25 June 2024 The Future is the Product of the Past

Seven Roman altars multicolored in the Great Northern Museum

We know that the ancient world is now very colorful. But these colors weren’t just limited to robes and other clothing, statues and buildings also offered an astonishing palette.

Roman Britain was a place of vibrant color even in the far north. Pliny the Elder mentioned the orange, red, and purple clothes worn by priests and priestesses in addition to the deep red robes of the Roman legions, while popular dyes used in the Roman world included madder, kermes, weld, woad, saffron, and lichen purple.

However, these colors were not limited to robes and other clothes; sculptures and buildings also provided a fascinating palette – as can be seen in a new project at the Hancock in Newcastle, which reveals the colors experienced along Rome’s Northern barrier at Hadrian’s Wall.

The museum has a huge collection of altars recovered from Hadrian’s Wall – many with dedications to the dead and inscriptions for Roman gods – and seven of the latter now feature animations projected directly onto the stone surface to show how brightly colored altars appeared 1,900 years ago.

The Roman Britain colour display.
The Roman Britain color display.

The animations also include creative renderings of the altars and gods linked with them. The shrine to Neptune, the Roman deity of freshwaters and rivers, was discovered in the River Tyne, for example. It shows a blue undersea environment teeming with fish.

The altar of the sea god Oceanus is decorated with seaweed, starfish, and a crab, while the altar of Fortuna is dripping with bright red, which may suggest rituals performed using wine or sacrificed animal blood.

Other altars with new animations are devoted to Jupiter, the Roman pantheon’s chief deity, Minerva, the goddess of knowledge and strategic battle, and Antenociticus, a local British divinity only found at Condercum Roman Fort in Newcastle’s west end.

“Working with NOVAK and the Great North Museum: Hancock, the altars come alive and invite you to look more closely at the artistry and information that they hold,” says Dr. Rob Collins, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology and WallCAP Project Manager at Newcastle University.

Altars to Fortuna, Minerva and Antenociticus.
Altars to Fortuna, Minerva and Antenociticus.

The project, called Roman Britain in Colour, is a collaboration between the Museum and Hadrian’s Wall Community Archaeology Project (WallCAP), working alongside creative studio NOVAK.

“We’re used to the look of sandstone altars and reliefs in museums but we forget that they were originally painted in bright colors,” says Andrew Parkin, the Museum’s Keeper of Archaeology. “The paint has been lost over the centuries but researchers have found trace amounts of pigment using ultraviolet light and x-rays.

“These new projected animations really make the altars stand out and add greatly to the Hadrian’s Wall gallery in the museum. The team at NOVAK has done a fantastic job in creating the artwork and mapping the projections precisely onto the stones.”

Anyone interested in volunteering for the WallCAP project can register at wallcap.ncl.ac.uk. Volunteers receive regular updates to alert them of forthcoming opportunities and events to investigate and protect the Wall.

The Roman Britain in Colour display can be found in the Hadrian’s Wall gallery at the Great North Museum: Hancock.

Museum Crush

Related Articles

Iron Age Warriors Bend the Swords of Their Defeated Enemies

22 April 2021

22 April 2021

Archaeologists from the Westphalia-Lippe Regional Association (LWL) announced that a metal detector has discovered “one of the largest Iron Age...

Research Helps İlluminate the History of the Scythians with 111 Ancient Genomes

27 March 2021

27 March 2021

Due to their interactions and conflicts with the major contemporaries of Eurasia, the Scythians enjoyed legendary status in history and...

Archaeologists have discovered the origins a Herefordshire Stone Age monument

22 August 2021

22 August 2021

Archaeologists have finally uncovered the mysterious origins of Arthur’s Stone, named after the mysterious legends of King Arthur, who inspired...

Archaeologists discovered floor mosaics with early Christian designs in Roman town of Marcianopolis, in Bulgaria

16 January 2024

16 January 2024

Archaeologists discovered floor mosaics with early Christian designs and nearly 800 artifacts in the archaeological reserve of Marcianopolis in Devnya,...

Archaeologists may have discovered the site where Otto the Great, founder of the Holy Roman Empire, died

5 October 2023

5 October 2023

Archaeologists believe they have found the site where Emperor Otto I (936-973), known as the Great, founder of the Holy...

A Neolithic Ornate Necklace with Over 2,500 Stones found in a Child’s Grave

3 August 2023

3 August 2023

An ornate necklace found in a child’s grave in ancient Jordan about 9,000 years ago provides new insights into the...

Archaeologists have found a previously unknown Roman city with buildings of monumental proportions in Spain’s Aragon Region

17 July 2022

17 July 2022

Archaeologists from the University of Zaragoza in Spain have discovered a previously unknown Roman city with buildings of monumental proportions....

A painted Wooden Saddle Discovered in an Ancient Tomb in Mongolia Represents Earliest Evidence of Modern Horse Riding

13 December 2023

13 December 2023

Researchers unearthed a wooden saddle framed with iron stirrups in a tomb in Urd Ulaan Uneet, popularly known as the...

Clarifying The Complexities Of Communication Across Millennia In Mesoamerica

20 February 2022

20 February 2022

The long-held consensus that the more populated and “civilized” a society, the more complex their communication may be more nuanced...

The three-headed statue of Goddess Hecate discovered in Turkey’s Mersin

18 August 2023

18 August 2023

In the ancient city of Kelenderis in Mersin, located in the south of Turkey, the statue of the 3-headed goddess...

Submerged Roman structure of concentric walls discovered on Italy’s western coast

3 June 2024

3 June 2024

Archaeologists have recently uncovered a significant Roman-era structure submerged near the coastline of Campo di Mare on Italy’s western coast....

Researchers explored a rock art site near Idupulapaya in India

1 October 2021

1 October 2021

A rock art site was discovered near Idupulapaya in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Rock paintings from the Megalithic...

The discovery of a 380-million-year-old heart sheds new light on our bodies’ evolution

16 September 2022

16 September 2022

Researchers from Curtin University have discovered the world’s oldest heart in a ‘beautifully preserved’ ancient jawed fish fossil 380 million...

5,500-year-old Menhir discovered in Portugal

28 August 2023

28 August 2023

A 5,500-year-old (that is around 3500 BC) menhir has been discovered in the town of São Brás de Alportel in...

Israeli researchers have found evidence of cooking fish 780,000 years ago at Gesher Benot Ya’aqov

14 November 2022

14 November 2022

Hominins living at Gesher Benot Ya’akov 780,000 years ago liked their fish to be well cooked, Israeli researchers revealed Monday,...