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.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

After Aquae Sulis

“Are you familiar with the Anglo-Saxons and what came after Rome?”

Unfortunately, unless an enthusiast or someone who has studied the period at University, your answer will probably be: no. The years AD410-1066 are hardly touched upon in school curricula and yet are some of the most formative in the history of Western Europe; helping us to understand everything from the formation of countries to why Bath is in Somerset rather than Gloucestershire. Not learning about it is equivalent to Americans not learning about Columbus. So that's why I chose to do this period for my handling table this summer.

map of the South West in Saxon times

When King Alfred (AD 871-899) founded his burh at Baðum (Bath) in the aftermath of his wars with the Vikings, he established a market town on a new street plan, next to an earlier English monastery within the decaying walls of Roman Aquae Sulis. The latter had been in long decline, beginning even before the end of Roman Britain. Iconoclastic Christians had cast down the pagan statues and altars for use in road surfaces, residential buildings were converted into workshops and tell-tale layers of organic material illustrate ever increasing agricultural activity within the walls. 

The ruins of Aquae Sulis as were immortalised by an early English Poet in the words of The Ruin:
Wondrous is this stone-wall, wrecked by fate;
the city-buildings crumble, the works of giants decay.
Roofs have caved in, towers collapsed

undermined by age.”

Bath, along with Gloucester and Cirencester, was conquered by the English in 577 at the battle of Dyrham, not far from Bath. In this era of squabbling petty kingdoms and Bath became the southern tip of the kingdom of the Hwicce, a sub-kingdom of Mercia, whose King Osric founded a minster in the city in 675. Bath’s Roman past and location on the Mercian/West Saxon border meant that it remained important throughout the period. 

Major towns had exclusive rights to minting and trade. This silver penny of Aethelred was minted in Bath and is in the Roman Baths Museum collection

Almost certainly concerned with the defence of his realm the powerful Mercian King Offa (757-796) effectively confiscated the land given to the church by Osric and as already mentioned, the ruined city was later chosen by Alfred for the site of a burh. Bath’s imperial connotations must also have been key in Edgar’s decision to be re-crowned in the city in 973.   

Part of a Viking sword found in the ditch of  the Saxon town on Upper Borough Walls, Bath 
Wil Partridge, volunteer

Friday, 2 September 2016

Tuesday Times Table: How did the ancients make pottery?

 Pottery is the most common archaeological find in most places, and the Roman Baths Museum has a great collection of pottery, from which various interesting points can be discovered. I focused on the techniques of making pottery and tried to connect pottery fragments with the processes of decoration and firing they had experienced.

 Prehistoric people collected clay from nearby, dried it in the sun, sieved and mixed it with water, and made ring-built or thumb pot vessels by hand. Firing was also quite simple. They use dried dung and brushwood on the ground and the firing process took only 30 to 60 minutes. Later people started to select the clay, remove impurities from it and then leave it to weather before using it. They also used several pools to wash clay and mix it with grit and sand for special use. Turntables were used in shaping and glazes were introduced as decoration. Various kilns and kiln furniture were designed to make firing more effective.
 Roman Samian ware from France compared to imitation Samian made in Britain

 In the activity, I chose different types of pottery to show the improvements in ceramic technology, from Iron Age coarse ware to modern fine ware. Many of them were manufactured in Europe while almost all of them were excavated in Bath, which shows the ancient trades of pottery. The spread of pottery techniques and the imitation of styles are my favourite points, thus I chose a British imitation of Samian. Compared with Samian made in continental Europe, this British samian is of grey and orange fabric, and its surface is variegated. This is due to the preparation of clay and the temperature in the kiln.

 During the display, people enjoyed feeling the decoration and glaze on the pottery, and many people were interested in the Roman finewares. Children were satisfied with their own pieces of clay decorated using stamps, sticks and ropes, just as the ancients did.

