Feeding the Roman Army in Britain


New Research Assistant appointed

Delighted to welcome Dr Leah Reynolds to the FRAB team!

Leah is an archaeologist whose research interests lie in the settlements and material culture of Roman Britain and the impact of the Roman occupation on native societies. Leah completed her PhD at Cardiff University in 2019, which was published in 2022 as Roman Rural Settlement in Wales and the Marches: Approaches to settlement and material culture through big data (BAR British Series 670, Oxford: Archaeopress).

Leah will integrate FRAB’s results with wider archaeological (e.g. artefactual) and historical sources, and co-ordinate the project’s publications (monograph and articles).

Seminar presentation

FRAB’s PI, Richard Madgwick, gave a evening seminar at Newcastle University’s School of History, Classics and Archaeology where he showed some of our project’s preliminary results, including the evidence for the supply of animals to Hadrian’s Wall from beyond the frontier!

Steering Commitee meeting

FRAB’s Steering Committee met at Cardiff University on 23 January 2024. This marks the beginning of our project’s 3rd and final year and the meeting was an invaluable opportunity to show some of our fantastic results and to discuss how we will move forwards to complete the project.

We were very pleased to be joined by Prof. Jane Evans (British Geological Survey), Profs Hella Eckardt and Mike Fulford (University of Reading), Dr Fraser Hunter (National Museums Scotland) and Dr Angela Lamb, FRAB’s Co-PI (British Geological Survey). The FRAB team presented the lastest results, which generated a very interesting discussion about what this all means for our understanding of how the Roman army in Britain was supplied, and what it tells us about how animals consumed in forts and fortresses were reared.

British Geological Survey visit

Dr Leia Mion visited Dr Angela Lamb (FRAB Co-PI) at the British Geological Survey’s Stable Isotope Facility at Nottingham (a node of the National Environmental Isotope Facility). Angela showed Leia around the amazing facilities and provided an introduction to the mass spectrometry (CF-IRMS) used to analyse FRAB’s collagen samples.



Final plant sampling

Hong and Leia spent a couple of days exploring the countryside in south Wales to retrieve the last batch of plant samples from around our study sites.  This is necessary for the building of the biosphere mapping and it is an essential part of FRAB both for exploring animal origins, as as well as legacy benefits for future researchers in Roman archaeology and beyond. It was a bit of an adventure and we’re glad they made it back safely (with the samples!).



Conference presentation

Richard presented a co-authored poster at the International Congress of Zooarchaeology in Cairns, Australia. This showcased the multi-isotope results from Wales and the extended catchment of the legionary fortress at Caerleon. It was very well received with lots of Romanists and Isotope analysts very interested in the project’s methods and preliminary results.



New Publication

‘Feeding The Roman Army in Britain’ is in Antiquity!

Read / download the Open Access article at: https://doi.org/10.15184/aqy.2023.110.


FRAB’s Placement Students start work

FRAB has recruited two CUROP (Cardiff University Research Opportunities Placement) students to help processing project materials this summer. Miss Aaliyah Ali and Mr Thomas Rees are both second year undergraduate students. They will each work for 100 (paid placement) hours this June and July, when they will focus on preparing the teeth and bones from the two Antonine Wall sites at Inveresk and Cramond for multi-isotopic analysis. Aliyah and Thomas will be trained by Leia and Hong for sample removal, measurement and collagen extraction. We’re looking forward to working with them and they’re sure to learn a great deal from the experience!


Antonine Wall sampling

Richard, Leia, Hong and Peter spent a couple of days in Edinburgh at the end of May collecting samples from the project’s Antonine Wall sites: Inveresk and Cramond. Over 100 samples were extracted for analysis at Cardiff University and the British Geological Survey, which should give us a good idea where the animals that supplied the forts’ garrisons were reared. FRAB includes a substantial biosphere mapping component as well – carefully selected modern plants will be vital in providing local biosphere data, which will have legacy benefits for future researchers beyond Roman archaeology.

The trip confirmed once again how research project’s like FRAB rely on the help and assistance from museums and we’re immensely grateful to all the curators who let us explore  their archives. Special thanks to Fraser Hunter, Andrew Kitchener and Zena Timmons at National Museums Scotland, and John Lawson at the Museum of Edinburgh.

