Roman Finds Group Autumn Meeting 2016 Town and Country in Southern Britain Friday 9th – Saturday 10th September 2016 

The 2016 RFG Autumn Meeting was based in Reading  on Friday 9th and Saturday 10th September. It was hosted by the University of Reading’s Archaeology Department. The RFG would very much like to thank all those involved with arranging this event. 

The conference comprised five sessions of papers with eighteen talks covering various aspects of finds from the town and country in southern Britain and was an excellent opportunity to hear about recent finds and research in this region.. Research posters covering a wide range of topics and an artefacts table with finds from the excavations at Silchester were also displayed during tea and coffee breaks. The conference’s Keynote Presentation was given by Nina Crummy and Matt Phelps on Friday 9th who discussed their ongoing work on the Colchester Hoard.   

Conference Schedule 

Day One: Friday 9th September 2016

12.30 Registration (with tea and coffee)  
13.00 Welcome   
Session 1 – Research at the University of Reading  
Chair Adam Sutton (PhD Student, University of Reading)  
13.10  Hella Eckardt (University of Reading), Writing power and identity: the material culture of literacy  
13.40 Tom Brindle (The Roman Rural Settlement Project, University of Reading), Country life: results from the Roman Rural Settlement Project  
14.10 Carolina Lima (PhD student, University of Reading), A girl’s best friend: the role of hairpins in defining female identity in Roman London  
14.40 John Ford (PhD student, University of Reading), Ringing the changes: the social significance of finger-rings in Roman Britain   
15.10  Tea, coffee and biscuits   
Session 2 – Finds from Urban Southern Britain  
Chair Sara Wilson (PhD student, University of Reading)  
15.40 Martin Pitts (University of Exeter), Funerary object-scapes in the Roman West  
16.10 Ruth Shaffrey (Oxford Archaeology), Understanding urban flour supply: the contribution of millstones and querns   
Keynote Presentation  
16.40 Nina Crummy (Freelance Small Finds Specialist/Silchester Town Life Project, University of Reading) and Matt Phelps (Institute of Archaeology, University College London), A hoard of military awards, jewellery and coins from Colchester 
17.40 Closing remarks   
Conference Dinner  
18.45 Bill’s Restaurant, Saint Marys Church House, Chain St, Reading, RG1 2HX 

Day Two: Saturday 10th September 2016

8.30  Registration  
9.00  Welcome   
Session 3 – Finds from Roman London  
Chair Victoria Keitel (PhD Student, University of Reading)  
9.10  Mike Marshall (Museum of London Archaeology), A city of merchants and traders or a city of soldiers? The 1st century AD military equipment from Bloomberg London in context  
9.40  Ben Paites (PAS, Essex), Roman city limits: finds from the Thames foreshore at the Tower of London  
10.10 Glynn Davis (Colchester and Ipswich Museums), The tears of the Heliades: investigating amber from Roman London  
10.40 Tea, coffee and biscuits   
Session 4 – Finds from Rural Southern Britain  
Chair Matthew Fittock (PhD Student, University of Reading)  
11.10  Diana Briscoe (Archive of Roman Pottery Stamps (ARPS)), Stamped pottery in Roman Britain  
11.40 Stuart McKie (PhD Student, Open University), Embedded magic: the sensory experience of cursing at the Temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath  
12.10 Richard Hobbs (The British Museum), New insights into the Mildenhall treasure  
12.40 Sian Thomas (PhD Student, Cardiff University), Objects and their place in ritual performances at Nornour in the Isles of Scilly  
13.10 Lunch with tea, coffee and biscuits   
Session 5 – Small Finds, Short Papers  
Chair Carolina Lima (PhD Student, University of Reading)  
14.20 Rachel Cubit (Museum of London Archaeology), Spoons, symbolism and survival. A new find from Roman London  
14.30 Peter Warry (Independent Researcher), The evolution of roof tile in Southern Britain  
14.40 Victoria Keitel (PhD Student, University of Reading), Small finds from Rockbourne Roman villa  
14.50 Philip Smither (University of Reading Alumnus), Roman weighing instruments from Britain  
15.00 Edwin Wood (PAS, Sussex), Portable Antiquities Scheme finds from Roman London with a focus on the Swan Lane area  
Closing Talk  
15.20 Hilary Cool (Barbican Research Associates), Approaches to writing finds reports; notes from Dr Cool’s casebook  
16.20 Closing remarks and departure