Chenxi Sun
University of Leicester MA Museum Studies
Placement with the Collection team







莱斯特大学 博物馆学硕士

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Tuesday Timetable – il potere espresso attraverso la moda

Grazie alla School of Museum Studies dell’Università di Leicester, ho avuto la fortuna di passare l’estate a Bath, lavorando con il Collections Management team del Museo delle Terme Romane. Un’esperienza unica, che mi sta permettendo non soltanto di crescere professionalmente in uno tra i più rinomati musei del Regno Unito, ma anche di scoprire, giorno dopo giorno, l’affiscinante storia di questo sito, direttamente attraverso le sue collezioni.

Uno dei momenti più interessanti è stato progettare il cosiddetto Tuesday Timetable, un’attività il cui scopo è di mostrare oggetti, appartenenti alla collezione museale, generalmente non accessibili al pubblico. L’idea è di sviluppare un tema e presentarlo ai visitatori in un tavolo, posto nella scenografica cornice dei Great Baths.

Il titolo del mio Tuesday Timetable è stato “Il potere espresso attraverso la moda”. Durante i miei studi in archeologia classica, mi sono appassionata di iconografia antica, cioè lo studio e l’interpretazione delle immagini e i loro attributi.

In antichità, monete e statue svolgevano la stessa funzione degli attuali mezzi di comunicazione di massa, diffondendo immagini e i loro significati simbolici ad ampio raggio. Grazie alla loro presenza costante nella vita di tutti i giorni - le monete erano il principale mezzo di scambio, così come le statue decoravano i principali luoghi pubblici delle città  - le immagini rappresentate erano facilmente riconoscibili anche dalla gente comune.
Nell’antica Grecia, i principali soggetti sulle monete ritraevano dei ed eroi, mentre i Romani col tempo li sostituirono con effigi degli imperatori e membri della loro famiglia. In tal senso, monete e statue erano i principali veicoli di propaganda politica del tempo.
L’influenza sociale e politica per i Romani si esprimeva attraverso la moda. Gli imperatori portavano corone radiate e d’alloro, erano raffigurati col volto rasato, o con una folta barba, mentre le loro mogli sfoggiavano acconciature destinate a fare tendenza, sia semplici che estremamente elaborate.
Busto femminile con acconciatura tipica del periodo Flavio (fine del I sec. d.C.). Roma, ©Musei Capitoliniusto 

Busto dell’imperatore Adriano (76-138 d.C.), che reintrodusse la moda della barba. Roma,, ©Musei Capitolini Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme 

Una lavagna mostrava ai visitatori immagini di scultura antica e i cambiamenti nello stile; sul tavolo, invece, era possibile ammirare e toccare monete di epoca greca e romana, e le repliche delle teste della famosa Sulis Minerva, e di Agrippina Maggiore, madre dell’imperatore Caligola, i cui originali sono esposti nel museo. Ma non è tutto! Nella ricca collezione museale, ho trovato alcune medaglie inglesi della metà del XVIII secolo, in cui i profili dei reali si ispiravano chiaramente a modelli Greco-romani, a conferma del profondo radicamento della cultura classica nella cultura occidentale.
Il mio Tuesday Timetable ai Great Bath

Il pubblico ha molto apprezzato poter vedere e toccare i reperti, commentando e comparando i cambiamenti di stile, gusti e moda passati, rispetto ai giorni nostri. Anche i più piccoli non si sono annoiati, impegnati a disegnare le loro monete personali!
Io e la mia compagna di corso Yahao… Da Leicester a Bath! 

Tuesday Timetable - Power through Fashion

Thanks to the University of Leicester’s School of Museum Studies, I am fortunate enough to spend my summer in Bath, carrying out a placement with the Collections team of the Roman Baths. This experience is giving me the opportunity to strengthen my knowledge in museum studies, as well as to discover, day by day, the most interesting facts about the history of this inspiring site, directly from the objects belonging to its collection.

