Head Hunting Romans?

Maev Kennedy writes a very interesting piece in the Guardian which is just beginning to be picked up by other outlets:

Scores of skulls excavated in the heart of London have provided the first gruesome evidence of Roman head hunters operating in Britain, gathering up the heads of executed enemies or fallen gladiators from the nearby amphitheatre, and exposing them for years in open pits.

“It is not a pretty picture,” Rebecca Redfern, from the centre for human bioarchaeology at the museum of London, said. “At least one of the skulls shows evidence of being chewed at by dogs, so it was still fleshed when it was lying in the open.”

“They come from a peculiar area by the Walbrook stream, which was a site for burials and a centre of ritual activity – but also very much in use for more mundane pursuits. We have evidence of lots of shoe making, so you have to think of the cobbler working yards from these open pits, with the dog chewing away – really not nice.”

“We believe that some of the heads may be people who were killed in the amphitheatre. Decapitation was a way of finishing off gladiators, but not everyone who died in the Roman amphitheatre was a gladiator, it was where common criminals were executed, or sometimes for entertainment you’d give two of them swords and have them kill one another. Other heads may have been brought back by soldiers from skirmishes, probably on the Hadrian or Antonine walls – again, it would have taken weeks to bring them back, so not a nice process.”

The 39 skulls were excavated at London Wall almost within sight of the Museum of London in 1988, and deposited at the museum, but the scientists have only recently applied improved forensic techniques to them. Redfern and her colleague Heather Bonney, from the Earth Sciences Department of the Natural History Museum, publish their results for the first time this week in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The tests revealed that almost all the skulls are of adult males – some could not be identified – and most bear scars and slash marks of many wounds inflicted around the time of death. Many also have multiple healed wounds, one with the shattered cheek bone typical of a violent punch in the face, showing their lives were not tranquil. On some there is clear evidence of decapitation with a sword: possibly all were killed in that way, but if the fatal blow was through the neck the proof has vanished with the rest of their bodies.

“Whether they died in the amphitheatre or in battle, decapitation with a sword is a very efficient way of ending a life – somebody very much wanted these people dead,” Redfern said.

The evidence suggests that they were left for years decomposing in the open pits.

“There is none of the fracturing you’d expect if they’d been put on spikes, so it looks as if they were just set down and left – though of course you could have had a nice shelf to display them on.”

There is evidence of head taking from across the Roman empire, including Trajan’s column in Rome which shows clean shaven Roman soldiers presenting bearded barbarian heads as trophies to the emperor. Heads are also shown being held up in triumph on tomb stones of cavalry officers in Britain and elsewhere. Although pits of body parts have been found in Britain, the London skulls, deposited over several decades, are an unprecedented find from the Roman capital.

Hundreds of skulls have been found for centuries along the course of the long vanished Walbrook – most recently by the team working on the new Crossrail station just outside Liverpool Street station.

They have often been interpreted either as washed out of Roman cemeteries, or as victims of Boudicca’s revolution, when the East Anglican leader of the Icenii tribe swept south to London in AD60, torching Roman settlements and towns.

However the work of Redfern and Bonney may force archaeologists to have another look at the skull finds.

The London Wall skulls are far too late for Boudicca: they have been dated to the 2nd century AD, a time of peace, prosperity and expansion for the Roman city.

“These were all young men, very untypical of what we usually find in Roman burials, where we tend to get the very young and the old,” Redfern said.

“Most people in second century London lived peaceful quiet lives – but as we now know, not everyone. This is a glimpse into the very dark side of Roman life.”

Folks who have 35 bucks burning a hole in their pocker might want to check out the original article: Headhunting and amphitheatre combat in Roman London, England: new evidence from the Walbrook Valley (JAS), although most of us will have to be satisfied with the abstract, I’d imagine:

In 1988, the disarticulated human remains of forty Roman individuals were discovered at 52-63 London Wall, London. Examination of the sample using techniques employed by forensic anthropology and entomology found that some of the material had been deposited in open waterlogged pits. The majority of the sample was adult males who had evidence for multiple peri-mortem blunt- and sharp- force injuries; many also had healed injuries, suggesting that violence was a common feature of their life. Despite the fact that this material was recovered from an industrial area in the upper Walbrook valley of London, the evidence for trauma, their context and associated archaeological and environmental evidence reveals that these deposits are markedly different from other published examples of human remains from the Walbrook stream and River Thames, and may represent the remains of headhunting by the Roman army and/or defeated gladiators.

… which makes me wonder if we are actually dealing solely with skulls. Whatever the case, we should probably also mention for comparanda purposes that pile of skulls found during the Crossrails project last October: Possible Pile of Roman Skulls See also the followup bringing up the Boudicca thing again: (Crossrail Roman Skulls Followup.

That said,  my memory also seems to recall an article in either a journal or a festschrift sort of thing (possibly non-Classics specific) called “Romans as Headhunters” vel simm. but I can’t seem to locate it …

UPDATE (an hour or so later): tip o’ the pileus to Peter Kruschwitz on twitter who tweaked my memory of this article which is worth tracking down if you’re interested in Roman ‘headhunting’: Voisin, J-L., “Les Romains chasseurs de têtes” , Du châtiment dans la cité EFR n° 79, 1984

Roman Child Burial from Hinckley

Definitely an interesting one from the Hinckley Times:

A child’s coffin, believed to date from Roman times, has been unearthed at a field in Witherley.

The lead box, less than 1m long, was found by amateur treasure hunters using metal detectors on Sunday.

Archaeologists exhumed the coffin yesterday (Thursday) and transported it to Warwick for detailed analysis.

It’s the first find of its kind from the Leicestershire-Warwickshire border area – a stretch bordering the A5 known to have been of military significance during the Roman era.

Stuart Palmer, business manager for the appointed experts, Archaeology Warwickshire, said: “Everything points to the coffin being from the Roman era and it is the first lead coffin to be recovered from the area.

“It might be one of the few Roman burials recovered from the Witherley-Mancetter cross border region.

“We know quite a lot about the Roman military activity in that part of Leicestershire and Warwickshire but not a great deal about the indigenous population.

“This coffin might provide us with one of a very few opportunities to examine how those people lived.”

The artefact will undergo months of analysis and a report will highlight findings and recommend what should happen to it next.

Mr Palmer said it would be some time before the coffin was opened and only then in the presence of appropriate experts and in the right environment.

The coffin was found along with Roman and medieval coins by members of Digging Up the Past metal detector group.

Realising the importance of the artefact they alerted the police and kept nightly vigils at the site for fear of looters.

Club spokesman, David Hutchings, said: “As the coffin was found in a ploughed field it was probably only a matter of time before it was accidentally damaged by farm machinery, so it’s almost with a collective sigh of relief that such a significant discovery was made before this could happen and the coffin was lost forever.”

There’s some nice photos of the little lead (?) box in the original article. I’m sure we’ll be reading some followups to this when they open it up …

More coverage from the BBC: ‘Roman child’s coffin’ found in Leicestershire

Crossrail Roman Skulls Followup

Yesterday we had a BBC piece detailing the discovery of a number of possible Roman skulls in the Walbrook River area (Possible Pile of Roman Skulls) but today we see headlines connecting them with Boudicca, alas (dead Romans? must be Boudicca’s fault). Seems a passing remark by one of the archaeologists was given greater focus than he probably wanted: From a Reuters piece:

“This isn’t the first time that skulls have been found in the bed of the River Walbrook and many early historians suggested these people were killed during the Boudicca rebellion against the Romans,” lead archaeologist Jay Carver said.

“We now think the skulls are possibly from a known Roman burial ground about 50 metres up river from our Liverpool Street station worksite.”

… give the journos a name and they’ll take a rebellion. In any event, the Reuters piece is accompanied by a nice little video report:

… the horse jaw might suggest something more ‘Iron Age’ than Roman …

Possible Pile of Roman Skulls

The latest items of possible interest from the Crossrails project … from the BBC:

Archaeologists working with London’s Crossrail project have uncovered 20 skulls believed to be from the Roman period.

