Thursday, 6th February, 2014
An exhibition exploring the origins of ancient skeletons in Sussex, including a woman from sub-Saharan Africa buried in Roman times, has opened.
The face of the so-called Beachy Head Lady was recreated using craniofacial reconstruction.
Eastbourne Borough Council‘s museum service was awarded a grant of £72,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund for the Eastbourne Ancestors project.
The aim was to identify the gender and age of each skeleton in its collection.
Detailed scientific analysis of more than 300 skeletons of people who lived in the south of England thousands of years ago has undertaken by scientists and archaeologists.
Testing of the bones and teeth has identified the national or regional origins, age, gender, state of health, diet, and in some cases, how they died.
3D reconstruction techniques have allowed faces to be put to some of the museum’s skulls
Most of the skeletons are Anglo-Saxon, from about 1,500 years ago, but some are Neolithic and more than 4,000 years old.
The Beachy Head Lady was discovered in the East Sussex beauty spot in 1953, and she is thought to have lived around AD245.
Jo Seaman, heritage officer at Eastbourne Borough Council, said: “This is a fantastic discovery for the south coast.
“We know this lady was around 30 years old, grew up in the vicinity of what is now East Sussex, ate a good diet of fish and vegetables, her bones were without disease and her teeth were in good condition.”
The Beachy Head Lady forms part of an exhibition at the Eastbourne Museum which is opens on 1 February at the Pavilion.
Tuesday, 29th October, 2013
Roman eagle rises again, after 4,000 years under London street
Sculpture probably adorned the tomb of an important figure
Archaeologists in London have discovered the finest Romano-British sculpture ever unearthed in the capital. The spectacular 65 centimetre tall sculpture of a Roman eagle with a snake in its beak was found at the bottom of an ancient Roman ditch just south of Aldgate station in the eastern part of the City – and will go on show at the Museum of London from Wednesday.
Originally, the eagle had almost certainly adorned either the interior or the roof of a grandiose tomb belonging to a prosperous and very important early Londoner who died in the late first or second century AD.
He must have been of substantial status and influence – because he had acquired a burial plot immediately by the side of one of the main roads leading out of London, some 50 metres outside the probable city boundary.
Indeed it is likely that the Roman city authorities gave him the honour of being buried on public land. That would suggest that he had been a senior political figure in Roman London – potentially one of the ‘joint mayors’ (the ‘magistrates’ who were appointed by the local city council to run the city’s finances, oversee religious matters and act as judges).
The ‘eagle and snake’ imagery is likely to have reflected the man’s powerful position in life. The eagle – a Roman symbol of power is seen in the sculpture fighting a snake, sometimes perceived in the Roman world as representing danger and the powers of the underworld.
The eagle’s presence on or in the tomb may have therefore also been seen as protecting the structure and the prominent Roman interred within it.
But it is the demise of that grandiose mausoleum-style tomb and the deposition of the eagle in a road-side ditch that may prove to be of greatest historical significance. For the archaeologists also found the foundations of the probable mausoleum – and it appears that the substantial six metre square structure had been deliberately demolished, but not to provide space for the construction of other buildings. Rather it appears to have been knocked down for some other reason.
The evidence so far suggests that it was probably demolished by the late second century AD – potentially around the time that the city authorities decided to construct a defensive wall around London. It’s conceivable that the mausoleum was deliberately knocked down at that time because it was too near the intended course of the city wall and might therefore have offered cover to potential enemies who might wish to attack the city.
It is also possible that the masonry from the mausoleum was used in the actual building of the wall when its construction began in the late second century.
Powerful protective figure the eagle might have been – but, not being a useful masonry block, it was therefore the wrong shape to help build the city wall and defend London. It’s therefore perhaps courtesy of its unsuitability for that more practical protective role that led to it being flung into a ditch, an act which preserved the sculpture for 2000 years.
The limestone sculpture itself was originally made either in the Cotswolds or in London by a member of a group of Romano-British sculptors associated with what is now the Gloucestershire area. In Britain, the only other similar known image of an eagle with a snake is a sculpture from a Roman villa [Keynsham*] in Somerset. However, elsewhere in the Roman Empire, the motif is relatively common and was inherited from an ancient Greek prototype.
The excavation team – from Museum of London Archaeology – found the eagle on the final day of an eight month long dig in the Minories near Aldgate. It’s one of the most important archaeological finds ever unearthed in London. The excavation – directed by archaeologist Simon Davis – was carried out in preparation for the construction of a hotel on the site.
Roman art specialist Professor Martin Henig of Oxford University’s Institute of Archaeology said: “The sculpture is of exceptional quality, the finest sculpture by a Romano-British artist ever found in London and amongst the very best statues surviving from Roman Britain. It’s condition is extraordinary.”
