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.”

Very Interesting Helmet from Kent

From a University of Kent news release:

The department of Classical and Archaeological Studies at the University of Kent has helped confirm a helmet unearthed in Kent dates back to the 1st century BC.

The helmet, found in farmland near Canterbury in September, is made of bronze and was discovered alongside a brooch by an amateur metal detectorist.

Working with Canterbury Archaeological Trust, the helmet has been carefully scanned by archaeologists at Kent using state-of-the-art technology to help define the history of the object.

Using a high resolution contactless scanner, the team have been able to see small hammer indentations in the helmet. The scanner also produces digital pictures helping to reveal intricate details often hidden by colour variations on the helmet’s surface.

Dr Steven Willis, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology and an expert in Iron Age and Roman Britain, said: ‘We are delighted to be able to assist with such a remarkable find for Canterbury and the local area. Using laser-scanning technology, which has become an essential part of the conservation of objects, we have been able to analyse the helmet from a distance and unlock many details, such as the manufacture, decoration and use.

‘This sort of emerging technology allows the rapid production of accurate and high-resolution digital 3D models of archaeological artefacts, minimising the potential harm associated with the repeated handling of these often fragile objects. The technology also ensures any details potentially overlooked by the naked eye are also highlighted.’

‘The secrets of this helmet are only just beginning to emerge but we will know much more as the work progresses. More or less intact helmets of this era are very rare finds, one used as a cremation container, as with this example, is known from Belgium’, Dr Willis added.

Due to the discovery’s archaeological significance, which includes two prehistoric metal objects found together, the find has been registered under the Treasure Act (1996). The objects have been reported to the Coroner and will remain at the British Museum where a special report will be prepared.

Julia Farley, Iron Age curator at the British Museum said: ‘This is a very exciting find, one of only a handful of Iron Age helmets to have been found in Britain. In Late Iron Age Kent, it was not unusual to bury the cremated remains of the dead in a bag fastened with one or more brooches, but no other cremation has ever been found accompanied by a helmet.

‘The owner of this helmet, or the people who placed it in the grave, may have lived through the very beginning of the story of Roman Britain.’

It is hoped that Canterbury Museum will be able to acquire the finds so they can be permanently displayed in Kent. The person who found the treasure has wished to remain anonymous.

The release includes a decent photo:

University of Kent photo

University of Kent photo

There’s a similar (I think) helmet in the British Museum

Latest from Silchester

It  always bothers me when journalists feel a need to ‘overstate’ (for want of a better word) the recent discoveries at a particular site … last year around this time, the BBC’s coverage of the Silchester excavation was bothering me (Pre-Roman Silchester Town Planning? NOT NEWS!) … this year, the Guardian‘s follows suit:

Iron Age Britons were importing olives from the Mediterranean a century before the Romans arrived with their exotic tastes in food, say archaeologists who have discovered a single olive stone from an excavation of an Iron Age well at at Silchester in Hampshire.

The stone came from a layer securely dated to the first century BC, making it the earliest ever found in Britain – but since nobody ever went to the trouble of importing one olive, there must be more, rotted beyond recognition or still buried.

The stone, combined with earlier finds of seasoning herbs such as coriander, dill and celery, all previously believed to have arrived with the Romans, suggests a diet at Silchester that would be familiar in any high street pizza restaurant.

The excavators, led by Professor Mike Fulford of Reading University, also found another more poignant luxury import: the skeleton of a tiny dog, no bigger than a modern toy poodle, carefully buried, curled up as if in sleep. However it may not have met a peaceful end.

“It was fully grown, two or three years old, and thankfully showed no signs of butchery, so it wasn’t a luxury food or killed for its fur,” Fulford said. “But it was found in the foundations of a very big house we are still uncovering – 50 metres long at least – so we believe it may turn out to be the biggest Iron Age building in Britain, which must have belonged to a chief or a sub chief, a very big cheese in the town. And whether this little dog conveniently died just at the right time to be popped into the foundations, or whether it was killed as a high status offering, we cannot tell.

“The survival of the olive stone, which was partly charred, was a freak of preservation. But there must be more; we need to dig a lot more wells.”

