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 Praetorium from Balaklava

Interesting item from PAP:

Praetorium, Roman garrison commander’s property, has been discovered by found Polish archaeologists working in the Crimea, told PAP Dr. Radosław Karasiewicz-Szczypiorski of the Institute of Archaeology, University of Warsaw, head of excavations in Balaklava, Ukraine.

Until now, researchers have speculated that this house was located at the citadel in nearby Chersonesus.

Archaeologists studied the building of unknown purpose in previous seasons. This year’s work allowed for its full exploration.

“At first we thought that we were digging up the common barracks or quarters of one of the officers – centurions. However, the structure turned out to be more extensive than we thought. We uncovered a large house with rooms surrounding a stone-paved courtyard from three sides. Analogies with similar Roman forts indicate that the house belonged to the garrison commander” – said Dr. Karasiewicz-Szczypiorski.

The commander of the garrison was a high-ranking officer (tribune), who probably only visited outposts, and had permanent quarters on the Lower Danube.

Best preserved was the last construction phase of the building, dating back to the turn of the second and third century and the first decades of the third century.

“Discovery of the praetorium in Balaklava suggests that, at least in the beginning of the third century, the quarters of the Roman army commander in Tauris (the ancient name of Crimea – ed. PAP) was the fort in Balaklava, and not, as previously thought in the nearby Chersonesus citadel” – said Dr. Karasiewicz-Szczypiorski .

Warsaw archaeologists first visited Balaklava in the 1990s. The excavations are carried out jointly with the staff of the local museum ” Chersonesus Taurica” in Sevastopol. The result of these studies include the discovery of the temple of Jupiter Dolichenus. The current project was carried out for three seasons with the funds from the Ministry of Science and Higher Education.

The relevant scholarly paper seems to be at http://www.archeo.uw.edu.pl/zalaczniki/upload1187.pdf

Major Bust/Discovery at Lanuvio

From the Gazzetta del Sud:

Police have foiled ‘tomb raiders’ looting an ancient Roman archaeological site near the capital that was previously unknown to the Italian authorities, investigators said on Wednesday. The site is located near the ruins of a temple devoted to Juno ”The Saviour” at Lanuvio, in the Castelli Romani (Castles of Rome) – a cluster of towns southeast of Rome. Investigators saved five marble elements from works of architecture, coins, the ruins of a number of buildings, and over 24,000 terracotta fragments attributable to the late Republican and imperial period. Investigators also found tools presumably being used for archeological theft, including metal detectors, two-way radios. The authorities commandeered 17,000 sq meters of farmland where the ruins of monumental walls were brought to light by the illegal excavation. Lazio regional authorities said the site and artifacts recovered were of great scientific interest due to the size of the discovery, the state of its preservation and the location, near an important Roman temple. Investigators noted that in recent months, 500 cultural works have been seized and five people charged in unrelated operations to protect Italy’s heritage.

The coverage in La Reppubblica downplays the theft side of things and seems to emphasize that this is a major new site … it also include a video of some of the items there: Lanuvio, scoperto sito archeologico La Finanza sventa il saccheggio

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:

Roman ‘Chianti’ Research

From an FSU press release:

Call it a toast to the past.

A Florida State University classics professor whose decades of archaeological work on a remote hilltop in Italy have dramatically increased understanding of the ancient Etruscan culture is celebrating yet another find.

This time around it’s not the usual shards of pottery and vessels, remnants of building foundations or other ancient artifacts unearthed in past years, but rather a treasure that’s far more earthy: grape seeds.

Actually, Nancy Thomson de Grummond has discovered some 150 waterlogged grape seeds that have some experts in vineyard-grape DNA sequencing very excited.

The tiny grape seeds, unearthed during a dig this past summer in Cetamura del Chianti, were discovered in a well and are probably from about the 1st century A.D., roughly about the time the Romans inhabited what is now Italy’s Chianti region. The seeds could provide “a real breakthrough” in the understanding of the history of Chianti vineyards in the area, de Grummond said.

“We don’t know a lot about what grapes were grown at that time in the Chianti region,” she said. “Studying the grape seeds is important to understanding the evolution of the landscape in Chianti. There’s been lots of research in other vineyards but nothing in Chianti.”

Nearly every summer since 1983, de Grummond, the M. Lynette Thompson Professor of Classics, has shepherded teams of enthusiastic Florida State students into Italy’s Tuscany region to participate in archaeological digs at Cetamura del Chianti, a site once inhabited by the Etruscans and later by ancient Romans.

Over the years, she and her students have unearthed numerous artifacts that have reshaped current knowledge of the religious practices and daily lives of a long-gone people.

De Grummond is a leading scholar on the religious practices of the Etruscans, a people whose culture profoundly influenced the ancient Romans and Greeks. Her book “Etruscan Myth, Sacred History, and Legend,” the first comprehensive account of Etruscan mythology, was published in 2006. She also co-wrote another book, “The Religion of the Etruscans,” with fellow Etruscan scholar Erika Simon; that book was published the same year.

The Etruscans, who once ruled most of the Italian peninsula, were conquered and absorbed by the Romans in the second and first centuries B.C.E. (“Before the Common Era”). Prior to that time, however, they were a highly advanced civilization that constructed roads, buildings and sewer systems and developed the first true cities in Europe. They also built large, complex religious sanctuaries.

De Grummond, who next summer will celebrate her 30th anniversary of taking Florida State students on research trips to Cetamura, said that fellow scholars at the site now include professors who were her former students at FSU. And those professors are now leading their own teams of students.