One of my favourite moments so far was to design a handling table for the so-called Tuesday Timetable evening event. The idea is to take out objects from the store and offer visitors a literally “hands-on” engagement, in the fascinating backdrop of the Great Baths.
The title of my Tuesday Timetable was “Power through Fashion”. As part of my background in Classical archaeology, I am very interested in ancient history of art, especially iconography, that is to say the study and interpretation of images and their symbols.
In the past, coins and statues served the role of today’s newspapers and mass media, spreading images and their symbolic meanings through space and time. Since coins were the main means of exchange, and statues decorated public places, people easily got used to the represented imagery.

In ancient Greece deities and mythical heroes were the most common subjects to be found on coins, but the Romans replaced them with actual portraits of emperors and members of the royal family, using coins and statues as tools for political propaganda. Romans expressed their individuality and power through fashion. Emperors’ wives showed several hairstyles, from simple to extremely elaborated ones, and rulers wore radiate crowns or laurel wreaths, having a beard or being shaved.

Bust of a woman showing a typical Flavian hairstyle (end of the 1st century CE).
copyright Capitoline Museums Rome

Bust of the Emperor Hadrian (76-138 CE), who reintroduced the fashion of having a beard.
copyright National Roman Museum, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme Rome.

On my display, people could admire pictures of ancient sculptures and their style, and on the table Greek and Roman coins, and the replicas of the heads of Sulis Minerva and Agrippina the Elder, mother of the Emperor Caligula, were free to touch. But not only these ! Some ancient artistic models became emblems of the Western culture. In the rich Roman Baths' collection, I found and displayed some 19th century British medals, depicting the Royals as ancient gods.
My Tuesday Timetable by the Great Bath

Visitors enjoyed looking at and touching the objects, comparing past fashion, taste and lifestyles to our contemporary societies. Children were also happy to draw pictures of themselves as kings and queens on a coin, the activity I designed for the table.
Me and my classmate Yahao… From Leicester to Bath!

Chiara Marabelli

School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester

Friday, 19 August 2016

Rings fit for Kings...

We don’t venture onto the site unless necessary, and so it is that in my three years at The Roman Baths, I am still ticking off areas of the site I’ve been on! I came in recently to discover the Sacred Spring being cleaned (this is something that is done periodically to remove excess build-up of algae (and bird feathers!)), and having a valid excuse to venture through the door to the Spring, I went exploring…

We’re currently designing a new display to go in the King’s Lounge (overlooking the Sacred Spring), and one of the objects going in the case is a 17th century bathing ring. There are 25 of these, still in situ around the walls of what was the King’s Bath; but as there would also have been rings around the Queen’s Bath, I was eager to see if we could establish whether the ring came from the King’s Bath…it looks like it may be from the King’s Bath, there’s a pretty big hole it could have fitted!

Bathing ring from the King’s Bath

Currently in the King’s Lounge, we have the detail of some of the inscriptions on the bathing rings, and so whilst down there I took the opportunity to do a photographic survey of all the rings I could (safely) reach, wanting to see how many it was possible to still identify…

Well, so far I have managed six; the inscriptions on the rings have been worn over time, so I was working with varying levels of visible inscription.

Working with the illustration and comparing them to my photos, I was able to identify four of the rings.

Three of the inscribed rings, in situ

Further research led me to discover that in a book of 1883 ‘The Mineral Bath’s of Bath: The Bathes of Bathe’s Ayde in the Reign of Charles II’ by Charles E. Davis, there were inscriptions of 13 bathing rings around the King’s Bath. Using this information I was able to identify another ring that we had illustrated (though all you can see today is the inscription on the attachment, which wasn’t illustrated).

Bathing ring identified by inscription on attachment

One further ring, though not illustrated, had enough of its inscription remaining to be identifiable using the publication; reading ‘Sir William Whitmore, Barronnet, when Mr. Robert Chapman his Frind was 2nd the Mayor, 1677’.

