Jericho Diary : Issue 1 : 31 August 2018
Jericho is GO – We’re on the Wall!
Welcome to the First Diary of Operation Jericho
Friends, Romans, Countrymen! And all others interested in history, archaeology, and the beautiful North Pennines: Greetings! It’s magical to immerse yourself in the history, to learn the stories of the people who came before. To be walking in their footsteps, and seeing the same view that has remained for thousands of years. The historic preservation of sites is like a time machine, taking you back in time, letting you get in touch with the past.
The site is unique, as the ramparts are still very clearly defined but not in the typical shape for a Roman fort. In fact, it is just one of two forts in the Roman world of its kind! The unique characteristics of this site is a big part of why preservation is necessary for this site. It’s never been excavated, and is said to be the best- preserved in Britain, maybe one of the most important sites in the region.
Operation Jericho, set to begin September 2018, will remove a part of a Victorian stone wall. The wall is degrading and becoming a hazard. Removing it will make the site more accessible, and will recover stones that originally came from the Roman fort which were used to build the wall.
How often do you get the chance to support a real Roman fort, anyway?
In just 3 days, Operation Jericho will start a new chapter in this amazing landscape. We will bring you regular updates on our progress, plus other goodies and features along the way. We’ll try to make it seem like you are here! (Well, without all that lifting and carrying of stones stuff…) Thank you so much for your interest in the project; Epiacum is run by volunteers like you and me, and we want you to know how much we appreciate your support.
So why tear down the wall? Isn’t it part of the fort? No, not really — it was put up in Victorian times by the then-current farmer, to better control his flock. I know to some of you, Victorian times are considered historic (and with good reason!), but the site in Epiacum goes back centuries, not just a couple of hundred years. The recent addition is detrimental to the interpretation of the site, and needs to be removed to increase accessibility, and to remove a health & safety issue.
The wall is being recorded to the highest professional standard by trained archaeologists (Professor Stewart Ainsworth of Time Team, who is a major supporter of Epiacum, and Al Oswald, formerly with English Heritage and now with the University of York); the plan has been approved by English Heritage/Historic England, and is being done with the full knowledge and permissions of all the proper authorities. Not one stone will be removed until the site has been completely documented.
For an explanation of the process, please click on the thumbnail to see this video of Stewart “on location”:
The recording process consists of several stages as follows:
1: Mark out and photograph the wall in 5 metre sections. This is primarily for the benefit of the wall teams. We have two walls that meet at a right angle and each has two faces, so they are coded A, B (interior) C, D (exterior). Each section has a number. So we end up with a basic recording code (A1, B7 etc.). The walls are marked with chalk and bio-degradable spray paint. Photographs of each section are taken. Photographs are also taken of the top of the wall.
2. Photogrammetry survey. This is where it gets more accurate. Target makers (which are the archaeological equivalent of a QR code are played at exactly 5m points along the wall. Each one is different and the posh software can recognise them and use them to stitch photos together. Each section is then carefully photographed from precisely 10m away to include the target markers. A scaling pole and section board is also included. Then it’s on to the next section. This is done for faces A, B, C, and D.
3. GPS positioning. The position of the centre of each target marker is logged on the GPS positioner. This is one expensive bit of kit. It is accurate to within 20mm, usually less than that.
The site is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and of national importance. So why go to all the trouble to remove part of the wall? Elaine Edgar, who with her husband own the land, explains:
“We first approached this problem around 10 years ago and had prolonged discussion with Stewart about it. The problem is that if we install gates or stiles we potentially create erosion in the (very close to the surface archaeology) and if we leave it people can’t understand the site . Historically (until 10 years ago) no one visited the site – maybe one or two a year. Because of our work to promote it we have seen a sharp increase in Visitors.
“Back to 10 years ago …… we concluded the best way forward was to remove them and the job went out to tender via Natural England – cheapest quote was £150k. We were all set to go when central funding was cut and the job fell by the wayside. In the meantime, the wall is falling down in a number of places and the farmer (my husband) doesn’t want to repair them if we ultimately want to remove them!
“All along I have been particularly keen to keep the walls over the ramparts as they are a stark reminder of the people who had the hard task of building them – so they are being left . Also, the foundations are being left in place so as not to disturb the archaeology – and we fully intend to record them; in fact Stewart is going to do that by 3D photography and create a visual record for us.
“And of course we have the whole issue of stock management to consider from the farm’s point of view. The walls are head height – at one point we wondered whether to just reduce the height but this is no good as the sheep will jump them! When Stewart and Al did the masterclass (in September 2017), they offered to do the archaeological watch on the job and Al will bring students and train them in identifying and recording the inevitable roman stones within the walls. English heritage have recommended the job for approval for SMC subject to us following a strict methodology! We are already discussing how to provide on-site information to ensure they are not forgotten.” (From a post to the Time Team Fans forum on Facebook, July 2018)
4. Finally, the height of the wall at every 5m is measured and dozens of closer, extra photos are taken at 1/2 metre intervals. Then the software does the number crunching over a couple of days. The net result is a photographic 3D record of the wall that is so accurate that it will allow future researchers to accurately measure a single stone in the wall, and know to within 20mm precisely where it was. I doubt if there’s a better recorded dry stone wall in Northumberland!
What’s it like, being part of the recording team? This video, of Cory and Stewart discussing the day, will give you a good insight:
Preparation for the volunteers is well underway, too. Tents, facilities, a catering van, and evening entertainment are all in hand and will provide volunteers with a certain level of comfort and of course endless cups of tea. Epiacum have made plans for both overnight campers and folks coming out just during the day, as Dale and Elaine have been doing their best to make the experience enjoyable! We’ll go into more detail in future newsletters.
To Learn More:
The Epiacum Heritage website is the first place to start, if you haven’t seen it (https://www.epiacumheritage.org/)
Epiacum are on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Epiacum/), Twitter (@epiacum), and Instagram (@epiacumromanfort), so please give us a follow to keep in touch!
Videos — search for Epiacum on YouTube, and you will find a wealth of information. There is an Epiacum Heritage channel to which you can subscribe; there are videos from folks walking the site and from digs not in the scheduled area, and some lovely drone videos so you can get a bird-eye view of the site.
Thank you again for your support of Epiacum and Operation Jericho — we are glad to have you with us on this adventure!