Welcome to the Roman Baths Blog!

This blog is a behind the scenes look at the Roman Baths in Bath. We hope you enjoy reading our stories about life surrounding the Roman Baths.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

A Female Burial: The Specialist Studies

Continuing on from last week’s blog about my favourite lady, this week’s blog is about the specialist studies conducted on the two burials from Walcot Street. Stable isotope analysis and DNA studies were carried out on both individuals in order to learn more about these burials.

The excavation of my favourite lady

In order to learn about an individual’s diet, bone collagen can be used for isotope analysis. The term “you are what you eat” often rings true! Our body tissues have been formed using components from the food we have consumed over our lifetimes and these affect the ratio of stable isotopes in our bodies. These ratios can be measured to determine what food types a human consumed in their lifetime. This can reveal a huge amount of information about their diet and status.

The preservation of my favourite lady’s bone collagen was incredible and the results from the isotope analysis show that she was getting around 10-20% of her dietary protein from marine sources. The isotope analysis results were compared to the Romano-British population of Poundbury, Dorset where marine foods indicated high status. 

Although my favourite lady was obtaining around 10-20% of her protein from marine sources, that still did not place her within the ‘elite’ groups from the comparative site. She also was not placed within the ‘normal’ group of individuals so it can be assumed that her status was somewhere in between these. The results were compared to those at Poundbury because as far as we can tell, my favourite lady was Roman. However, ‘Roman’ covers a long period of time, and sadly we don’t have enough information to pinpoint her date more accurately.

Results from the isotope analysis of bone collagen from the male and female burials, created by M.P. Richards from the University of Bradford, 2001

The male from Syria is closely linked with my favourite lady as they were found at the same time. Studies were conducted into investigating whether these two individuals were related, and DNA analysis can potentially answer these questions. Teeth were extracted from both the Syrian man and my favourite lady in order to establish any kinship links through mitochondrial DNA (which is passed down from mother to child through generations). 

The result from these studies suggests that the male is from North Africa/Middle East and that my favourite lady has a maternal lineage of British/Scandinavian origin. It is emphasised in the report that these results only rule out the fact that these individuals are not related through maternal heritage, but does not rule out any other kinship links!

My favourite lady's teeth, used to study the mitochondrial DNA

Although we have been able to learn a huge amount of information about my favourite lady from her skeleton and specialist studies, there is still a sense of mystery surrounding her! Maybe one day these questions can be answered…

Dulcie Newbury

Collections Intern

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

A female burial: The hobbled road to recognition.

Two burials, one male and one female, were discovered in 1999 during an excavation on Walcot Street undertaken by Bath Archaeological Trust. Both of these burials attracted a lot of interest from the public and media, including an episode of ‘Meet the Ancestors’ on BBC. One of these burials (the male from Syria) is currently on display within the museum; however the second burial is not.

I first became interested in these burials during my A Level studies; however since starting my placement at the Roman Baths my interest in the female burial has grown enormously. The female is often referred to as ‘the female buried with the Syrian man’. I dislike this term as I feel like it means the interest lies primarily with the male, and the female does not get the interest or recognition she deserves so I prefer to refer to her as ‘my favourite lady’!
The cranium of my favourite lady

A number of interesting things can be discovered through the study of the skeleton, and luckily 90% of my favourite lady’s skeleton is present. From looking at the pelvis there is no doubt that this individual is female and from studying the length of her femur it is estimated that she was roughly 5ft tall. The wear on her teeth places her between 26-45 years old, with a closer estimation of 30 years old.

The mandible of my favourite lady. The wear on the teeth was examined to estimate her age

The pelvis of my favourite lady, used to determine her sex

Another interesting aspect of this skeleton is the severe compound fracture on both her tibia and fibula which would have pierced her skin and caused a lot of damage. There is evidence for very minimal treatment of this injury, whereas today’s treatment for such a severe fracture would be urgent surgery, antibiotics to treat infection, and internal/external fixtures. It is incredible to think that my favourite lady had such minimal treatment on such a severe injury!

Left and right tibia of my favourite lady. The left tibia shows the extent of the compound fracture. Note that the bones have fully fused together but are still very wonky!

By looking at the fracture of her leg we can tell that this wasn’t the cause of death as the bones had enough time to fuse back together (albeit very wonky!) She went on to develop osteoarthritis due to the fact that her left leg was shorter than her right, causing her to hobble. Osteoarthritis is evident on bones as they take on a polished effect on the joint surface where two bones are rubbing together.

Left: A talus showing no signs of osteoarthiritis. Right: The talus of my favourite lady, showing polished bone

The image above shows a comparison between the left talus of an individual who shows no signs of osteoarthritis (left) compared to the left talus of my favourite lady (right). The joint surfaces on my favourite lady’s talus have taken on the polished effect which is common in osteoarthritis.