Conference Abstracts

Hella Eckardt (Associate Professor, University of Reading)
Writing power and identity: the material culture of literacy.

Literacy was a powerful but limited skill in antiquity. This paper explores what role one particular form of writing implement (the bronze inkwell) played in social practice. Together with other writing equipment inkwells are depicted on tombstones and wall paintings, and these images can be viewed in terms of ‘literacy as performance’ and explicit self-representation.

Writing equipment is deliberately used to signal high status identities but is the same true in burial contexts? The paper employs a life course approach to examine selected graves, considering the age and gender of those buried with inkwells. Overall, the paper aims to understand what inkwells ‘did’ in Roman society, and how their use related to expressions of identities and power.

Tom Brindle (Leverhulme Research Fellow, University of Reading)
Country Life: results from the Roman Rural Settlement Project.
Fifteen years ago Martin Millett was able to make the following statement regarding finds assemblages from sites in Roman Britain.

‘We cannot even yet assume that an assemblage from a nucleated site will be different from one found on a rural settlement’ (Millett 2001, 66).

Yet over the past four years the Roman Rural Settlement Project team have gathered finds data from over 3500 excavated Romano-British sites, predominantly from recent developer-funded excavations, relating to nearly 80,000 individual artefacts (excluding coins and bulk finds). These data are beginning to transform our understanding of rural finds assemblages, and we are now able to recognise marked distinctions in terms of the social and geographical distribution of all types of artefacts, enabling a more sophisticated understanding of the status, economic functions and connectedness of different classes of rural settlements than ever before. This paper will present an overview of the key findings from the Roman Rural Settlement Project, using the vast body of artefact data to consider what the variation in finds assemblages in different areas and across site types can tell us about the myriad ways of life of the occupants of Roman Britain.

Carolina Rangel de Lima (PhD Researcher, University of Reading)
A girl’s best friend: the role of hairpins in defining female identity in Roman London.

Roman hairpins are common Roman small finds, but are rarely studied in depth.  Likewise, the study of female identity in Roman archaeology has often been hindered by the historical male dominance over the primary sources.  This research project engages with the archaeological material from a specific region to examine the role of hairpins in defining female identity in Roman London.

The large collection of bone hairpins housed by the Museum of London and MOLA is first considered collectively to assess the various methods applied to the interpretation of hairpins, including the use of Crummy (1983) and Greep (1983) bone pin typologies and Cool’s (1990) metric analysis of metal pins.  After this, a more contextual approach is taken, with the use of case study sites in London.  Together, these methods are used to examine the issues of cultural change and personal adornment for women in London.

The data presented by this project shows the potential of hairpins in engaging with Roman women through the archaeological record.  It demonstrates the need to create a new typology before going more in depth with the metric, distribution and contextual analysis of hairpins in Roman London.

John Ford (PhD Researcher, University of Reading)
Ringing the changes: The social significance of finger-rings in Roman Britain.

Finger-rings are one of the most common types of personal ornament from Roman Britain, yet they have been the subject of relatively limited research.  Finger-rings were not commonly worn in Britain during the Iron Age, when they appear to have been limited to just a couple of different distinctive forms.  Unlike some personal ornaments, rings were worn by men, women, and children; and across all social strata. The popularity of rings in Roman Britain, suggests the large scale spread, and adoption, of this particular form of Roman material culture.

