Then and Now: the Vindolanda Milestone

HEIR was created to help us understand monuments in changing landscapes. Your photographs showing ‘then’ and ‘now’ are giving a new insight into how the environment changes perceptions of what monuments are for. Martin Rush has been travelling in north England and sent us a rephotograph of HEIR ID 36501 (an image from Passmore’s lantern slide collection) of the Vindolanda Milestone. Here is what the site looks like today:

Vindolanda Milestone 2016: photo Martin Rush

Vindolanda Milestone 2016: photo Martin Rush

And here is Passmore’s image:

HEIR ID 36501. Passmore Collection, The Institute of Archaeology, Oxford

HEIR ID 36501. Passmore Collection, The Institute of Archaeology, Oxford

At first glance, the changes over 100 years are superficial. A wall has been mended, and stones littering the ground around the milestone have disappeared (perhaps used to help rebuild the stone wall?). However, even allowing for the change in seasons, there is a striking change in how the stone is viewed today compared to the past. When Passmore’s image was taken, about 100 years ago, it would have been clearly visible to anyone coming over the horizon and heading down the road. Today, Martin’s photograph suggests that, thanks to the growth of trees, you wouldn’t even see the stone until you were nearly on it. At the end of the 19th century, the stone would have been visible from the hills on both sides as you travelled to or from the nearby Roman fort of Vindolanda. Today, you might miss it altogether were it not for the sign on the roadside.

Given the stone’s location, on a rise above the road, it is likely that the earlier photograph gives a much more accurate idea of what the stone meant in the landscape at the time it was originally erected – and in turn, this suggests that a 19th century viewer of the stone would have had a much closer sense of what the stone was supposed to signify to the onlooker – a clear symbol of place and space in the wide landscape, visibly linked to the Roman fort and a forceful marker of the Roman presence in Britain. By the 19th century, some of these meanings had gone, but the milestone still held a position in the landscape – perhaps because it still had a function as a landmark. Today, hidden amongst the trees, what is the ‘meaning’ of the monument?


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