It is likely the bones were washed from a nearby burial site along one of London’s “lost” rivers – the Walbrook.

Since the Crossrail project began, about 10,000 Roman items have been discovered .

These latest finds could give new insights into the lives of Roman people.

Near-intact pottery artefacts were also found which probably travelled along the same route as the skulls. Other bone fragments would not have been washed as easily down the river.

Paved over in the 15th Century, the Walbrook river divided the western and eastern parts of the city, its moist muddy walls providing exceptionally good conditions for artefacts to be preserved.

The discoveries were found about 3m below ground and underneath the the Bedlam cemetery, a burial ground where hundreds of skeletons have been unearthed .

Though they have yet to be forensically dated, Nicholas Elsden from the Museum of London Archaeology said they were likely to be from the 3rd to 4th Centuries AD, as that was when Romans buried their citizens as opposed to cremating them.

“It’s relatively unusual to find so many concentrated [in one area] when you’re not in a graveyard. We’re 100 yards outside the Roman city walls.”

Roman law required burial outside the city, explained Mr Elsden, which meant there were burial sites circled around the town.

“What we’re looking at here is how the Romans viewed their dead. You wouldn’t imagine modern burial grounds being allowed to wash out into a river,” he told BBC News.

Don Walker, an osteologist also from the Museum of London Archaeology, said the skulls were probably buried in different environments, shown by their shades of brown and grey.

“Forensic studies show that when the body disintegrates near a watercourse, the skull travels furthest, either because it floats or it can roll along the base of the river.

“They were possibly buried in an area where there wasn’t much land available. At the moment it looks as though they’ve collected together through natural processes.”

From initial observations, Mr Walker said there was no evidence of any “foul play”, but details about their sex and age would only emerge through further investigations.

He added that chemical markers on the teeth could reveal where these people came from and what sorts of food they ate.

Archaeologists believe that the Crossrail Project will lead to further discoveries hidden beneath the streets of London and say it could transform our understanding of Roman London.

Other recent findings include several bodies believed to date from the time of the Black Death and wood thought to be evidence of a 3,500-year-old Bronze Age transport route through London.

Crossrail currently operates over 40 worksites and archaeological investigations are carried out at each site ahead of main construction works to build the central stations.

The project will connect 37 stations from Heathrow Airport and Maidenhead in the west, through central London and out to Abbey Wood and Shenfield in the east and is due to be completed in 2018.

Sacred Well from Portsmouth

From the News comes another tale of clumsy archaeologists:

Buried a few feet under a garden in the centre of Havant, archaeologists stumbled upon a Roman well filled with coins and a bronze ring with a carving of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea.

Perhaps most intriguing was the discovery of eight dog skeletons at the bottom of the well.

Experts believe the dogs, which were worshipped in some ancient religions, may have been dropped down the ‘sacred well’ as a sacrifice to the gods.

The excavation was done at Homewell House, a Georgian property behind St Faith’s Church that is undergoing renovation.

Dr Andy Russel, from Southampton Archaeology Unit, told The News: ‘I would say it’s a pretty amazing find.

‘We have done a few sites in Havant before and found Roman bits and pieces but nothing on this scale of a beautifully constructed well with coins, a ring and this strange deposit of dogs in it.

‘I’ve never come across a deposit of dogs down a Roman pit or well before – it’s intriguing.’

The well, dated at between 250 and 280AD, is made of stone from the Isle of Wight.

Dr Russel added: ‘We have found post holes where people have put up buildings in the posts. There’s no sign of stone buildings. This is not a Fishbourne Roman Palace. Wooden buildings probably made up the settlement.’

The dogs showed wounds that had healed, indicating they may have been used for dog fighting.

Archaeologists believe the ring may have been dropped down the well by a Roman sailor, perhaps praying for safe passage home on the stormy seas.

The original article includes a photo of the ring, and it seems kind of iffy to me that it is Neptune (as opposed to some guy with a stick). As for the dogs, Jacopo De Grossi Mazzorin and Claudia Minniti, “Dog Sacrifice in the Ancient World: A Ritual Passage?” have collected some earlier evidence which suggests their presence might have been some sort of expiatory thing associated with the closing of the well (paper at academia.edu)

Roman Vineyard from Leighton Buzzard

From the Leighton Buzzard Observer:

The remains of an ancient Roman vineyard have been discovered on a site being developed by a housebuilder in Leighton Buzzard.

Archaeologists found the 2,000-year-old vineyard at the new Persimmon Homes site at Grovebury Farm, Grovebury Road.

Archaeology and historic buildings consultant Duncan Hawkins, who led the investigations at the site, said the find was exciting because it ‘put another piece in the puzzle’ of the history of the area.

He said: “Although vineyards were fairly common, this is a significant find for the Leighton Buzzard region as it enables us to keep on building a picture of how the landscape used to be; in effect another piece in the jigsaw.

“We were unsure at first whether they were Roman or medieval remains, but because of the common practice of burials out in the fields we have been able to date it to the 2nd or 3rd Century.”

Duncan added that because the process of archaeology is in itself destructive, the site would be photographed, recorded and a 3d model created to keep the history alive.

Mark Gatehouse, Persimmon Homes Midlands technical manager, said the company called in the archaeologists as part of being granted planning permission to develop the site.

“We didn’t necessarily expect to find anything so to discover this old Roman vineyard was a real surprise. It has proved to be very exciting and significant, because not much is known of the Roman presence in the area.

“It will be particularly interesting for new homeowners to move onto a site with such a fascinating history. They will literally be walking in the footsteps of the Romans every time they step out of their front doors.

The site – scheduled for new homes by both Persimmon and sister company Charles Church – lies close to the ancient Watling Street – one of the Roman’s most important highways and now the basis for the modern A5.

Roman Burials from Gloucester

From the BBC:

About 40 skeletons have been uncovered by archaeologists at the site of a Roman cemetery in Gloucester.

The discovery was made during a dig at the former Gloscat site at Greyfriars in Brunswick Road, ahead of a housing development being built.

It has been described as one of the most significant archaeological finds in the city in the past 30 years.

The skeletons could end up in the care of Gloucester museum after scientific tests have been carried out.

Stuart Joyce from Cotswold Archaeology said: “We’re just outside the walls of the Roman city of Glevum and this would have been the Roman cemetery associated with the city.

“This is probably one of the most significant finds that has been made within Gloucester within the last 30 years. It will add greatly to the knowledge of the [city].”

Forty skeletons were uncovered nearby in the 1960s. These are now kept at Exeter University.

“The cemetery itself was known previously, but this is the first time that such an [archaeological dig] in this area has been conducted under modern excavation practice,” added Mr Joyce.

“Maybe another 20 to 30 will come up during subsequent excavations, but the number is very hard to say.”

Excavation work on the site is expected to last for at least another two years while a new housing development is built.

… I don’t think we’ve mentioned this dig before.

Roman Temple Find in Maryport

From a Newcastle/Hadrian’s Wall Heritage press release:

An archaeological excavation team, led by Newcastle University’s Professor Ian Haynes, has identified the most north western classical temple in the Roman world.

This is the third year of a five year programme of excavation commissioned by the Senhouse Museum Trust with in-kind support from Newcastle University and the permission of the landowners the Hadrian’s Wall Trust.

Remains of a building adjacent to the Roman fort and civilian settlement at the site were discovered in the 1880s by local amateur archaeologist Joseph Robinson. The excavation this year has confirmed the building was a Roman temple from the second century AD, and information from the position of fallen roof stones is allowing a reconstruction image to be drawn. The building is calculated to have been 8.4 metres high to the tip of the roof.

Professor Haynes (pictured) said: “We can confirm the stone building first uncovered in the 1880s was a temple from its shape, characteristically rectangular with an apse at the southern end. Foundations for columns at the entrance at the northern end of the building have also been identified.

“It is the north-western most classical temple in the Roman world.

“There is also what looks like a Roman military ditch beneath the temple which indicates an earlier phase of Roman presence at the site.

