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Burial urns ‘show Hadrian’s Wall was home to families as well as fighters’

Alongside its military function guarding the edge of the Roman empire, the wall would have been home to wives and children, English Heritage says.

Burial remains of a woman and child found by Hadrian’s Wall show the famous military fortification was also a centre for Roman family life, experts said.

The previously unseen Roman cremation urns, which contain the remains of a young woman and a five-year-old child, are going on display at Birdoswald Roman Fort, Cumbria, close to where they were found.

The remains of the woman and the youngster, who from the proximity of their burial may have been mother and child, challenge the notion that Hadrian’s Wall was the preserve of military men, English Heritage said.

Cremation urns containing the remains of a woman and child are going on display for the first time (English Heritage/PA)

At nearby Corbridge Roman Town, the public will be able to see infant feeding bottles, the remnants of a doll, a bone whistle and evidence of board games.

The exhibitions are part of a combined £1.8 million investment by the heritage charity to bring to life the stories of the men, women and children who lived along the Roman empire’s north-western frontier.

The urns were discovered during a rare cemetery excavation in 2009, and analysis of a child’s tooth suggests he or she was around five while the woman is thought to have been in her 20s or 30s.

A Roman board game is going on display as part of a £1.8 million investment in heritage sites on the Wall (English Heritage/PA)

Goods found in the urn with the woman include a section of iron chain mail from armour, leaving archaeologists puzzling over the meaning of an item which normally indicates a male burial.

English Heritage curator of Roman collections Frances McIntosh said: “Alongside its military function, Hadrian’s Wall was a thriving centre of everyday life.

“Even though ordinary Roman soldiers weren’t officially allowed to marry until 197AD, a blind eye was often turned and many wives and children would have lived there, alongside a large community of civilians which sprung up to service the forts.

A Roman doll's leg is among the remnants of toys found around Hadrian's Wall (English Heritage/PA)

“The discovery of this woman and child is fascinating, it leaves us with questions about how they were related, and why she was buried with armour.

“But it also reminds us how rich and diverse the story of life on Hadrian’s Wall is, something which our new exhibitions at Birdoswald and Corbridge will highlight.”

New exhibitions will go on display at Corbridge Roman Town, as well as nearby Birdoswald Roman Fort (English Heritage/PA)

At Corbridge, English Heritage has included a new visualisation of what the outpost of the Roman empire would have looked like in its re-presentation of the museum, while a perfume vase in “impeccable” condition will go on display alongside the children’s toys and games.

At Birdoswald Roman Fort, a new permanent exhibition tells the story of the garrison and its support communities, including a crane which demonstrates the expertise needed to build the wall, English Heritage said.

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