Bridges Across Time

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Current Willowford Bridge

One of the stops on our 8 mile hike today was Willowford Bridge. Hadrian’s wall ends at the top of an incredibly steep slope overlooking the River Irthing. Walking down, we first encountered a bridge, modern with wooden rails and metal steps. Underneath, the river was frothy and flowed between banks covered in trees and bushes stretching over the body of water. Strangely enough, after crossing the bridge we came across the ruins of the old Roman bridge that crossed the same river. Yet here, between the foundations of the three bridge supports was grass and earth. Why would the Romans build a bridge over nothing?

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Old Roman Bridge (featuring Nick)

We know of course that the Romans were not stupid and that in actuality, the river’s path had changed since the bridge’s construction just under 2000 years ago. What we had here was in fact two adjacent bridges crossing the same river but in different times. To me, the contrast between the static remains of the Roman bridge and the dynamic motion of the river was incredibly fascinating and very symbolic of archaeology in general.

When we walked through the Vindolanda site on Monday, our professors stressed the importance of viewing sites with the understanding that they were constantly growing and changing. In our society, we repair, change, knock down, and modify our environment almost daily. The same held true for ancient societies and one of the jobs of archaeologists is to understand the artifacts we find in the context of these changes, whether those are fires, wars, natural disasters, repairs, or changing river paths. The world would have looked quite different during Roman times and it’s our job to take the little information we have now and piece together a framework of the past from which we can make inferences. One of the best parts of this course is that fact that throughout our investigations of the frontier, Professors Greene and Meyer challenge us to guess why certain buildings are the way they are and to explain how certain unexpected features might occur.

In Archaeology, the job is to try and connect the dots between now and then and a perfect example of that is trying to “bridge” the connection at Willowford.

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