Previous research in Britain has been of limited scope, the majority of this work focusing on signet rings in particular.  My ongoing study engages with the full spectrum of ring types found in Roman Britain, sourced from The British Museum’s collection; the Portable Antiquities Scheme; published site reports; and the ‘grey literature’ identified by the University of Reading’s Roman Rural Settlement Project.

Finger-rings can tell us a great deal about people and culture: from social status to gender, trade and technology to religion. By studying finger-rings and the contexts where we find them, my research explores the different ways in which rings were used within Romano-British society.

Dr Martin Pitts (Senior Lecturer, University of Exeter)
Funerary object-scapes in the Roman West

This paper presents some preliminary findings from an ongoing project on standardised objects in motion (e.g. fine ware pottery, and fibulae) and their impacts on local communities in Belgica, Britannia and Germania, c. 100 BCE – 100 CE. Having amassed a database of artefacts from over 3000 graves from the period (plus equivalent settlement contexts), I ask if there was more to standardised material culture than simple likeness, exploring the dynamic between styles of objects, local uses, regional distinctiveness, and pan-regional practices.

To what extent can we speak of a shared cultural imagination in the early Roman West, and how did communities in Britain fit into this? To this end, the paper focuses on objects and mortuary practice in the late Augusto-Tiberian period (end first century BCE – early first century AD), when standardisation first became apparent on a large scale in the region, presenting the opportunity to contextualise object configurations at famous sites like Lexden, Welwyn and King Harry Lane (Verlamion) with equivalent continental developments.

Dr Ruth Shaffrey – (Project Officer (Publications), Oxford Archaeology (South))
Understanding urban flour supply: the contribution of millstones and querns

Quern studies have tended to focus on analysing typological variation, petrographical analyses and distribution studies.  Although such approaches are highly valuable, they should be seen as the foundations for further research.

Having accumulated 20 years’ worth of quern and millstone data and information on over 5000 examples, the time has come to start using this information to address broader research aims.
The topic to be considered here is flour supply.  How did the people living in towns obtain their flour?  A general assumption is that grain was produced in the countryside and transported to its place of use, where it was ground as required. But recent analysis has begun to suggest that we should be considering town flour supply on a case-by-case basis and that the dynamics of each town’s flour supply was directly determined by what was happening in the countryside and settlements around it.

This paper looks at the use of querns and millstones inside and around several case studies from the south of England. It uses this information to investigate how grain processing and flour supply was organised for each town and what factors influenced that organisation.

KEYNOTE

Nina Crummy (Freelance Small Finds Specialist/Silchester Town Life Project, University of Reading) and Matt Phelps (Institute of Archaeology, University College London)
A Hoard of Military Awards, Jewellery and Coins from Colchester

A hoard of objects found at the early Roman colony at Colchester in a small hole scraped into the floor of a house destroyed during the Boudican revolt includes a group of high-quality gold jewellery, three silver military awards, a bag of coins, an unusual silver-clad wooden box and other items.  Buried in haste as the British approached, they provide a remarkably clear image of one couple’s background, achievements, taste and social standing.

A bulla shows that the man was a Roman citizen, the awards that he was a veteran soldier of some distinction, while parallels for the woman’s jewellery suggest that it was acquired in Italy.  Technical analyses of the jewellery using a range of techniques (pXRF, SEM, OM, X-ray) revealed a range of metalworking processes as well as details on how the artefacts were constructed and the alloy compositions employed.  

FINDS FROM ROMAN LONDON

Mike Marshall (Senior Specialist (Prehistoric and Roman), Museum of London Archaeology)
A City of Merchants and Traders or a City of Soldiers? The 1st century AD military equipment from Bloomberg London in context.

In recent years the role of the Roman army in London has been hotly debated, with new ideas and perspectives stimulated by synthetic work on the pre-Boudican city and by a string of important discoveries. These include ditches that are claimed to be a Claudian encampment, part of a Neronian fort at Plantation Place, and the discovery of more than 300 pieces of militaria, mostly from excavations in the Walbrook valley.