“In the area just outside the temple Joseph Robinson found material directly comparable to the cache of altars found by Humphrey Senhouse in the 1870s 100 metres further north. From our previous excavations here we know these altars were re-used in the foundations of a large timber building, having been moved from their original position. Part of the Temples project is establishing where they were placed originally and it’s something we’ll be looking at again when we come back next year.”

The site team includes fellow dig leader Tony Wilmott, supervisors Dan Garner and David Maron, community archaeologist Hannah Flint and environmental archaeologist Don O’Meara with a group of other experienced excavators, working alongside archaeology students and volunteers.

Rachel Newman of the Senhouse Museum Trust said: “We’d like to thank everyone for their commitment and hard work again this year, particularly our volunteers who have given so much of their time to the excavation and as guides to the site. We’d also like to thank the Hadrian’s Wall Trust for permission to dig here.

“Work certainly doesn’t stop when the excavation team leaves Maryport. Indeed, in many ways, the hard work begins then, as all the records made on site during the excavation need to be studied to understand in detail the way the site developed and individual structures were built. Finds also have to be cleaned and conserved, and then studied, and a report written.

“Lectures here at the Senhouse Roman Museum will be given throughout the year to allow both the public and other archaeologists to hear about the exciting findings.”

Nigel Mills, director of world heritage and access for the Hadrian’s Wall Trust said: “The fort and civilian settlement at Maryport were a significant element of the coastal defences lining the north western boundary of the Roman Empire for more than 300 years. They are also part of the world heritage site.

“As this year’s excavation season for the Roman Temples project closes, we’re preparing for a separate and complementary excavation exploring the civilian settlement adjacent to the fort and the temple area. The Roman Settlement project is due to start on site in August, subject to scheduled monument consent.”

The excavations are an important step towards the establishment of a long-term programme of archaeological research at Maryport, which is a key element in the development of the proposed Roman Maryport heritage and visitor attraction being taken forward in partnership by the Hadrian’s Wall Trust and the Senhouse Museum Trust.

The 23 Roman altars dedicated to Jupiter and other Roman gods by the commanders of the Maryport fort provide information of international importance for the study of the Roman army and its religious practices. In some cases the career histories of the commanders can be established from the inscriptions on the altars, tracing their movements across the Roman Empire as they moved from posting to posting. The altars are now part of the display in the Senhouse Roman Museum.

I know I have some more Maryport news lurking in my mailbox … we’ll get to it.

Possible (?) Head of Antenociticus Near Binchester Roman Fort

This one’s getting a pile of coverage in the British press, with a couple of different focuses. The best overall coverage is the Durham University Press release … with a bit of trimming:

An 1,800-year-old carved stone head of what is believed to be a Roman god has been unearthed in an ancient rubbish dump.

Archaeologists made the discovery at Binchester Roman Fort, near Bishop Auckland, in County Durham.

First year Durham University archaeology student Alex Kirton found the artefact, which measures about 20cm by 10cm, in buried late Roman rubbish within what was probably a bath house.

The sandstone head, which dates from the 2nd or 3rd century AD, has been likened to the Celtic deity Antenociticus, thought to have been worshipped as a source of inspiration and intercession in military affairs.

A similar sandstone head, complete with an inscription identifying it as Antenociticus, was found at Benwell, in Newcastle upon Tyne, in 1862.

Dr David Petts, Lecturer in Archaeology at Durham University, said:

“We found the Binchester head close to where a small Roman altar was found two years ago. We think it may have been associated with a small shrine in the bath house and dumped after the building fell out of use, probably in the 4th century AD

“It is probably the head of a Roman god – we can’t be sure of his name, but it does have similarities to the head of Antenociticus found at Benwell in the 19th century.

“We may never know the true identity of this new head, but we are continuing to explore the building from which it came to help us improve our understanding of late Roman life at Binchester and the Roman Empire’s northern frontier in Northern England.

“Antenociticus is one of a number of gods known only from the northern frontier, a region which seems to have had a number of its own deities.

“It’s also an excellent insight into the life and beliefs of the civilians living close to the Roman fort. The style is a combination of classical Roman art and more regional Romano-British traditions. It shows the population of the settlement taking classical artistic traditions and making them their own.”

Alex, 19, from Bishop’s Stortford, in Hertfordshire, said:

“As an archaeology student this is one of the best things and most exciting things that could have happened.”

He added: “It was an incredible thing to find in a lump of soil in the middle

via the Roman Binchester Blog

of nowhere – I’ve never found anything remotely exciting as this.”

Dr David Mason, Principal Archaeologist with the site’s owner, Durham County Council, said:

“The head is a welcome addition to the collection of sculpture and inscriptions from Binchester. Previous religious dedications from the site feature deities from the classical pantheon of gods and goddesses such as the supreme god Jupiter and those associated with healing and good health such as Aesculapius, Salus and Hygeia.

“This one however appears to represent a local Romano-Celtic god of the type frequently found in the frontier regions of the Empire and probably representing the conflation of a classical deity with its local equivalent. The similarity with the head of Antenociticus is notable, but this could be a deity local to Binchester.”

The Binchester head is African in appearance, but Dr Petts, who is also Associate Director of Durham University’s Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, said experts were unsure whether these features were deliberate or coincidental.

He explained: “This is something we need to consider deeply. If it is an image of an African, it could be extremely important, although this identification is not certain.”

Dr Mason added: “The African style comparison may be misleading as the form is typical of that produced by local craftsmen in the frontier region.”

The find was made as part of a five year project at Binchester Roman Fort which is shedding new light on the twilight years of the Roman Empire.

The Binchester dig is a joint project between Durham University’s Department of Archaeology, site owner Durham County Council, Stanford University’s Archaeology Centre and the Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland.

[...]

About Binchester Fort

Binchester – known to the Romans as Vinovia – was established in the later 1st century AD and was once the largest Roman fort in County Durham.

Sited on the main Roman road between the legionary headquarters at York and Hadrian’s Wall, it controlled an important crossing point over the River Wear. It was also surrounded by the remains of a substantial settlement which would have housed the civilian population.

The major excavation fieldwork has been underway since 2009 and focuses on a section of the fort interior and a sample area of the nearby civilian settlement.

Previous finds at the site have included the remains of very late Roman activity at the fort, among them evidence for large-scale leather production dating to the very final years of Roman control in Britain in the late 4th and early 5th century AD.

Other evidence discovered at Binchester, including structures and artifacts, might also indicate continued occupation at the site into the early medieval period.

The archaeologists’ work at the site featured on BBC Two’s Digging for Britain in 2011 and on Channel Four’s Time Team in 2008.

About Antenociticus – a “Geordie” Roman god?

A carved stone head depicting Antenociticus was found in 1862 at a temple dedicated to the deity at Benwell, Newcastle upon Tyne. Fragments of a forearm and a lower leg were also found, suggesting that the head may have been part of a life-sized statue

The small temple of Antenociticus stands in the vicus (civilian settlement) outside Benwell (Condercum) Fort, one of 13 permanent forts added to the line of Hadrian’s Wall during its construction.

The temple was built in about AD 178-80, probably to mark the promotion of the Roman cavalry prefect who dedicated one of three altars in the temple to Antenociticus.

It is thought Antenociticus was possibly worshipped as a source of inspiration and intercession in military matters

Antenociticus is not mentioned at any other Romano-British site or on any inscriptions from the Continent, hence his identification as a local deity.

[...]

Almost every UK source picked up on the “Geordie” reference which — for those of you, like me, who have no clue what it means — is a slang term for folks living around the Newcastle area. The term is combined with the find and taken to its illogical extreme by the Sun, which likens the little chunk of rock to Rangers soccer star Gazza (Why idol, man)(or is it Alan Shearer? Discovered – 1,800-Year-Old Head Of Alan Shearer!). Outside of that, though, folks should check out the BBC coverage, which has a nice little video(ish) interview with David Petts (Archaeology student finds head of ‘Geordie’ Roman god … see also Head of ‘Geordie Roman god’ found at Binchester). The Daily Mail’s coverage (to which we’ll return in a second) also has a nice (i.e. better) video interview (Is this the Roman god of the Geordies? North East student discovers 1,800-year-old relic during just his second-ever dig). The Journal’s coverage includes a very nice slideshow of the find and the site (By Tony Henderson Comments Image of ‘Geordie’ god found at Binchester Roman fort).

