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From Adrian’s Wall to Hadrain’s Wall

It was particularly timely that I went to see Adrian’s Wall, the new play by the local Writer-in-Residence about four misfits walking the length of Hadrian’s Wall. I’ve recently started a new “MOOC” online course studying the Wall itself. The course is on the FutureLearn platform, and is being run by Newcastle University. The Wall is effectively in their “back garden”, and unsurprisingly they have a number of world-class experts on the subject.

The course is taking a very wide ranging and multi-disciplinary look at the subject of Hadrian’s Wall. So far, we’ve studied the structure of the wall itself, and learned about the Roman soldiers who garrisoned it. I remember visiting the Wall on holiday with my parents and sister when I was about seven. It was grey and misty, and I remember thinking about how cold and far from home the Romans must have felt. I was imagining that they were from Rome itself, which is a common misconception. I was surprised to learn last week that the majority of soldiers on the wall came from what is now France and Germany, and not from Italy at all!

So far this week the course has been looking at the people who lived on and around the wall, including in the civilian settlements adjacent to the forts. It’s involved looking at LIDAR and magnetometry surveys of several forts, and I’ve followed some of the links that other students have posted to survey reports, dig diaries, and the occasional episode of Time Team. It’s all very interesting, and I’m learning a lot – more than I was expecting to in fact. Christopher and I went on a very interesting study trip to Hadrian’s Wall a good few years ago, when we visited all the major sites accompanied by English Heritage archaeologists, and even attended talks by some of the guest lecturers on the course. So I was expecting to find that much of the material on the course was familiar to me. I do indeed know the basics already, but the course has been very well pitched, covering some new discoveries and reinterpretations, and going into considerable depth – with links provided for the student to go deeper yet. That’s the only problem really – I just don’t haven enough spare time to click on every link and explore round the margins as I would like!