Roman Counter Culture: Game on

This week was ALL about the counters. In a range of materials and sizes and presenting a range of issues for consideration in the digitization process.

As Guy, John and I are the guinea pigs for this project, we’re reviewing each step quite carefully to refine processes and solve any problems that we come across, so we started off this week by reviewing some of the animal-bone counters that we’d looked at last week.  One in particular caused a great deal of squinting and chin-scratching.

Here’s Glynn squinting.


And here’s the reverse face of the counter in question. What can you see?


How about now?


There was a bit of discussion about scratch marks on counters and what they might signify. Is it deliberate? A maker’s or owner’s mark for example. Is is use wear? Just scratches caused by pushing the counter around on a stone board. How on earth can we tell?

It has been suggested that there may be an inscribed ‘X’ on the counter in the image above but, to be honest, I’m not that convinced. It’s really very faint and only barely an ‘x’ at all. I’ve actually enhanced the images to try to show up the scratches a bit more so it’s even fainter than it looks in the images. I can’t help thinking that if it was deliberate it would be a bit more obvious, so I’d go with use wear as the cause. What do you think?

I’ve made this judgement call on the basis of scant data. Really just by looking at the single counter and going “hmmm”, which is where these digitisation projects come into their own. Making far more of this kind of data available in an easily accessible and comparable format will put researchers in a far better position to compare examples and draw out any patterns.

Moving on from examples made from animal bone, this week I had several glass counters. They vary in size but they are basically all made the same way: by dropping a blob of molten glass onto a flat(-ish ) surface and leaving it to set.

Many of the examples of these that have been found in London are opaque black or white, but the first one that I had out of the box was actually bottle green translucent glass.


In the scan, and to the eye when not holding it up to the light, it  looks much darker; almost black. We’re going to try some experiments with lighting to see if we can show up the colours better and to define the edges more clearly, but for the moment, they do come out quite well.

The scans often show up very subtle features on the artefacts, but a side-effect of this sensitivity is that sometimes a scanner-bed that looks pretty clean to the eye ends up looking like the milky-way in the scanned image.


Don’t worry. I didn’t use this image. It was just too mucky. Some judicious screen-cleaning improved it enormously.

The last three counters of the afternoon were of a type that is made from the recycled bases of pots.

Now we had some discussion about these too, as they throw up a pretty fundamental question: are these actually gaming counters? I mean, for a start, they’re much bigger than other types of counters. This doesn’t necessarily discount them of course. They could have been used to play a specific game that required larger counters. We also know that recycled pot bases could be used for other things; for example, as stoppers or bungs for barrels,  jars or amphorae, as pot lids, as trivets, lots of things. So how can we be sure that these were actually used as counters?

Well unless they have been found in an unequivocally game-y environment – laid out on a board, as a set, with symbols scratched in them etc, we can’t. Another judgement call situation, but one which is often made at the actual excavation site. Again, our role with this project is to record and make available this data. If they are subsequently discounted as counters, that’s fine.*


Guy did also have this stone counter which posed the alarmingly obvious question: is it a stone counter or just  a stone?


Again, the original context helps with that judgement call.

So all in all, we had a good day and worked through a lot of issues. We even came up with a couple of good hacks in the digitization process, which remove a couple of steps, so we’ll pass those on when we pass on the baton to our successors.


* There has also been a suggestion made that these ceramic discs were used as toilet paper. It was in the British Medical Journal, but it sounds a bit odd to me. I’m not sure that I’d want to wipe my bum with them.

Sorry, the link is to the Daily Fail so this could all be absolute rubbish. Don’t click on it if you don’t want to.

Roman Counter Culture: Welcome to the Pleasuredome

I’ve just started working on the latest LAARC archiving project and I’m very excited about it. A new flexible working policy at my work has allowed me to escape the rat race one day a week and enter the seedy underbelly of Roman gambling dens (in my mind!).


Anyway, this project follows on from the excellent Roman bone hairpins digitization  project, carried out as part of its wider Collections Online project. Now it’s Roman gaming equipment and (award winning) Glynn has drafted in MOLA’s small-finds specialist Michael Marshall to develop a set of protocols for us to use (thanks Michael :D ). I’m joining LAARC usually-suspects Guy and John for the next few weeks as guinea pigs on this pilot project, and we’re working on the range of, mainly, bone, ceramic and glass counters and dice held at the LAARC, all recovered from digs in London.


We start off looking at the range of artefacts that exist for gaming; counters, different kinds of dice and dice shakers, gaming boards, knucklebones and others. Gaming in Roman London is especially well-represented by counters and dice but these wouldn’t all have been associated with ‘a sucker a minute’ gambling, there were also less exploitative pastimes like board games as well.

There artefacts raise a number of questions about Roman pastimes many of which fall under the general heading of “how were they actually used?” Here’s Michael’s example: you walk into a room and you see a board laid out on a table. The board is divided up into squares of equal size, coloured in alternating colours and on it are laid out, what appear to be, sets of gaming pieces. So far so good. But how do we know what game is actually represented by the board and pieces? The rules, tactics, variations? How do you win the game? What about changes to the game? Has it changed over time? Has it been standardised, have the rules and/or the gaming pieces become more formulaic?