These new finds add significantly to the existing corpus of Roman military equipment from the city and include weapons, armour, elements of military dress, and cavalry equipment. This paper surveys some of these new discoveries of military equipment within their stratigraphic and historical context, and places them within the wider context of 1st century Londinium in order to better assess their contribution to our understanding of the military presence, and the significance of that presence for life in the early Roman city.

Ben Paites – (Portable Antiquities Scheme, Essex)
Roman city limits: finds from the Thames Foreshore at the Tower of London.

Since 2010, the Thames Discovery Programme (TDP) has conducted annual archaeological surveys and open weekends at the stretch of foreshore in front of the Tower of London. Representatives from the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) were present in 2010, 2012 and 2013, with finds from those years being recorded onto the PAS database. Of the 416 objects recorded, there were a total of 26 objects dating to the Roman period. However, when the finds from these surveys are supplemented with finds recorded generally from this area, the total is 185 objects of Roman date.

This part of London is relatively unexplored archaeologically, due to the nature of the buildings on the landward side (such as the Tower of London itself). Therefore, finds that have been recorded on the foreshore have the potential to provide some significant insight into the sorts of activities that were going on at the edge of the Roman town. The large quantity of coinage found in this area also indicate certain periods of particularly high activity in the area, when compared with the more general trends for London and Britain. This paper therefore attempts to highlight the importance of foreshore data in developing our understanding of Roman London as well as trying to identify how Roman Londoners interacted with this liminal zone, both between land and water and between the inside and outside of the city.

Glynn Davis (Senior Collections and Learning Curator, Colchester Museums)
The Tears of Heliades: Investigating amber from Roman London.

Amber, alongside ivory, is one of Roman Britain’s more exotic imports, with the most important workshops operating from Aquileia in northeast Italy. Trade into the north-west provinces from the Flavian period onwards seems to be dominated by beads, with somewhat intricate and individualistic worked objects being incredibly rare.

Roman London has recovered some of the highest numbers and types of amber objects in Britain, but with over 8,500 archaeological interventions within the city and its suburbs, it is still comparatively scarce. This is compounded when we consider the individual nature of context against quantifying numbers of objects, an example being the iconic amber bead necklace from the bed of the Walbrook stream.

This paper investigates amber artefacts from Roman London as a case study, analysing functional categories of finds within a wider British context. It will discuss ancient literary sources, providing insight into the use of amber and its perceived amuletic virtues. Discussion will also focus on amber’s consumption through magical ritual, highlighting recent discoveries by MOLA and rediscoveries within the Museum of London’s Archaeological Archive.

FINDS FROM RURAL SOUTHERN BRITAIN

Dr Diana C. Briscoe (Archive of Roman Pottery Stamps (ARPS))
Stamped Pottery in Roman Britain

Stamped pottery forms only a very small portion of the enormous amount made in Britain in the first to the fourth centuries and therefore is frequently undervalued by archaeologists. There were two major periods of production: c. AD 70 to c. AD 130 and c. AD 300 to c. AD 400. It is notable that the vast bulk of stamped wares dating from the fourth century have been found south of a line from the Severn Estuary to the Wash. Only a few of the large production centres from this period were manufacturing stamped wares, yet their stamped output was very varied and may well have been bespoken.

The motifs can provide additional interesting information about distribution and trading patterns and – in some rare cases – can demonstrate ongoing usage of certain motifs into the post-Roman period. The second section of my paper will focus on some key motifs – in particular the rosettes and demi-rosettes – which archaeologists should pay particular attention to, if such motifs occur on a site with which they are involved, because they can give the excavator a better insight into how that site relates to others in that area.

Stuart McKie (PhD Researcher, Open University)
Embedded Magic: The Sensory Experience of Cursing at the Temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath.

The dominant focus of almost all studies of Roman curse tablets published over the past 100 years has been the words written on them.  Linguists have used them to reconstruct vernacular language in the provinces, and ancient historians, classicists and archaeologists have noted the similarities and differences between them and other written evidence for ancient magic and religion from across the Graeco-Roman world.