Bathing ring identified through 1883 publication

Further rings bear hints of remaining inscription; maybe one day we’ll be able to get closer looks at them all and identify more.


Collections Assistant

Monday, 15 August 2016

Tuesday Times Tables: The Curses and the Sacred Spring

One of my favourite jobs during my internship at the The Roman Baths has been working on my Tuesday Times Table. I chose to show to the visitors the curse tablets and the other objects thrown into the Sacred Spring by the Romans. The curses are tablets made of lead and pewter, inscribed by hand and dedicated by people to the goddess Sulis Minerva (as well as Mars and Mercury), asking for revenge and justice for missing objects, probably stolen. Some of them were folded or rolled. Most of the curses are written in colloquial Latin, specifically the Vulgar Latin of the Romano-British population. The tablets contain religious prayers and Roman and Celtic names. Some of them are written in capital letters, others using the old or new Roman cursive and others are illiterate. In the Sacred Spring were found many other objects like coins, jewellery, vessels and wood and stone objects. They were all offerings to the goddess.

During my display by the Great Bath many people seemed to be interested in my project. I had a table on which I could show the objects, in particular the curses with a display board with some further details. People were invited to handle every object (well in their boxes!) and this is the very good thing about the Tuesday Times Tables, because usually people can’t handle objects in museums, but thanks to this project they could personally discover the finds, and they were very surprised by this, and sometimes hesitant!

My handling table by the Great Bath

At my table there was an activity for children too. They could try to write their names using the ancient cursive Roman alphabet. This activity became very popular with adults too, many people tried to write their names or other words with the alphabet and they realised that it is very different from the English alphabet and that there are missing letters!

Stefania Ballocco
Universita’ degli studi di Cagliari (Italy)

Erasmus intern with the Collections team

Le maledizioni e la fonte sacra
Uno degli incarichi svolti durante il mio tirocinio al Roman Bath Museum e’ stato lavorare al Tuesaday Time Table, un progetto che prevede l’esposizione al pubblico di oggetti normalmente non visibili. Ho scelto di mostrare ai visitatori le tavolette delle maledizioni e gli altri oggetti che venivano riposti nella fonte sacra dai Romani.
Le maledizioni sono tavolette di piombo o peltro, incise a mano e dedicate alla dea Sulis Minerva. I dedicatari chidevano giustizia e vendetta per oggetti persi, probabilmente rubati. Alcune di queste sono state ritrovate nella fonte piegate o arrotolate. La maggior parte sono scritte in latino colloquilale, in particolare e’ stato usato il latino volgare della popolazioni Romano –britanniche. Le tavolette contengono preghiere alla dea e sono una fonte per lo studio e la conoscenza dell’onomastica romana e celtica. Alcune sono state scritte in stampatello, altre utilizzando il corsivo, altre ancora sono incomprensibili o illegibili. Nella fonte sacra sono stati ritrovati molti altri oggetti, quali monete, vasi, gioielli,  e oggetti in osso e in pietra. Erano tutte offerte per la dea.
Durante l’esposizione nel Great Bath i visitatori del museo si sono mostrati interessati al mio progetto.  Ho esposto le maledizioni e gli altri oggetti in un tavolo, nel quale si trovava anche un pannello con informazioni aggiuntive. Le persone erano invitate a toccare con mano ogni oggetto (posto ovviamente all’interno della sua scatola!), e questa e’ la vera cosa interessante del Tuesday Time Table, in quanto di solito i visitatori nei musei non possono toccare gli oggetti, ma grazie a questo progetto possono scoprirli personalmente, e molti di loro sono sorpresi da questo, alcuni addirittura esitanti.

