Why Are UK’s Buried Treasures, Like a Roman Toilet Seat and the Oldest Written Letter Under Threat?

Vindolanda Roman fort - Sputnik International, 1920, 26.01.2022
Archeological excavations at Vindolanda, a Roman fort south of Hadrian's Wall in northern England, noted for the discovery of wooden leaf-Vindolanda tablets – at the time the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain – have also uncovered the world's oldest boxing gloves and the oldest handwritten message by a woman found anywhere.
Some 22,500 prized Roman treasure sites scattered across the UK might be lost forever due to climate change, warn archaeologists cited by the BBC.
The waterlogged peatlands that cover around 10 percent of the UK and retain these antiquities could be dried out as a result of rising temperatures. Peat, which contains very little oxygen, allows organic materials like wood, leather and textiles to withstand rot and survive for thousands of years. Even whole bodies have been found in peat soils, like the famous Lindow man discovered in Cheshire.
While a so-called “dry” site might allow an archeologist to find 10% of what was once there, at a peatland site they may find as much as 90% of what was left by ancient communities.
However, should the soils dry in a process called "desiccation", decomposition could set in once oxygen is allowed to enter the system.
Dr. Andrew Birley, the chief archaeologist at Magnis, a Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall that he referred to as a "historical time capsule", voiced concern that the whole area has not yet been excavated.
"This place has the potential to be quite frankly, amazing. Pretty much everything the Romans used here for 300 or 400 years could have been preserved in more or less the same state it was thrown away, which is an incredible opportunity," said Birley.
However, according to Birley, land at the site has already subsided by up to a metre during the past decade as evidence of peat drying.
A few miles further along Hadrian's Wall is another site that has the potential to unearth many more treasures.
Vindolanda Roman fort - Sputnik International, 1920, 26.01.2022
Vindolanda Roman fort
Previously excavation at Vindolanda, near the modern village of Bardon Mill, Northumberland, uncovered the world's oldest boxing gloves that have preserved the imprint of the boxer's knuckles.
A 2,000-year-old wooden Roman toilet seat, perfectly preserved, had also been discovered at the Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall. Experts at Vindolanda believe it is the only find of its kind.
The oldest handwritten letter by a woman named Claudia Severa, wife of the commanding officer of a nearby fort, was penned 1,900 years ago and is also one of the extraordinary objects found at these peatlands.
Vindolanda has also been known for its stashes of Roman footwear.
Vindolanda Roman fort - Sputnik International, 1920, 26.01.2022
Vindolanda Roman fort
However, pressed as they are for time, archaeologists acknowledge that the lengthy process of excavating these potentially huge sites could cost hundreds of millions of pounds.
Dr Gillian Taylor, from Teesside University, who has been analysing the chemicals in soil cores from the site, says it will be "a "catastrophe" for any organic artefacts if the peat dries.
"The risk is they will disappear. We will lose our heritage if we don't look at what's occurring now," warned the scientist.
Currently, experts have been working at Magna, boring holes to try to determine the processes underway underground. Electronic equipment is being used to measure water flow and temperature hourly.
“Peatlands represent such a small part of the ecology of Britain, but they have massive potential to tell us about our past. The loss of peatlands would have big implications for the understanding of the country's history but also for our climatic history and our environmental history," Dr. Rosie Everett, of Northumbria University, was cited as saying.
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