“We’re now getting the ‘grand-students,’” de Grummond said — a fond reference to the third generation of researchers she now works with in Cetamura.

Florida State’s international archaeological summer program in Italy features field trips to sites and museums that help enrich students’ knowledge of the cultures under excavation at Cetamura. It’s open to all interested students and is particularly recommended for students majoring in anthropology, art history and classics. Learn more about the program at http://international.fsu.edu/Types/College/Italy/Cetamura/Archaeology.aspx.

De Grummond said researchers in southern France who are compiling a database of vineyard seeds will study the grape seeds from this year’s dig.

“It’s kind of hard for me as an art historian who studies religion to think that these grape seeds might be my finest hour,” de Grummond said with a laugh. “But they might be.” [...]

via: Classics professor unearths archaeological clues about ancient Roman vineyards

Roman Giant

I’ve been sitting on this one for a week, hoping there’d be a bit more coverage, but the National Geographic seems to have an exclusive. Some excerpts:

It’s no tall tale—the first complete ancient skeleton of a person with gigantism has been discovered near Rome, a new study says.

At 6 feet, 8 inches (202 centimeters) tall, the man would have been a giant in third-century A.D. Rome, where men averaged about 5 and a half feet (167 centimeters) tall. By contrast, today’s tallest man measures 8 feet, 3 inches (251 centimeters).

[...]

Two partial skeletons, one from Poland and another from Egypt, have previously been identified as “probable” cases of gigantism, but the Roman specimen is the first clear case from the ancient past, study leader Simona Minozzi, a paleopathologist at Italy’s University of Pisa, said by email.

[...]

The unusual skeleton was found in 1991 during an excavation at a necropolis in Fidenae (map), a territory indirectly managed by Rome.

At the time, the Archaeological Superintendence of Rome, which led the project, noted that the man’s tomb was abnormally long. It was only during a later anthropological examination, though, that the bones too were found to be unusual. Shortly thereafter, they were sent to Minozzi’s group for further analysis.

To find out if the skeleton had gigantism, the team examined the bones and found evidence of skull damage consistent with a pituitary tumor, which disrupts the pituitary gland, causing it to overproduce human growth hormone.

Other findings—such as disproportionately long limbs and evidence that the bones were still growing even in early adulthood—support the gigantism diagnosis, according to the study, published October 2 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

His early demise—likely between 16 and 20—might also point to gigantism, which is associated with cardiovascular disease and respiratory problems, said Minozzi, who emphasized that the cause of death remains unknown. (Explore an interactive of the human body.)

[...]

The original article is avaliable here (payfer; not even a free abstract, grumble): Pituitary Disease from the Past: A Rare Case of Gigantism in Skeletal Remains from the Roman Imperial Age (JCEM)

Roman Burials from Somerset

From the BBC:

A Roman cemetery containing several human burials has been found during work on a new water mains in Somerset.

The finds were made by archaeologists during the laying of a four-mile (7km) long mains between Banwell and Hutton.

Among the skeletons, which have been exhumed for further study, there was one in a partially-preserved coffin.

A Bristol Water spokesman said the excavation had been described as “potentially the most important for 100 years in North Somerset”.

The cemetery was discovered “isolated from the surrounding landscape” in a curved water-filled ditch.

Roman cemeteries, according to Neil Shurety from Border Archaeology, are generally sited outside settlements and away from areas of human habitation.

Pottery and brooches

“In this case, the cemetery is evidently associated not with a town but with a villa site and it could thus represent a private burial ground serving a wealthy landowner and his immediate family,” he said.

The human remains were orientated north-south “with the head to the north, which suggests a pre-Christian burial practice,” said Mr Shurety.

“One of these individuals seems to lie within a partially-preserved wooden coffin – constructed from timber planking,” he added.

He said the site provided evidence of a “landscape almost continually in use for the last 5,000 years”.

“It covers a period ranging from an intriguing prehistoric timber structure to a Roman cemetery and defensive ditches through medieval land management features to today’s agricultural activity,” he said.

The finds, which include an estimated 9,000 pieces of pottery, brooches, a coin of Constantine the Great and a pin of Roman date are due to go on display at Banwell Village Hall on 19 November.

Cat Finds ‘Catacomb’

… but given that it was associated with a cliff, it seems more likely (and appropriate?) that it might be a columbarium of some sort … from the Guardian:

Rome may not exactly be short of catacombs, but one discovered this week is more deserving of the name than the city’s countless other subterranean burial chambers. For Mirko Curti stumbled into a 2,000-year-old tomb piled with bones while chasing a wayward moggy yards from his apartment building.

Curti and a friend were following the cat at 10pm on Tuesday when it scampered towards a low tufa rock cliff close to his home near Via di Pietralata in a residential area of the city. “The cat managed to get into a grotto and we followed the sound of its miaowing,” he said.

Inside the small opening in the cliff the two men found themselves surrounded by niches dug into the rock similar to those used by the Romans to hold funeral urns, while what appeared to be human bones littered the floor.

Archaeologists called to the scene said the tomb probably dated from between the 1st century BC and the 2nd century AD. Given that niches were used to store ashes in urns, the bones had probably tumbled into the tomb from a separate burial space higher up inside the cliff.

Heavy rains at the start of the week had probably caused rocks concealing the entrance to the tomb to crumble, they added.

Soft tufa rock has often been used for digging tombs over the centuries in Italy, but its softness means that ancient sites are today threatened by the elements. The cliffs near Via di Pietralata have also been extensively quarried.

