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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Dr Robert Witcher

Image: The Fabulous Tales of the Common People, Part 2: Encountering Hadrian’s WallWitcher, R.E. (2010). The Fabulous Tales of the Common People, Part 2: Encountering Hadrian’s Wall. Public Archaeology 9(4): 211-238.

Author(s) from Durham


In 2003, the Hadrian's Wall National Trail was opened, providing a 135 km (84 mile) public footpath along the length of the Roman frontier from Wallsend to Bowness-on-Solway. Each year, thousands of visitors walk the Trail from end-to-end and many more make day trips to visit specific locations within the wider World Heritage Site. In the second of two related papers (see Witcher, 2010), consideration turns from professional and popular visual representations of Hadrian's Wall to the ways in which visitors physically experience the monument and its landscape. The paper explores how embodied and sensory encounters produce and reproduce understandings which are charged with cultural and political meaning. Specifically, the elision of visitors and Roman soldiers through a process of embodied empathy/sympathy is outlined. It is argued that the way in which Western society assumes familiarity with an ancestral Roman Empire actively reduces the interrogative potential of encounters with the monument and limits visitors' ability to reflect on the significance of the Wall. The paper goes on to consider alternative modes of visual and physical engagement, drawing inspiration from virtual communities including geocachers who have used Information Technology such as Global Positioning Systems and Web 2.0 functionality to develop innovative modes of representation and encounter.


This paper derives from the AHRC Tales of the Frontier project. It is the second of two related papers published in successive issues of Public Archaeology (vol 9, issues 3 and 4).
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