Fulford has been leading the annual summer excavations at Silchester, which bring together hundreds of student, volunteer and professional archaeologists, for half a lifetime, and the site continues to throw up surprises. It was an important Roman town, but deliberately abandoned in the 7th century, its wells blocked up and its buildings tumbled, and never reoccupied. Apart from a few Victorian farm buildings, it is still open farmland, surrounded by the jagged remains of massive Roman walls.

Fulford now believes that the town was at its height a century before the Roman invasion in 43AD, with regularly planned, paved streets, drainage, shops, houses and workshops, trading across the continent for luxury imports of food, household goods and jewellery, enjoying a lifestyle in Britain that, previously, was believed to have arrived with the Romans.

This sodden summer have driven the archaeologists to despair, with the site a swamp of deep mud and water bubbling up in every hole and trench.

“Conditions are the worst I can ever remember. Ironically, the wells are the easiest to work in because we have the pumps running there,” Fulford said.

The tiny dog is one of dozens that the team has excavated here over the years, including one that was buried standing up as if on guard for 2,000 years. A unique knife with a startlingly realistic carving of two dogs mating was another of the spectacular finds from one of the most enigmatic sites in the country.

Yes, the olive stone is a significant find, but last year’s coverage (the BBC’s, referenced above … links to previous coverage there as well) mentions that the inhabitants of Calleva Atrebatum had imported olive oil and wine, so this really isn’t a stretch. What was bothering me last night as I was reading this between downs of a football game, was that there seems to be this belief that the Romans didn’t have any effect on the island until Claudius, as if that little foray by Julius Caesar didn’t open up some trade, if it wasn’t occurring already (eh Pytheas?). We should be using finds like this to marvel at ancient trade and what was traded, not use it to build up some lingering ‘mythology’ about how the folks of Britain were before the Romans ‘came’.

Moles at Epiacum

Years ago it was all about badger, badger, badger … now, it seems, moles are digging up Roman artifacts at Epiacum … from the Journal:

EARTH burrowing moles are responsible for digging up some of Roman Britain’s deepest secrets in a remote corner of West Northumberland.

They may be the bane of farmers across the land, but some moles are doing the human race a huge historical favour.

Epiacum, an isolated Roman fort close to the Cumbrian border 12 miles south of Hadrian’s Wall, is a scheduled ancient monument and as such, any excavation is banned on site.

But humans has never yet introduced any law understood by Mr Mole – and scores of them are churning up Roman artefacts at Epiacum – or Whitley Castle – as they push out their molehills.

Whitley Castle stands on 1,000-acre Castle Nook Farm, and yesterday a team of 37 volunteers, under the watchful eye of English Heritage, sieved through those molehills to see what our subterranean allies had brought up.

Among the finds were:

A quarter-inch-long piece of rare Samian ware, tableware known as the classic Roman ceramic discovery;

A number of pottery rim fragments from Roman serving bowls and earthenware pots;

A jet bead from a Roman necklace or bracelet.

“We’ve had a good day,” smiled farmer’s wife Elaine Edgar, who is heading plans to develop and promote the fort and this month landed a £49,200 Heritage Lottery grant to help her along.

“The Samian ware is the sort of thing the Romans used to keep up with the Joneses and we found a quarter-inch flat, round piece of it.

“Last year we found a small bronze dolphin-shaped piece which we believe to have been a tap-head from the wash-house. It was just lying there on the side of a molehill.

“We also found a number of nails, which settled the argument of whether the Romans used wood or stone for their buildings.

“And this year we have found some really nice pieces – even the weather was kind to us.”

All the molehill sites at Epiacum, two miles south of Slaggyford and near the Cumbrian border, were ‘gridded out’ 48 hours earlier in 10-metre squares with rods and tape.

“The moles are able to do what we humans are forbidden by law to do,” said Elaine, “and that is excavate on-site. As farmers we are not allowed to do anything that turns the land over.

“English Heritage had to be on site yesterday to make it legal for us even to sieve through the molehills.”

Paul Frodshaw from AONB – Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – who is one of the four directors of newly-formed Epic Epiacum Ltd, took the Roman finds away in carefully-labelled bags last night to officially catalogue them.

But their ownership falls to Elaine and her husband John as landowners of 30 years.

Now Elaine hopes that she will eventually be able to display them in a display area on the eight-acre fort site.

“That would be my great wish,” she said last night. “I have high hopes, and it is only with the help of the moles that we have been able to find these remains.

