Case study: Elginhaugh Roman Fort

An aerial photograph of a large open-area excavation showing linear structures and internal pits in a wider landscape of dense woodland and grass

Aerial view of Fort, Annexe and Road at Elginhaugh ©RCAHMS

Large-scale area excavation ahead of development at Elginhaugh has provided us with the most completely excavated timber-built auxiliary fort in the Roman Empire (Hanson 2007). Of particular importance is the characterisation of several stable-barracks. Their number and disposition make clear that the fort cannot have housed a single unit of any character, and was probably occupied by a vexillation of cavalry. Recognition that it was the norm to house horses and men together has major implications for any previous identifications of likely garrisons based on reconstructions of fort plans. The excavation has also confirmed both the general consistency and individual uniqueness of auxiliary forts: the former in terms of general layout and identification of specific building types; the latter in terms of intervallum activity, unusual plan detail of individual structures and the different histories of different buildings.

Extensive examination of the annexe makes a substantial contribution to the debate about the function of these attached enclosures. It also emphasises the contrasting structural history between fort and annexe and the substantive changes in use in the latter over a relatively short time-span. It remains regrettable that it was not possible to undertake more extensive work in the annexe and that subsequent commercial excavation there was entirely divorced from the primary investigation.

Because the occupation is so closely dated by its coin evidence (a foundation hoard from the principia ending in AD 77-8 and slightly worn asses of AD 86 as the latest stratified coins), the site provides a very precise dating horizon for a wide range of artefactual material. Of particular importance is the evidence of the local manufacture of both coarseware and mortaria, including the identification of a new mortarium potter, and the indication that the garrison had made use of hand-held artillery pieces. An extensive programme of environmental analysis provided insight into issues of local environment and food supply (both local and long-distance), and helped confirm the presence of horses within the fort. Finally, there is unique evidence that the site continued to function as a collection centre for animals after the garrison had departed, a deduction that would have been almost impossible without the large scale of the excavation. The interior had been cobbled over, two additional wells dug in the interior and ditches inserted across the annexe from the W gate which would have helped to funnel livestock to a single portal gate in the annexe. A coin of Trajan from the later commercial excavation in the annexe may hint at the longevity of that activity.

Return to Section 4.2  Landscapes of occupation

Leave a Reply