There are also questions about the artefacts themselves. Questions such as, is it even a gaming counter? How do we know? Is it actually Roman? When is a stone not a stone?


A stone counter, or a stone?

Now, this 8 week (one day a week) project can’t hope to answer all these questions but we can at least make a start on some of them and with more and more of the collections being made available online, some other clever people might be able to work out some of the answers too.

So after spending much of the morning discussion tactics, we made a start on digitising and creating records for individual artefacts. We started on counters because dice seemed like too much of a leap into the unknown (I’ll explain why later…much later).

P1270727Home from home.

Now although we had Michaels’ protocols, the infinite nuances in each piece still resulted in a great deal of discussion of which edge type was represented, how to describe irregularities, chamfered-v-bevelled, top, bottom, front, back, obverse, reverse aaaaarrrrrggggghhhhh :/ and that’s before we even get onto the fiendishness of actually scanning the objects. We suffered from a lot of light pollution on the scanners which necessitated some creative solutions involving black plastazote. We were scanning the top/front – the obverse and the back/bottom – the reverse so there was also the knotty problem of which way to flip. I bet you never even knew such problems existed.


Some counters look like this (above)

It’s worth the effort though, as they come out really well. Below is, more or less, how they’ll look online (the final image doesn’t have the grid-lines on it and it shows both faces, rather than just the obverse, but you can see how well the actual image comes out).


We also discussed, at length, the utter fiendishness of dice. I’m not going to go into all of the hideous complications here, as it will just upset you (and me), but when we start on the digitization of these tricky little characters, I’ll  try to explain it. Suffice it to say, they have 6 faces. 6 8O


More next time.

Look Back in Angers


Angers, medieval Anjou, sits at the centre of the French department of Maine-et-Loire, just south of the meeting point of the Rivers Mayenne, Loir and Sarthe, which together form the River Maine.

First mentioned by Ptolemy in his Geography (150CE), the city appears on the Peutinger map (Tabula Peutingeriana) under the name of Iuliomago (Juliomagus), as in the image above.

The city was at the centre of the Angevin Empire, ruled over by the Plantagenet Kings of England, who includes Richard the Lionheart and Henry II. In the late 12th century this empire included England and most of Ireland and stretched as far as the Pyrenees.


I rocked up there on a Loop-related visit but, as always, I wanted to see what other non-Loop-related sights there were to be seen. And I found plenty. For anyone visiting Angers one site on the list must be the castle; The Château du Roi René.


The castle was originally founded in the 9th century, but much of the fortress that is visible today dates to the 13th Century. It was begun in the 1230s, but takes its name from Duke René d’Anjou, aka René of Naples (1409-1480). It’s one of the best preserved medieval fortresses in France and has 17 towers of banded black and white stone. The moat, never water-filled but used for growing food, is now planted with parterre gardens, very French.


I more or less followed the route mapped out in the guide as this took me all the best bits, including a walk around the battlements,


the  chapel


and the gallery housing the marvellous Apolcalypse Tapestry.


At 103 metres long and 4.5 metres wide, the tapestry is the largest woven work to survive from the medieval period. It depicts the end of the world, based on the visions of St. John (The Book of Revelations), as seen through the eyes of 14th century France, the time of the Hundred Years War, with scenes of war, plague and famine.

The tapestry suffered during the 18th and 19th centuries but was painstakingly reassembled and restored in the mid-19th century by Canon Joubert and returned to the château d’Angers in 1954. The lighting level in the gallery is very low in order to protect the tapestry from further light damage.

Being a medieval town, Angers has a number of impressive religious buildings.


The Cathédrale Saint Maurice is particularly well situated and contains a rather fine pipe organ. This one was built in 1617 by the organ maker Jacques Girardet, although there were earlier organs in the cathedral.



Another site originally associated with a religious order is the 12th Century Hôpital Saint-Jean. This building consists of a large vaulted hall, the Salle des Malades (the sick ward) in Angevin gothic style (referred to as ‘Gothique Plantagenêt’), cloisters and gardens.


Since 1967 it has housed Le Chant du Monde (The Song of the World) tapestry by Jean Lurçat (1957-1966). This cycle of 10 tapestries echoes the Apocalypse Tapestry at the Chateau. taking as its starting point, the Hiroshima bombing. There were no photos allowed inside, but I also had a good look round the gardens as there are numerous fragments and architectural elements, some clearly ancient, which have been incorporated into the scheme.



Housed in the late-15th century Logis Barrault, the house of former mayor of Angers and King’s Treasurer Olivier Barrault is the Musée des Beaux-arts. Alongside the collection of fine art, paintings and sculpture, from the 14th -19th centuries, this museum also boasts an impressive archaeological collection with artefacts found in Angers and the surrounding area dating from the Neolithic to the present day.

