When the first rich organic material appeared at Vindolanda in 1973, it was a boon to the new field of environmental archaeology. For the first time, it would be possible to find out intimate details of daily life by studying preserved organic remains!
Many samples were sent to Dr. Mark Seaward of Bradford University, and results were eagerly awaited. One sample, a batch of bracken "carpeting," came from the Period III praetorium (the period with the famous prefect Cerialis and his wife Lepidina). When the analysis was finished, the archaeological world -- and the press -- were scandalized! The bracken was literally awash in urine, excrement, and thousands of fly pupae!
Newspaper headlines read "Roman leader lived in Hadrian's Wall slum," and "Were early Romans house-trained?" A line of contemporary poetry read "Late excavations on the Wall report / The garrisons lived there in their excrement."
It wasn't until the area was reexamined in 1991-1992 that the truth came out. The "room" where the carpet was taken from was actually an animal pen outside the servants' quarters/workshops -- part of the prefect's personal stock. The integrity of Roman hygiene was restored, the world of Romano-British studies breathed easily once more, and a valuable lesson had been learned!
Seaward, M. "The Vindolanda Environment." 1976
Birley, R. "On Hadrian's Wall." 1977
Birley, R. "Vindolanda: A Roman Frontier Fort on Hadrian's Wall." 2009