Conference presentation

Hong presented the project outline and preliminary results of FRAB at the Geochemistry Group Research in Progress Meeting (GGRIP) held in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Cambridge. Hong was pleasantly surprised to find so many geologists and geochemistry scientists were interested in our Zooarchaeology project!

Many questions were asked about the basic hypothesis of the multi-isotope approach to trace animal movements in the past. Hong also learnt about new and faster sampling and analysing protocols for archaeological samples, which will allow us to skip some of the chemistry, may become available soon.

Hadrian’s Wall sampling

Richard, Hong, Leia and Peter spent a week in late November collecting samples from the project’s Hadrian’s Wall sites: South Shields, Wallsend, Housesteads, Corbridge, Vindolanda and Birdoswald. They were kept very busy looking through boxes (and boxes!) of animal bones, and almost 200 samples were extracted for analysis at Cardiff University and the British Geological Survey.

FRAB would not be possible without help and assistance from museums and we’re immensely grateful to all the curators who let us rummage through their archives – Alex Croom at Arbeia and Segedunum, Frances McIntosh at Corbridge Roman Town and Museum, Andrew and Barbara Birley at Vindolanda, and Elsa Price at Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery. The team stayed in the fabulous Hedley Centre at Vindolanda and a very special thank you to everyone at the Trust for making us so welcome during our stay with them!

This was the first time Hong and Leia had visited Hadrian’s Wall and they thoroughly enjoyed being shown around the fantastic remains of the World Heritage Site and its museums – so much so that they’re planning to return with their families next year (perhaps when its a little warmer and less wet)!



Conference presentation

Leia and Peter presented an introduction to FRAB at the first ‘Reconnecting Roman Britain’ event in London, organised by the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies. After a short introduction to the project, we were delighted to show delegates some of the very first results from the Wales case-study region. We received lots of positive feedback and it was good to present in person again.


Museum sample selection

Richard, Leia and Peter went to Chepstow Museum to select teeth and animal bones from the rural settlement at Thornwell Farm (excavated in 1992). Interesting and well-preserved material!

This is the last museum we are visiting in Wales and we have now completed sample collection from the 7 sites we targeted for the south Wales case-study region.

Many thanks to Dr Mark Lewis at the National Roman Legion Museum in Caerleon, Evan Chapman at the National Museum Cardiff, Oliver Blackmore at Newport Museum & Art Gallery, and Anne Rainsbury here at Chepstow Museum.

Masters research

Rhiannon Jenkins, FRAB MSc student, has submitted her Masters Dissertation! As one of the very few studies analysing sulphur isotope analysis from Romano-British faunal material, it has proved invaluable in identifying new non-locals previously unidentifiable using strontium isotope analysis alone. It clearly demonstrates animals were sourced from different areas, some of which were reared in inland wetland and coastal environments.

Conference presentation

Peter and Richard delivered a joint paper about FRAB to the Congress of Roman Frontier Studies (Limes Congress) in Nijmegen in August 2022. After a short introduction to the project, we were delighted to show delegates some of the very first results – hot off the press! – from the Wales case-study region.

First carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotope data run

The first sets of triple CNS isotope data have been analysed at the National Environmental Isotope Facility at the British Geological Survey by Co-I Angela Lamb. Samples are analysed using a Thermo Fisher IsoLink EA coupled to a Delta V plus via a Conflo IV interface. The first isotope data set comes from samples from Caerleon Priory Field.

Sampling of animal bones from sites in Wales

Dr Leia Mion (FRAB Research Assistant) is carrying out the sampling of animal bones from Wales (Usk, Whitton and Caerleon) before their preparation for collagen extraction. It’s nice to finally smell bone dust in the air!

Sampling of teeth from sites in Wales

After several long days in museum basements selecting bones and teeth with our great museum collaborators, the analytical work for the project has finally kicked off. Dr Hongjiao Ma (FRAB Research Assistant), is carrying out the chemistry work for the first batch of samples from Nash before they are analysed for their strontium isotope ratios.

Conference presentation

Richard presented an introduction to FRAB at the online meeting of the ICAZ (international Council for Archaeozoology) Roman Period Working Group in October 2021. The group was excited about the project and looking forward to hearing more after we start next year!