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.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

'Cataloguing Keynsham' Update

Our Keynsham volunteers have been hard at work documenting the material from Keynsham Abbey, that I reported on in 'Cataloguing Keynsham' in November 2015.

Keynsham volunteers photographing tiles

To date 21 boxes of Medieval floor tiles have been catalogued, that’s 592 tiles covering 91 designs. The team have been getting to grips with the photography; how to make sure your image is clear and that you’re photographing the tile the right way up, which isn’t always easy if all you have to work with is a small fragment.

Saxon stonework from Keynsham Abbey site

Meanwhile the other half of the team has been tackling all manner of jobs including measuring and photographing stonework, amounting to some 289 pieces, and accessioning and cataloguing the remainder of the Medieval tiles not accessioned back in 2011. Next they’re on to more fiddly objects; photographing all the small finds from Keynsham Abbey, a great opportunity for them to handle a variety of different materials including bone, copper and textiles.

Look out for more updates on the project in the coming months.

Verity, Collections Assistant

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Pipe-clay Puppy

Described initially as a “terracotta bear figure” on the finds list for the Beau street dig, the little pipeclay dog overcame his identity crisis and can now be found in the museum, and spotted just before you enter the Temple Precinct.

The figure was found during the 1989 excavations close to the Cross Bath in Trench IV, which was situated where the Thermae Spa can be found today. However, it is believed that both it and the other pipe clay ‘dog’ we have in the collection came from the Allier region in central Gaul. It is possible that traces of red/brown paint remains, and figures from this region are also known to be painted.

The fine clay used for the figure is similar to the clay used to create white clay pipes many years later, plenty of which can be found on archaeological digs in the area. Definitely not indestructible and usually found broken, the pipes were a disposable item that was fairly easy to make in high volumes. Although not as slender and spindly as a pipe, an effort probably would have been needed to protect the little dog from getting unrecognisably shattered if he was handled on a regular basis. He would have been produced in a bivalve mould, however only the front of him remains today.  Despite his ears breaking off at some point, his collar, and possibly a bell still remain, and he is certainly recognisable as a dog.

Dogs are common features in ancient art, often in reference to their contributions to hunting, and there are many instances of dogs on other items in the collection. It was even thought that dogs possessed healing powers. At an Aesculapius healing centre in Epidaurus, an inscription describing a miraculous cure from a growth at the hands (or rather tongue) of a sacred temple dog is found. We could theorise that this is why the little dog found its way here to Bath and the hub of healing; perhaps it was a personal talisman for attracting good health. There have even been many contemporary stories of dogs curing ailments, detecting cancer, and helping with physical rehabilitation. Dogs can even be found on some hospital wards as visitors for patients who benefit from the company of a furry friend. Our want to have dogs around us definitely has not faded from our collective consciousness.

We will never know the circumstances surrounding the little pup’s journey to Bath, perhaps that connection does lie with the therapeutic waters found here, or maybe his original owner understandably just really liked canine knick knacks.

Ella, Placement from New Zealand