Quite a bit of the coverage mentions the student archaeologist who made the find. The Daily Mail’s coverage includes some comments from him:

Undergraduate Alex Kirton, 19, suddenly came across the carved stone head of a possibly Geordie Roman God at the site of an ancient settlement.

The stunning artefact, measuring 8in by 4in, is believed to have been dumped as rubbish when a Roman bath house fell out of use and remained hidden until now.

Alex, a first year student at Durham University, was helping to excavate the bath house site at Binchester Roman Fort, near Bishop Auckland, Co Durham, when he made the find.

The sandstone head, which dates from the 2nd or 3rd century AD, is likely to represent the war-like Antenociticus, a Celtic god worshipped as a way of inspiring troops about to go into battle.

Alex, who is studying Archaeology and Ancient Civilisations, said: ‘I know that I may be an archaeologist for the rest of my life and never find something this significant again, but it’s incredibly exciting to have been the person who uncovered it.

‘My trowel touched something and as I pulled away the soil I realised I was looking at the back of a head. I could clearly to see the impression of the hair carved into it.

‘I knew I may have found something of interest and I called over my supervisor as I thought I ought to let someone know what I’d discovered.

‘He came over and between us we carefully cleared away the soil that was surrounding it until all of a sudden the head rolled out face up and was just lying there staring up at us.’

The teenager said he knew his find was a rare one but he realised how special it was when he saw his supervisor’s stunned expression.

‘I was absolutely ecstatic, it seemed such an outrageous piece of luck to come across it on my second dig, but I’m delighted I did,’ he said.

… the Mirror has some similar comments … not sure who’s cribbing whom (Teenager finds head of ‘Geordie’ Roman god on his SECOND ever archaeology dig)

Outside of the press coverage, Jonathan Eaton posted some photos of a temple to this deity at his Imperium Sine Fine blog a year and a half ago (Temple of Antenociticus and Vallum Crossing at Benwell). Folks will also definitely want to check out the dig blog which most recently includes a couple of posts on this item (Roman Binchester)

Discovered – 1,800-Year-Old Head Of Alan Shearer!

Roman “Shrine” in Rutland Nature Reserve

All the coverage I’ve found on this seems to derive from this BBC piece:

Archaeologists have uncovered a Roman shrine at Rutland Water nature reserve.

The team from Northamptonshire Archaeology investigated the site ahead of a 240-acre extension to the reserve by Anglian Water.

They found the remains of an Iron Age farmstead, and a shrine dating from about AD100.

Jo Everitt, Anglian Water’s environment and heritage assessor, said: “Finding Roman shrines is not the norm, so we were delighted.”

Ritual sacrifice

Roman sites had been found in the area at Collyweston Great Woods, 14km (eight miles) to the south-east of Rutland, and another to the north-west of Rutland Water, near Oakham.

However, nothing had previously been discovered near the lagoons along the western edge of the reservoir.

The team discovered a circular stone building, about 10.5m (34ft) wide, with decorated red and white painted walls.

They also found more than 200 Roman coins, pottery jars, part of a small bronze figurine and deposits of animal bone, probably from the ritual sacrifice of lambs and cattle.

A skeleton of a man, aged about 30, was buried in a grave in the centre of the shrine.

The archaeologists believe the shrine fell out of use in AD300.

Ms Everitt added: “We’ve recreated part of the foundation and wall of the shrine from the original stone on an area outside of the lagoons so visitors to Rutland can see what it looked like.”

The findings from the dig are currently being displayed at the Rutland Water visitor centre.

The BBC coverage includes a little slideshow of the “shrine”, the pottery and the burial. Other than the Roman coins, I’m not really sure what makes this Roman or a “shrine”. No enlightenment from the Northamptonshire Archaeology website.

Battle of Mons Graupius Site Found (?)

From the Herald:

A HISTORIAN is claiming to have found the site of one of Scotland’s most significant battles.

Archaeologist Mike Haseler believes he has evidence to suggest that the battle of Mons Graupius took place in Moray.

Mons Graupius was a key battle for British independence against the repressive hand of Rome almost 2000 years ago.

According to the Romans, 10,000 Britons died that day at the hands of this first European super-state, while many others fled the scene.

Despite stringent efforts by experts, the site of the battle between the Romans and the Caledonians – in either 83AD or 84AD – has never been conclusively identified.

However, Mr Haseler believes his research strongly points to the battle taking place near Elgin, at Quarrelwood Hill to the north-west of the town.

He is now asking that experts pay closer attention to the site and examine what he believes to be a possible Roman fort a short distance away.

From his research and examining the formation of aerial crop circles, Mr Haseler believes he has discovered the fort just south of Elgin.

“I knew the site was a really good candidate from looking at old maps, but I never thought I would find what appeared to be the ditches of a Roman fort staring out at me from the computer screen,” he said.

“I have looked and looked at the evidence, and everything fits.

“I have been to the site, and it is just as described by the Roman writer Tacitus and, barring going up with a metal detector, which is clearly illegal, there is nothing else I can do but present the evidence I have for the public to decide.”

Mr Haseler, who is based in Lenzie, East Dunbartonshire, found the location while completing his certificate of field archaeology at Glasgow University.

Key to his discovery was his reconstruction of a second century map to help him pinpoint the homeland of the Caledonian tribe.

Considerable debate and analysis has surrounded the site of the battle, which is known to have taken place on Scottish soil.

Touted locations include Perthshire, to the north of the River Dee, while other historians have suggested it may have taken place in Kincardineshire or even Bennachie in Aberdeenshire.

However, Mr Haseler’s research brought him to Moray.

“It is the right size and the only way to prove or disprove it is to go public and ask for experts to assess the site,” he added. “The general position of the site is an excellent fit for Mons Graupius.

“The Caledonian army of about 30,000 would be gathering on Quarrel Hill and were probably expecting the Romans to take two days to reach them.

“Instead, I think [Roman governor] Agricola pressed on with a surprise attack and took only one.

“The Romans, having sent out scouts to select a suitable site for a temporary camp, would have arrived to the surprise and consternation of the Caledonians very late in the day, and made camp a few miles from the Caledonian army.

“So, the main battle would have been fought on the south of Quarrelwood Hill, and perhaps on the immediate plain in front.

“Having looked at all the possible candidates, I am convinced that this site is the best fit to what we know about the battle, mainly because most other sites are just too far south even to consider.

“Historians have been gradually moving the assumed locations of tribes further north, so a lot of the potential sites are now located too far south, but we simply don’t know what is there until we start digging.”

Of course the obvious question is to ask about any archaeological evidence that has already been found in the area …

UPDATE (a couple days later): Adrian Murdoch is also skeptical: Battle of Mons Graupius Found?

Moles Working Epiacum’s Roman Fort?

From the BBC:

Epiacum is a site full of buried treasure, which no-one can reach – no-one human at least.

Near Alston in Cumbria, close to the Northumberland border, where now there are fields, there was once a thriving Roman fort.

Unfortunately for archaeologists, they cannot access any of the historic artefacts beneath the ground – because the site is a scheduled ancient monument.

Moles, however, pay no heed to the land’s protected status.

The velvety creatures have not only been digging up the earth, but doing their bit for archaeology by inadvertently pushing ancient objects to the surface.

Paul Frodsham, an archaeologist with the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), runs a project called Altogether Archaeology, which has signed up 500 volunteers to take part in digs under professional supervision.

Fifty of those have taken part in an effort to sift through the molehills at Epiacum and keep a record of what the animals dig up and where.

“I realise it sounds a bit ridiculous, but it’s actually quite serious,” Mr Frodsham said.

“We look at all the finds and we work out what’s going on in different parts off the fort and different kinds of pottery tell us what dates different buildings are.”

He stressed the work must be done with the permission of English Heritage.

