A group of Roman inscriptions, known as the Written Rock of Gelt, was discovered in the 18th century, but has suffered in recent years as a result of the gradual erosion of the soft sandstone into which they were cut. Now, a team of archaeologists from Newcastle University will record the inscriptions before they are lost forever.
Roman inscriptions were introduced into England by the Roman army who brought with them a long established practice of setting up inscribed stones as religious dedications and tombstones, as records of building work, and as milestones, and also a tradition of inscribing weapons, tools or domestic utensils, ingots of metal and so forth, with the names of the owner.
They are usually cut in capital letters, either monumental or rustic, but some are in cursive or graffiti form and others take the form of pictures or ‘doodles.’
They are extremely common in the first and second centuries CE and are not uncommon later, but become rare after 350 CE.
Dating from 207 CE, the Written Rock of Gelt inscriptions were made by the Romans at a quarry near Gelt Woods in Cumbria, England.
The quarry lies 3.4 miles (5.5 km) south of Hadrian’s Wall and was used as a source of building material during repair work to the wall.
“The information recorded is of particular importance because it gives the names of men and in some instances, their rank and military units,” explained Newcastle University’s Professor Ian Haynes and colleagues.
“One datable inscription ‘APRO ET MAXIMO CONSVLIBVS OFICINA MERCATI’ referring to the consulate of Aper and Maximus, offers proof of rebuilding and repair work to the Roman frontier in the early third century CE.”
Other inscriptions include a caricature of the commanding officer in charge of the quarrying.
“It was thought The Written Rock of Gelt included a group of nine Roman inscriptions, of which only six were legible, however more are being discovered, some are new and others were previously thought to be lost,” the archaeologists said.
“Four new written and figurative inscriptions were discovered while preparations for our project were being made, including a relief sculpture of a Phallus — a Roman ‘good luck’ symbol.”
The scientists will work with specialists in climbing rock faces to record the historic markings, gaining access to the graffiti using ropes and pulleys.
After dropping 30 feet (9 m) down the quarry face, they will use structure-from-motion (SfM) photogrammetry to produce a 3D record of the writings. This record will also help archaeologists to better understand the condition of the inscriptions.
The results of the project, which is funded by Historic England, will be made available later this year on the 3D content sharing platform, Sketchfab.
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