Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd April 2016 – SPRING MEETING – University of York, Philip Rahtz lecture theatre, Kings Manor, York

Our 2016 spring meeting will be jointly hosted with the Department of Archaeology, University of York. 

Abstracts for the Presentations

David Roberts and Richard Henry: Recent research on the artefacts and landscape of an unusual late Roman temple site in Wiltshire

Since 2010 metal-detecting in a landscape in south-west Wiltshire has revealed approximately 8000 artefacts of later prehistoric and Roman date, including several hoards. The Past Landscapes project was set up to investigate the landscape context of these finds. Extensive geophysics was followed by excavation and post-excavation analysis of one of the key sites. Alongside this fieldwork, extensive analysis of the metal-detected assemblages was undertaken, and it became clear that their character suggested a late Roman temple set within a Late Iron Age to Late Roman landscape with various areas of activity. These included a major furnace site and domestic settlements. Excavation evidence bore out these suggestions, and added a great deal of detail to our understanding of the landscape. This short talk will discuss the context and sequence of the temple at the centre of this landscape and two of the key categories of finds from the site, miniature iron hammers and spears.

Rachel Wood. Putting the Crambeck Ware Industry into its Landscape Setting.

The study of landscapes is key to many aspects of archaeology and our understanding of the past. In this talk I want to explore how examining a landscape can inform archaeologists about a pottery production industry, in contrast to some of the traditional approaches to the study of pottery. Crambeck is a key industry in the late Roman period and its continuation into the 5th century is likely. As such, its study has the potential to inform on a much debated period at the end of Roman administration in Britain.

I will give an outline of the history and study of the Crambeck site and examine the results from a survey and excavation conducted as part of my PhD research – the first such excavation in 95 years. My investigations have revealed some previously unknown features in the Crambeck landscape taking the known activity in this area back into the Bronze Age and have produced some interesting artefacts – not just pottery! I have drawn together existing information and recent discoveries to construct a new and more detailed story of this complex landscape. I would like to end the talk by considering what a landscape approach can do for our understanding of a pottery production industry and note the large amount of information that can be uncovered through using such an approach.

Steve Roskams : The Site at Heslington East, York: the challenges of integrating finds assemblages with stratigraphic, spatial and functional information.

In archaeology, artefact studies in all periods have gone through common phases of development: from collecting to typological ordering to analysis for social interpretation. It has long been acknowledged that, to fully exploit this final element, finds must be viewed in the context of other information, not in isolation. This need for context provided, after all, part of the rationale for the financial resources expended on fieldwork in the rescue movement from the late 1960s onwards. It was what allowed the creation of a fieldwork profession which differentiated its activities from simple treasure hunting.

Using information from recently completed work on the Roman finds assemblage from Heslington East, a site on the margins of Eboracum, this paper will consider how effectively thus far we have responded to the challenge of integrating artefact studies with stratigraphic, spatial and functional information. It aims to show that much of this endeavour has yet to confront, fully and systematically, the problems that arise in post-excavation analysis. It will finish, however, by suggesting that there may be some light at the end of the tunnel.

Adam Parker. Roman Magic: The Eboracum case study

‘Magic’, in the Roman world, is a catch-all term used to describe all of the supernatural elements of daily life that fall outside the scholarly definition of ‘religion’. It has traditionally been studied alongside religion, both as a related phenomenon and as a standalone concept. As a concept, ‘magic’ is difficult to define, largely because of its complex relationship with religion and other forms of ritual practice.

This paper intends to examine the range of material culture which has been variously described as ‘magical’ within its geographical, chronological and material contexts in order to assess the implications of this interlinked approach and what it can tell us about the functions of magic in the Roman world. It will include phallic charms, gold lamellae, Gnostic amulets, jet pendants and amber carvings amongst other objects. 

The material evidence for ‘magic’ in Roman Britain is the subject of the speaker’s PhD studies. Eboracum will be used as a case study to show a microcosm of the potential results of this research.

Andrew Wood : Coins from Roman York in Context

Excavations over the past 200 years across the cityscape of York have produced thousands of Roman coins. Their interpretation has the potential to make a significant contribution to our understanding of the economic and social landscape of Eboracum. This paper will consider a small subset of this material, drawing upon coinage in the collections of York Museums Trust and York Archaeological Trust. It will compare the coins found at five sites, focused upon the colonia south of the river. These will be analysed with reference to larger regional and national datasets of material from archaeological excavations and metal-detected finds. This sample of coinage will be evaluated with reference to regional and national patterns.

Stephen Greep : Roman Ivories from York and Brigantia in their Romano-British setting.

Ivories have recently been described as exotic and rare and are generally considered one of the luxury products of the Roman world. But just how common and how luxurious were they?  This paper examines finds of ivories from throughout the Roman period, concentrating on those from York and the north, placing them in a British and wider context.