Romans are often underwhelmed and sometimes irritated to find they are living on top of priceless remains. Shoppers arriving at the Ikea store on the outskirts of Rome leave their cars alongside a stretch of Roman road unearthed in the car park, while fans queueing to enter the city’s rugby stadium need to skirt around archaeologists excavating the Roman necropolis that stretches under the pitch. At the concert hall complex next door, halls had to be squeezed around an unearthed Roman villa.

But Curti said he was nonetheless amazed to wander into a tomb so close to his house, calling it “the most incredible experience” of his life.

… can’t seem to find any decent photos (this one doesn’t count)

Roman Ship From Antibes Redux

We mentioned this one last week when most of the coverage was in French … the story finally did hit the English papers, e.g., the Guardian (which picked up coverage from Le Monde)

It looks like the rib cage of a large marine mammal, whose bones turned black as it was fossilised. The wreck was discovered in May during a dig in Antibes, on the French Riviera, prior to construction of a car park on the site of the Roman port of Antipolis.

Archaeologists have gradually uncovered a 15-metre length of hull and structural timbers, in “exceptional” condition, according to Giulia Boetto, a specialist in ship design at Aix-Marseille University who is involved in the dig. Saw and adze marks are still visible on the wood. Luckily the ground in which it was found is always waterlogged so this prevented the timber from rotting and decomposing.

Sprinklers have kept the hull and its structure moist since its discovery. “Otherwise, in just a few weeks we would lose everything,” says Isabelle Daveau, an archaeologist at France’s Rescue Archaeology Research Institute (Inrap) and head of the project.

The ship – a merchant vessel from the imperial period – was probably about 22 metres long and six or seven metres across. It is thought to have sunk in the second or third century in the port at Antipolis. “It has a typical Graeco-Roman flat-bottomed design,” Boetto says, with a hold three metres deep and a square sail to drive it, suspended from a mast, which has not been found.

The archaeologists have made some touching discoveries, including a little 15-centimetre brush that must have been dropped by a shipwright busy caulking the hull. It most likely fell through a gap between the floor of the hold and the outer shell, only to be discovered 19 centuries later.

“A ship like this could carry a cargo of up to about 100 tonnes,” Boetto says. This may seem a lot, but it is well below the tonnage reached by other vessels. “At the time, the boats transporting Egyptian corn back to Rome could be as long as 40 to 50 metres, loaded with up to 400 tonnes of grain,” she adds.

The remains of the ship, which will be donated to Antibes by the state, will be dismantled and the timber treated for lasting conservation. “Just the process of treating the timber will take two years,” says Jean-Louis Andral, head of the Antibes museum. “Then the wreck will be reconstituted and set up in a centre for study and preservation, where it can also be seen by the general public.” It should be ready in three or four years.

How did the ship come to be lying at a depth of barely two metres in the port of Antibes? “We can’t be absolutely sure, but it’s possible, as sometimes happened, that it was deliberately scuttled to serve as a landing stage,” Daveau suggests. “It may also have been swamped by a freak wave.”

Another possible explanation is that it sank at its mooring, but this seems unlikely. Nowhere on the section of the vessel that has been uncovered have archaeologists found any signs of repairs, suggesting that it was not particularly old when it sank. In due course the timber itself will be properly dated.

The team of 20 or so archaeologists working on the dig have found no evidence of any cargo. When a ship went down, efforts would be made to salvage as much as possible. “At a depth of less than two metres it would have been fairly easy to raise goods,” Boetto says. “On the Roman shipwreck discovered in the 1970s off Madrague de Giens, at a depth of 20 metres, part of the cargo had been recovered.”

At the time underwater excavation of the great wreck, led by maritime archaeologists André Tchernia and Patrice Pomey, revealed gaps in the cargo. Heavy stones had been placed alongside the missing amphorae. It is thought that they were used to weight the divers who specialised in salvaging ship-wrecked goods. Such divers were often mentioned in ancient texts but the Madrague de Giens wreck provided the first material proof of their activity and daring.

In excavating the 5,000-square-metre site the archaeologists have uncovered more than just the remains of the vessel. The floor of the old Roman port holds a remarkable record of the diversity of sea trade between the late fourth and early sixth centuries, including amphorae dropped in the water during unloading, damaged crockery thrown overboard and the soles of leather shoes.

It is also testimony to far-reaching trade in the Mediterranean. Goods from so many different regions converged on Antipolis that “we often discover unknown objects from indeterminate sources”, Daveau says. Some finds reveal the identity of their owner. Here, for instance, is a ceramic bowl marked Rutili, probably the name of a sailor who dropped it in the water because it was broken or chipped.

Such finds are particularly valuable in the eyes of Inrap researchers as nine-tenths of the port was destroyed in the 1970s by the construction of a modern marina. In those days there was still no legislation requiring a preventive rescue dig.

All the excavated material will be kept and made available to the scientific community in appropriate premises adjoining the hall where the wreck will be on display. “We have found large numbers of amphorae from Italy and Marseille, dating back to the port’s earliest period,” says archaeologist Robert Thernot. “Then, as time passed, there were more and more items from North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean.” This suggests that the main centres of production shifted, just as is happening now with Asia’s growing importance and Europe’s industrial decline.

The cargo that the ship brought to Antipolis will probably remain a mystery but the odds are high that it would have sailed away loaded with garum, a fermented fish sauce that contributed to the prosperity and fame of the city for several centuries.

The article includes a photo of the ship …

First Century Roman Amphora from Vélez-Málaga

… and it has wine in it! From Typically Spanish:

Archaeologists in Vélez-Málaga Town Hall have discovered a Roman Amphora, dating from the first century.

