Adventurous archaeologists who abseiled down the face of an ancient Roman quarry near Hadrian’s Wall to record rapidly eroding 3rd-century graffiti have won 2020’s award for Rescue Project of the Year.
The Written Rock of Gelt, a sandstone outcrop in a Cumbrian wood 5.5km from the Roman frontier, is covered with inscriptions (as well as carved faces and phallic imagery) left by 3rd-century soldiers who were tasked with quarrying stone to help repair Hadrian’s Wall.
These markings represent a unique historical record, but exposure to dripping water and the weather was rapidly wearing them away. A recent project by Historic England and Newcastle University saw archaeologists using cutting-edge technology to document these markings and to preserve their insights into the area’s Roman past before they were lost forever – efforts that saw the team lowering themselves down the sheer quarry face on ropes to access inscriptions that today lie 10m above the ground.
The award for Rescue Project of the Year was accepted by by Jon Allison of Newcastle University, who led the team of researchers.
Jon Allison said: ‘It was very pleasing to receive the award at Currently Archaeology Live! on behalf of myself, Historic England and Newcastle University. It was doubly pleasing for me because the Written Rock of Gelt is one of thirteen Roman quarries that I am currently researching which would have supplied Hadrian’s Wall. The quarries are the only known examples that survive with inscribed text and sculpture.’
Mike Collins from Historic England added: ‘We are delighted that our partnership with Newcastle University to investigate and record the Roman inscriptions at Gelt Forest has been recognised through such a prestigious award. This work, and particularly that of the project lead Jon Allison, has safeguarded the fascinating information contained in these carvings for future generations. It has also given a wide range of people virtual access to a site which was previously inaccessible.’
A digital record of the inscriptions can be seen at: https://sketchfab.com/historicengland/collections/written-rock-of-gelt
For a full list of the nominees, visit www.archaeology.co.uk/awards
Notes for Editors: Current Archaeology Awards
- Current Archaeology, the UK’s leading archaeology magazine, announced the winners of their 2020 awards, presented by archaeologist and educator Julian Richards (who previously headed the popular archaeological television programme Meet the Ancestors) on February 28, as part of the annual Current Archaeology Live! 2020 conference, held at the University of London’s Senate House.
- Voted for by subscribers and members of the public, the awards recognise the outstanding contributions to our understanding of the past made by the people, projects, and publications featured in the pages of Current Archaeology over the previous 12 months.
- The 2020 Current Archaeology Award for Rescue Dig of the Year was sponsored by Oxbow Books
- The major feature ‘Roman writing on the wall: recording inscriptions at a Hadrian’s Wall quarry,’ was published in Current Archaeology 351