Monday, April 25, 2011

Vindolanda - A Must See!

A £6.3m revamp to the fascinating Vindolanda fort in Northumberland, has created a modern Museum where visitors gain unprecedented access to Roman psyche. Nowhere else can one feel so close to the personal lives of the men and women of the Northern frontier.

The remains of the fort are impressive and the experimental reconstruction leaves nothing to the imagination. However, the real adventure begins in the Museum building where the lives of the site’s inhabitants are told in the most lucid way, aided by a multitude of personal objects from the camp commandant’s wife’s shoes to remains of the soldiers’ leather tents.

The Museum’s crowing glory is the incredibly unique Vindolanda Tablets display, where visitors can enjoy a selection of precious letters unearthed on site and only recently returned here on loan from the British Museum in London. This sophisticated gallery opens with a well-edited video showing the way they were unearthed (1800 of them have been found since 1973), studied and interpreted. The journey continues to a vault-like, environmentally controlled room where a selection of 9 tablets is shown along with their translation and a full interpretation of the contents. These range from a letter from the camp commandant inviting someone into camp for a probable census to a seemingly banal shopping list showing the array of products available to Roman soldiers at Vindolanda.

These tablets are the oldest surviving handwritten tablets in Britain and show the official and private correspondence of the men and women who lived at Vindolanda nearly 2000 years ago. They all date to the year immediately before the construction of Hadrian's Wall and form the earliest archive of written material in British history. This is a breathtaking and utterly irreplaceable account of Roman Britain shown in the most approachable manner and should not be missed by anyone travelling through the region.

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