“Perhaps we should get them some Roman helmets – then they would be real mighty moles.”

Caistor St Edmund Dig Update

A very nice report from the Evening News … note the link at the end to the project’s blog:

They have been excavating for just a week, but already members of an archaeological team at a Roman town on the outskirts of Norwich have found “huge quantities” of artefacts.

A thousand visitors have been to see the dig at Caistor St Edmund in its first week and the excavation, the first inside the walls for 75 years, is uncovering more about how people in the town lived and worked.

The volume of writing implements being discovered shows that it was a thriving administrative centre, while the range of remains of animals unearthed makes archaeologists think that animals were being butchered within the town walls.

That would mark out the Roman town of Venta Icenorum, as it was called, as a very rural and agricultural place, as in many of the Roman urban centres animals were slaughtered outside the walls and then brought into the town.

Dr Will Bowden, the project director from the University of Nottingham, said the voluntary finds washing team were struggling to keep up, such was the volume of coins, pottery and bone being found dating back to the second, third and fourth centuries.

He said: “We are finding all the different parts of an animal you could want, which shows they were butchering on site.

“That’s been quite a nice discovery because you start to get an idea of how people were living and to build up a picture of what the town was like.

“Various things are emerging quite strongly and one is the amount of writing going on here.

“We are getting lots of styli, the pens used for writing on wax tablets. On a dig in the late 20s they found a lot of them too so it is one of the things that keeps turning up at Caistor.

“It really is a centre of administration, and people are writing a lot of things down, probably about taxation.

“We might talk about the Romans, but this was a local population who were living here.

“This would have been the Iceni population. By 200 years after the Roman invasion everyone would have thought of themselves as being a Roman.”

Visitors to the dig will also get the chance to see the full scale of the Roman site as the streets of the town have been painstakingly painted in 14km of white lines on the grass, courtesy of former Norwich High School for Girls groundsman Fred Marsham.

The dig has uncovered a part of one of the Roman roads and jaw bones of cattle or horses and parts of antlers can be seen embedded in the road, and dark strips show where wheel ruts were made by travelling vehicles.

But over the next couple of weeks the team is planning to dig deeper and see if they can discover evidence linking the settlement to East Anglia’s Iceni queen Boudica.

Archaeologists will also be searching for clues to discover the exact date when the Roman streets were originally laid out and if the town continued to be occupied beyond the Roman period.

Parts of the site were originally excavated between 1929 and 1935 following the publication of dramatic aerial photographs showing evidence of streets and public buildings.

Since then, the site has been undisturbed, until last year, when Dr Bowden and his team began excavating the field to the south of the town, which is a scheduled ancient monument owned by the Norfolk Archaeological Trust and managed in partnership with South Norfolk Council.

On that occasion the remains of a fourth-century Roman buried in a shallow grave were uncovered.

Dr Bowden, who also worked on the archaeological dig during the building of Castle Mall, said: “I did my PhD at the University of East Anglia and I used to pass this on the train and I could see what a brilliant site it was and how you could answer so many questions by digging here.

“This sort of site it very rare in Europe, as there are very few Roman towns that don’t have modern settlement build on top of them.

“Roman towns were often built in good locations, but this wasn’t the case there. The better location for the town was Norwich, because it has much better access by river, and that’s a good result for us.”

The dig will continue until Saturday, September 11, with people welcome to visit for free to watch the archaeologists in action.

Visitors to the site could also bump into Time Team’s Tony Robinson, who has been to the dig and will be visiting again as part of filming for a special for the Channel 4 programme, due to be aired next year.

Follow the dig team’s blog at http://caistordig2010.wordpress.com/.

We first heard of this dig back in 2007 (and even before, I guess), when there was much excitement over what might be found. Some high tech equipment was used last year (and this year too … check out the blog) to find promising dig sites. Whatever the case, what I find most interesting is that they keep finding styli all over the place and are making the reasonable connection that this is an administrative centre of some sort. Compare that to that much-more-publicized ‘brothel’/infanticide site from Buckinghamshire, whence one report suggests they’ve found over 70 styluses … again we wonder about the quantities of styluses found at other sites.  A preliminary scan of the interwebs a while back  brought back to me:

  • Pearce John. Archaeology, writing tablets and literacy in Roman Britain. In: Gallia. Tome 61, 2004. pp. 43-51.