*Henig, M. 2003. ‘The Keynsham Eagles’, in Bulletin of the Association of Archaeology 15 [p.6]
*Beeson, A. 2003. ‘The Keynsham Eagles: reply’, in Bulletin of the Association of Archaeology 15 [p.7]
*Beeson, A. 2003. ‘From Petra to Keynsham: A Romano-British Sculpture and its Iconographical Origins’, in Bulletin of the Association of Archaeology 14 [pp. 10-12 and p.13]
Thursday, 10th October, 2013
An Anglo-Saxon girl’s box of trinkets is thought to have been uncovered by archaeologists during a three-week dig in Suffolk.
The excavation of a graveyard, dating from about AD650, has been completed at Barber’s Point on the River Alde.
Eight more skeletons have been found in graves alongside seven others which were uncovered during previous digs.
The box of ‘keepsakes’ included a bracelet, a brooch and a duck egg which is almost completely intact [and a spindle whorl].
The graveyard, near Aldeburgh, is believed to be one of the earliest examples of a Christian, rather than Pagan, burial site in East Anglia.
Other graves were found without skeletons, which are believed to have decayed in the acidic soil.
Jezz Meredith, from Suffolk County Council’s Archaeological Service, said: “The group of items found around the egg are likely to be keepsakes or mementos placed at the feet of this young adult female.
“[It's] very different from the sorts of things placed with the dead in the earlier Pagan period. “
“Before the Christian era, males were buried with weapons and females with their finery – so they were equipped and armed for the next world.”
The service has been working alongside the Aldeburgh & District Local History Society (ADLHS) using Heritage Lottery Fund money.
Tony Bone, chairman of ADLHS, said: “We’ve done four digs here from 2004-2010 and it’s great we’ve come to a conclusion.
“It’s exceeded our expectations and we look forward to the deliberations of the county team to tell us more about these finds.”
The dig also uncovered a dolphin ornament dating from Roman occupation of the site. [Also, some Samian ware and a Roman Coin of Emperor Domitian (AD 81 to AD 96)]
Monday, 23rd September, 2013
There’s not a lot about this one yet, but there will be updates soon, hopefully.
Discovery of sacred Roman well amazes archaeology team
Buried a few feet under a garden in the centre of Havant, archaeologists stumbled upon a Roman well filled with coins and a bronze ring with a carving of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea.
Perhaps most intriguing was the discovery of eight dog skeletons at the bottom of the well.
Experts believe the dogs, which were worshipped in some ancient religions, may have been dropped down the ‘sacred well’ as a sacrifice to the gods.
The excavation was done at Homewell House, a Georgian property behind St Faith’s Church that is undergoing renovation.
Dr Andy Russel, from Southampton Archaeology Unit, told The News: ‘I would say it’s a pretty amazing find.
‘We have done a few sites in Havant before and found Roman bits and pieces but nothing on this scale of a beautifully constructed well with coins, a ring and this strange deposit of dogs in it.
‘I’ve never come across a deposit of dogs down a Roman pit or well before – it’s intriguing.’
The well, dated at between 250 and 280AD, is made of stone from the Isle of Wight.
Dr Russel added: ‘We have found post holes where people have put up buildings in the posts. There’s no sign of stone buildings. This is not a Fishbourne Roman Palace. Wooden buildings probably made up the settlement.’
The dogs showed wounds that had healed, indicating they may have been used for dog fighting.
Archaeologists believe the ring may have been dropped down the well by a Roman sailor, perhaps praying for safe passage home on the stormy seas.
More photos provided by Professor Konrad Morgan at the Friends of Havant Museum Facebook site.
Thursday, 4th July, 2013
Archaeologists find ancient stone head which could be Roman Geordie god
The 1,800-year-old stone head, thought to be of the local god Antenociticus, was found by archaeologists at a Roman fort near Bishop Auckland.
An 1,800-year-old carved stone head of a possible Geordie Roman god has been discovered buried in an ancient rubbish dump.
The discovery was made by a first-year archaeology student at Binchester Roman fort, near Bishop Auckland in County Durham, as the team dug through an old bath house.
The 20cm sandstone head, which dates from the second or third century AD, is similar to the Celtic deity Antenociticus, thought to have been worshipped locally as a source of inspiration in war.
A similar head, complete with an inscription identifying it as Antenociticus, was found at Benwell, Newcastle upon Tyne, in 1862.
Dr David Petts, a lecturer in archaeology at Durham University, said: “We found the Binchester head close to where a small Roman altar was found two years ago.
“We think it may have been associated with a small shrine in the bath house and dumped after the building fell out of use, probably in the fourth century AD.