La mia esposizione nel Great Bath

Nel mio tavolo c’era anche un attivita’ dedicata ai bambini, i quali potevano provare a scrivere il loro nome usando l’antico alfabeto latino corsivo. Questa attivita’ e’ diventata molto popolare anche tra gli adulti, che si sono cimentati nel provare a scrivere i loro nomi e altre parole, scoprendo che l’antico alfabeto latino e’ completamente diverso da quello inglese e che molte lettere sono assenti!

Stefania Ballocco
Universita’ degli studi di Cagliari 

Friday, 12 August 2016

Tuesday Times Tables: Art and Design in Roman Britain

Choosing the theme of ‘Art and Design in Roman Britain’ was easy for my handling table, due to the wealth of art within the collections in the Roman Baths. I focused on pottery, glass, wall painting, mosaics and jewellery as they were perfect examples of art in Britain, and within Bath as all my objects were local finds. Having only ever studied Roman art within Rome and the surrounding empire, it was a challenge learning new things about art within Roman Britain, especially the cultural overlapping with the Celtic tribes within Britain at the time of the Roman conquest.

Overlap between the Celtic and Roman styles was mainly seen within the jewellery on my handling table. The brooches and bracelets were perfect examples of a Celtic influence, due to the swirling designs which are identifiable as Celtic. I had beautiful twisted bronze and copper bracelets, with a tiny child’s bracelet which was a personal favourite. I also had a number of replica brooches, pins and torcs on display as examples of how varied and colourful Roman jewellery was and how the styles had changed.

Child's Copper Alloy Bracelet

Mosaics are always important examples of art within the Roman world, let alone in Roman Britain where fewer have survived. I used tesserae (the square stones in a mosaic) as an example of the scale on which each tiny tessera was placed, and was amazed how durable they are considering their age. Accompanying my tesserae was a piece of mosaic from Weymouth House School in Bath, found in 1897.  The mosaic was popular with those who had never seen or had contact with a Roman mosaic before.

Mosaic piece from Weymouth House School

Using Samian pottery as examples was perfect due to its vibrant ochre colouring and beautiful designs of birds, and a sun among other motifs on the sherds of the pottery, I also had a replica Samian bowl with a Barbotine design around the top to show how Samian ware might have looked when complete.

Samian Bowl Sherd

The most popular and impressive item was a small bronze eagle, which was an ornamental fitting for an object. I was amazed how well preserved the eagle was with the perfect incision of feathers on the wings outstretched, and on the face of the beak. Although small it made a big impact on my handling table due its beauty, and for its symbolism of the Ancient Roman world and its presence which is still here today.

Roman Bronze Eagle Figurine

Roman Society Intern

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Tuesday Times Tables: The Timsbury Hoard

I have spent the majority of my volunteering time over the last 2 years working on the Beau St Hoard, and during that time, I discovered a whole new love of Roman coins. So, when the Beau St project was finished, and I got the chance to do a handling table for the Tuesday Times Tables, I wanted to choose a different group of coins to show off. As the Collections team were going to Timsbury for the Festival of Archaeology, what better choice than the Timsbury Hoard?

The Beau St Hoard has 17,577 coins (or thereabouts!), so in comparison, the Timsbury Hoard, with only 20 silver coins, is very tiny. However, the coins themselves are just as interesting.

 The Whole Hoard

The coins were found in 2011 in the village of Timsbury, about 7.5 miles south west of Bath. They were discovered separately by a metal detectorist who was detecting in a field. As they were found in a small area, even though they weren’t together in a pot or box, they are still considered a hoard.

They cover roughly 100 years of Roman Imperial history, from 141AD to 249AD. The earliest coin depicts Faustina the Elder (wife of Emperor Antoninus Pius), and the latest shows Emperor Philip I. When Faustina’s coin was minted, the Empire was in safe hands. By the time Philip’s coins were issued, the Empire was in turmoil, with almost all the Emperors murdered by the army or their successors.

I chose 5 of the 20 coins from the hoard as handling objects for my table. These included the earliest coin, one of the latest coins, and my favourite coin from the hoard. I don’t think many people believed me that we would let them handle real Roman coins that were over 1700 years old!

