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, 16 October 2019

Words on Wednesdays: Building (part 2!)

"Great buildings, like great mountains, are the work of centuries"
Victor Hugo

Last week's blog introduced you to Roman ceramic building materials (CBM), so today let's discover the science behind the study!

How and why is Roman CBM studied by archaeologists?

Archaeologists use a range of traditional and cutting-edge analytical techniques to study bricks and tiles. These range from morphology-based examinations, that is looking at their shape and function, to fabric analyses, which basically look at the recipes of clay and temper (an extra material added to clay to change its working or firing properties) used to make the artefacts. 

The author using portable x-ray fluorescence to analyse Roman tile (with kind permission from the Culver Archaeological Project)

Expensive scientific compositional techniques such as portable x-ray fluorescence, which gives an elemental profile for the object, are also occasionally used. These analyses often aim to source the brick or tile, seeking to work out where the object was made and how far it was transported. This is done in order to understand the scale of production and infrastructure in place for building materials across the Roman world. 

What relevance does Roman CBM have to our society?

While Roman brick and tile might seem like a dry and dusty subject (which the objects quite literally are!), my own PhD research at Bournemouth University on the Roman Baths is hoping to ask questions that make these materials relevant to how we understand our world. 

Roman CBM - part of the vaulted roof that would have enclosed the Great Bath

CBM was introduced into Britain by the Romans around the time of the Roman Conquest of Britain in 43 AD. The native people never used it and never produced it, and subsequently Roman brick and tile industries and workers have been assumed to be entirely imported from the continent. My research is hoping to check this assumption, exploring if there is evidence for the incorporation of local potters or other individuals into these industries. In this way, I will be exploring the role that the production and use of CBM played in the development of Romano-British identities. I aim to contribute to our understanding of how people thought of themselves and how they identified, whether native, Roman or somewhere in between, in this important period of British history. 

At a time where so many different British identities intersect, acknowledging and working to understand the complex role of identities in Britain’s past can also help us to understand our own contemporary society.

Thank you very much for reading, I hope this post has inspired you to look on humble brick and tile with a new light!

Owen Kearn
Bournemouth University PhD student

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