As well as fragments of pottery and glass, the moles have dragged up some attractive and intact artefacts.

A molehill recently pushed up a piece of Samian ware – a type of brown pottery common on Roman sites – thought to be a stand for a vase or bowl, or possibly an egg cup.

Last year they discovered a jet bead and a decorative bronze dolphin.

Elaine Edgar, who with her husband owns a farm on the land, is trying to promote the site as a tourist attraction as part of an 18-month project, funded by a £49,000 lottery grant.

Mrs Edgar said she had run a series of events as part of the project, which had attracted higher than expected numbers and she had received “fantastic support”.

But she expressed mixed feelings about the subterranean creatures that were playing their own part.

“Moles are the bane of landowners’ lives,” she said.
Volunteers sifting through molehills Volunteers have been sifting through molehills to locate hidden artefacts

“They’re up there all the time digging away on the land and my husband generally wants to get rid of them.”

For the time being though, they are serving an important purpose.

“I’d like them to uncover as much as they can for the foreseeable future, until we can hopefully do an organised dig somewhere on the fort,” Mrs Edgar said.

“We’re looking towards our bigger vision, which is to establish a fully-fledged visitor centre on the farm.”
‘Spectacular’

The fort dates back to about the 2nd Century AD, when it is thought the Romans wanted to control lead and silver mining in the north of England.

The Romans maintained a military presence there until the 4th Century, when they seem to have abandoned the fort.

A recent English Heritage survey also revealed there was an extensive civilian settlement, or vicus, beyond the ramparts.

There have only been two recorded digs of Epiacum, in about 1810 and 1957, covering small areas of the 100-sq-m site.

Despite such limited excavation, the foundations of the Roman buildings are still visible.

There are four rings of earthwork defences, which Mr Frodsham described as “spectacular”.

“From that point of view, it’s one of the best-preserved forts anywhere in the empire,” he said.

But, it seems, only the moles know the true extent of its treasures.

Just for the record, the BBC was kind of slow to pick this story up … the Journal had it three or four weeks ago (Moles at Epiacum). I only bring it up again because it seems kind of strange how the moles are being ‘credited’ in this (and the Journal) piece while years ago, badgers were just messing things up, but doing the same basic thing (links in the Journal piece). I guess archaeologists find moles a bit more cuddly or something …

Africans in Roman Britain

Saw this in something called The Voice:

AN INTERACTIVE website for children highlighting the diversity of Roman Britain will be launched tomorrow in a bid to challenge lessons on the current history curriculum.

The Romans Revealed project – a collaboration between race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust and archaeologists from the University of Reading – will be officially launched at the Museum of London on April 25.

It will act as a learning resource for teachers and parents to show children about a lesser-known side of the historical period.

The interactive website allows children to ‘dig up’ graves and read stories by children’s author Caroline Lawrence told from the perspective of four people living in Roman Britain.

It follows a research project from the university, A Long Way Home: Diaspora Communities in Roman Britain, which examined over 150 skeletons to find out about patterns of migration.

Dr Hella Eckardt, senior lecturer in Roman Archaeology at the University of Reading, said: “Our analysis of excavated skeletal remains of people living in Roman Britain such as the ‘Ivory Bangle Lady’ and others like her show that multicultural Britain is not just a phenomenon of more modern times.”

By analysing skeletons facial features, skull measurements, the chemical signature of food and drink and burial goods, archaeologists were able to learn more about Roman times and migrants of African descent who came to Britain.

The ‘Ivory Bangle Lady’ was a high status young woman of North African descent who remains were buried in Roman York (Sycamore Terrace).

Dated to the second half of the 4th Century, her grave contained jet and elephant ivory bracelets, earrings, pendants, beads, a blue glass jug and a glass mirror.

Dr Debbie Weekes-Bernard, who is leading the Romans Revealed outreach project, said: “The University of Reading research results showed that people came to Britain from many different parts of the Roman Empire, including North Africa. In some of the larger towns like York and Winchester, up to 20 per cent of the Roman Britain population may be classed as ‘non-local’ or ‘incomers’.

“This research is really important, providing evidence to challenge the current curriculum as taught in schools and highlighting the diversity of Roman Britain.”

According to the National Archives, the official archive for the UK Government, people of African descent have had a presence in Britain for the past 2,000 years.

In Roman times, black troops were sent to the ‘remote and barbaric’ province of Britannia – the ancient term for Great Britain – with many settling permanently even after the Roman legions left.

via: Children’s website tells stories of Roman Britain’s Africans (The Voice)

… you can check out the Romans Revealed website here … if you’re interested in some of the finds which probably contributed to this project:

I know there was something (at rogueclassicism) involving a burial of an African woman in Britain that was also connected with Caroline Lawrence (i.e. she wrote about it too), but my search engine divinities appear to have gone to visit the blameless Ethiopians or something …

Roman Wall in Bath (maybe)

The incipit of an item in the Bath Chronicle:

Engineers have uncovered part of what could be a Roman wall while carrying out emergency sewer repairs in Bath city centre.

Wessex Water was carrying out work to repair a sewer in Burton Street last week when a large Bath stone block was discovered, nearly three feet below the pavement.

Further investigations by the Bath-based company and archaeologists from specialist firm Context One revealed that the block was part of a stone wall which dates back to the fourth century.

The wall, which was built as a defensive structure, consists of five blocks of Bath stone and is thought to form part of the buttress of the original city wall.

While no dating evidence has been recovered, toolmarks on the stone suggest it was originally worked in Roman times. [...]

LiDAR Sheds New Light on Hadrian’s Wall

Pardon the groaner in that headline … this is actually hype for a television programme on the BBC but it looks rather interesting:

Hundreds of miles away from Hadrian’s Wall, a man surfing the internet from the comfort of his home stumbled across something that astonished the professionals.

Bryn Gethin’s discovery on his computer in Warwickshire, was one of a number, based on aerial photography and imaging techniques, that are rewriting a whole era of Roman history.

He spotted something while browsing old LIDAR (light detection and ranging) images, which show remains even if covered by trees or buildings.

Experts say he had potentially discovered the camp of the men who actually built the wall that runs across the country from Tyneside to Cumbria.

Surveyor Humphrey Welfare, currently investigating the site, said the camp would not have been seen without aerial images.

“It gives us another little insight, a little window into what happened during the construction of the wall,” he said.

“And that’s how archaeology builds up, piece by piece.”

It was known the wall supported civilian communities which provided goods and services in a local economy that benefitted both occupiers and natives.

But it seems there were Iron Age settlements hundreds of years before the arrival of the Romans who, rather than being an aggressive conquering force, forged working relationships with the resident population.

‘Whole new world’

“What we thought we saw was a very militaristic landscape, very sparsely populated and all we saw was what survived at the surface,” said Dr David Woolliscroft from Liverpool University.

“Then suddenly, when we started to fly, a whole new world emerged. Huge numbers – tens of thousands – of isolated farms, completely undefended.

“You can only have a landscape like that when people are so used to peace that they take it for granted.

“And that utterly changes the story of how we see the Romans.”

There is also evidence, discovered from the air, that throws into doubt the accepted belief that the wall was a barrier between the empire and the barbarian north.

Aerial pictures of a Roman aqueduct show it built north of the wall and right next to a native settlement.

“That shows a comfort in their own security and power, in that they’re happy for something as important as a water resource to be placed north of the frontier,” Dave Macleod, from English Heritage aerial survey team, said.

Aerial archaeologist Ben Robinson uncovers new revelations about life on Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland

“You don’t put your water supply into enemy hands,” Dr Woolliscroft agreed. “Clearly they were very confident that this was an area that was theirs, even though it was beyond the wall.”

The area around Hadrian’s Wall has been mapped from the air by English Heritage but amateur research has also thrown up some surprising findings.

Ancient camps, ovens, rubbish pits and ditches show up from the air as crop marks, where plants grow differently – often invisible from the ground.

Work on Emperor Hadrian’s wall began in 122AD.

Archaeologists believed soldiers had settled in a nearby fort – Vindolanda – from about 85AD.