“It is probably the head of a Roman god – we can’t be sure of his name, but it does have similarities to the head of Antenociticus found at Benwell in the 19th century.
“Antenociticus is one of a number of gods known only from the northern frontier, a region which seems to have had a number of its own deities.
“It’s possibly a Geordie god, though it could have been worshipped at the other end of the wall.”
Antenociticus is not mentioned at any other Romano-British site or on any inscriptions from Europe, which is why it has been identified as a local deity.
Alex Kirton, 19, from Hertfordshire, who found the head, said: “As an archaeology student this is one of the best things and most exciting things that could have happened.
“It was an incredible thing to find in a lump of soil in the middle of nowhere – I’ve never found anything remotely exciting as this.”
The find was made as part of a five-year project at Binchester Roman fort which is attempting to shed new light on the twilight years of the Roman empire.
The dig is a joint project between Durham University’s archaeology department, Stanford University’s archaeology centre, the Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland, and the site owner, Durham county council.
The Roman God of Benwell – Antenociticus
Wednesday, 10th April, 2013
8,000 artefacts and rising: City dig pronounced the ‘most important ever’ in London
Archaeologists have nicknamed the site ‘the Pompeii of the North’
When archaeologists were called to a site in the City of London where an ugly office block and a bar once stood, they were sceptical that it held any secrets.
Yet six months into the dig on Bloomberg Place, a three-acre site close to Mansion House tube station, experts believed they have stumbled across the most important find of Roman London artefacts in recent memory and have dubbed it the “Pompeii of the north”.
Sophie Jackson, from the Museum of London Archaeology (Mola), is managing the site. She said: “We have a huge amount of stuff from the first four hundred years of London. It will tell us so much about the people of London. We will get names and addresses, things we’ve never had before. It’s really exciting.”
Archaeologists have so far discovered 8,000 objects and expect that to rise to 10,000 by the time the project is finished. These include writing tablets,
clothing, jewellery and
pottery as well as parts of buildings that will help build a picture of thriving London life from around 40 AD to the fifth century.
Ms Jackson said: “Why the site is so incredibly important is the preservation of archaeological finds which are normally decayed, or lost or destroyed on other sites.” The reason many of the objects are so well preserved is that one of London’s lost rivers, the Walbrook River, ran under the site, with the damp conditions preserving the objects.
Michael Marshall, Roman find specialist at Mola, said the findings would “completely transform” understanding of Roman London. “There are very few civilian sites. This is the largest assemblage discovered in London.”
Bloomberg is building its new headquarters on the site and in late 2010 started demolition of Bucklersbury House, build in 1952.
It was that original development – which made the discovery of the Temple of Mithras on the site – that had led the archaeologists to believe there would be little of historical value left.
Ms Jackson said: “We thought that construction had removed all the archaeology on the site. We thought: ‘What a shame, it’s all gone.’ Then we found that around the edges, archaeology survives.”
Yet, the newly uncovered treasures include 250 leather shoes, writing tablets that may give clues to names and addresses of Roman Londoners, as well as several items never seen before.
This included a stitched leather furnishing never before seen in Roman discoveries and
an amber amulet in the shape of a gladiator’s head.
Over 150 fragments of writing tablets have been discovered in one room – in what was described as similar to finding an abandoned filing cabinet – with information written on or scratched into them about people who lived in London at the time.
Archaeologists expect to double the number of names known in London to over 30, although nothing is certain. Mr Marshall said: “It’s an amazing accident when the text survives.”
Ms Jackson added: ““These are really exciting; there are only 14 references to London in all of Roman literature.”
The objects ended up in the ground generally from two ways, people throwing objects into refuse pits, or throwing them into the river as offerings.
The wetness of the ground proved particularly fortuitous, helping preserve the organic remains, and Mr Marshall called it the “best site in London” for Roman remains.
“No oxygen could get at the organics, so wood, leather, horn, and occasionally textiles survive in these conditions. The rest of the city of London doesn’t get that water logging. It gives us a picture of what it would have been all over the whole city.” The Temple of Mithras, which was dismantled and moved down the road in 1954, will also return as part of the building works. It will be restored to the original site with a viewing area built into the new Bloomberg headquarters.
London’s ‘deepest’ Roman excavation finds [pictures with link]
Current Archaeology [pictures with link]
Wednesday, 3rd April, 2013
In what was once the housekeeper’s office of a Tudor mansion in Hampshire, a very odd golden ring glitters on a revolving stand in a tall perspex column. In chapter five of The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins finds a ring in the gloom of Gollum’s cave. Not just any ring. “One very beautiful thing, very beautiful, very wonderful. He had a ring, a golden ring, a precious ring.”
