Ragstone was quarried from the upper Medway valley in Kent on a vast scale during the Roman period: the walls of Roman London were built with it, and the Blackfriars ship sank with a cargo of the stone. Little is known about the industry, though, and Simon Elliott’s survey is therefore hugely welcome.
The Science of Roman History is an innovative book, bringing together many different areas of archaeological science to comment on the Roman Empire. It is an enormous undertaking to synthesise over 500 years of human history, spanning regions as far apart as the Levant and the British Isles, and obviously many nuances must be abridged or omitted. Nonetheless, the editor and contributors make a valiant effort to create a foundation on which to build and are ultimately successful in creating a baseline of knowledge.
This volume describes the results of some 20 years of investigation at a site near Wellingborough, Northamptonshire. The work revealed a pit alignment and cremation burial dating to the Bronze Age or Iron Age, a middle-to- late Iron Age settlement, two Roman-period settlements, and an early-to-mid- Saxon cemetery. Finds included 12 Iron Age coins, early Roman pottery from 14 kilns, a Roman casket burial, and a Saxon buckle with preserved textile.
Almost a third of this book comprises a review of pre-Roman record keeping, before moving to the title period under headings such as ‘Archives and libraries in the Roman world’ and ‘Epigraphy’. The latter discusses, among other things, inscriptions on stone, writing tablets, and monuments, such as Trajan’s Column, as examples of forms of visual communication. Five appendices are preceded by a final brief chapter on the Theodosian and Justinianic Codes.
As you would |expect from CA’s Archaeologist of the Year, this is an extremely well-researched and well-written book. Split into three parts, the first deals with understanding writing and literacy in the Roman world. Part two tackles the data (inkwells), with a focus on metal types. The final section considers writing equipment in terms of identities and social context.
In last month’s ‘great excavations’ mini-series (CA 337), I mentioned the then editor’s suggestion in CA 8 (May 1968) that ‘one of the Roman towns like Silchester or Wroxeter that are ploughed every year’ be excavated by the BBC as an example of public archaeology – Time Team before the Team, so to speak. With Silchester featured last month, it is worth turning to the other site mentioned, Wroxeter – a well-known Roman site near Shrewsbury. It is a site familiar, I am sure, to many readers of CA for its impressive upstanding remains.
Vindolanda, the Roman auxiliary fort just south of Hadrian’s Wall, is known for its treasure trove of well-preserved Roman archaeology, and this past excavation season has proved to be one of the most successful yet. The team has been excavating a pre-Hadrianic cavalry barracks, where they uncovered finds including complete swords, copper-alloy horse gear, leather shoes, bath clogs, combs, dice, and a small hoard of wafer-thin writing tablets, many of which bore fine examples of ancient cursive script (see CA 330).
Archaeology always retains the power to surprise. The site of Cirencester’s western cemetery, much developed and truncated over the years, ought to have retained few secrets, but the results of the excavation – 126 graves, a walled cemetery, deviant burials, an enamelled bronze cockerel, and a complete tombstone – exceeded expectations.
Courses at the Kent Archaeological Field School for 2018 will include: Field Walking and Map Analysis March 30th to Saturday 31st March 2018 – Easter Friday Field work at its most basic involves walking across the landscape recording features seen on the ground. On this weekend course we are concerned with recognising and recording artefacts found […]
We have been granted HLF funding to investigate Iron Age settlement in the southern Vale of York following a successful dig between 2012 and 2014. The site has numerous crop marks of Iron Age date and geophysical survey has revealed many more Iron Age features not revealed in crop marks. We appear to have an […]