This is just scratching the surface of all the interesting things we can learn from my favourite lady. Next week’s blog will be looking at the results from multiple specialist studies conducted on her remains!

Dulcie Newbury

Collections Intern.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Treasuring Our Collection

2017 marks the 20th anniversary of the Treasure Act, which states that you must legally report any finds classed as Treasure by the Act to the coroner.

To celebrate this anniversary, we have a new display in the Sun Lounge that shows objects in our collection that have been acquired through the Treasure Act. Also on display are objects that should be classified as Treasure but predate the Act, as well as a couple of red herrings. If you’re popping in to visit us this winter, use the pointers below to help you figure out which of these objects is genuine Treasure!

Treasure in the Sun Lounge

Treasure is defined in different ways by the Act, but to summarise, it includes:
  • Any metal object containing at least 10% either gold or silver and at least 300 years old when found.
  • Prehistoric metal, provided any part of it is precious metal
  • Prehistoric metal of any composition, if it is found in a group of two or more objects as part of the same find
  • Two or more coins from the same find provided they are at least 300 years old when found and contain 10% either gold or silver

Any object that classes as Treasure must be reported to the coroner within 14 days of its discovery. After this it will be identified by the local Finds Liaison Officer, and may eventually be purchased by a museum.

This Act protects our cultural heritage and allows nationally important items to be recorded and preserved for everybody to appreciate and enjoy. Through this Act, we’re been able to acquire the incredible Beau Street Hoard, the Timsbury Hoard, and a lovely gold posy ring from Keynsham with the phrase “a frends [sic] gift” inscribed inside the band.

Posy ring from Keynsham with close up showing the inscription

If you’re out and about and you do dig up something interesting, make sure you get in touch with the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Whether it’s treasure or not, your discoveries will be photographed, identified, and recorded to help us understand more about our history and archaeology!

Collections Assistant

Friday, 3 November 2017

Having got our collections into our new store in Lansdown, described by Zofia’s blog, there was still lots to do to get it presentable for our first Open Day last week.

We dusted everything, wrote new labels for the furniture and our interns, Dulcie and Polly Mae devised a fabulous rhyming children’s trail.

 A happy Polly Mae ready to welcome people to our store...

Our handy-man, Phil, spent hours attaching grilles onto the walls, so plaques, copies of photos and many, many pipes from the old spa could be viewed without being touched, as well as balancing a model of the Pump Room above one of  the Roman Baths!

Our Operations team ferried final objects from the Roman Baths, that hadn’t fitted into the old store, as well as less prosaic but essential mops and brushes…

Two visitors ponder over the Vichy douche, with the Pump Room model above the baths model in the foreground

Thursday dawned and when the Park and Ride bus got us up the hill we remembered how we’d scoffed at the near-do-wells who all summer had warned us of Lansdown being colder, snowier than the rest of  Bath. It was cold, wet and windy... Ashley and Phil struggled to get our banners up and our bunting was a bit bedraggled but our small gazebo went up without a hitch and with volunteer, Alison’s catering skills, we were able to offer our brave visitors a warm drink and a mini cake to celebrate our opening.

 Lansdown Store on our Open Day, 26th October

The children’s trail was a success and visitors who’d been to our Locksbrook store noticed things they hadn’t appreciated before. At the end of the day we were happy that all the hard work by everyone had paid off.

However, we haven’t finished our jobs up on Lansdown as our work will continue well into the winter, as we put the collection “to bed”: covering the furniture with Tyvek sheets to reduce dust accumulating, checking our insect traps and the dehumidifiers, lifting the objects off the floor, just in case we have floods.  So we may yet see the promised snow!


Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Locksbrook to Lansdown!

It’s busy-ness as usual for the Collections team this week as we’re moving the contents of our Local History store all the way from St Johns Store on Locksbrook Road up to a new and improved store in Lansdown.

Needle douches at St Johns Store

The move has involved considerable planning, as the collection ranges from rickety needle douches to beautiful wooden furniture. Originally, the new space seemed like it would be too small for the sheer amount of objects, but with the installation of a mezzanine floor and some lovely new racking, the move was fit to go ahead.

A hair hygrometer measures the humidity of the atmosphere in %RH (relative humidity)

Of course we hit a few bumps in the road – mostly to do with conservation because the environment up on Lansdown isn’t always the friendliest! On one of the first days of planning the move, we took a hygrometer with us to measure the moisture in the air, which read 92% RH (relative humidity) after just an hour! Considering the nature of the collection (lots of wood and metal), which requires a much drier, more stable environment this had to be dealt with quickly. Today, we have just the machines for the job – two dehumidifiers that consistently keep the humidity in the store at a balmy 45%RH.

Planning the move!

