The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 102

Issue 102

Sept / Oct 2008



Windfarm dig finds boat in style of Sutton Hoo

Prehistoric village under Isle of Man runway

Rare house continues first farmers debate

In the press

In Brief & Phase 2


Hadrian in London
The 'Hadrian: Empire and Conflict' exhibiton is impressive

Hadrian's Wall
Abandoned after three centuries, but still alive

New WHS, the Antonine Wall
David J Breeze tells how to make a successful bid to UNESCO

THE BIG DIG: Stonehenge
Mike Pitts sorts out the technical data

additional content
Reading about the Archaeology of Stonehenge

The Stonehenge Olympics
Plans for the stones to get the new facilities ready for 2012

on the web

Recommended websites
Caroline Wickham-Jones explores the realms of archaeological fiction and a look at Barwick-in-Elmet Historical Society's website


your views and responses


a piece about Bonekickers with no archaeological puns!


Seeking what is best for buried bones, Sebastian Payne looks at new leglislation

CBA correspondent

Campaigns, comment and communications from the CBA
Gill Chitty on the stones, the bill and beyond


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts


Making the Antonine Wall a world heritage site

How do you convince UNESCO to list a new world heritage site? David Breeze, who prepared the successful bid for the Antonine Wall – the most northern frontier work of the Roman empire, built by Hadrian's successor Antoninus Pius – shares the journey. Please note, this page contains a large image (542KB) and may take a little time to load on a slow connection.

At the end of June, Frontiers of the Roman Empire, the three-year international Culture 2000 project, had been completed. I was preparing to travel to Quebec to hear the decision of the UNESCO committee on whether the Antonine Wall, the Roman frontier in Scotland, should become a world heritage site. The events that brought me to that moment went back seven years.

In September 2001 at the European Archaeological Association's annual conference at Esslingen, Germany, some archaeologists met to discuss the idea of the Roman frontier in Germany as a world heritage site. Hadrian's Wall had been declared one in 1987, and our Hungarian colleague professor Zsolt Visy had suggested that a single site might encompass all the frontiers of the empire. This had a particular advantage for UNESCO, which was trying to reduce the number of western European proposals.

We took the decision in Esslingen quickly: we would approach UNESCO to see if it liked the idea of a single frontiers site. We would also ask the UK government whether it would be prepared to convert Hadrian's Wall into the first part of an international WHS, in effect to be the head of the snake. Although we were all Roman archaeologists – Henry Cleere, Chris Young, Siegmar von Schnurbein, Andreas Thiel and myself – we were also cultural resource managers and had been involved in WHS matters for many years; and furthermore we knew each other well. Decision-making was certainly speedier as a result of these useful coincidences.

UNESCO approved. In order to achieve a multi-national WHS, however, the terminology had to be changed – "trans-national" replaced "trans-boundary", for example – and the method of listing WHSs too. In London, the Department for Culture Media and Sport agreed to expand the Hadrian's Wall WHS in the proposed way (feature, Jan 2004). In 2005, the world heritage committee approved the creation of the serial, phased transnational world heritage site, Frontiers of the Roman Empire, which then included Hadrian's Wall and the Upper German-Raetian Limes.

Roman frontiers

Frontiers of the Roman empire in the mid second century AD, with the Antonine Wall inset. Sponsored by the EU Directorate-General for Education and Culture. Image used with permission.

In the meantime, we had continued to consider the implications of the proposal. All WHSs require a management plan, part of which is the formulation of a research strategy. Here was indeed a challenge: to create a research strategy for all the European frontiers of the Roman Empire. At the next EAA annual conference, at Thessaloniki in Greece, a round table discussed this very problem. We formulated six actions which we wished to progress, but it quickly became clear that money was required. The obvious place to go was the European Union. Accordingly, we applied to the European Science Foundation – and failed. Then the Culture 2000 programme – and failed. We tweaked the nomination and resubmitted – and were rewarded with a grant of €800,000. With the money put into the project by the individual partners, we had €1.35m, about £1m.

The rules of the Culture 2000 project were that there had to be "old" EU members states, "new" states, and applicants. We achieved this with Spain, Germany, Austria and the UK in the first group, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia in the second and Romania in the third. Usefully, too, the Polish team working in Bulgaria straddled the second and third categories. We were fortunate in obtaining the services of Klaus Behrbohmas a facilitator, recommended by the Austrian ministry of culture, while Sonja Jilek, a self-employed Roman archaeologist based in Vienna, acted as our archaeological co-ordinator. Back in Britain, I served as the lead applicant, holding the purse strings.