What’s more the experts say it’s still full of wine which they think is in ‘perfect conditions’ because the vessel is hermetically sealed.

The Councillor for Culture and Heritage in Vélez-Málaga, José Antonio Fortes (PP), explain to journalists that the amphora was hermetically ‘sealed with resin and lime, and contains between 25 and 30 litres of a liquid which the municipal technicians think is wine.

Destined to be part of the merchandise going from Hispania to Rome, the Amphora was left forgotten in Vélez-Málaga Town Hall, found in 1960 in the basements of the Beniel Palace, and then forgotten again in the municipal buildings.

The metre-high Amphora will form part of the new museum on Vélez-Málaga History, which will hold Mesopotamian, Greek, Phoenician and Roman items in the old Hospital de San Juan de Dios, which was founded at the end of the 15th century by the Catholic Kings.

The contents are to be analyzed in a few days time, my a specialist laboratory. Seems a bit of a shame, but Cheers!

I’m kind of wondering why they have assumed it must be wine in the amphora … a quick Google search for Vélez-Málaga finds almost everything mentioning the Romans producing garum there, so my money’s on them finding that … As long as we’re at it, maybe I can gripe that we keep reading about shipwrecks with intact cargo (and I’ll probably tell you all about the recently-found one from Genoa tomorrow) but we never seem to read of any analysis of the contents of this intact cargo, other than the brief flurry of excitement from the research of Brendan Foley, which doesn’t seem to have involved ‘intact’ items in many cases (Some Potential Amphora Use Revisionism and Amphora Revisionism Followup). E.g., the shipwreck from Zannone in February … not sure if the ones found off Cape Palinuro were intact in the sense of ‘not broken’ or in the ‘with cargo’ sense.

Those Politely Swearing Romans

Tip o’ the pileus to the folks at History of the Ancient World (fellow Canucks!) for pointing us to this press release from the University of Reading which we completely missed:

Feck! Codswallop! Most of us swear at some point during our lives but we adapt our bad language to different audiences so as not to cause offence. However new research from the University of Reading shows that the Romans had already perfected the art of less offensive swearing in public, something we continue to use today.

Despite the fact that foul language is generally considered to be unacceptable, it is an everyday phenomenon. Most people use expletives if the situation warrants it, or perhaps even when not. However there are occasions when adding profane emphasis to our words is unavoidable, yet we feel hindered to do so given certain circumstances, such as in the work place or when around young children.

In these cases the English language, as with most other languages in the world, offers less offensive, often even humorous alternatives. These types of replacement profanities – from ‘blooming’ to ‘feck’ – appear to be acceptable to some extent, even in the public sphere and among educated people.

Professor Peter Kruschwitz, Head of the University’s Department of Classics, has found that these types of concealment strategies can already be found in Roman times. By systematically examining Latin exclamations that were used in the Roman world in public situations, Professor Kruschwitz has established that the Romans, too, employed similar techniques to escape falling hostage to foul language use in public.

Professor Kruschwitz said: “The notion of words being ‘just words’ certainly does not apply to curses and swear words. Casual swearing does not normally belong in the public sphere and, if it has to be used, its impact needs to be lessened by concealment strategies which reduces the obscenity of the swearing. We have our own way and words of dealing with these scenarios – but this is nothing new. My research shows that the principles we, in the main, uphold regarding swearing in public were already in use over 2000 years ago.

“The Romans employed a host of minced oaths to escape using foul language in public. Where in English one might wish to say ‘Judas Priest’, instead of blasphemous ‘Jesus Christ’, a Roman playwright had used the less of offensive O Apella, o Zeuxis, the names of two famous Greek painters, for ‘by Apollo and Zeus’. Interestingly enough, even the most boorish of Roman plays, full of verbal abuse, do not really resort to expletives to do with sexual organs, activities, or other bodily functions.

“They also used onomatopoetic terms such as butubatta or spattaro, perhaps close to something like ‘blah blah’ or ‘codswallop’, which conveyed someone’s contempt for another person. Dramatised expressions of contempt and dismay were also popular such as attatae or as we might say ‘shoot’ or ‘dang’.”

Professor Kruschwitz’s research is published online in Fabrizio Serra editore, Italy’s foremost publisher of scholarly journals.

… sadly, of course, the article isn’t free … the standard (it seems) 30 bucks. Sounds like it would be very interesting and I’m kind of surprised that this hasn’t been picked up by a pile of newspapers yet (it’s from a couple weeks ago).

More From Debelt

Last week we mentioned a find of some Roman burials which were found when a truck broke through the pavement near Debelt (ancient Dueltum): Roman Tombs from Debelt. Today we get a followup, with a slightly different version of the circumstances of discovery … from the Sofia Globe:

Golden medallions featuring inscriptions and images found in a gravesite dating to the Roman era in Debelt, a village in the region of Bourgas on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, have been identified by archaeologists as being from the second century CE.

According to archaeologists, the graves are those of veterans of the eighth legion of Augustus. They are in the western part of the ancient Roman colony of Deultum, according to a report on July 17 2012 by public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television.

Today the gravesite is next to a street in the latter-day village of Debelt. Deultum, in its time, was known as “Little Rome in Thrace”, the report said.

The find was made by accident while people were pouring concrete for construction. The vibration of the concrete mixer caused the surface to crack and a tomb was found.

Krasimira Kostova, director of the Archaeological Museum in Debelt, said that the find was of extremely high value. The valuable gifts were evidence that the people who lived there were of high status.