The frequency, form, chronology and distribution of Roman ivories are discussed placing the northern finds in their British context while examining the origins of the ivories themselves. Unsurprisingly, the largest concentrations of Roman ivories are found in the cities of Britannia – York has the largest concentration in the north; but there are ivories from smaller towns, forts, villas and even a Yorkshire cave.

Ivories are found throughout the Roman period, but are never common, with under 100 find spots so far recorded – around 10% of Roman ivories appear in the north. Manufactured from elephant ivory and first appearing in Britain in pre-flavian contexts, one of the earliest examples comes from the north on hilts on two swords at South Cave. The north also has the best known ivory from Britain in the form of the York fan handles and the largest, and maybe latest piece of ivory recovered from Roman Britain in the Goodmaham plane.

Thomas J. Derrick : Containers and Culture: Perfume and medicine consumption in Roman North Yorkshire

This paper explores the archaeological evidence for the consumption of Roman perfumes, medicaments, and cosmetics in North Yorkshire. Presented and discussed here is the local evidence which fits into my wider doctoral project on the use of glass unguentaria and the consumption of unguenta and medicamenta in Roman Britain. With a reasonably held starting premise that these vessels can be used as an indicator of the consumption of their assumed contents, we can begin to greater understand the role they had in society.

The context and frequency of these vessels at sites raises a number of questions. First and foremost; who used these vessels and why? Are these small flasks just part of a site’s ‘standard assemblage’ of glass or is their presence more indicative and suggestive of a wider engagement in new behaviours? The vessels are seemingly much more common at urban sites than at rural ones, although perhaps this might be expected given that glass is often more common at these sites. Is it the case, then, that unguenta and medicamenta are neither required nor desired at rural sites and that olfactory and facial beautification only make sense within the context of urban life and social emulation? If their use is indicative of a form of acculturation, what role may women have played in this process? To what degree were the military community engaged in this behaviour and its promotion? This paper aims to present a preliminary engagement with these questions (and their relevance to North Yorks.) and to discuss approaches which can be applied to these small glass vessels in order to shed light on the spread and engagement with Roman socio-corporeal behaviours in North Yorkshire, and Britain more widely.

Matthew Fittock : Pipeclay Figurines in the Yorkshire Museum

The thirteen pipeclay figurines at Yorkshire Museum are a small but very interesting collection. Six of these come from sites in York while the other five were found during excavations of the settlement at Catterick. The group includes common deity types, such as Venus and Dea Nutrix, as well as a number of rarer types, including a bald-headed child (Risus), a large bird and a unique small, naked male. Most of these finds were discovered during late 19th and mid-20th century excavations and as such there is unfortunately very little detailed contextual information informing us about how they were used. The better recorded figurines from York are associated with the settlement’s cemeteries and this contrasts starkly with the figurines from Catterick that derive exclusively from habitation deposits. A number of additional finds from Yorkshire Archaeological Trust and existing publications will also be considered to give a more detailed impression of pipeclay figurine use and function in the region. After evaluating their iconography and distribution, this paper will conclude by contextualising the collection from Yorkshire in light of the larger assemblage of pipeclay figurines that is now known from Roman Britain.

Kurt Hunter-Mann and Sandra Garside-Neville, The Driffield Terrace cemetery, York and the Ravenglass vicus, Cumbria : the finds and the interpretation of two sites excavated by the York Archaeological Trust

This paper involves case studies of finds assemblages from two very different sites of Roman date, a cemetery at York and a vicus attached to the fort at Ravenglass on the Cumbrian coast, which were subject to different excavation strategies. The interpretation of the assemblages provokes consideration of the context of the finds, the reliability of the excavation samples and the relationship of the ‘sites’ to wider human land use.

Barbara Birley  : Scratching the surface; using artefact research to expand our understanding of Vindolanda

The Vindolanda collection expands every year with the ongoing programme of archaeological excavation and many of the recent finds have been highlighted at past Roman Finds Group meetings. But this has just been on the surface of what these objects can tell us. We have to go under that surface to begin to understand them: many artefacts have to wait for specialists to examine them and new projects and opportunities are always underway.  New scientific methods have been applied to certain finds, such as our Severan human skull found in 2001, and have shed a different light on their history. I will share this new research and I will also be highlighting other work, including information on our expansive footwear collection and use wear analysis on our recent cavalry sword. To conclude, I will share some initial thoughts on some of the objects from the 2015 excavation season.

Rebecca Griffiths : 2015 in Yorkshire: Roman Finds from the Portable Antiquities Scheme

The Portable Antiquities Scheme was established in order to record archaeological objects found by members of the public. Every year thousands of objects are discovered, primarily by metal-detector users, but also by people simply out walking or gardening, and the PAS records this information onto an online database where it is accessible to anyone who has an interest in the archaeology of England and Wales, including both academics and the general public. The vast and varied landscape of Yorkshire continues to generate a huge range of archaeological material and when these artefacts are found and recorded, their stories can be woven into the narrative of history.

