How learners are helping shape our courses about Hadrian’s Wall

Ian Haynes, Professor of Archaeology at Newcastle University, is lead educator on the free online course, “Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier”. In this post, he reflects on the rewards and challenges of working on a FutureLearn course, and updating the content for new runs as exciting discoveries are made. 

Hadrian's Wall free online course image

Hadrian’s Wall (Copyright Newcastle University)

With so much work going on at Hadrian’s Wall, running a FutureLearn course quickly becomes an enjoyable challenge. What evolving themes should we focus on? How do we adapt and transform earlier runs of the course? In addressing these questions I have become acutely conscious of the enthusiasm of our participants for certain key themes.  We had always hoped, for example, that our forensic challenges (case studies in forensic archaeology) in “Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier” would fascinate  – but I never anticipated that their reception would help push new research forward.

Yet this is exactly what has happened.

Forensic challenges lead to astonishing results

Our sharp-eyed learners pointed out how to apply some of the new methodologies we featured in our forensic challenges, to one of the most macabre discoveries unearthed on the Wall: the remains of two individuals hacked to death. In week 6 of the previous run of this free online course we looked at these remains found at Arbeia Roman Fort in South Shields, which were buried in the courtyard of what had been the finest dwelling in the settlement.

So we dusted off that particular case. Working with our friends at Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums and the excellent Dr Eleanor Graham of Northumbria University’s Centre for Forensic Science, we returned to the scene. We launched a programme of DNA analysis to see what we could learn of the identities of the two individuals buried in the Roman Fort. We will have the results through just in time for our new run of the course (starting 2 November).

One thing led to another, and in a related exchange with Eleanor she revealed that new DNA results from another sinister Hadrian’s Wall burial have come up with what for me were astonishing results.  I cannot write more here now, these results need to be reviewed alongside other findings – but I have to confess my jaw dropped when I read them.

New discoveries at a Roman temple complex

The forensic challenges are just one of a number of areas where work has been pushed forward ever since the previous run of “Hadrian’s Wall” ended a few weeks ago. My colleagues and I have been active in the field and there is much to report.  To give but one example, our five-year excavations at the Roman temple complex at Maryport in Cumbria in the north west of the UK, have now come to an end. (Very many thanks to all FutureLearn veterans who took the time to come and introduce themselves during this summer’s season.)

As is always the way, the site saved some of its most dramatic revelations until the very last days. We will present a full update during the next run of the course, so sign up now to find out more. We will explain why our work at Maryport may force us to look again at some of our most cherished preconceptions of how the Romans worshipped the most powerful of their gods, Jupiter.

So there is a lot to look forward to this November, but more than anything, I am really eagerly anticipating another stimulating opportunity to exchange ideas with our fantastic community of online students.

If you’d like to explore the archaeology of the most heavily fortified frontier in the Roman Empire, and fascinating new finds, join the online course “Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier” now. 

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Comments (7)

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  • steve lewis

    Would it be possible for a live dig on Hadrians wall or in the area of , this i feel would add value to those doing the course

  • Ed Townes

    I echo Eric Hall’s hope that this information becomes available before the course ends. If not, will we still be able to access Prof. Hayne’s blog? I look forward to seeing these “jaw-dropping” results, and to incorporating the information into my ongoing research.

  • Rosalind Hutchinson

    The forensic challenges are indeed fascinating! I can’t imagine anyone not being amazed at what can be learned from the remains of another human being. Like Eric Hall, I hope that the DNA results of the 2 skeletons in Wk 6 will be able to be made available to us before the end of the course; if not, perhaps we can be alerted as to where we can access them afterwards. Guess I may have to sign up for Run 3 of Hadrian’s Wall to learn about your latest findings in Maryport. Sorry that the excavations have ended – but understand that you probably need a break from them for a while to analyse and assimilate all the findings. In this area, Caerleon has generated a lot of excitement with work done by Cardiff University, but that too is having a break from excavating. Hopefully CBA’s Archaeology will publish on both sites in the not too distant future.

  • Eric Hall

    I hope that the info is published before the course ends! It would be sad to have come so far and missed out right at the end. Perhaps we should start a mailing list so that we can be updated with the results

  • Susan Granger

    I was eagerly awaiting the beginning of this course. After reading the above article I am even more excited! Can’t wait!

  • Patrick Carroll

    Hello Professor,

    I’m currently studying Identifying The Dead on FL at the Centre for Human Identity, University of Dundee. I was wondering if you did isotope analysis on the remains of your bodies, and if so, what the results were. I’m also considering signing up for your course as it sounds really interesting.

  • khalil

    hello all: really i want to improve my skills in english so i want to help me,please to communicate with any on to speak with (him-her) online
    thank you