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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, 6 November 2019

Words on Wednesdays: Bones

"In nature, there is no separation between design, engineering, and fabrication; the bone does it all"
Neri Oxman 

Why bone? Bones are exciting as they connect us with the past, but also feel forbidden as they are not a part of everyday life. They can prove useful as they survive through time where other materials (e.g. wood) may not.

Visitors to the Roman Baths find out about bones in archaeology

Past societies used bone to create different objects. Although this may seem gross to us now, bone was a readily available material and therefore an obvious choice to build things from. Many artefacts were made from cow or sheep bones, probably because they were the most commonly butchered animals. But how did the people of the past actually use bone?

Roman gaming counter

Imagine a Roman beating their competitors with this gaming counter. Gaming is a forever concept; whereas today we play on the Playstation, Roman games were far more rudimentary but just as competitive. One inscription from a Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum game board in Rome read ‘Levate dalocu, ludere nescis, idiota recede’ (Jump up, push off, you don’t know how to play, get out stupid) evidencing how heated games could get!

Gaming was clearly important as a 24 year old man from Lullingstone villa was buried in AD300 with his gaming board and 30 gaming piece (15 red and 15 white) possibly so he could play eternally in the afterlife. I wonder if anyone has ever been buried with a Playstation?

Two Victorian toothbrushes made from bone and animal hair

Picture the Victorians using their bone bristle toothbrushes. It’s hard to believe that it was not until 1780 that the Europeans produced a bristle toothbrush. Before this, rags and salt or soot were rubbed on teeth to keep them clean.

Our dental saviour was William Addis who, whilst incarcerated, found a bone on the floor and connected this with animal hairs to create the bristle brush. This was perfectly timed as the toothbrush industry boomed with the increase in refined sugar travelling from the West Indies. Toothbrushes were used with toothpaste made from odd materials such as soot, chalk or even powdered cuttlefish! Would you try that?

Bone object handling table

We are incredibly lucky to have objects like this readily available, teaching us the importance of everyday ritual to the people of the past. They have truly all been worked to the bone!

Roman Society Collections Placement

Alcock, Joan. Life in Roman Britain. English Heritage (1996) pp. 54-5.

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