The project had four main aims: to create a Frontiers of the Roman Empire website; to prepare material for local exhibitions; to further the documentation of Roman frontiers; and to formulate guidelines for the protection, management, conservation, presentation and interpretation of frontiers. We succeeded in all areas, though there were tensions between the over-arching themes and what individual countries wished to achieve. A further challenge was to grasp the European rules of finance and accounting: for 30-odd years I had worked within an annual accounting framework and payment on results, and it was not easy tomove to a different cycle of reporting and finance, and payments in advance. Selling publications is not easy either, as we are not supposed to acquire any income; it was a little time before we realised the full implications of being able to create publications and give them away for free.

One important area where this realisation had effect was in relation to a DVD. Erik Dobat and Sandra Walkshofer of Boundary Productions had already made two discs, on the frontiers in Britain and Germany respectively. Their problem was finding the money to film in central and eastern Europe. Our solution was to commission them to produce a DVD of all the Roman empire's European frontiers as a public information document: you see the result in this issue of British Archaeology.

Other good ideas came to play an important part in our work. Ian Francis of the Senhouse Roman Museum in Maryport, Cumbria, suggested twinning frontier museums. He found a ready listener in Christof Flügel of the Bavarian Museums Service. Twinning has started and a website is one product of this initiative.

In Scotland, Jim Devine of the Hunterian Museum in the University of Glasgow was already doing sterling work with schools in the area. We learnt that the Austrian schools department was interested in the idea of the twinning of schools along frontiers, and this project is now edging forward.

One of the great advantages of our Culture 2000 project is that many of the participants already knew each other. Yet we still had to learn to work together in new ways. This did not happen overnight. It was interesting to watch how everyone's grasp of English – the required language of all our meetings – improved over the three years, though my German has got woefully worse as a result.

Free Publication

The work of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire project is described in this new well-illustrated book edited by the author and Sonja Jilek. Copies are free until stocks last from David Breeze via email or Historic Scotland, Longmore House, Salisbury Place, Edinburgh EH9 1SH

In May 2008 we held the last of our workshops, appropriately in Edinburgh. Here, Linda Fabiani, MSP, the minister for Europe, international affairs and culture, launched our final 200-page report (see illustration).

While leading this international project, I was also preparing the documents nominating the Antonine Wall as a Frontiers of the Roman Empire world heritage site. There was some overlap, because some of the European funding was used to improve knowledge about the Antonine Wall. Richard Tipping of University of Stirling was commissioned to research the environmental history of the area, while Richard Jones of Glasgow University and John Gater of GSB Prospection undertook extensive geophysical surveys along the wall.

New 1:25,000 scale map

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland is celebrating its centenary. It supported the world heritage site nomination of the Antonine Wall by creating new digital maps which include all known archaeological interventions. The results were used for a new printed map, published in July, similar to the one last produced by the Ordnance Survey in 1969. It shows the course of the wall on a modern base at a scale of 1:25,000. Visible and unconfirmed lengths are distinguished, and a brief guide introduces places to visit.

New Map

Rebecca Jones is keen to receive your comments on the new Antonine Wall map (write to RCAHMS, John Sinclair House, 16 Bernard Terrace, Edinburgh EH8 9NX). Visit News and Publications on the RCAHMS website for instructions on how to order.

These surveys proved less rewarding than we had hoped. It was possible to recognise the stone base and ditch of the Antonine Wall, and other ditches and drains, but the military way was only fugitively visible and postholes were not recognised at all. As a result, we have been unable to locate any buildings outside forts, though other evidence does demonstrate the existence of civil settlements.

A strong case, naturally, has to be made for a monument to be considered as a world heritage site. It has to be identified and described, compared to other similar properties, measures taken for its protection, conservation, management, presentation and monitoring laid down, and its outstanding universal value stated. In making the case for the Antonine Wall, I was supported by 35 years of my own experience and knowledge of the monument, by my colleagues in the five local authorities along the line of the wall (East Dunbartonshire, Falkirk, Glasgow, North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire), by the staff of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), and by the minister of culture. Or rather ministers, for over a period of five years four ministers were prepared to host events and book launches as part of the process. This was an important element in demonstrating support for the proposal at the highest level in Scotland.