The finds included golden jewellery and a needle, beads and scrapers used by the ancient Romans for bathing and massage and in medicine as a means of inserting medication in the ears and throat, the report said. All of these were signs of urban life in what was then an important place in the Roman empire.

An inter-ministerial committee will decide what will become of the site. According to the report, Debelt archaeological reserve is the only one in Bulgaria to have “European archaeological heritage” status.

And just to add my own followup, we have heard of finds in the region of Bourgas before, and I speculated (if it needs speculation; as often, it might just be left out of the Bulgarian coverage)  it might be the location of one of a string of forts established by Vespasian and the connection with the Legio VIII Augusta might support that. See Further Thoughts on that Bulgarian Site Near Bourgas. On the movements of the Legio VIII Augusta, see the informative article at Livius.org: Legio VIII Augusta

Stolen Sarcophagus Recovered

This one’s interesting, given that we were pondering the origins of that sarcophagus in the sea near Antalya t’other day … from the Local:

A Roman sarcophagus, believed to have been excavated illegally from an archaeological site close to Turkey’s Antalya, has been seized by authorities from a Swiss warehouse, a customs official said on Monday.

The marble tomb, bearing carvings depicting the 12 labours of Hercules, dates to 2 AD.

It was found by customs officials who were carrying out inventory checks at Geneva’s tax-free warehouses, said Jean-Marc Renaud, who heads Switzerland’s central customs services, confirming a Swiss television report.

According to Swiss television, Ankara is seeking restitution of the sarcophagus believed to have originated from the Greek-Roman archaeological site of Perge, about 22 kilometres from Antalya.

Swiss customs are currently holding the object, and have brought the case to Geneva prosecutors which opened a probe last year.

Roman ‘Fertility Eagle’ from Selkirk

The incipit of an item from the Selkirk Advertiser:

A Roman symbol of fertility found near Selkirk, shaped like an eagle emerging from a flower with a berry in its mouth, highlights the discoveries made in Scotland in this year’s Treasure Trove Report.

The talisman, excavated in 2010 by a local metal detectorist between Selkirk and Galashiels, is believed to have adorned a Roman wagon or chariot, and is the first relic of its kind to be found north of the border.

The report described the artifact as: “A copper alloy mount in the shape of an eagle head, the sacred bird of Juno, found near Selkirk. The eagle is depicted emerging from a flower with a berry held in the beak and was intended as a symbol of good luck or fertility. Mounts of this type were used on the supporting frames of Roman wagons and this is the first such mount from Scotland, with only a small number known from Britain.”

Selkirk historian Walter Elliot, to whom the finder took the object for identification, guessed its ancient origin by the “patination”: “I knew it was not a modern find because it was bronze-green with age. It looked very Roman, but I wasn’t sure.”

It took his friend, archeologist Dr Fraser Hunter of Glasgow University, who had seen an identical copper eagle in York, to identify the rare artifact as Roman. [...]

… and here’s the small photo that’s included:

via the Selkirk Advertiser

Now unfortunately, as I write this, the Portable Antiquities Scheme seems to be doing maintenance or something and I can’t get an official description but check this thing out:

via the Portable Antiquities Scheme

… which is clearly an analog and is designated in the photo description as a cartfitting. Where this ‘fertility’ association comes from is beyond me.

Computed Tomography and Roman Coins (mostly)

Interesting press release from Southampton which has been making the rounds of the news outlets in various forms … here’s the first three-quarters or so:

Archaeologists and engineers from the University of Southampton are collaborating with the British Museum to examine buried Roman coins using the latest X-ray imaging technology.

Originally designed for the analysis of substantial engineering parts, such as jet turbine blades, the powerful scanning equipment at Southampton’s µ-VIS Centre for Computed Tomography is being used to examine Roman coins buried in three archaeological artefacts from three UK hoards.

The centre’s equipment can scan inside objects – rotating 360 degrees whilst taking thousands of 2D images, which are then used to build detailed 3D images. In the case of the coins, the exceptionally high energy/high resolution combination of the Southampton facilities allows them to be examined in intricate detail without the need for physical excavation or cleaning. For those recently scanned at Southampton, it has been possible to use 3D computer visualisation capabilities to read inscriptions and identify depictions of emperors on the faces of the coins – for example on some, the heads of Claudius II and Tetricus I have been revealed.

University of Southampton archaeologist, Dr Graeme Earl says, “Excavating and cleaning just a single coin can take hours or even days, but this technology gives us the opportunity to examine and identify them quickly and without the need for conservation treatment at this stage. It also has potential for examining many other archaeological objects.

“The University’s Archaeological Computing Research Group can then take this one step further – producing accurate, high resolution CGI visualisations based on scan data. This gives archaeologists and conservators around the world the opportunity to virtually examine, excavate and ‘clean’ objects.”

Dr Roger Bland, Head of Portable Antiquities and Treasure at the British Museum comments, “This scanning technique is already yielding some fascinating results and the possibility of identifying a hoard of coins in a pot, without removing them, is very exciting. Working with archaeologists and engineers at Southampton, it is exciting to be pioneering and exploring the potential of a process which is faster, cheaper and less interventive than excavation.”

The three objects examined at Southampton are:

• A cremation urn containing nine coins, dating from AD282, found in the Cotswolds. This item in particular would take months to excavate – with archaeologists needing to carefully examine bone fragments and remains to extract more information about its past.

• An estimated 30,000 Roman coins discovered in Bath, dating to around AD270 and concreted together in a large block weighing over 100 kilograms
(radiograph image only).

