The buried remains of a Roman fortlet have been discovered in West Dunbartonshire by Historic Environment Scotland (HES).

The fortlet was built next to the Antonine Wall, the frontier that the Romans constructed across central Scotland, and was thought lost in the mists of time.

However, geophysical survey in an unassuming field near Carleith Primary School in Duntocher revealed details lost for hundreds of years.

The announcement of the discovery comes on World Heritage Day (18 April), the international celebration of cultural heritage. The Antonine Wall is one of Scotland’s six UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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Previous excavations to find the fortlet were unsuccessful, but new technology has allowed HES’s archaeological survey team to find the buried remains.

The fortlet was referenced in 1707 by antiquarian Robert Sibbald, who wrote that he had seen a fortlet in the area around Carleith Farm. Excavation teams looked for it in the 1970s and 1980s, but the exact location remained unknown.

Commenting on the discovery, Riona McMorrow, Deputy Head of World Heritage at HES, said: “It is great to see how our knowledge of history is growing as new methods give us fresh insights in the past.

The Herald: An artist's impression of Watling Lodge fortletAn artist's impression of Watling Lodge fortlet (Image: HES)

“Archaeology is often partly detective work, and the discovery at Carleith is a nice example of how an observation made 300 years ago and new technology can come together to add to our understanding.”

This newly discovered fortlet would have been part of several fortlets along the Antonine Wall. It would have been occupied by 10 to 12 Roman soldiers who were stationed at a larger fort nearby, likely to be Duntocher, and manned the fort for a week at a time before being replaced by another detachment.

The fortlet would have been made up of two small wooden buildings to house the soldiers staying there and will have been used for the 20 years (142 CE – 162 CE) that the Antonine Wall was defended as the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire.

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Very much like forts in their playing-card shape and construction, fortlets were essentially miniature forts measuring about 21m x 18m. Antonine Wall fortlets are similar to the ‘milecastles’ on Hadrian’s Wall, and such small mini-forts are known to have been built across the Empire.

HES said the discovery has led it to review the site’s designation to ensure the fortlet is recognised and protected as part of the Antonine Wall - the most northerly frontier of the Roman Empire nearly 2,000 years ago.

At 37-miles-long, the wall, which was mostly built out of turf, ran from Old Kilpatrick on the west coast to near Bo’ness in the east. 

The Herald: Part of the Antonine Wall in New Kilpatrick CemeteryPart of the Antonine Wall in New Kilpatrick Cemetery

The discovery of the fortlet represents one of many exciting Roman finds made in Scotland over the past few decades.

Back in 1999, archaeologists working on the site of a proposed nursery school in Perthshire uncovered the first complete Roman hospital to be found in Britain - attached to a Roman fort dating from the first century AD.

The 2000-year-old hospital, found during a excavation of the site in Doune, was described by archaeologists as being 'of national significance'.

More than a decade later, in 2013, Rome's version of the M8 - a cobbled road which has not been seen for hundreds of years - was uncovered under a car park in Stirling. 

Amazingly, the section of the highway, which was described as "the most important road in Scotland's history", still bore the tracks of Roman carts ferrying legions north to battle the natives.

The road, which follows a line from Doune in Stirlingshire to Falkirk then heads south to England, was later used by William Wallace and Bonnie Prince Charlie for military campaigns.

The Herald: A Roman marching camp was found in Ayrshire in 2019n 20A Roman marching camp was found in Ayrshire in 2019n 20

A year later, in 2014, workers laying water mains through a former fort site near Kirkton in Dumfries and Galloway discovered a haul of artefacts which helped shed new light on the Roman Army's occupation of southern Scotland.

The finds, which dated back more than 1,850 years, included an iron javelin head, pottery and fragments of tiles, which experts said provided hard evidence of the military nature of the Roman occupation.

A series of archaeological features - including the remains of four separate areas of cobbled surface - were also uncovered during the work, which appeared to correlate with the projected layout of Carzield Roman Fort as witnessed during previous investigations dating back to 1939. 

Meanwhile, in 2019, archaeologists uncovered fresh evidence of a Roman invasion of Scotland under an Ayrshire playing field.

A marching camp used by the Legions as they made their way along the coast was found by a team carrying out work prior to the building of the new Ayr Academy.

It is thought to date back to the first century AD, when an army under Agricola, the Roman Governor of Britain, fought its way up to Aberdeenshire and defeated an army of Caledonians at the battle of Mons Grampius.