Archaeologists are descending into a 30-foot quarry via rope in order to scan the wall with lasers to create highly-detailed, three-dimensional digital models of the carvings.
Hadrian’s Wall was a barrier constructed by the Romans to protect them from enemy hordes of barbarians. What remains of the structure is millennia old, and the fact it remains to this day is a testament to its structural integrity.
Repairs were often required, of course, for which loyal soldiers dutifully lugged sandstone materials around and patched up areas threatening to crumble. When these Romans got bored enough, however, it seems they left their mark in more ways than one.
Archaeologists from Newcastle University and Historic England have partnered up to record the newly discovered inscriptions — which include caricatures, phrases, and even a rendering of a penis, Historic England reported.
Colloquially known as “The Written Rock of Gelt,” researchers have learned a lot by descending down the 30-foot quarry in Cumbria, as the sandstone’s illustrative markings explore the military mindset involved in these repair works and how they passed the time.
One inscription, “APRO ET MAXIMO CONSVLIBVS OFICINA MERCATI,” dates the carving back to 207 AD when Hadrian’s Wall underwent extensive repairs and renewals under the consulate of Aper and Maximus.
The phallus — used as a symbol of good luck by the Romans of the time — is only one of many carvings still being discovered. “The Written Rock of Gelt” was previously thought to consist of nine Roman inscriptions, and while only six of them are currently legible, more are expected to be found.
The insight provided by this historical piece of stone also points to the army’s personal feelings about their superior, with the caricature of an officer presumably in charge of repairs making up one of the wall’s carvings.
“These inscriptions at Gelt Forest are probably the most important on the Hadrian’s Wall frontier,” said Mike Collins, Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Hadrian’s Wall at Historic England.
“They provide insight into the organization of the vast construction project that Hadrian’s Wall was, as well as some very human and personal touches, such as the caricatures of their commanding officer inscribed by one group of soldiers.”
These discoveries are particularly exciting to those at the site because access to view these carvings was essentially shut down in the 1980s, after the established path collapsed into a gorge of the adjacent Gelt River.
Unfortunately, the wall has been exposed to a great deal of water erosion since then — which makes recording its carvings all the more vital.
“These inscriptions are very vulnerable to further gradual decay,” said Ian Haynes, professor of archaeology at Newcastle University. “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.”
In practical terms, this means using ropes to descend into the quarry — and using laser scanning technology to record the inscriptions in as much detail as possible. These scans will then processed by computers into digital, three-dimensional models for further study.
Perhaps most stunning about this historical venture is that the public will be able to view these carvings up close, albeit digitally, for the first time in almost 40 years.