But another photograph shows something Dr Andrew Birley from the Vindolanda Trust believes is a fort built ten years earlier, 50 years before the wall.

“As we started excavating the ditches we were getting more and more evidence to suggest that this actually could pre-date anything on this part of the site that we’d previously known about,” he said.

If they find the timber fort gates – and it might take years – the rings on the wood could lead conclusively to a construction date.

It might prove the Romans established their frontier long before the history books currently say.

… the original article includes some photos and some Flash media which I couldn’t get to work because Flash seem to be doing weird things these past couple of days.

Roman Temple at Sudeley Castle?

From the Echo:

ARCHAEOLOGISTS believe there could be an undiscovered Roman temple and villa in the grounds of Sudeley Castle.

A Roman column which was found propping open a door inside the castle has sparked hopes there are historic ruins beneath the grounds.

Professor Martin Henig believes the column, which would have been around 40cm high, would most likely have stood on the dwarf wall of a portico in a temple or private house.

He said the small columns were unusual in this region, and indicated the existence of a building of unusual sophistication in or around Sudeley.

Archaeologists are now calling for a full-scale investigation at Stancombe Wood in Winchcombe.

It follows the find of a stone relief of a Cotswolds Roman god, called Cunomaglos or the Hound Prince.

The sculpture was first discovered at Stancombe Wood in 1875 and was catalogued by Sudeley chatelaine Emma Dent in her book The Annals of Winchcombe and Sudeley.

But all trace of the sculpture was lost until it was rediscovered last month.

It was rediscovered by Sudeley archivist Jean Bray in the bottom of a cupboard at the castle, but its identity remained unknown until archaeologist Dr Patricia Witts solved the mystery.

Prof Henig, an expert on the Romans in the Cotswolds, believes that the statue, which dates from 150AD to 300AD, points to a further undiscovered temple at Stancombe Wood.

“It is the sort of relief that one would expect to find in a temple, probably dedicated by a worshipper there,” he said.

“We are finding that villas quite often included temples on the estate and our Apollo Cunomaglos suggests that there may be more to be discovered at Stancombe.”

Dr Witts says there is evidence that when an oil pipeline was installed in the area in 1985 it cut through two Roman buildings. The site would lie between Stancombe Wood and Spoonley Wood.

“We can imagine the area around what is now Sudeley Castle dotted with prestigious Roman dwellings,” she said.

“It is exciting to think what might be found.

“The famous Chedworth Roman villa lies only a few miles to the south of Sudeley and it is known that there was a temple nearby, as well as other villas in the vicinity. Perhaps Sudeley was similar.”

This story actually broke a couple of weeks ago on the BBC (when I had limited internet access, alas): Roman artefact discovered in Sudeley Castle cupboard … there’s a brief discussion of the Apollo Cunomaglos name at one of the entries in the Curse Tablets of Roman Britain site …

Cirencester Cockerel Restored

Interesting item from the BBC:

A restored Roman cockerel figurine is the best result from a Cirencester dig in decades, archaeologists have said.

The enamelled object, which dates back as far as AD100, was unearthed during a dig in 2011 at a Roman burial site in the town.

It has now returned from conservation work and finders Cotswold Archaeology said it “looks absolutely fantastic”.

The 12.5cm bronze figure was discovered inside a child’s grave and is thought to have been a message to the gods.

‘Highly prized’

It is believed that the Romans gave religious significance to the cockerel which was known to be connected with Mercury.

Experts say it was Mercury, a messenger to the gods, that was also responsible for conducting newly-deceased souls to the afterlife.

The figurine had to be sent away for conservation work to be carried out which has taken four months to complete.

Archaeologist Neil Holbrook, from Cotswold Archaeology, said the work had “exceeded expectations”, particularly for highlighting its fine enamel detail.

“It reinforces what a fantastic article this is and how highly prized and expensive it must have been,” he said.

“This must have cost, in current money, thousands of pounds to buy and countless hours to make, and so to actually put this into the grave of a two or three-year-old child is not something that you would do lightly.

“It really shows that this was a very wealthy, important family, and signifies the love that the parents had for the dead child.”

The cockerel was found during excavation work at the former Bridges Garage site on Tetbury Road in Cirencester – once the second largest town in Roman Britain.

A burial site was unearthed at the site including more than 40 burials and four cremations; something experts said was the largest archaeological find in the town since the 1970s.

‘Best ever’

This particular figurine is one of only four ever found in Britain, with a total of eight known from the whole of the Roman Empire.

Mr Holbrook added: “Without a doubt this is the best Roman cockerel ever found in Britain. [...]

If you want to see the coverage from back when it was found: Cirencester Cockerel Find

Roman Metal-Working Site from Flintshire

From the Daily Post:

A BUILDER has been praised by archaeologists for helping save historic Roman finds in Flintshire.

Anwyl Construction recently halted work on their major Croes Atti housing development at Oakenholt, near Flint, after uncovering evidence of a Roman era industrial site.

The area was cordoned off for three weeks while archaeologists from Earthworks Archaeology, backed by Rhyl-based Anwyl Construction as well as by the Welsh historic buildings organisation Cadw and the Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust, carried out a survey.

They found a Roman road and buildings where lead mined on nearby Halkyn Mountain was smelted before being shipped, probably by barge down the river Dee to Chester.

Will Davies, Cadw officer for Clwyd and Powys, said: “This resolved what could have been a really bad situation because there was no obligation on Anwyl’s part to allow this archaeological work to take place and they were even willing to step in with funding. In the past similar finds have simply disappeared because we’ve had less willing developers to deal with. This site could easily have been flattened.”

The work carried out on the site has unearthed evidence of a thriving metalworking industry on the banks of the River Dee which probably lasted for over 200 years.

Among the finds were exquisite fragments of high quality Samianware pottery, probably made in what is now southern France, a silver denarius from the reign of the Emperor Domitian, 81-96AD, a hob-nailed boot found in an old well and remains of amphorae, pottery vessels which held wine.

Will Walker, of Earthworks Archaeology, said: “We’ve made a detailed record, including scaled drawings, photographs etc., and the results will be used to produce a report on the findings.

“Anwyls have been excellent and we have worked very well together. It would have been most unfair on them for the work to have been stopped for any longer.

“We’re thrilled with the find and with the way everyone has worked so well together.”

Hadrian’s Wall Expulsions?

Interesting item from the Independent hyping something in Current Archaeology … here’s the end bit:

[...] For decades, archaeologists struggled to date the indigenous communities around the wall because the site yielded very few artefacts. The only way of dating these Roman and pre-Roman Iron Age settlements was to excavate what little there was. Since the 1970s, when serious excavation began, experts believed the local population living in the shadow of the wall had actually flourished under the Roman invaders. But the new evidence suggests the Roman legions actually cleared a 10-mile stretch in front of the wall by force.

By using carbon-dating techniques archaeologists have been able to pinpoint the chronology of the local settlements far more accurately than in the past. More than 60 radiocarbon dating tests were undertaken on Iron Age settlements between 2002 and 2008 around the Newcastle area, giving the most complete sample ever of Iron Age settlements north of the wall.

Data from the investigation, led by Nick Hodgson at TWM Archaeology, is to be published in Current Archaeology next week and is said to be one of the biggest discoveries about the way in which Hadrian’s Wall shaped the country.

Dr Matthew Symonds, an expert on the wall and editor of Current Archaeology, said: “These new excavations suggest these settled farming communities… survived the first Roman appearance in the area. But it’s only when Hadrian’s Wall is built that they suddenly seem to go out of use.”

I’m not sure there’s a problem here, if I understand “shadow of the wall” and “front of the wall” correctly. Wouldn’t we expect the folks on the “Roman side” to flourish and the other side to have to clear out? Or am I missing something? (which is quite possible)

Roman Era Finds from Southwark

SE1 seems to be the only outlet reporting on finds dating to Roman times (inter alia) found during construction of the London Bridge Station. Here are the Roman details:

“We started with geotechnical works – test pits and boreholes – under the station and along with our historical study that gave us an idea of the character of finds we might expect to encounter,” said Chris Place.