• A small pot dating to the 2nd century found in the Selby area of East Riding in Yorkshire.

There’s also a link to this video, which shows the Selby material imaging:

Coincidentally, perhaps, earlier this week we were getting the protoclassicist in the family oriented down the 401 at Queen’s University, and while he and his mom were doing the tour of residences (with him excited and mom disgusted, of course), I wandered up to my old stomping grounds in Watson Hall to see if anyone was around. They weren’t, but I did notice a couple of important things. First, the departmental coffee lounge was rather smaller (and cleaner) than I remember it, and second, it was nice to see that some of the Queen’s people’s posters from conference poster sessions were adorning the walls (I think I’ve mentioned I’m a big fan of such things). Anyhoo, one of those posters was by Kate Sullivan, who appears to have just graduated from the Art Conservation program at Queen’s (which has ties to Classics, natch) and the subject of her poster was Comparing X-ray Computed Tomography Images of Corroded Coins with the Results from Traditional Cleaning … I made a note of the name and was very surprised when I got home to find this Southampton thing (on pretty much the same technology) in my box. Even better, though, I managed to find Kate Sullivan’s poster on the web as a pdf  … (more of these please!).

Roman Tombs from Debelt

From the Sofia News Agency:

A truck carrying concrete for a construction site near Bulgaria’s Debelt has caused the precious discovery of two tombs dating from Roman times.

The news was announced Saturday by the Director of the National History Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, BAS, Lyudmil Vagalinski.

The truck was on a dirt road near the main one between the Black Sea city of Burgas and Sredets, carrying concrete for the construction of a house. The road caved in under its weight and uncovered the marble plates of a Roman tomb, most likely dating from the 2nd-3rd century A.C.. Another tomb was discovered nearby in the aftermath.

The truck, however, cracked some of the marble, while treasure hunters, conducting their own research, have added to the problems archaeologists now face.

The area is currently sealed in expectation of a permit to start archeological digs. The authorities are also conducting a probe in the case.

“Debelt is one of the key archaeological sites in Bulgaria. This is a Roman city, a colony of the highest level, meaning it is a direct copy of the organization and planning of Ancient Rome. It has been founded in year 70 A.C. by retired Roman legionnaires,” Vagalinski explains.

There are 15 Roman colonies on the Balkans, 3 of them in Bulgaria, with Debelt being the earliest one.

I tend not to include photos of things in other sources, but this time I have to … ecce:

Sofia News Agency Photo

If you look at this, it is clear that the tombs aren’t really that deep and are directly under the highway. Indeed, I’m sure I’m not the only one who is thinking at this point that they must have found those tombs when they were building the road and just paved over them, no?

In any event, Debelt is the ancient Deultum.

Roman Glass … in Japan?

Hopefully we’ll get some more details on this (I’ll look for some when I get a chance) … from the Australian branch of MSN:

Glass jewellery believed to have been made by Roman craftsmen has been found in an ancient tomb in Japan, researchers said Friday, in a sign the empire’s influence may have reached the edge of Asia.

Tests have revealed three glass beads discovered in the Fifth Century “Utsukushi” burial mound in Nagaoka, near Kyoto, were probably made some time between the first and the fourth century, the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties said.

The government-backed institute has recently finished analysing components of the glass beads, measuring five millimetres (0.2 inches) in diametre, with tiny fragments of gilt attached.

It found that the light yellow beads were made with natron, a chemical used to melt glass by craftsmen in the empire, which succeeded the Roman Republic in 27 BC and was ultimately ended by the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.

The beads, which have a hole through the middle, were made with a multilayering technique — a relatively sophisticated method in which craftsmen piled up layers of glass, often sandwiching gold leaf in between.

“They are one of the oldest multilayered glass products found in Japan, and very rare accessories that were believed to be made in the Roman Empire and sent to Japan,” said Tomomi Tamura, a researcher at the institute.

The Roman Empire was concentrated around the Mediterranean Sea and stretched northwards to occupy present-day England. The finding in Japan, some 10,000 kilometres (6,000 miles) from Italy, may shed some light on how far east its influence reached, Tamura said.

“It will also lead to further studies on how they could have got all the way to Japan,” she said.

Classical Chickens

I believe this a higher-resolution version tha...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A lengthy article in Smithsonian Magazine about the rise of the chicken to its current place of culinary dominance has scattered Classical allusions (most of which are familiar) of interest:

The chickens that saved Western civilization were discovered, according to legend, by the side of a road in Greece in the first decade of the fifth century B.C. The Athenian general Themistocles, on his way to confront the invading Persian forces, stopped to watch two cocks fighting and summoned his troops, saying: “Behold, these do not fight for their household gods, for the monuments of their ancestors, for glory, for liberty or the safety of their children, but only because one will not give way to the other.” The tale does not describe what happened to the loser, nor explain why the soldiers found this display of instinctive aggression inspirational rather than pointless and depressing. But history records that the Greeks, thus heartened, went on to repel the invaders, preserving the civilization that today honors those same creatures by breading, frying and dipping them into one’s choice of sauce. The descendants of those roosters might well think—if they were capable of such profound thought—that their ancient forebears have a lot to answer for.

[...]

For the Romans, the chicken’s killer app was fortunetelling, especially during wartime. Chickens accompanied Roman armies, and their behavior was carefully observed before battle; a good appetite meant victory was likely. According to the writings of Cicero, when one contingent of birds refused to eat before a sea battle in 249 B.C., an angry consul threw them overboard. History records that he was defeated.

[...]

