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Prehistoric Canals (Dykes) – Antonine Wall

Promotional Video Ancient Prehistoric Canals (Dykes) – The Vallum (The Antonine Wall)

Extract From Book……………………… Ancient Prehistoric Canals (Dykes) – The Vallum (Antonine Wall)

Traditional archaeologists and archaeological establishments like English Heritage suggest that:

The Vallum is a massive earthwork constructed shortly after Hadrian’s Wall itself and lying just south of it. Many visitors confuse the Vallum with Hadrian’s Wall itself because it’s such an obvious and impressive feature in the landscape. 

In fact, the Vallum is made up of several different elements – a ditch around 6 metres wide and 3 metres deep; two mounds either side of the ditch about 6 metres wide and 2 metres high and set back from the ditch by around 9 metres; and often a third mound on the southern edge of the ditch. The whole complex is around 36 metres across. Usually, the Vallum runs close behind the Wall but in the rocky and hilly central section the Vallum lies up to 700 metres from the Wall.

The vallum
The Vallum

Crossing points seem to have been located south of each of the forts along Hadrian’s Wall and near several of the milecastles. Evidence from the excavated Vallum crossing at Benwell in Newcastle shows these crossing points had impressive monumental gateways.

The Vallum’s purpose is unclear. Many archaeologists think it marks the southern boundary of a military zone with the Wall itself forming the northern boundary. This would have helped protect the rear of the Wall and its associated military installations, with civilian access being closely controlled. The gateway at Benwell supports this idea. The numerous gateways along the Wall at forts and milecastles suggest that the frontier was intended as much to control movement as to provide a defensive line. Traders would have moved goods across the frontier but their movements would have been controlled and their goods taxed.

Relatively soon after it was constructed, some 20 to 30 years perhaps, the Vallum seems to have lost its function – the mounds were cut through and the ditch filled in at fairly regular intervals. It was out of use by the time the forts along the Wall were re-commissioned in the late second century AD following the return of the garrison from the Antonine Wall.

The Vallum Book
The Vallum Book – Antonine Wall

Sadly, these ideas that have been constructed over the last 200 years are somewhat questionable. Within the book we look at associated aspects of this area like Military Way which was supposed to be constructed to patrol the so-called ‘Military Zone’ – to find that:

That over 50% of Military Way does not exist as a separate road, as described by archaeologists. Instead, the perceived road is fragmented and only becomes ‘alive’ as an independent road when the Vallum separates from the wall at any distance. 

This might give us a clue to the function of this rough and wonky road, as the stone for the wall would have needed to be delivered by cart if the Vallum canal was not available.

Stanegate as portrayed by archaeologists
Stanegate as portrayed by archaeologists – The Antonine Wall

As for the Stanegate that was supposed to connect to the main forts in the area as a ‘defensive shield’ we actual found that it is very little to no evidence of the ‘Stanegate Roman Road’, which (according to the current theory proposed by English Heritage) ‘consolidated as a frontier’ during the late first and early second century AD and helped crystallise Roman tactics and military expectations in the area.

This evidence is compounded when you release that of the 80mile border from coast to coast – Stonegate, at best, covers just 38.1 miles (47%) of the ‘defensive gap’, and hence suggestions of extension over and above the existing line existed (even without support from OS maps). Moreover, the research has shown the ‘raw’ Stanegate road without the ‘hidden’ parts below the B-roads – we are only looking at 20% of the declared road being visible on LiDAR maps.

Stanegate Road (when not part of an existing B-road system) is inconsistent in width and structure -moving from bank track to road with two ditches on each side to a ditch with two banks far from straight and usually starts and ends in ravens.

Most Forts and the Stanegate are not found to connect (with intersecting sub-roads) on only two occasions, and the rest show no connection.  Moreover, later ‘temporary’ camps also did not connect with the road – which questions whether (a defence line) was its purpose.  

Moreover, this would then question the ‘myth’ of using the Stanegate as a ‘boundary’ for withdrawing troops from Scotland in the first century AD is correct. And whether the River Tyne (which most of these Forts sit upon) was used as a more practical and effective boundary/defence.

This ‘myth buster’ will not surprise many in academia as it has been ‘hinted’ at for some time (but not acted upon it by updating the literature), as we see from Symonds et al.

“The question of whether a road even existed when the fortlets were founded is by default an existential one for the notion that they provided highway protection. But even if the metalled road does post-date the fortlets, a reasonably robust thoroughfare of some form must have existed from at least the mid AD 80s to service Vindolanda. The question is not whether there was a road, but whether it was metalled when the fortlets were founded.” Symonds, M. (2017). Hadrian’s Wall. In Protecting the Roman Empire: Fortlets, Frontiers, and the Quest for Post-Conquest Security (pp. 95-132)

Moreover, even if Stanegate was not built as suggested, it exists in parts, and it looks prehistoric (by design) as it relies heavily on ravens that start and end sections of the Stanegate sections; its sunken structure in parts is unfamiliar to traditional Roman Road design.

As for other famous ‘Roman Features Such as the Great Chesters Aqueduct, again we find not only is the origin questionable but as it located supposedly fully in ‘hostile territory – they its usefulness win conflict would be limited.

It is clear from the LiDAR research that the suspected Roman Aqueduct is not as it seems. This is not the first examination to spread doubt about the scale and origin of this feature in the landscape – MacKay, D. A. (1990). The Great Chesters Aqueduct: A New Survey. Britannia, 21, 285–289. Also shows an incomplete map of this aqueduct.

Great Chesters by Mackey
Great Chesters by Mackey – The Antonine Wall

Mackey failed to find in their survey that the Aqueduct changed size, and the path suggested had no identifiable remains of the bridges required to make this Aqueduct work.

