Ancient action figures: Toy swords unearthed at Roman fort

Military brats of ancient Rome probably played soldier to pass the time.

That’s according to new evidence from Vindolanda, a fort found just south of Hadrian’s Wall.

The garrison is located in modern-day Northumberland, England, but 2,000 years ago, it would have been found at the northern edge of the Roman Empire. Archaeologists who have been excavating the cavalry barracks at the fort this summer found two wooden toy swords, one with a polished stone in its pommel.

“The toy swords are evocative, and it is easy to see young boys and girls playing soldiers, mimicking their fathers and brothers,” archaeologist Andrew Birley, the director of the excavations, told Live Science.

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Birley’s team discovered the toys after lifting the stone foundations from a more recent renovation of the fort. They found damp, black, oxygen-free soil sealed underneath —good conditions for preserving artifacts. [See Photos of the Latest Vindolanda Fort Finds]

The archaeologists uncovered the remains of the abandoned horse stables, living accommodations and fireplaces of the military complex, dating back to about A.D. 120. In those rooms, the team found arrowheads, writing tablets, leather shoes, combs and hairpins; in adjacent rooms, the researchers found two remarkably well-preserved iron swords, one with a bent tip.

“To find two complete swords in separate rooms but only 2 meters [6.6 feet] from one another is incredibly rare,” Birley said. “You normally only find complete examples of those in national museums, like the few in the collection of the National Museum of Scotland, and then they only have a few.”

Vindolanda was built in the late first century A.D., before Hadrian’s Wall was constructed in A.D. 122 to consolidate…

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