A new exhibition opening today at The Vyne, now owned by the National Trust, raises the intriguing possibility that the Roman ring in the case, and the ring of power in JRR Tolkien‘s book The Hobbit, and in his Lord of the Rings trilogy, are one and the same.
As Dave Green, the property manager, explains, there’s more to the story than the ring – an iron-age site with ancient mine workings known as “the Dwarf’s Hill”, a curse on the thief who stole the ring, and a strong link to Tolkien himself.
Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford before he found fame as an author, with the publication of The Hobbit in 1937, and the first of the Rings trilogy in 1954. He certainly knew the story of the curse and the ring, and was researching the subject two years before he began work on The Hobbit.
The ring was in the collection of the Chute family – which for generations was interested in politics, collecting, and antiquarian research – for centuries before the house came to the National Trust in the 1930s.
“I was looking for the ring to show a visitor, and I walked right past the case with it – that’s when I decided we really had to make more of this amazing thing,” Green said. As well as the exhibition room, created with the help of the Tolkien Trust, the house now has a dwarf trail for children and a new playground with circular tunnels and green hillocks recalling Bilbo’s home, Bag End.
The ring was probably found in 1785 by a farmer ploughing a few miles away within the walls of Silchester, one of the most enigmatic Roman sites in the country – a town which flourished before the Roman invasion, was abandoned by the 7th century and was never reoccupied.
There are no details of exactly when it was found, but historians assume the farmer sold it to the history loving wealthy family at The Vyne. It was a strikingly odd object, 12g of gold so large that it would only fit on a gloved thumb, ornamented with a peculiar spiky head wearing a diadem, and a Latin inscription reading: “Senicianus live well in God“.
A few decades later and 100 miles away, more of the story turned up: at Lydney in Gloucestershire, a Roman site known locally as the Dwarf’s Hill, a tablet with an inscribed curse was found. A Roman called Silvianus informs the god Nodens that his ring has been stolen. He knows the villain responsible, and he wants the god to sort them out: “Among those who bear the name of Senicianus to none grant health until he bring back the ring to the temple of Nodens.”
Lydney was re-excavated by the maverick archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who called in Tolkien in 1929 to advise on the odd name of the god – and also spotted the connection between the name on the curse and the Chute family’s peculiar ring. It seems that Senicianus only got as far as Silchester before he lost his booty.
Dr Lynn Forest-Hill of the Tolkien Trust said Tolkien’s source was usually assumed to be literary sources, including the Niebelung legends. “It is, then, particularly fascinating to see the physical evidence of the Vyne ring, with its links to Tolkien through the inscription associating it with a curse.”
The ring is now on display with a first edition of The Hobbit and a copy of the curse – visitors are invited to vote on whether they are looking at the original of Bilbo’s ring.
Wednesday, 13th March, 2013
Cirencester Roman cockerel ‘best find’ in 40 years
A restored Roman cockerel figurine is the best result from a Cirencester dig in decades, archaeologists have said.
The enamelled object, which dates back as far as 100 AD, was unearthed during a dig in 2011 at one of Britain’s earliest-known burial sites.
It has now returned from conservation work and finders Cotswold Archaeology said it “looks absolutely fantastic”.
The 12.5cm bronze figure was discovered inside a child’s grave and is thought to have been a message to the gods.
It is believed that the Romans gave religious significance to the cockerel which was known to be connected with Mercury.
Experts say it was Mercury, a messenger to the gods, that was also responsible for conducting newly-deceased souls to the afterlife.
The figurine had to be sent away for conservation work to be carried out which has taken four months to complete.
Archaeologist Neil Holbrook, from Cotswold Archaeology, said the work had “exceeded expectations”, particularly for highlighting its fine enamel detail.
“It reinforces what a fantastic article this is and how highly prized and expensive it must have been,” he said.
“This must have cost, in current money, thousands of pounds to buy and countless hours to make, and so to actually put this into the grave of a two or three-year-old child is not something that you would do lightly.
“It really shows that this was a very wealthy, important family, and signifies the love that the parents had for the dead child.”
The cockerel was found during excavation work at the former Bridges Garage site on Tetbury Road in Cirencester – once the second largest town in Roman Britain.
A burial site was unearthed at the site including more than 40 burials and four cremations; something experts said was the largest archaeological find in the town since the 1970s.
This particular figurine is one of only four ever found in Britain, with a total of eight known from the whole of the Roman Empire.
Mr Holbrook added: “Without a doubt this is the best Roman cockerel ever found in Britain.
“This is the best find that I have seen come out of Cirencester in 30 to 40 years and is of national significance.”
The object is believed to have been made in northern Britain, with evidence pointing to a workshop in Castleford, West Yorkshire, which made enamel artefacts.
Talks are under way for a permanent display of the cockerel, possibly at the Corinium Museum in Cirencester.