Artistic depictions of rooster combatants are scattered throughout the ancient world, such as in a first century A.D. mosaic adorning a house in Pompeii. The ancient Greek city of Pergamum established a cockfighting amphitheater to teach valor to future generations of soldiers.

[...]

Around the Mediterranean, archaeological digs have uncovered chicken bones from about 800 B.C.. Chickens were a delicacy among the Romans, whose culinary innovations included the omelet and the practice of stuffing birds for cooking, although their recipes tended more toward mashed chicken brains than bread crumbs. Farmers began developing methods to fatten the birds—some used wheat bread soaked in wine, while others swore by a mixture of cumin seeds, barley and lizard fat. At one point, the authorities outlawed these practices. Out of concern about moral decay and the pursuit of excessive luxury in the Roman Republic, a law in 161 B.C. limited chicken consumption to one per meal—presumably for the whole table, not per individual—and only if the bird had not been overfed. The practical Roman cooks soon discovered that castrating roosters caused them to fatten on their own, and thus was born the creature we know as the capon.

[...]

More Evidence of Romans in India

A tantalizing incipit from a piece in the Times of India:

A team of archeologists have excavated Roman silver coins at Anuvanahalli in Tarikere taluk in Chikmagalur.

It is now believed that the Romans might have tried to trade in medicinal plants which were found abundantly in the region given that the site looks like a herbal medicine preparation plant. A team of experts are working on the site focusing on the possible reasons for the Romans’ interest in the area. The team led by N S Rangaraju, professor of ancient history and archaeology, the University of Mysore, commenced the project with the funding from the UGC and excavated many items that date back to prehistoric, neolithic and megalithic cultures.

“During the excavation at Anuvanahalli, we have excavated four Roman coins. A few Roman pottery pieces have also been unearthed from the site,” Rangaraju said on Saturday.

The team also got many stone weights in different sizes and shapes. “This is leading us to believe that this site might have been used as herbal medicine preparation centre during the Shatavahana period. A team comprising retired IFS officer D R Ramesh Singh, biochemistry professor Vishwanath and botany professor Ganeshaiah has visited the site and research is on,” he told reporters at the excavation site.

Given the evidences, it can be argued that Chikmagalur district, which was famous for medicinal plants, might have attracted the Romans to trade in herbal medicines. This is the first time in hundred years that Roman coins have been found in Karnataka. The last time they were excavated was in 1909 at Chandravalli, he said. [...]

It would be nice if they had a bit more detail on the coins — the Shatavahana period is rather lengthy (230 B.C. to 220 A.D. or thereabouts). Some of our previous coverage of news relating to Roman finds in India:

see also: Indian Artifacts from Berenike? and the links contained therein.

Why Classics?

Tip o’ the pileus to Rose Williams for alerting us to this piece in USA Today:

When college-targeted publications feature articles on topics like the highest-paying college majors or the college majors that are most likely to land you a job, things do not always look too good for people studying the humanities.

Humanities departments face budget cuts now more than ever, and for small subdivisions of humanities, like classics, the future is even grimmer. Even at top departments like the one at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, budget decreases affect the number of courses that can be offered each semester and the number of faculty the department hires.

Sometimes, when I tell someone I’m a classics major, they don’t even understand what the department is. Classics as in classical music? Classics as in 18th century British literature? (No and no.) Classics as in Greek and Roman history? “Oh, so you want to be a teacher.”

People who hear someone is a classics major usually assume that person wants to be a high school Latin teacher or a college professor. While many classics majors choose to earn graduate degrees in classics and become teachers and professors, there are many other fields that undergraduates can enter with a classics degree. But more importantly, there’s a lot to be learned from classics, regardless of your profession.

Classics is a popular undergraduate major for law school students, because it teaches you to think critically and formulate arguments. There’s nothing like the speeches of the fifth century logographer Lysias to get the legal mindset started! Many students who major in classics also choose to work in libraries or museums.

Even if you’re not planning to enter one of these fields, classics is still a great field to study. Yes, Latin is a dead language, and ancient Greek is tremendously different from modern Greek. Yes, these societies ultimately collapsed. No, people don’t have dinner parties and discuss the meaning of love, Symposium-style. But the influence of classics on modern culture is still prevalent today.

Take the Percy Jackson young adult book series, for example. The novels have been on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 200 weeks, not to mention being made into a blockbuster movie franchise. The novels are based on Greek mythology, and their author, Rick Riordan, completed a Roman-inspired series following Percy Jackson’s success and an Egyptian-inspired series after that.

In cult classics that aren’t based in classical themes, the classical influence is still apparent. Harry Potter’s spells are a sort of Latin mash-up, and the names of many Pokémon derive from Latin roots.

Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins has stated in multiple interviews that the games in the series were based on the idea of the Roman gladiatorial games, and more than a few Hunger Games characters have classically inspired names. For example, the emperor Nero forced Seneca the younger to commit suicide for alleged participation in a conspiracy; President Snow forced the Hunger Games’ Seneca to commit suicide when he allowed tributes from a district other than the Capitol’s to win the games.

Even if classics departments are shrinking and students are moving toward more economically favorable fields of study, series like these show that people today are still very much interested in the classical world. And who wouldn’t be? The cultures are fascinating, from Roman feasts to Greek vase painting.

People say they study history because history repeats itself, but studying classics is so much more than that. The classical world heavily shaped the western one, and much of America’s founding was based in how the Roman Republic was run. Classical influences are everywhere, from Greek columns on government buildings to Philadelphia’s city layout, which was loosely inspired by the Roman road system.