Even with the racking put in place, space was still an issue. The only way to solve this was to chalk it up to experience and literally draw chalk lines onto the floor, outlining the shapes and sizes of objects to make sure we were using the remaining space as efficiently as possible. It’s not just a matter of being able to squeeze around it – we also need to have access for collections purposes as well as for our visitors to view these amazing objects!

A beautiful desk fits snugly in its allotted area of floor space

I can’t express my delight when all this hard work paid off and each object slotted smoothly into its intended space to within a centimetre of the chalked outlines! Work continues today to get everything moved to Lansdown, and it’s already looking like the store we always wanted.

The move is still in progress, but we'll be open for visitors soon!

Join us up at Lansdown North on the 26th October from 11am-3pm to celebrate the Grand Opening of our new store. For more information, please visit the Museums Week website.

Collections Assistant

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

A Stony Situation

With a very busy summer coming to an end, you might expect life at the Roman Baths to quieten down a little - but things couldn’t be further from the truth! The Archway Project is in full swing, with some preliminary excavations in the vault beneath York Street in central Bath already unearthing some exciting surprises.

Archaeologists at work in the York Street vault

When the Archway building works under York Street are completed and the new Investigation Zone is opened to the public, it will be filled with Roman stones from the site as part of the interpretation and display. The Collections team and our volunteers have undertaken the laborious task of recording hundreds of stones, some previously unidentified and many untouched since their discovery by the Victorians.

Identifying stones at our offsite store 

With all hands on deck and a crack team from Cliveden Conservation, who lifted, weighed and sometimes turned each stone individually, we recorded 202 stones with weights going up to 620kg in just 10 days!

Cliveden Conservation lifting and weighing a stone from the Roman Baths

In that time, Cotswold Archaeology joined us for three days to create a 3D photogrammetric record of 15 specific stones. This involved taking hundreds of photographs of each stone from every angle possible in order to create a digital 3D model that can be examined in minute detail, rotated and moved around with ease on a screen. The chosen stones will be used in an app for schoolchildren to identify specific types of Roman building blocks and manipulate them on screen, learning more about Roman building and how the Roman Baths may once have looked.

Photogrammetry in action!

The results of this work will also be incredibly helpful as a conservation record for our collection, showing the stones in a way that allows us to easily examine, compare and move them around without having to physically lift these huge blocks again! Our plan is to produce a 3D model of every stone that we have been examining, and with this technology at our fingertips continue to learn more about our incredible site for years to come!

A sea of stones, recorded, weighed and identified

For more information about the Archway Project go to our website and keep an eye on our Facebook page for updates as they happen!

Collections Assistant

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Tuesday Times Tables: Put That in Your Pipe and Smoke It!

Beth's Tuesday Times Table
Tuesday 29th August marked the final Tuesday Times Table event, making it my turn. While no one can deny the research is fascinating and it’s great to interact with visitors, there is something slightly unnerving about standing by the Great Bath with the culmination of a good few weeks of work, waiting for some interest - perhaps more so when you are trying to interest them in small pieces of clay pipe!

Post-medieval clay pipes are an extensive part of the collection here at the Roman Baths, and while they may not seem it, pipes hold an unprecedented importance to archaeologists, and the dating of sites. Pipe smoking was brought to England in around 1585 by Sir Walter Raleigh, and at the time no one had seen people smoking from the mouth - that was the stuff of dragon stories. In fact, rumour has it that when Raleigh first landed in England, proudly smoking his pipe, the moment was ruined by one of his own servants who having never seen a man smoke, and assuming his boss to be on fire, doused him in water to put him (and his pipe) out!

Diagram showing the phases of clay pipe design development from around 1585 to 1900

Despite the efforts of Raleigh’s servant, smoking and pipes caught on. So much so that a whole new style of pipe, the churchwarden pipe, was created. These pipes had stems of around 10-12 inches long, and were made originally for the sole purpose of allowing the churchwardens to smoke without the smoke blowing into their face and blocking their view. Unsurprisingly, this caught on, as it also meant no one had to stop smoking for tasks such as reading books or newspapers, talking to friends, or writing.

My table allowed visitors to become the archaeologist, dating examples of clay pipe and identifying them from brief descriptions. I had interesting examples of how pipe design varied as well, how pipemakers put their own artwork on their pipes. These include a pipe showing a figure seated on a rock, or a more intense scene showing one man begging for his life as another points a shotgun at him - all taking place in a picturesque location under a tree! The most popular pipe, however, was the only one that couldn’t be handled; a beautiful pipe where the bowl is shaped like a lady’s shoe. It is an incredibly unique pipe - there aren’t many examples of similar designs.

Top: pipe bowl shaped like a lady's boot. Middle: pipe bowl showing shooting scene with the shooter, the tree and the victim. Bottom left: pipe bowl showing a figure seated on a rock. Bottom Right: particularly ornate pipe bowl
I had a great time researching and presenting my table, who would have thought small pieces of clay pipe could be so interesting and tell us so much!

Beth Light