The first Hadrian’s Wall turret to be identified in more than 40 years has been excavated in the Ouseburn area of Newcastle.
Known as ‘Turret 3A’, the structure was uncovered by Pre-Construct Archaeology during fieldwork ahead of the construction of new student accommodation. It is one of the largest turrets yet discovered, and the only known example lying east of Newcastle.
The site was known to overlie the line of Hadrian’s Wall, but limited archaeological work in 1928 failed to locate any trace of the fortifications there. However, a subsequent evaluation in 2015 did uncover what was interpreted as the disturbed and heavily robbed remains of the Wall’s rubble core.
Now the latest phase of work on the site – funded by Property and Design Associates on behalf of Cassidy Group (Norris House) LLP – has located the north wall of Turret 3A at the north-eastern extent of the excavation area. Pre-Construct Archaeology’s Durham team uncovered the foundations of the north side of the turret (measuring 2.36-2.46m wide) and a section of Hadrian’s Wall’s curtain wall extending for c.12m. No internal floor surfaces had survived, and only one find – a single fragment of Roman tegula (roof tile) – was recovered from the turret, found within its foundations.
Other aspects of the frontier defences were also discovered at this time, including a 9m-long section of the defensive ditch running in front of the wall. This was found to be c.8m wide and 2m deep. Within the berm (the land between ditch and wall) was a cluster of pits – these were too small to have had a probable practical function as rubbish dumps or storage spaces, but they are thought to have been cippi – military obstacles designed to hold sharpened stakes.
It is the location of the turret that is the most instructive, however. Not only does it suggest that significant archaeological remains relating to Hadrian’s Wall can and do still survive in more built-up urban areas along its course, but it also deviates by some way from the expected positioning of such structures along the Roman frontier. Measurements taken from the known location of Milecastle 1 would indicate that the turret should have been located some way to the south-west of its actual site. This suggests that the positioning of Turret 3A away from this spot, on the top bank of a valley with a commanding view over the surrounding landscape, was deliberate, and that strategic interests had outweighed the original spacing scheme in its construction.
For more information about the excavation, see www.pre-construct.com/news/turret-3a-hadrians-wall; we will bring you a fuller feature about the site in a future issue of CA.
TEXT: C Hilts