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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 March, 2004, 11:41 GMT 12:41 UK
Romans faced head-to-head battle
Head louse
Head lice were common among Roman soldiers in Cumbria
A new exhibition in Cumbria has revealed that Roman foot soldiers faced a battle of a different kind against a microscopic foe.

The Romans, sent to the northern front of the empire and Hadrian's Wall, came head to head with lice.

A new display of items from an excavation outside Carlisle Castle includes a soldier's comb with a fully intact, three-millimetre-long louse.

Archaeologists say the louse is around 2,000 years old.

The dig was part of Carlisle City Council's Gateway City Millennium Project which took place between November 1998 and March 2001.

The excavation was located within the Roman fort of Luguvalium, which was founded in AD72-3.

Some of the finds from the excavation are on display in the castle, and the exhibition is being relaunched in April to include some newly-conserved finds.

'Rare insight'

Archaeologist Carol Allen, who has been working on the project, said the louse was from excavations in the earliest part of the fort.

She said: "The louse is one of the largest and most complete ever found in the Roman world."

Fellow archaeologist John Zant said thousands of artefacts were discovered at the Carlisle site and many have been well preserved.

He said: "We are very fortunate in Carlisle because the earliest Roman levels from where this comb came are waterlogged.

"So we have a lot of artefacts which we wouldn't normally have, made of wood and leather and even textile.

"It gives us a rare insight into what was happening in a Roman fort in the first century AD.

"It is one of only around six Roman sites in western Europe where you get this kind of evidence surviving so it is particularly important."

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