The argument that classical studies are no longer relevant really couldn’t be farther from the truth. Sure, we don’t deal with the issues that characters in Greek tragedy faced. (Has anyone you know murdered his father and married his mother lately?) But the works of great tragedians reach something deeper, issues that afflict humanity as a whole. In Euripides’ Hecuba, the titular character suffers because of her willingness to trust people, eventually becoming extremely cynical. If you read the tragedy, her character transformation is remarkably similar to Taylor Momsen’s Gossip Girl character Jenny Humphrey’s change from innocent and trusting to high school queen in the show’s first two seasons.

The times and settings change, but human issues don’t. And classics, more than any other field (aside from philosophy), deals with these issues in a way that’s still relevant today, and will still be relevant in the future.

The bottom line is, you should choose a major you love, even if you’re not sure how it will help you in your career search. If you can defend what you’re passionate about (and still have the skills to do they jobs you’re applying for), your employer will see that passion. I’m not a journalism major, but my studies in classics have given me a different perspective in my editorial experiences and have never hindered my job search. So do what you love — and take a course in your school’s classics department if you’ve got some extra room in your schedule.

Manicure Set from Myra-Andriake (Turkey)

The only version in English that I can find of this (in multiple newspapers) has the story tied to that Swedish phallic thing that was in the news for most folks last week. Here’s what’s important for us:

Archaeologists have uncovered an ancient Roman personal care set at Myra-Andriake in Antalya’s district of Demre, Turkey.

Professor Nevzat Cevi, an academic from Akdeniz University’s Archeology Department and colleagues excavated an 1800-year-old pair of bronze tweezers and a manicure rasp at Andriake Port.

“Now, we are aware that the Lycian women of the Roman period 1,800 years ago were living well-groomed by using a pair of tweezers, rasp and mirror,” The Hurriyet Daily News quoted Cevi as saying. [...]

This appears to be the original article; no photo, alas (manicure set or medical kit?) … not sure what was left out of the above:

Roman Aqueducts and Bamboo?

The Pont Du Gard
Image via Wikipedia

Francesca Tronchin and I have been virtually shaking our heads at an item in the Guardian which includes a headlinish sort of thing:

Ecce:

The Romans built a 50km aqueduct from Uzès to Nîmes in France with an overall fall of about 17 metres and an average gradient of 1/3000. How did they determine the fall, and maintain the gradient during building?

In one word, the answer is probably . . . bamboo! A length of bamboo about 10-20cm diameter would make an accurate, jumbo-sized spirit level-come-theodolite.

Half-filled with water, it could be laid horizontally on trestles and used to lay out a levelling survey, all the way from Uzès to Nîmes. Using it like a telescope, they could use little buoys floating in the water at each end to sight a point a short way off. Stakes hammered into the ground would record the level at a given point, before the bamboo is moved to sight the next section.

Before doing this, the Romans would have had no way of knowing whether the planned route would be uphill or downhill. A team would have set out from both Uzès and Nîmes, each using a bamboo tube to sight a reasonably accurate contour along the sides of the valleys. When the teams met up they would see the elevation difference. Then the operation would be repeated, this time allowing a gradient deduced from the horizontal distance and the fall.

During the surveys the Romans would have spotted that an aqueduct at Pont du Gard would save a long detour. They knew the earth was a sphere, so the levelling operation (similar to those of the canal “navvies” in England during the 18th century) would need a correction to allow for the curvature of the earth to prevent the levelling measurement climbing slightly in both directions.

via: Notes and queries Did the Romans build their aqueduct with bamboo?

… first of all, bamboo didn’t exist in Europe at the time (tip o’ the pileus to FT for confirming that from her own research into exotic building materials and the referenceable item in Wikipedia). Second of all, the Roman surveyors (gromatici) actually had an instrument for such situations called a chorobates which Vitruvius describes in 8.5 of his de Architectura (via Lacus Curtius):

1. I shall now describe how water is to be conveyed to houses and cities, for which purpose levelling is necessary. This is performed either with the dioptra, the level (libra aquaria), or the chorobates. The latter instrument is however the best, inasmuch as the dioptra and level are often found to be incorrect. The chorobates is a rod about twenty feet in length, having two legs at its extremities of equal length and dimensions, and fastened to the ends of the rod at right angles with it; between the rod and the legs are cross pieces fastened with tenons, whereon vertical lines are correctly marked, through which correspondent plumb lines hang down from the rod. When the rod is set, these will coincide with the lines marked, and shew that the instrument stands level.

2. But if the wind obstructs the operation, and the lines are put in motion, so that one cannot judge by them, let a channel be cut on top of the rod five feet long, one inch wide, and half an inch high, and let water be poured into it; if the water touches each extremity of the channel equally, it is known to be level. When the chorobates is thus adjusted level, the declivity may be ascertained.

3. Perhaps some one who may have read the works of Archimedes will say that a true level cannot be obtained by means of water, because that author says, that water is not level, but takes the form of a spheroid, whose centre is the same as that of the earth.e Whether the water have a plane or spheroidal surface, the two ends of the channel on the rod right and left, when the rod is level, will nevertheless sustain an equal height of water. If it be inclined towards one side, that end which is highest will not suffer the water to reach to the edge of the channel on the rule. Hence it follows, that though water poured in may have a swelling and curve in the middle, yet its extremities to the right and left will be level. The figure of the chorobates will be given at the end of the book. If there be much fall, the water will be easily conducted, but if there be intervals of uneven ground, use must be made of substructions.

A sort of ‘summary version’ can be found on a page about Roman surveying … here’s a page with a useful diagram of how it might have been used