s designation to ensure it is protected and recognized as part of the Antonine Wall.

Leave a Comment