Identification was important. Preparing maps which defined the proposed WHS and its buffer zone proved more complicated than we had appreciated. It was over 25 years since the wall had last been extensively mapped, and some elements had not been surveyed to the detail and standard for the present task. In particular, the most visible and enduring part of the monument, the upcast mound to the north of the ditch, had never been surveyed or described properly. It was one of those instances when we all knew it was there but had not incorporated it properly into our recording work.

Rebecca Jones of RCAHMS headed the mapping team. Once they turned to placing the information on paper (or rather the computer screen) other problems arose. The width of the ditch and the upcast mound varied: should they be depicted having the same width, or should we try to reflect reality? In the end we chose the latter, but there were still problems because the exact points where the two elements widened and narrowed were not always clear. Colour coding helped interpret the present state of preservation.

The definition of the buffer zone was a particular challenge. Land Use Consultants, who had undertaken similar work on Hadrian's Wall, won the contract. They used inter-visibility analysis to help define the buffer zones, which led to irregular, though defensible areas. In the event, all parts of the buffer zones lie within land zoned for green belt or countryside use, mutually supportive designations swhich aid all.

Finally, the justification had to be written. It is not enough simply to state that the Antonine Wall was the most northerly Roman frontier, nor indeed that it was the most advanced frontier complex of its day. As we have come to understand Roman frontier policy better, we can now see that this wall was the physical manifestation of a change in tactics when the emperor Hadrian died in 138 to be succeeded by Antoninus Pius. Further, it was part of that "circle of great camps" which protected the empire, described by contemporary writers. Finally, the Antonine Wall has resonances in relation to one of the greatest historians of the Roman empire, Edward Gibbon (1737–94), who described the second century AD as one of the best periods of history in which to have lived.

The Antonine Wall, of course, helped to define the Roman empire, one of the greatest states which the world has seen. Even today it inspires great books and wonderful films. The modern world is reaching out to emulate the empire's peace. It is no coincidence that the founding treaty of what is now the European Union was signed in the eternal city. The Antonine Wall, Hadrian's Wall and the German limes form part of the greatest monument surviving from the time of the Roman empire, its frontiers. They are as integral part of our inheritance as the great cities and engineering feats which are already world heritage sites.

It might be considered that frontiers divide or at best only provide a link along their line. Not so. The first email seeking to join the round table discussion at Thessaloniki in 2002 was from Latvia: we have many Roman artefacts in our museums, our colleague wrote, we feel that we are part of the Roman world. And indeed they are. Roman artefacts passed from the empire to the lands beyond through Roman frontiers, and many now lie in museums in the former "barbaricum". Our work on Roman frontiers has thus brought together archaeologists across Europe. The nine members of the Culture 2000 project – Spain, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Poland, Romania and the UK – have extended our reach to embrace colleagues in many other countries who see the value of working together. We have not yet created a research framework for the European frontiers of the Roman empire, but we have taken a great step towards it. Archaeologists across Europe have had the signal experience of learning how to work together.

In the meantime, we are improving the documentation of Roman frontiers – in all its manifestations – and we are sharing our accumulating knowledge and experience across modern boundaries. Franz Höchtl of the University of Freiberg has been to Scotland to lecture on proposals to use nature conservation to enhance the visibility of Roman frontiers, while colleagues from Scotland have travelled in the opposite direction to lecture on their work.

Where do we go from here? With the successful bid for a WHS, more research on the Antonine Wall is required and the management plan needs to be implemented. Our colleagues in central Europe already have a new bid into the EU for further work on river frontiers. We trust that schools and museum twinning will proceed. The DVD on Roman frontiers, free with the printed version of this magazine issue, in itself is an achievement. The software in theory allowed for eight languages, but crashed after five: eventually new software allowed six. One of these languages is Arabic. This is doubly appropriate, for half the frontiers of the Roman empire lie in Arabic speaking countries, while so much of our legacy from the ancient world comes to us through Arabic historians. But it was modern links which produced the Arabic dimension: the existence in Amman of the Council for British Research in the Levant and the support of the Hashemite royal family. Here is a further challenge to us all: to move beyond Europe and embrace all the countries which lie along the boundaries of the Roman empire.

Formerly chief inspector of ancient monuments for Scotland, David J Breeze now leads the team implementing the Roman frontier's management plan.

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