[...] “These are mainly post-medieval and later – but there are Roman and medieval remains closer to the Joiner Street part of the site. The main medieval remains might be along Bermondsey Street and along the Tooley Street frontage.

“We’re now digging a series of pits in the area under the railway arches in advance of the main construction works.”

It is in one of these pits – just yards from passageways used by thousands of commuters each day – where the team has discovered the remains of one of the earliest buildings in Roman Southwark. Dendrochronological analysis shows that the 17 timber piles were made from trees felled between AD 59 and AD 83.

“London Bridge Station is a very big area and it’s effectively been sealed for the last 150 years so no-one has had a chance to look at it, ” Chris told us.

“We’ve never really known exactly how the eastern edge of the Roman settlement is formed.

“It just so happens that our pit alongside Joiner Street came down on these piles which appear to be the foundations of perhaps a substantial building.

“Although it’s a very small pit and we haven’t looked at the details fully yet, it has certainly given us an insight into the eastern edge of the Roman settlement that has really been quite a blank for us up until now.”

The works at London Bridge, when taken together with the findings of excavations along the route of the Borough Viaduct – where a Roman bath house was discovered – and on neighbouring sites such as The Place, are helping to build up a much clearer picture of Roman Southwark. [...]

Kind of impressive (it seems) how quickly they dendrochronologically dated these things … Some previous finds from Southwark:

Moving Mithras Update

The incipit of a piece in the Londonist:

British archaeology has enjoyed a surge of interest of late, with the recent unearthing of Richard III in a certain Leicester car park. However, one London archaeological site remains in limbo: the Temple of Mithras is still waiting for its new home, as one of the City’s biggest ever digs continues.

The temple, dating from 240AD, has been dismantled and is currently in storage with the Museum of London. It’s awaiting a permanent home in the rebuilt Bucklersbury House on Queen Victoria Street, which is set to be the European headquarters of media giant Bloomberg LP.

Bloomberg was granted planning permission in 2010 to uproot the temple’s remains and incorporate them into its new corporate base. However, work on the £300m project, designed by Foster + Partners, hasn’t yet begun. The site, occupying a huge city block, is still a big hole in the ground. Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), which is leading the project to move the temple, says it will be “a matter of years” before it is once again visible to the public.

Part of the delay has to do with ongoing excavation work on the Queen Victoria Street site, which has evolved into the Walbrook Discovery Programme, one of the largest digs undertaken in the City of London, according to MOLA, with more than 50 archaeologists combing through the mud of the Roman River Walbrook.

“The ground conditions are perfect for preserving organic remains and hundreds of metal, wood, bone and leather artefacts and wooden structures are being recovered and recorded,” MOLA says. “These finds will contribute to our understanding of life in this part of Roman London and will help to tell the story of the development of the Mithras site.”

The dig has uncovered the original foundations of the Temple of Mithras, which will inform a more accurate reconstruction. “Bloomberg LP will restore the temple to its original Roman location and in a more historically accurate guise,” says MOLA. “Upon completion of Bloomberg’s new development, the new reconstruction of the Temple of Mithras will be housed in a purpose-built and publicly accessible interpretation space within their new building.”

There’s still no word on what that space will look like, or whether it will take any cues from a similar space designed to display the nearby London Stone, which is also awaiting removal to new premises in a corporate building. The City of London Corporation did tell us, however, that the temple will be in a new display area at ground and basement level with a separate entrance as part of the new building. [...]

… this is a rather long delay, see, e.g. Temple of Mithras to be restored to its original location (Past Horizons) … not sure if we covered it previously

Roman Lead-and-Silver Processing Site from Oakenholt

From the Leader:

WORK at a major building development has unearthed evidence of a Roman settlement.

The discovery at Anwyl Construction’s Croes Atti project at Oakenholt, near Flint, includes a well-preserved section of Roman road, pottery, buildings and evidence of an industrial complex processing lead and silver mined at nearby Halkyn Mountain.

Andy Davies, Anwyl Construction technical director, said: “We have experience of finding Roman remains in the past and we had a watching brief on the site.

“We uncovered the Roman remains quite early in the work. We stripped the top soil away and found something straight away and since then we have been working with local archaeologists.

“They believed there were Roman settlements in the area and archaeological work had been done here before but nothing had been found.”

Anwyl, which plans to build more than 180 houses on the first phase of the Croes Atti development, is now helping fund the three-week exploration of the site, along with Cadw.

Will Walker, of Earthworks Archaeology, said: “It’s a fabulous find and it’s on our doorstep.

“We have a remarkably well-preserved Roman road in good condition and the site is throwing up all manner of interesting things including a lot of lead which suggests it was connected with the lead workings on Halkyn Mountain.

“The lead – and silver – would have been processed at this site, converted into lead ingots, known as pigs, and probably transported to Chester by barge and would have been used in the building trade for pipes and roofing.”

Metal detectors have uncovered large quantities of lead and the probable corner of a building has also been found.

Leigh Dodds, principal archaeologist with Earthworks Archaeology, said: “A large building was excavated further down the road back in the 1970s and that may have been the home of the procurator, the Roman official in charge of this settlement.

“But nothing had been found in this area but there is clear evidence of a settlement with buildings either side of the Roman road.

“There has also been high class Samian-ware pottery, probably made in what is now central France but was then the Roman province of Gaul, and even pieces of stone, basically furnace slag with traces of lead which show this was an industrial site processing lead ore.”

Steve Suddick, development engineer for Anwyl, said: “We started work on the site last week, carrying out groundworks and we started uncovering Roman remains within a day or two.

“We are able to carry on with work on another part of the site so the archaeological investigation can go on here as well so we are working well with them.”

According to this page, in the past, brick/tilestamps of the Legio XX Valeria Victrix have been found in the area, although there’s not evidence of a fort …

Roman Toilet Paper/Game Piece Revisionism?

More on the game piece side, actually , although I’ll admit to not knowing about the other personal hygiene method mentioned in this item (tip o’ the pileus to Sarah Bond for setting me on to this one and to Dan Diffendale for tracking down the original article). Here’s how the Daily Mail covers it:

Ancient artefacts thought to be early gaming pieces will have to be reclassified after new research which claims they were actually used to wipe bottoms.

The flat, disc-shaped Roman relics have been in the collection at Fishbourne Roman Palace in Chichester, West Sussex, since the Sixties.

Up until now museum experts thought the items were used for early games like draughts, but an article in the British Medical Journal has now proposed that they have a very different function.

It is well publicised that Romans used sponges mounted on sticks and dipped in vinegar as an alternative to toilet paper.

Yet the idea these ceramic discs might also have been used for such personal hygiene is a revelation.

The broken pieces – known as ‘pessoi’, meaning pebbles – range in size from 1in to 4in in diameter and were excavated near to the museum in 1960.

It had been thought that they were chips used to play an ancient game, also known as ‘pessoi’, but research published last month in the BMJ drew from classical sources to present evidence that they were also used to clean up after going to the toilet.

Noting the ancient Greek proverb ‘three stones are enough to wipe one’s a***’, Philippe Charlier, assistant professor in forensic medicine at the Raymond Poincaré University Hospital in Paris, points to archaeological excavations which have uncovered pessoi inside the pits of Greek and Roman latrines across the Mediterranean.

In one such dig in Athens, American archaeologists found a range of such pessoi 1.2-4in in diameter and 0.2-0.8in thick which, Professor Charlier wrote, were ‘re-cut from old broken ceramics to give smooth angles that would minimise anal trauma’.

Other evidence from the classical world has been passed down to us in the form of ceramics painted with representations of figures using pessoi to clean their buttocks.

According to Professor Charlier’s article, the Greeks and Romans even inscribed some of their pessoi with the names of their enemies or others they didn’t like.

Thus everytime they went to the toilet they would literally be wiping their faecal matter on the names of hated individuals.

Examples of such stones have been found by archaeologists bearing the names of such noted historical figures as Socrates, Themisthocles and Pericles, Professor Charlier reported.

Museum curator Dr Rob Symmons said: ‘When pottery like this is excavated it is someone’s job to wash it clean.