Our more detailed findings indicate that the topology of the aqueduct suggests that it would need to go uphill at several points without any powered assistance (like a siphon) and so is mechanically unsound. Our finding has found that the use of ‘Dykes’ in this area and some connecting to this Aqueduct feature is new. We have also shown that closer to the Fort it was supposed to supply, there were closed water sources which could be used and that the Fosse by the Wall was also a water supply.

We conclude that we found a prehistoric watercourse linked to their sophisticated ‘Dyke’ system. I would be bold to suggest that this was used for either agricultural purposes or maybe industrial, seeing the multiple sites of quarries associated and in the region of this feature.

Case Study – The Antonine Wall

It would be amiss if we did not look at the ‘other’ Roman wall in some detail as it is part of the great ‘enigma’. (Antonine Wall)


The Antonine Wall, known to the Romans as Vallum Antonini, was a turf fortification on stone foundations built by the Romans across what is now the Central Belt of Scotland, between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde. Built some twenty years after Hadrian’s Wall to the south and intended to supersede it, while it was garrisoned, it was the northernmost frontier barrier of the Roman Empire. It spanned approximately 63 kilometres (39 miles) and was about 3 metres (10 feet) high and 5 metres (16 feet) wide. Lidar scans have been carried out to establish the length of the wall and the Roman distance units used.

 Security was bolstered by a deep ditch on the northern side. It is thought that there was a wooden palisade on top of the turf. The barrier was the second of two “great walls” created by the Romans in Great Britain in the second century AD. Its ruins are less evident than those of the better-known and longer Hadrian’s Wall to the south, primarily because the turf and wood wall has largely weathered away, unlike its stone-built southern predecessor.

Construction began in 142 AD at the order of Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius, and took about 12 years to complete. Antoninus Pius never visited Britain, whereas his predecessor Hadrian had done so. Pressure from the Caledonians may have led Antoninus to send the empire’s troops further north. The Antonine Wall was protected by 16 forts with small fortlets between them; troop movement was facilitated by a road linking all the sites known as the Military Way.

The soldiers who built the wall commemorated the construction and their struggles with the Caledonians with decorative slabs, twenty of which survive. The wall was abandoned only eight years after completion, and the garrisons relocated rearward to Hadrian’s Wall. Most of the wall and its associated fortifications have been destroyed over time, but some remains are visible. Many of these have come under the care of Historic Environment Scotland and the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.

Grim’s Dyke

In medieval histories, such as the chronicles of John of Fordun, the wall is called Gryme’s dyke. Fordun says that the name came from the grandfather of the imaginary king Eugenius son of Farquahar. This evolved over time into Graham’s dyke – a name still found in Bo’ness at the wall’s eastern end – and then linked with Clan Graham. Of note is that Graeme in some parts of Scotland is a nickname for the devil, and Gryme’s Dyke would thus be the Devil’s Dyke, mirroring the name of the Roman limes in Southern Germany often called ‘Teufelsmauer’. Grímr and Grim are bynames for Odin or Wodan, who might be credited with the wish to build earthworks in unreasonably short periods of time. This name is the same one found as Grim’s Ditch several times in England in connection with early ramparts: for example, near Wallingford, Oxfordshire or between Berkhamsted (Herts) and Bradenham (Bucks). Other names used by antiquarians include the Wall of Pius and the Antonine Vallum, after Antoninus Pius.

antonine Wall fort 2
Grimes Dyke – Antonine Wall

The reality is that the exact dates and the reason for its construction are just as confused as Hadrian’s Wall, although (as shown) various theories offer explanations for the construction.

For the purpose of this book, we are only concerned with the construction process behind the Antonine Wall to see if it gives us clues to the structure of the Vallum, which seems to be of similar size and design, but looks as if it has been ‘reused’ in a lesser form and therefore giving us clues to how the original Vallum may have looked before it massively revamped?

We could (and might at a later date) look at the entire length of the Antoine Wall to obtain a more comprehensive analysis of the construction, but for this Case Study exercise, we will look at just one section, including a fortification.

Castlecary Fort Section (Antonine Wall)

The first thing to notice is that the ‘original’ prehistoric Dyke was there BEFORE the Roman ‘extension’ and connection with the fort.  We know it was a prehistoric Dyke as its path is far from ‘Straight’, unlike the Roman extension.

Castlecary Fort - Antonine Wall
Castlecary Fort – Antonine Wall
Castlecary Fort (LiDAR) - Antonine Wall
Castlecary Fort (LiDAR) – Antonine Wall
Figure 102 - Prehistoric Dyke (Antonine Wall)
Figure 102 – Prehistoric Dyke (Antonine Wall)
Figure 103 - Roman Extension to Old Dyke (Antonine Wall)
Figure 103 – Roman Extension to Old Dyke (Antonine Wall)


This connection between the Antonine Wall and prehistoric Dykes is connected not only by the LiDAR maps but also by the historical names used for the Wall within the entire length of the Antonine Wall.

Castlecary (Antonine Wall)
Castlecary (Antonine Wall)

(Antonine Wall)

3D Book Template 3 Vallum
Ancient Prehistoric Canals (Dykes) Book – Antonine Wall

This was an extracts from the NEW Book Ancient Prehistoric Canals (Dykes) – Wansdyke available on Amazon as a FULL COLOUR HARD BACK (£49.95) or a ECONOMY (£9.99) SOFTBACK black and white VERSION – it is also available as a KINDLE (£2.99) book. For further information about our work on Prehistoric Britain visit our WEBSITE or VIDEO CHANNEL.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0BN7PD6BS
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Independently published (24 Nov. 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 477 pages
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8358524187
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 15.24 x 3.33 x 22.86 cm
  • Illustrations: 350+

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