From the abundant Roman coins found throughout the region to unique examples of brooches not recorded outside Yorkshire and perplexing oddities such as the mysterious dodecahedron, this presentation takes the opportunity to highlight some of the spectacular and the everyday finds which are helping to shed further light on Roman Yorkshire. It will also look at some of the ways in which the artefacts of the Romans have continued to influence the archaeology of subsequent periods.

Sonia O’Connor and Stephen Greep : Perforated bone spoons: a peculiarly Brigantian Form

Bone spoon-shaped objects with a central perforation to the bowl and sometimes a decorated terminal, were first identified as a British form by Curle in the Newstead report over 100 years ago, but their function has long remained a mystery. More recent studies have emphasized their geographical distribution which remains almost exclusively within the territory of the Brigantes, with a surprisingly large number coming from the Yorkshire caves, although they are present in towns, forts and villas as well.

The authors have conducted a new study personally examining almost every example so far known. This paper looks at the typology, chronology and distribution of the group. Zoom and wear analysis have been used to identify the type of material used and to attempt a more meaningful explanation of function.

Colin Wallace : The Duchess of Northumberland, A Fire and A Fake Excavation: Tales from the Lives of the Bartlow Hills Roman Finds.

Well-illustrated in the pages of the journal Archaeologia (25, 1834; 26, 1836; and 28, 1840), the finds from the Roman barrows at the Bartlow Hills, on the modern Cambridgeshire/Essex border – sets of glass, wood, pottery and metal vessels accompanying cremation burials (mainly) in wooden chests, under barrow-mounds – excavated in 1832, 1835, 1838 and 1840, are also reasonably well-known as being among the more notable ‘lost artefacts’ of Roman Britain, having been destroyed in a country-house fire in February 1847. Recent fieldwork has probed the landscape, structure and nature of the barrow-complex, with useful results (Eckardt et al, Archaeological Prospection 14:1, 2007, Britannia 40, 2009 and Proc Cambridge Antiquarian Society 98, 2009); here I present some material arising from a different resource assessment – one on the history of the archaeology of the Bartlow Hills – shedding light on the replication of archaeological artefacts before the advent of electrotyping, the accuracy (or otherwise) of what we think we know of the objects’ life-history since the 1830s and the social history of archaeology, whether choosing which aristocratic patron to gift a replica to or making an entire excavation up to help cope with severe embarrassment.   

Jenny Price  : Special treatment of some fourth-century glass tableware; the case of the Colliton Park bowl

A fragmentary late Roman hemispherical glass bowl with incised figured decoration showing a Bacchic scene was found in a pit during excavations at Colliton Park in Dorchester, Dorset in 1938. The bowl has been published on several occasions since then and is widely accepted as one of the finest pieces of fourth-century glass tableware from Britain.

In 2006, this bowl was included in a major exhibition held in the Yorkshire Museum to commemorate the 1700th anniversary of the proclamation of Constantine the Great  as Emperor in York on 25 July 306, and it was then recognised that it had been divided into  two pieces before being deposited in a pit. This discovery has led to a reassessment of the significance of the Colliton Park bowl, and of some other decorated late Roman glass vessels also showing evidence of deliberate separation.

David Petts : Finds from Roman Binchester

Excavations on the fort and vicus at Binchester (County Durham) has been underway every summer since 2009. This work has provided valuable insights into the development, and in particular, the final phases of activity at this important Dere Street fortification.

In the fort, we have excavated most of a cavalry barrack. This has shown activity continuing into not only the sub-Roman period, but also the later 5th century, from when we have a substantial faunal assemblage. A range of material culture has been recovered including the usual range of ceramics and metalwork. We also have some interesting features including a crudely carved figural slab seemingly embedded in the barrack floor, and an interesting early 4th century ring with Christian imagery on the intaglio. 

In the vicus, we uncovered an exceptionally well-preserved bath block, which had been infilled with a massive dump of rubbish in the mid/late 4th century. This has produced substantial assemblages of domestic material, including metalwork, glass (vessel and window) and worked bone. There is also evidence for a range of craft and industrial activities in nearby structures, including a well-preserved non-ferrous metalworking area and jet working.

This paper will take a broad overview of the range of material recovered from both areas- including looking at both the high profile finds, as well as considering a cross-section of other material. It will also address some of the key research questions and challenges that face us, as we commence post-excavation work.

Philippa Walton :  Cataloguing and analysis of the Roman ‘votive’ assemblage from Piercebridge, County Durham : An Update

As regular attendees at RFG meetings will know, over the past twenty years, more than 5,000 Roman objects have been recovered from the bed of the River Tees at Piercebridge, County Durham, by two divers. The objects include, amongst other things, jewellery, military artefacts, coinage, medical instruments and figurines and appear to represent the remains of nationally significant Romano-British votive deposit. This paper will give an update on the progress of the project and will concentrate on an investigation of items of personal adornment (brooches, bracelets, finger rings etc) and what they might be able to tell us about the identity of devotees, their motivations for making offerings of objects and actual processes of deposition