'Another wall of turf': Geoarchaeological analysis of the Antonine Wall at 72 Grahamsdyke Street, Laurieston, Falkirk

Tanja Romankiewicz*, Ben Russell, Geoff Bailey, Tom Gardner, James R. Snyder, Christopher T. S. Beckett

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Excavation of a well-preserved stretch of the rampart of the Antonine Wall east of Watling Lodge, at Laurieston, allowed for the first micromorphological study of its earthen building materials. This revealed that the rampart core, as well as the cheeks, were constructed in well-layered courses of turf blocks – but sourced from different grasslands. The evidence differs from macroscopic observations made at other sections in this area where the rampart material had been interpreted as representing a loose earth core with clay cheeks. Our results show that even when the characteristic striped sections indicative of turf are not visible in the field, thin section analysis can confirm the use of intact soil blocks with the remains of grassed surfaces. It now seems possible that the visible variation between materials in the eastern and western sector of the Antonine Wall may simply be due to different types of turf used, varying in subsoil composition and topsoil formation, and representing differences in landscape management and survival of vegetation. Combined with macroscopic field recording to identify Roman building practices, our analysis of this section at Laurieston also shows the care that was taken to construct a level, well-draining rampart to avoid slumping and moisture built-up. Further excavations and thin-section analysis elsewhere along the Wall are now needed to confirm whether turf was more extensively used than so far anticipated for the eastern sector and whether the Antonine Wall could possibly have been built completely of turf. Such conclusions would suggest a much more standardised construction process and more extensive grassland exploitation than considered up until now. While our results demonstrate the importance of micromorphological analysis for understanding this earthen UNESCO World Heritage site, our interdisciplinary approach may also have wider relevance for research on linear earthworks in different geographical and chronological settings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-141
Number of pages39
JournalProceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Antonine Wall
  • Roman Scotland
  • Frontiers of the Roman Empire
  • Roman architecture
  • Roman engineering
  • turf walls
  • geoarchaeology
  • micromorphology
  • UNESCO World Heritage
  • building archaeology
  • turf


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