… which is available online. It is a preliminary survey and concentrates more on writing tablets than styli, but there are passing mentions of such finds (although not quantities). An interesting extract:

The presence of writing tablets (admittedly in small numbers) on a variety of rural sites is more surprising. Inscriptions on stone in a rural context are very scarce, but rural temples and settlements account for a high proportion of the 35 settlements on which lead curse tablets have been found (Ingemarck, 2001) and writing equipment has been found during the excavation of many rural settlements. We may tentatively suggest on this basis that the use of documents in a rural milieu in the north-west provinces has been significantly underestimated, even if it is unlikely to have ever approached the intensity of document use attested, for example, in rural Roman Egypt.

… but what about these apparently large quantities of styli?

Roman Socks and Sandals Rereredux

Newspapers in the UK are starting to get agog over a recent find … the Telegraph seems typical:

New evidence from an archaeological dig has found that legionnaires wore socks with sandals.

Rust on a nail from a Roman sandal found in newly discovered ruins in North Yorkshire appears to contain fibres which could suggest that a sock-type garment was being worn.

Now scientists are examining the remains in the laboratory to see if it is true.

The fashion faux pas was found in a 2000-year-old “industrial estate” excavated as part of a £318 million Highways Agency scheme to upgrade the A1 between Dishforth and Leeming in North Yorkshire.

The unearthed site includes the remains of a water-powered flour mill used to grind grain and produce food for the soldiers, clothes, food remains, graves and pottery.

It also contains the evidence of the socks in 14 graves on the outskirts of the area.

Blaise Vyner, an archaeologist heading the cultural heritage team on site, said: “You don’t imagine Romans in socks but I am sure they would have been pretty keen to get hold of some as soon as autumn came along.”

Similiter:

Harry Mount (also in the Telegraph) writes a good accompanying column, but without giving the journalists a much-needed  lack-of-research slap-on-the-wrist:

I can quite believe the story that Romans stationed in north Yorkshire 2000 years ago wore socks with their sandals, and so kicked off an unfortunate British fashion that’s survived to the present day.

Yes, the Romans were a fantastically tough martial race with great imperial ambitions. But they were also from the hot south; the Geordie weather of Hadrian’s Wall was not for them.

35 years ago, just south of Hadrian’s Wall, at the fort of Vindolanda, archaeologists found letters to and from the legionaries there – most of them hailing from Gaul. Like anyone far away from home, they missed their wives, and their food.

The letters talk fondly of Mediterranean food and drink: Massic wine, garlic, fish, semolina, lentils, olives and olive oil. When they can’t get their favourite food imported, they have to make do with local British fare: pork fat, cereal, spices, roe-deer and venison, all washed down with beer. Walk into your local pub – things haven’t changed much.

What really gets the legionaries down, though, is the cold of Northumberland. They are desperate for “subuclae” – or vests – and “abollae”, thick heavy cloaks. The most famous letter just lists the items sent from Gaul to one freezing soldier: “Paria udonum ab Sattua solearum duo et subligariorum duo”; that is, “socks, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants”.

Socks, sandals and pants. Without them Roman Britain would not have lasted nearly half a millennium, until 410AD, when they packed their smalls and headed down south to warmer climes.

Okay … before we get to some more responsible coverage, let’s note that back in 2003, back when rogueclassicism was but a babe among blogs, the BBC had a report about a dig in London which began:

Evidence for what, by modern standards, would be considered a lack of style has been uncovered at a major archaeological dig in south London, where a foot from a bronze statue appears to be adorned with both socks and sandals.

Here’s a photo:

A couple of years later, when rogueclassicism was a bit more mature, the BBC also had:

The sartorial elegance of the Italians has been shattered, with news that woolly socks helped their ancestors’ conquest of northern England.

The evidence has emerged among archaeological objects found in the River Tees at Piercebridge, near Darlington in County Durham.

Among the items was an unusual Roman razor handle, made of copper alloy and in the shape of a human leg and foot.

The 5cm high foot is wearing a sandal with a thick woollen sock underneath. [...]

… here’s a photo:

Adrian Murdoch has responded to the present hype with a good post on other evidence for the practice: Roman socks and sandals

Dorothy King responds in a similar vein as I do, with some additional details: Socks and Roman Sartorial Sins ….