Rarely, if ever, have scholars fully appreciated that curse tablets are not just what is written on them, but are the end products of a long series of ritual actions involving complicated and meaningful movements and gestures, as well as words both written and spoken.  Tablets were often mutilated before or after inscribing, or manipulated in certain ways that added magical power to them, with the intention of increasing their chance of success.  These actions were intimately bound to the spaces in which they were performed, and were governed by a complex network of local, regional and international traditions and conventions as well as individual creativity based on sensory perception.

This paper will use the theoretical model put forward by phenomenologists to examine cursing rituals from the perspective of the petitioners as embedded beings-in-the-world.  Using the temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath as a case study, this paper will consider how the sensory experience of conducting cursing rituals, including a wider sensorium than just sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, impacted on the petitioners, and influenced their actions in the moments of their ritual performance.

Richard Hobbs (The British Museum)
The Mildenhall Treasure

This year is the 70th anniversary of the acquisition of the Mildenhall treasure by The British Museum. It remains the only ‘complete’ set of Roman dining silver to survive from Britain, and is one of only a few such services to survive from late antiquity.

This paper will present the results of new research on the treasure, examining the importance of the service for understanding life in late Roman Britain and the wider context of the Empire. Who owned the silver service, how was it used, and why was it buried in rural Suffolk?

Siân Thomas (PhD Researcher, Cardiff University)
Objects and their place in ritual performances at Nornour, Isles of Scilly

Evidence from the site of Nornour suggests that it functioned as a shrine during the Roman period. Over 300 brooches have been found on the site making it the second largest collection from Roman Britain. This paper aims to explore what made Nornour so special through examination of the whole artefact assemblage, which includes coins, pipe clay figurines and miniature ceramic vessels that have often been overlooked in past discussions.

The question at the heart of the paper will be who the individuals using the site were, why they travelled such long distances and braved the often dangerous sea crossing to visit such a small site. Current interpretations are that many of the items were deposited by traders. However, the islands lie too far to the south-west of Britain for them to be a regular stopping off point. I would like to explore whether the range of artefacts deposited at Nornour and their origins suggest individuals other than traders were using the shrine? Many of the artefacts travelled hundreds of miles to be deposited at Nornour and I aim to show that they were carefully chosen, suggesting they were more than just offerings for safe passage and that Nornour was a place of special significance for a far wider audience.

SMALL FINDS SHORT PAPERS

Rachel S Cubitt (Trainee Finds Specialist - Museum of London Archaeology)
Spoons, symbolism and survival.  A new find from Roman London.

Recent excavations by MOLA at Sugar Quay, on the banks of the River Thames, have produced a lead alloy spoon fragment with a decorated pear shaped bowl.  The decoration shows a single bird sitting atop a cantharus, all within a pellet border.  This find has prompted a re-evaluation of other lead alloy spoons from the capital, with the intention of providing some context for this new discovery.

Approximately 25 spoons are known from previous excavations and private collections.  The collation of data pertaining to these existing finds shows they comprise a variety of bowl shapes and decorative designs, although some are undecorated.

Peter Warry (Independent Researcher)
The Evolution of Roof Tile in Southern Britain.

Romano-British excavations typically produce a greater proportion of roof tile than any other artefact class.

This paper will examine the evolution of roof tile in terms of both technology and style through the Roman period with particular emphasis on southern Britain. It will demonstrate the slow pace of change that occurred over the first 200 years of Roman rule and the transformation that occurs circa AD 250 with the introduction of new manufacturing methods and greater stylistic variation.

The different manufacturing methods will be demonstrated and the tell-tale features that these produce on the tiles will be shown.  The use of stone and subsequently slate tiles will be considered and the interaction with ceramic tiles will be discussed.  Later ceramic polygonal roof tiles will also be explored. Evidence will be taken from circa 40 sites across southern Britain.
Victoria Keitel (PhD Researcher – University of Reading)
Small Finds from Rockbourne Villa.
This paper examines the small finds from Rockbourne Villa (Hants.), which was inhabited from the first through fifth centuries AD. Because the site was excavated under the leadership of an enthusiastic amateur, there are some issues with the assemblage.

