Archaeologists stunned by South Shields Roman ‘time machine’ discovery

Vindolanda: Archaeologist discovers 500 Roman Empire letters

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The Roman Empire’s conquest of Britain began almost 2,000 years ago. Celts, the natives of the land, were slowly driven out through a series of advanced military campaigns. Over the centuries, the empire’s soldiers and officials trickled in from the continent and places as far flung as Syria and Iraq.

They would stay for hundreds of years.

Many Roman sites remain dotted around the country.

Hadrian’s Wall is perhaps the best-known: a mammoth structure spanning 73 miles from the banks of the River Tyne near the North Sea, to the Solway Firth near the Irish Sea.

The Tyne was a vital waterway for supplies to be directed towards the Wall.

It led to a fort in South Shields, around four miles away from Newcastle upon Tyne, becoming a beacon of Roman activity and rendezvous.

In History Hit’s documentary, ‘Edges of Empire: Settlement and Supply’, researchers explore the role South Shields played in the Roman Empire’s Britain operation.

Logistically, it was vital to the their construction of the Wall, as researchers believe it protected a sea port at the mouth of the River Tyne.

This port was once crucial to ferrying supplies in for those who were manning the Wall’s length.

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South Shields, then, has been described as a “gateway” to the wall from the sea.

Archaeologists have since identified the low-rise buildings as granaries, each of them providing a “time machine” for researchers to be transported back.

It wasn’t unusual to have granary buildings in Roman forts, but what’s so “remarkable” about South Shields is the number of granaries: around 24 have been found at the site.

Dr Simon Elliot, a Roman historian, said: “One of the really interesting things at South Shields is that the location is almost a time machine.


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“You can see initially it was a fort, with 600 men based there.

“It then became this enormous supply base to keep the army of 50,000 men during the Severan campaigns in the far north of Britain.

“But later in the Roman occupation of Britain, it reverts back to being a fort.

“Initially it had two granaries, then in the Severan period it increased to 22.”

Later on, when the granaries were out of use, the Romans converted them into barracks for auxiliaries.

A tantalising discovery, said Dr Elliot, was the knowledge of where one of these auxiliary units came from.

He explained: “One of them intriguingly – remember where we’re talking about, we’re talking about the far north east of Britain – came from the Tigris in Mesopotamia.”

South Shields would also have been a base for people who were coming from elsewhere in Britain to inspect or visit the Wall.

Not far from Hadrian’s Wall sits Vindolanda, another Roman auxiliary fort.

Vindolanda is unique in that it predates the relic.

Much has been found at the site, including an ancient mysterious eastern cult that shares some symbolism with Mithras and the other cults that were prevalent across the Roman Empire.

Roman presence at Vindolanda is generally viewed as having faded from 370 AD, while the Romans more generally started to leave Britain between 388 and 400 AD.

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