 My favourite coin!

My favourite coin from the hoard is a denarius from Emperor Septimius Severus, who ruled from 193-211AD. He was the first African emperor of Rome. He also renovated Hadrian’s Wall, invaded Caledonia (Scotland), and died in York. On the back, or reverse, of the coin, is a picture of an ancient African goddess known in Rome as Dea Caelestis (Goddess of the Sky). She is riding a lion, which is jumping over a spring. It’s a complicated picture, but it shows how detailed and interesting the coins could be!

Can you imagine if modern coins had such exciting pictures on them?


Monday, 4 July 2016

Greek Vase

          This week I had been tasked with researching the Greek vase, pictured, at the Roman Baths. With most of the work on it having been lost or never fully completed, and with original documentation on the vase being brief, it is safe to say I appreciated the challenge!
            The vase is Attic (i.e. from Attica, the principality surrounding Athens) and its shape suggests that it was a small container for oil, or more likely a funeral gift or grave offering – it is called a lekythos (λήκυθος). It was made between the late 6th century BC and early 5th century BC, and the painter has used the black-figure technique, where details are painted in black paint onto a red surface, and later highlighted (incised) using the nib of a sharp tool (this is called incision). Potters and painters could become very well-renowned in ancient Greece, and painting of this kind was considered a form of high art.
            It depicts a four-horse chariot (quadriga) and four figures around it: two are riding the chariot, whilst two others flank it. This lekythos is unusual insofar as it features a red-coloured background, when we would usually expect a white-coloured background for a lekythos from this period and location. Increasingly, white-ground lekythoi were used as grave offerings and commonly featured scenes of death or ‘final farewells’.
            You can just about make out one figure playing the lyre (cithara). Sadly, much of the design is worn and therefore many details are lost. However, the horse and figures are clearly visible. Traces of purple paint are visible on the neck, and there is a geometric pattern just below the mouth of the vase, where the handle has also been lost.
            The figure playing the lyre has formerly been identified as Orpheus. However, I think that they are probably better identified as Apollo, who, as a god of death and music (an unlikely pairing!), would better suit a vase which was probably dedicated as a funerary gift—music might have been played at the funerary procession.

Chris Gallacher
University College, London

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Science Week Success

The Roman Baths were part of British Science Week again this year by hosting and participating in several events during the week, the first of which was Science Busking. This involved having five tables of information regarding the science behind different aspects of Roman life and buildings such as; where the thermal water came from, how hypocausts heated rooms, coin manufacture, health and bones. This garnered the attention of around 55 visitors throughout the three hour event. A model aqueduct and water organ attracted more children and families who, with the help of volunteers from the Explorium and staff members learned about how they worked.

Throughout the week a table set up on site was used to inform visitors of the science behind a variety of objects and engineering feats found in the Roman world. These tables ranged from information about skeletons, coins, aqueducts, hypocausts and glass with objects being available for the public to hold and discuss with a volunteer. Each day held interest for the visitors with between 40 and 70 people taking in or questioning the material available. However, Wednesday was the most popular day with over a hundred playing with and learning about the aqueduct.
My handling table on the science of glass

The last event was Bath Taps into Science at Victoria Park, to which the Roman Baths took an aqueduct and arch model. These proved to be very popular with the children, who enjoyed learning about how and why the engineering feats worked whilst playing with them themselves. The constant stream of families meant there was no way of verifying the numbers of visitors, though all seemed to enjoy it. All in all, Science Week appeared to be a success as a popular event for children, families and the general public alike.

Kirsty Luckcuck
Bradford University intern

Thursday, 24 March 2016

The Tompion Clock

One of the jobs I am privileged to do as Collections Manager at the Roman Baths is to wind the Tompion Clock. It has stood in Bath’s Pump Room since 1709 and its older than the present Room!