Nevertheless, it is possible to understand what types of industries the occupants pursued and the status of the inhabitants. The Rockbourne assemblage is analysed alongside other assemblages from villas in southern Britannia to understand how it compares or contrasts with these other sites.

Philip Smither (University of Reading Alumnus)
Romano-British Weighing Instruments: Weighing up the Evidence.

Roman weighing instruments is a heavily under-studied category in Roman material culture studies. This thesis presents the first provincial study of these in the Roman Empire, namely Britannia, and in total 481 objects associated with Roman weighing instruments were collected. The evidence for weighing instruments in Roman Britain suggests they are largely a Roman import from c.AD43 onwards with likely production in the province in the following centuries; however, there is evidence, particularly from coin weights for weighing in the Late Iron Age.

Three types of weighing instruments were used in Roman Britain: steelyards, equal balance and dual balances. This research has further developed the current typology of steelyards to include new types as well as incorporate equal and dual balances within the same typology. Within these there is much variation in form and shows that Britain has more in common with Gaul and the Germanic Limes. The spatial distribution is mapped across Britain exploring various site and context types in order to display patterns of use, with several trades including butchery, metalworking and cloth dyeing associated with weighing instruments.  Overall, use from the mid-1st - late 2nd centuries AD suggests use in the ‘Romanised’ areas of Britain with diffusion to more rural areas occurring later.

This project explores the variation among lead alloy spoons from Roman London, aiming to better understand why certain examples were chosen for use.  Consideration is given to the dates assigned to these spoons, the designs they carry, spatial distribution across the city, and their manufacture and use.  
All of this work is done with awareness of the pitfalls of studying lead alloy objects that tend only be preserved in certain burial environments, and keeping in mind that Roman spoons were also made of other materials.

Edwin Wood (Portable Antiquities Scheme, Sussex)
Portable Antiquities Finds from Roman London with emphasis on the Swan Lane assemblage.

The River Thames foreshore has produced a large number of Roman finds and over the years specific hotspots have emerged.  A trial investigation of one of these locations revealed a large assemblage of Roman material spanning the full lifespan of the Roman city of Londinium.  In excess of 1500 pieces of Roman ceramics ranging from locally produced coarse wares to high quality imported fine wares from central Gaul and the Rhineland as well as a large collection of mortaria were reported.  

Alongside the ceramics assemblage were a large number of significant Roman small finds, such as pipe clay figurines, hairpins, coins and an intaglio.  The assemblage, most likely represents a collection of excavated material redeposited in the 19th century and parallels with nearby waterfront sites excavated in more recent years support this hypothesis.  Investigation of other clusters has the potential to reveal the importance of regions such as Westminster, Putney and the eastern reaches of the Thames, and support further research into the wider Roman landscape and the role of the Thames within it.

CLOSING TALK

Hilary Cool (Barbican Research Associates)
Approaches to writing finds reports: notes from Dr Cool’s casebook.

Specialist reports, be they about small finds, glass or pottery, are one of the foundations for building our understanding of the past. Over the past couple of decades or so, the study of material culture has become fashionable again academically. This has resulted in much discussion about theoretical approaches which can be helpful in interpreting the material we find. There has been much less discussion of the nature of the specialist report itself. It is as though it is an unproblematic given. Specialist reports have been the core of my existence for about forty years, both creating them and using those written by others. In that time, I have found that they are far from an unproblematic given.

So this paper will be an exploration of what is needed in a specialist report, and what its aims should be. It will also explore what is needed from the stratigraphic part of the project it belongs to, for the specialist reports to achieve their aims. It is written from a point of view that is firmly embedded in the commercial sector, and will consider what it is practical to achieve within that environment. It is hoped that the paper will provide a useful starting point for discussion.

 

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