… and as long as we’re on the subject, we really should highlight the BBC’s responsible coverage of the current find, which is actually about a hitherto unknown ‘industrial estate’ which may have been home to a legion:

Archaeologists have discovered a Roman industrial estate near ruins which may once have been home to a lost legion.

The site has been excavated as part of a £318 million scheme to upgrade the A1 in North Yorkshire.

It is close to a fort at Healam Bridge, which might have been used by the Ninth Hispanic Legion, which disappeared some time in the 2nd Century AD.

The find includes evidence that the Romans may have worn socks under their sandals!

The unearthed site includes the remains of a water-powered flour mill used to grind grain and produce food for the soldiers along with clothes, food remains, graves and pottery.

Cultural heritage team leader Blaise Vyner said: “We know a lot about Roman forts, which have been extensively studied, but to excavate an industrial area with a mill is really exciting.

“We hope it can tell us more about how such military outposts catered for their needs, as self-sufficiency would have been important.”
Neil Redfern from English Heritage with the remains of a horse, found under a building. Image courtesy of COI Yorkshire & Humber

The industrial area comprised a series of large timber buildings, mostly on the north side of a beck, which powered the mill.

It would have supplied the fort with goods and provisions, probably processing meat and other food, as well as flour.

It could also have developed into something of a settlement in its own right.

There is also an indication that the Roman occupants may have worn socks. Rust on the nail from a Roman sandal appears to have impressions from fibres which could suggest that a sock-type garment was being worn.

Mr Vyner added: “You only have to look up the road to Catterick to see how garrison towns are serviced by local shops. Perhaps we have something similar here.”

Economic role

Neil Redfern from English Heritage said that the discovery of the site had given a “real insight” in to the industrial processes used by the Romans.

“The time span of the remains uncovered illustrates how the site developed from a frontier fort and settlement to a more settled site with strong local economic role relating to the presence of mills along the banks of the beck.

“The complexity and depth of deposits were unexpected and the excavation team has dealt with them very professionally.”

Very little is known about the Roman fort itself, which is now a scheduled monument.

It only came to light as a result of geophysical surveys carried out in the 1990s in readiness for the A1’s planned upgrading. The line of the new road was adjusted to avoid the main site.

Gary Frost, Highways Agency project manager, said the excavation, which began in July 2009 and was completed this summer, gave experts a unique window on the past.

cf: Roman ‘industrial estate’ unearthed in North Yorkshire | BBC

… they also have a video report at:

So the upshot is that we’ve known about the Roman socks-and-sandals look for quite some time; as for this new site, hopefully we’ll find some burials nearby which can tell us a bit more about the people who lived there.

Pre Roman Remains at Brading Roman Villa

From the County Press:

THE third phase of the Big Dig at Brading Roman Villa may well have been one of the toughest excavations eminent archaeologist Sir Barry Cunliffe had ever undertaken but it has yielded some treasures and a greater understanding of Brading’s history up to its Roman occupation.
With the three-week dig ending yesterday (Friday), Sir Barry’s team has unearthed, over the past two weeks, numerous pottery remains, ranging from pieces of amphorae to a tray for sifting sea water to extract salt.
The discovery of a second century BC saucepan became the earliest evidence of occupation on the site, pushing its history back as much as two centuries.
Examples of early jewellery were also found, which included an example of a small mid-first century AD brooch inlaid with enamel.
A butt beaker, a type of Gaulish pre-Roman period drinking vessel, bronze tweezers, a flagon and a cremation jar were also discovered.
During the first week of the dig, Sir Barry’s team unearthed a rare cooking pot and a copper coin bearing the image of a goddess.
This year’s dig concentrated principally on a site to the rear of the villa’s car park.
There is, according to Sir Barry, strong evidence the villa was a high-status farmstead in the late Iron Age, trading with the Romans before the AD43 invasion of Britain.
“We’ve got reminders of Mediterranean manners and lifestyle before the Roman invasion and them being incorporated into community life,” he explained. “It is likely salt was a product of this area. The farmstead may well date back to an earlier period of the Iron Age. The dig was unrelenting — one of the toughest sites to dig any of us has ever seen.
“Yet it yielded a host of fascinating features and gave us a real understanding about the villa story.”