The 1670s-1700s were an interesting time in the history of telling the time: pendulums had only recently been invented and clock makers were working out how to improve clocks and watches’ accuracy particularly with springs, making it possible to take these fragile instruments onto ships. 

Thomas Tompion was (and still is) a well-regarded clock maker. He worked for Charles II, William III and Queen Anne. As a friend of the first Astronomer Royal, Flamsted, two of his clocks were built into the Observatory, Greenwich.  And after a successful life, having made over 700 clocks and 6,000 watches when he died his work was recognised with a burial in Westminster Abbey.

The clock with its hood removed 

The Bath clock is, to get technical, a long case equation clock.  This means its much bigger than a grandfather clock (it stands over three metres high) and it has a kidney shaped dial which reflects the solar time which is not regular like the ticking of a clock because of the elliptical orbit of the earth around the sun. This was important to the men of science as that was what they were used to from sundials. Even so, to check an equation clock its necessary to regularly use a sundial to get “the sun’s time”.  So all of these clocks were supplied with a sun dial!  Ours is outside the nearest window in the Pump Room. 

Tompion's sundial outside the Pump Room

Unlike most of Tompion’s clocks, which were given mahogany wood cases, ours has an oak one.  Another difference is that it has to be wound every 3 weeks which sounds good until you consider the one Tompion made  for William III now in Buckingham Palace needs to be wound only once a year!

Some people have suggested these difference are because Tompion made the clock cheaply and gave it the City of Bath not so much as a gift but a very large advertisement in the social centre of Bath!   However, as he did live here for   and he was made an honorary freedman of the city before he gave the clock, that doesn’t sound fair.

Our earliest photograph (early 20th century) of the Tompion Clock in the Pump Room with the Victorian colour scheme!

Apart from the pedigree of this clock, I love it because of its elaborate details: the urn and foliage decoration around the dial, and the fire gilt finials with mini flames on top!

I’m surprised that it shows the date: but this means throughout the year we have to ever so carefully, don gloves, and move the delicate hands around to show the right date.  


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

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Repair, reuse, recycle…

Samian ware was highly prized Roman ceramic tableware, distinct for its orange/red colour and skilled craftsmanship. Imported and relatively expensive, your average (fairly) well-to-do Roman would have had the odd piece to show off their wealth. As it is, it was of such an expense that though you do find some quantity of samian on most archaeological sites, it was also a material that wasn’t thrown away with ease…

You’re doing the washing up and you accidentally chip the rim of your favourite bowl; most of us may hang on to it for a while, but eventually we would throw it away. The Romans weren’t quite so quick to dispose of their prized possessions.

When samian, being prized as it was, got chipped, the Romans had a novel (and presumably time-consuming) way of hiding the evidence. They would grind down the rim around their pot to produce a new unbroken rim, often having to remove a significant portion of material to achieve this.

Samian bowl with rim ground down

You knock your favourite bowl off the table and it’s lying in pieces on the floor; the Romans had a solution for that too!

Samian is sometimes found with holes drilled through it along the line of a break, evidence that the bowl has been put back together. Corresponding holes would be drilled on the two halves of a break, and a lead rivet would be put between them to hold the two pieces together.

Samian bowl with lead rivets

The Romans were not hesitant about using lead in conjunction with food, being (relatively) unaware of any issues with it, and as samian was about showing off your wealth, it would seem the distinct colour and decoration, was enough to distract admirers from the less appealing lead additions.

Samian spindlewhorl (used for spinning yarn)

And they didn’t stop there, when all you had was a sherd left, you could always chip it down, in to a rough circle and use it as a counter, or with a hole drilled through it, it could be used as a spindle whorl (for spinning yarn).

So you see concepts of recycling were nothing new, the Romans were at it long before us.

Look out for the objects pictured here in our current temporary display on samian, in the Sun Lounge at the Roman Baths.

Roman Baths Collections Assistant