Work to discover secrets held within ancient stonework at Housesteads Roman Fort has taken place in time for the opening of a new attraction at the site this spring.
English Heritage appointed a team of skilled experts, using cutting edge technology, to scan, clean and conserve the 1,800 year old stonework, at its archaeological store in Helmsley, North Yorkshire.
The ancient sculptures and altars, which all originate from the Roman site, have undergone a careful high definition laser scanning procedure by surveyors Stanburys Ltd, to accurately record the carved details. Once analysed, the team at English Heritage hopes to discover the exact purposes of the artefacts throughout the ages, including sculpted figures of three Mother (Matres) goddesses dating back to the early 3rd Century AD.
Significantly, data from the Roman stonework is now also being used to create bespoke plinths to support these fragile artefacts, ensuring they will be safely displayed at the new museum.
Kevin Booth, Senior Curator for English Heritage in the North, said: “The ancient stonework will form a vital part of the new museum at Housesteads Roman Fort, helping to create an authentic picture of life in the Roman age for visitors and demonstrating the legacy that the Romans left behind.
“Ensuring the artefacts return to their new home in the best possible condition is of the utmost importance and we have employed a team of experts to painstakingly conserve, scan and clean them at their temporary base in Helmsley.
“We’re looking forward to receiving the results from the specialist scanning procedure – the data we have captured will hopefully give us a much better understanding of these fascinating ancient artefacts.”
Specialist cleaning and conservation work has also been carried out in order to fully prepare the stonework for its journey back to Housesteads, where visitors can look forward to seeing the original artefacts in the new exhibition, which also features a film on the Roman fort.
Outside in the fort a series of site interpretation panels will help visitors understand the networks of buildings and access for disabled visitors to the museum building will also be added.
The new English Heritage museum and shop will open to the public in spring 2012. Whilst this is still in development, visitors can access the fort free of charge or visit the Roman Museums and collections at Chesters, Birdoswald and Corbridge which remain open at weekends throughout the winter.
The National Trust has also been granted planning permission for Phase 2 of the project with work due to take place towards the end of 2012. This will include improving the welcome for visitors and remodelling the visitor centre, toilets, shop and café.
Northumberland National Park Authority is improving the visitor infrastructure. Improvements to the car park and access points will ultimately provide 40 additional car parking spaces and better access.
The fort is open free of charge 10am to dusk in February-March. The museum is closed. Disabled parking is currently limited during the development works.
The Northumberland National Park car park remains open during the period of improvement works.
For further information on Housesteads Roman Fort and Museum visitwww.english-heritage.org.uk/