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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, 5 February 2020

An Alphabet of Objects: C is for Clay

In the Sun Lounge next to the Pump Room is a display called ‘A-Z’ showing objects from the Roman Baths’ vast collections. Now the display has changed from B for bottles to C… for clay!

Katarina installing the new display in the Sun Lounge

The theme ‘clay’ covers many millennia and areas, as its use has developed over time dependent on peoples’ changing needs. As I found out when creating the display, clay objects can be used as a gateway to many different stories about human progress!

Roman cheese press

The object on the second highest step, is a Roman cheese press. It is possible that cheese was first discovered by accident, when milk transported in sheep, goat or cow stomachs, curdled due to the presence of the rennet-enzyme in the stomachs. 

Over time, cheese production changed. In the beginning, the cheese was soft and would spoil rather quickly. However, by using a cheese press made from clay, it was possible to drain more liquid from the cheese. This produced a harder product that lasted longer.

Roman brick with a dog's paw print impressions

Yes, it is a brick placed on the second lowest step! In the Roman period, bricks were made by shaping the clay, leaving them to dry, and firing them at 1000 °C. However, this brick is also part of the story about dog domestication, as while the clay was drying a dog walked over it.

While this topic is widely debated, most scientists believe it happened around 20,000 to 40,000 years ago. How this happened is also a mystery. Some believe it was the result of a mutual need between hunters and wolves. Others believe that some wolves developed ‘cuter’ features over time, allowing them access to human food supplies.

C is for Clay, on display in the Sun Lounge at the Roman Baths and Pump Room

The most modern objects in this display are the clay pipes on the lowest step, dating from 1645 to 1900. Clay pipes were cheap and easy to produce but fragile, making them a common find in archaeological excavations. 

Due to rapidly changing fashions, clay pipes are easily dated by their style, shape and size. The pipes on display are placed chronologically, with the oldest at the top.

The A-Z display is free to see in the Sun Lounge during opening hours. Stay tuned for updates as we work our way through the alphabet!

Volunteer, Collections department.

1 comment:

  1. Great article, you learn something new everyday! Will certainly be visiting to view a few of these masterpieces