Ancient water tank discovered near Hadrian’s Wall

If you read our recent brief run-through of the history of water tanks here on the Tuffa blog, you may well have been amazed by how long a journey this vital invention has undergone – as long as that of human civilisation itself. What you might not have realised, is that ancient water tanks are still being discovered – as in one case reported just a few days ago up in North East England.

Excavations at Vindolanda, a Roman fort in Northumberland, uncovered not only the likes of animal bones, pens, barrels and hairpins, but also a free-standing water tank. Director of excavations Andrew Birley confirmed to Culture 24 that the excavators were paying particular attention to the water tank feature and the surrounding roads.

He continued that “they managed to complete the task of excavating the tank down to its flagged floor, removing the rubbish, fill and facing stones which had been pitched into the tank after its abandonment. These would have carried the large flag stones which were to eventually cover the feature entirely.”

An outer wall within a temple or shrine encased the water tank, with Birley adding: “The building would have been accessed from the road to the east, although one can imagine that most may have not been permitted to enter.” He suggested that prospective users may have instead depended on the smaller header tank in front of the building for water, only being able to see a raised platform at the back of the temple, with the water below perhaps reflecting an effigy of a god or goddess.

The water tank was first encountered at the end of last year, Birley hailing it as the “greatest discovery” of the archaeological work at the site near Hadrian’s Wall. He said that as the temple fell out of use, the tank was only retained by later modifications as a utilitarian water feature. When this was itself discarded and abandoned, it was filled in with fine facing stones and rubble, its form then being covered over with flag stones.

According to Birley, the original purpose of the temple and water tank may have been “utterly forgotten” by this stage.  Here at Tuffa, we are enthralled and intrigued to read of such a rich history for the humble water tank. We certainly hope to be reading many more stories of discoveries like this long into the future!

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