‘So, some poor and unsuspecting archaeologist has probably had the delight of scrubbing some Roman waste off of these pieces.

‘It is not beyond the realms of possibility that we could still find some further signs of waste or residue.

‘However, these pottery pieces have no monetary value because we are essentially talking about items once used as toilet roll.

‘The pieces had always been catalogued as as broken gaming pieces but I was never particularly happy with that explanation.

‘But when the article produced the theory they were used to wipe people’s bums I thought it was hilarious and it just appealed to me.

‘I love the idea we’ve had these in the museum for 50 years being largely ignored and now they are suddenly engaging items you can relate to.’

Dr Charlier’s research indicates that the use of such stones would have probably been rather hard on the rear ends of the ancients, and could have caused a variety of medical issues.

He suggests the abrasive texture of the pessoi could have led to skin irritation, mucosal damage, or complications of external haemorrhoids.

He wrote: ‘Maybe this crude and satiric description by Horace in his 8th epode (1st century BC) — “an a*** at the centre of dry and old buttocks mimicking that of a defecating cow”— refers to complications arising from such anal irritation.’

Dr Symmons, who has been at the Fishbourne Roman Palace museum for seven years, added: ‘We will obviously have to think about re-classifying these objects on our catalogue.

‘But we hope the pieces will make people smile when they learn what they were used for.

‘They would have probably been quite scratchy to use and I doubt they would be as comfortable as using toilet roll.

‘But in the Roman era it was that or very little else.’

… plenty of photos at the Daily Mail page, which will give you an idea of the (uncomfortable, it seems to me) size of these things.

As mentioned in the article, this all stems from an item in the British Medical Journal by Philippe Charlier et al (Toilet hygiene in the classical era). I was initially skeptical (primarily due to the size of the things) but there does appear to be archaeological, literary, and forensic (not sure if that’s the right word) support  for all this. An excerpt from the article (footnotes can be tracked down in the original):

Many pessoi have been found within the faecal filling of Greek and Roman latrines all around the Mediterranean world (fig 1).6 Pessoi found during the American excavation on the Athens’ agora, for example, are described as 3-10.5 cm in diameter and 0.6-2.2 cm thick and having been re-cut from old broken ceramics to give smooth angles that would minimise anal trauma.4 Use of a pessos can still be seen on a Greek cylix (wine cup) conserved in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, US. The cup, dating from 6th century BC, was found in Orvieto, Italy, and shows a man, semi-squatting with his clothing raised. The man is maintaining his balance with a cane in his right hand and is clearly wiping his buttocks using a pessos with his left hand.

Some scholars suggest that ostraka, small pieces of broken ceramic inscribed with names that the Greeks used to vote to ostracise their enemies, could also have been used as pessoi, literally putting faecal matter on the name of hated individuals. (Examples of ostraka with the names of Socrates, Themisthocles, and Pericles have been found in Athens and Piraeus).

The two pessoi in figure 1 belong to a private collection. Their precise archaeological origin (discovered in the filling of latrines close to deposits of excrement) and their morphology (rounded form with the edges recut) clearly indicate their use for anal cleaning. Solidified and partially mineralised excrement can still be seen on the non-cleaned and lateral surfaces, which has been confirmed by microscopy (fig 2).

… I’m still somewhat skeptical now, however, because all the evidence adduced (including a bit from Aristophanes that I skipped) comes from the Greek world. Then again, Graecia capta asperum victorem cepit, and perhaps that, er, assault extended to the latrines (the Wheelock gloss on Horace’s original seems punnishly appropriate here)? Or perhaps this gives us an idea of what Romans did in the latrines while waiting? Whatever the case, it’s another interesting detail to add to the arsenal …

Other coverage:

A Roman Facial Reconstruction

Haven’t had one of these in ages … from the BBC:

The face of a wealthy Roman citizen who lived in south Wales has been revealed nearly two millennia after he died.

Using the latest technology, experts have produced a portrait of the man whose skeleton was uncovered 18 years ago in Caerleon, near Newport.

Archaeologists are trying to fill in more details using forensic techniques employed by police.

The image of the man was unveiled at the National Roman Legion Museum in Caerleon on Thursday.

The remains from around AD200 were uncovered by builders who were working on the nearby Newport university campus in November 1995.

Analysis showed the skeleton was that of a well-preserved man of about 40.

Since it was put on display in 2002, the skeleton has become one of the museum’s most popular exhibits, so staff decided to find out more about the man and create a portrait to honour him.

Efforts to build a picture of how the man may have looked began three years ago.

First, scientists carried out isotype analysis on the enamel of one of the skeleton’s teeth. That revealed the man in the coffin had spent his childhood years, between the age of five and eight, in the Newport area and that he was probably a local boy.

Curatorial officer Dr Mark Lewis said the man was living at a time when the Caerleon Roman fortress was at its height, having been established for 125 years. It would have been supplying the legion, serving up to 6,000 soldiers.

“The fact that the man had been buried rather than cremated as most of the people were at that time was a clue to the fact he was probably well off,” he said.
Bath stone coffin containing the skeleton of the Roman man

“What we can learn from the latest evidence is that he may have been a very wealthy merchant who may have been supplying the fortress.

“He may have been high up in the administration of the fortress. He may have even served in the army and come home to Wales for retirement.”

The fact that the research has shown that the man was a native of the local area was also important, said Dr Lewis.

“Maybe his mother or grandmother married a Roman soldier, perhaps his father was a soldier and he followed him into the army.”

Dr Lewis said in future they make take their research into the man’s origins further through DNA testing.

As well as the scientific analysis, the museum commissioned a reconstruction of the man’s face using forensic techniques.

The skull was scanned to create a 3D digital model and two scientists worked in succession on digitally reconstructing the missing areas of the the skull and creating a facial reconstruction.

Because the museum wanted to hang a portrait of the Roman in its gallery, National Museum Wales conservator and artist Penny Hill then got involved.

Ms Hill employed materials and artistic conventions known to have been used in Roman paintings or ancient literary sources.

She said it was a challenging piece of experimental archaeology using a process called “encaustic” which involved creating the painting in wax.

… of course, a photo of the reconstruction accompanies the original article. I guess because it’s a digital reconstruction rather than one of those dramatic forensic type things, we don’t read of this being associated with a documentary …

Some other reconstructions of note:

Capricorn Risen from the Dirt

Sorry about that headline; there’s some sort of pun trying to get out of there … from the Weston Mercury:

A RARE Roman figurine, believed to be almost 2,000 years old, has been found in North Somerset.

The ‘exceptional solid bronze’ Capricorn statue was found in Burrington using a metal detector and is being transferred to the Museum of Somerset in Taunton.

The 21cm tall statue weighs nearly a kilogram and is believed to date back to the first or second century AD.

The statue of Capricorn, a mythical creature with the head of a goat and the body and tail of a fish, was found near a known former Roman military base.

David Hall, Somerset County Council’s cabinet member responsible for heritage, said: “Roman Capricorn figurines are extremely rare, and this one is unique in Europe because of its quality and size.

“We are delighted to acquire it and display it in the museum for all visitors to enjoy.“

The article is accompanied by an okay photo, but there’s a better one at the Portable Antiquities Scheme database and a great description:

The figurine is in very good condition, missing only his horns. The breaks are well patinated. The hoofs and muscles of the legs are well moulded with incised curved lines on the front half suggesting hair. He has a pointed “goatee” beard which links to the front right ankle. The mouth is a straight incised line, with detailing of the hair on the snout shown with short incised lines. The nostrils are depicted by a pair of short but wide incised lines. The eyes are moulded lentoids with rounded eyebrows and a raised pointed oval eyeball, depressed iris and raised pupil. A band of thicker hair across the top of the head is moulded. The ears are sub-triangular and have a moulded hollow inside. The edge of this is decorated with radiating incised lines representing the hair. Behind the shoulders, the lines depicting hair turn to U shaped scales. The tail has moulded ribs separating the three fins, and moulded rippled lines representing the structure of the fins.