Roman graffiti from 207AD has been rediscovered in a Cumbrian quarry, from which stone had been taken to repair Hadrian’s Wall.
The markings were first uncovered in the 18th century at Gelt woods, but had become overgrown with vegetation.
Archaeologists from Newcastle University are now painstakingly cleaning back the soft sandstone to record the “written rock of Gelt” before the graffiti is lost to erosion.
Carvings on the rock face include a caricature of the commanding officer in charge of the quarrying and a phallus, a symbol of good luck to the Romans.
One carving which refers to the consulate of Aper and Maximus can be dated to 207AD and offers proof of rebuilding and repair work to Hadrian’s Wall in the early 3rd century.
The archaeologists have been with rock climbing specialists to gain access to the graffiti on a system of ropes and pulleys.
They are using an imaging technique known as “structure from motion photogrammetry” to produce a 3D record of the writings for the public.
Mike Collins, inspector of ancient monuments for Hadrian’s Wall at Historic England, said: “These inscriptions at Gelt Forest are probably the most important on the Hadrian’s Wall frontier.
“They provide insight into the organisation of the vast construction project that Hadrian’s Wall was, as well as some very human and personal touches, such as the caricature of their commanding officer inscribed by one group of soldiers.”
Inscriptions cared into stone were introduced to England by the Roman Army as part of the practice of setting up inscribed stones as religious dedications, as records of building work, and as milestones.
However there are many examples where Legionaries, with time on their hands, have embellished their handiwork with doodles, cartoons and the odd insult.