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3D technology helping to record Colchester’s Roman Wall

The first ever accurate, high resolution, digital record of the wall is being produced

Date issued: 5 November 2019

Cutting-edge technology is being used to help photograph and record the borough’s Roman Wall for the first time, as part of Colchester Borough Council’s Better Colchester campaign.

Colchester’s Roman Wall is the oldest and longest-surviving town wall in Britain. Using state-of-the-art 3D imaging the first ever accurate, high resolution, digital record of the wall is being produced. This technology provides a fast, compact and highly accurate method to survey, scan and record almost any asset or object large or small.

Leading specialist Professor Dominic Powlesland, who recently received the British Academy Landscape Archaeology Medal, is working with the council on the project together with photography students from Colchester Institute.

Work to record the Balkerne Gate, the largest surviving gateway in Britain, took place on Monday 4 November.

Once complete, the record will contribute to the long-term management, analysis, interpretation and presentation of the wall.

Professor Dominic Powlesland, a digital recording specialist, said “Having lived in Colchester as a child, I am delighted to be involved in a project which will document the internationally important surviving Roman walls.

“I hope that by using the latest methods to create precise digital 3D models and the collaboration between Colchester institute and the council will lead to new insights and ideas about the cultural role of these magnificent structures.

“To many, they must just seem like ‘ruins’, rather than surviving elements of a thriving and magnificent Roman city re-establishing its presence after the Boudiccan revolt, 1959 years or 65 generations ago, had burnt it to the ground.”

Surveying was carried out by the Colchester Archaeological Trust (CAT). The Trust’s Philip Crummy added: “Walking around Colchester today you would be hard-pressed to appreciate how interesting and extensive the remains of Roman Colchester actually are under your feet. However, the town wall is one of those rare pieces of the Roman town still above ground and visible for all to appreciate.

“Sadly, the permanent exposure to the British weather takes its inevitable toll on the wall and over the years some people have helped themselves to stone and Roman brick at the expense of the front of the poor old wall.”

Cllr Julie Young, Portfolio Holder for Culture and Performance and Deputy Leader of the Council, said: “The wall is a key part of Colchester’s rich heritage, and as part of the council’s Better Colchester campaign it’s important we do everything we can to protect, preserve, enhance and celebrate such a major source of local civic pride.

“It’s an honour to work with Professor Dominic Powlesland, the Colchester Archaeological Trust and students from Colchester Institute, on recording and future-proofing such a unique and irreplaceable monument. This, along with other projects, really is making a Better Colchester for residents, visitors and businesses.”

A programme of specialised tree work has also begun on the wall as part of the council’s ongoing maintenance plan for the monument. This work will not only help protect and preserve the wall, it will also better reveal the wall along Balkerne Hill for when it is lit in the evenings.

Professor Dominic Powlesland will return to Colchester in January and meet with the Colchester Institute students to talk about the processing of the data and look at the results of the survey.

The Colchester Institute students will look to take the techniques they have learnt and continue the project to record more of the wall over the coming months, leading to an exhibition of their recordings next year.

The Better Colchester campaign underpins the council’s work to make Colchester an even more attractive place to live, work and visit.

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