Some highlights include, from the Roman period, this lovely fragment of geometric mosaic


these pipe-clay animal (cat?) figurines


this marvellous stone lion


and this super-sharp aphora stamp


Merovingian and Carolingian goodies include this beautiful 9th century glassware

this gorgeous 12th century bronze dore (ormolu) decorative element


this 12th century carved ivory hunting horn (olifant)


(detail) 20140919_153338

and this beautiful late 13th century death mask. This has been identified as the likeness of the wife of Herbert Lanier, a member of an important Angevin family


There was also a small exhibition of artworks looted from Jewish families and ‘acquired’ by the Nazis during the second world war. These works are some of the ~2000 works whose rightful owners have still not been traced but which are now held temporarily by the French state (via a number of museums and other institutions) under the Musées Nationaux Récupération programme.


It was interesting to read some of the stories of the theft, sale and recovery of these pieces. The aim of this, and other similar exhibitions, is to raise awareness of the existence of these pieces with the hope that, eventually, the rightful owner can be found and the pieces restored to them.

Anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with medieval sites will have noticed that the medieval mind seems to have consisted of a constant battle between the sublime and the ridiculous. And so I end this post with medieval mooning.


Maison d’Adam, now La maison des artisans, is, apparently the oldest extant house in Angers, built c. 1500. This half-timbered house is an example of medieval sculptured mayhem with courting couples…


mythological and fantastical subjects

P1260583 P1260582



odd people being random

P1260580 P1260593

and the oddest of them all…


Honestly, I think it best not to enquire.



 * for more about another Angers site, Collégiale Saint-Martin, see my previous post-

And for Loop –

Collégiale Saint-Martin

While in Angers, there were several places that I was keen to visit so, on Sunday morning, bleary-eyed from the Loop-tastic night before, I took myself off to an ancient church called Collégiale Saint-Martin.


This is one of the many interesting historical buildings to be found in Angers. The earliest evidence for this church dates to the Merovingian period (which immediately followed the Roman period), in the 5th and 6th centuries CE, and the building was altered, rebuilt and extended a number of times between the 7th and the 15th centuries.



The site has been beautifully restored and is now used as an arts and exhibition space. The current exhibition, fortuitously opening the day after I arrived in Angers, is called “De Vibrations en Résonances – Instruments d’hier et lutherie d’aujourd’hui”. This is an exhibition of musical instruments, mainly stringed ones, but also some others, dating from the 17th century to the present day. These have been drawn from private collections so are not normally accessible to the public.


I love the violins made from tin cans and clogs

P1270211  P1270213

And the dragon bassoon

P1270204 P1270203

And the beautifully intricate fretwork on this guitar


The church is also an absolute treasure trove of archaeology. A number of extensive and well-documented excavations have taken place at the site and a good amount of the in-situ archaeology is preserved and displayed, complete with information panels in French and English.

It was possible to visit the crypt to see some of the extant archaeology.


I’m attaching this detailed plan of the archaeology of the site, which shows known phases of construction in relation to the structure as it is today.

Collegiale Saint-Martin*

Amongst the jumble of stonework, it’s possible to pick out the wall lines of earlier churches, the remains of pits for casting bells and various floor surfaces. The area of the church was also used extensively as a burial site and there are scores of limestone sarcophagi and  slate coffins, dating from the Merovingian period (5th – 8th centuries, some in-situ.

 P1270303  P1270258




I had a bit of a scout about down in the crypt because I understood that a small section of the Roman road which ran north-south through the town (Juliomagus) was still extant. Sure enough…


Ok, it may not look like much but this photo contains about 900 years worth of in-situ archaeology (1st century CE Roman road; the foundation of a 6th century church immediately on top of the road, centre and right; the foundation of a Carolingian (10th century) church immediately on top of the road, left)  :D

I have to declare this one of the most interesting and best presented sites that I visited in Angers. And that is against pretty stiff competition because there are lots of very good sites in Angers. Looks like I saved the best to last.


“You can dance if you want to, but if you’re gonna bump into your neighbour then, er, you know….”*

Bump, bump.

20140919_144222  It’s Loop, but not as we knew it.

Ok, I’ve just got back from France where I went, as a birthday treat to myself, to check out the new Loop line-up :D . This was at the Levitation Festival** in Angers (Anjou), organised by Austin Psych Fest. I saw some other good bands too (and some absolute donkeys), but this is all about Loop.

New Loop? Regular readers (seriously, are there any? Well, Badger maybe, but anyone else? Ho hum) will have noticed that I have a bit of a penchant for the music and extreme volume of Loop. The earlier Loop (indeed, earlier Loops, plural), was, and is, very special to me but this is one of those moments when there’s a switch. The Gilded Eternity Loop of Hampson, Dowson, Mackay and Wills is officially no more and there’s a whole new Loop of Hampson, Boyd, Morgan and Maskell***.


The set list went (please forgive me if I’ve got any of these wrong. I’ve got a memory like a sieve) Soundhead; The Nail Will Burn; Pulse; Straight to Your Heart; Fade Out; Collision (cue furious moshing from the crowd); Arc Lite (continued furious moshing); Forever; Vapour; Burning World (cue furious snogging from the sweethearts in front of me ).  No newies I’m afraid. We’ll just have to wait for those.

I think that I should stress here that what follows is observation, not judgement.

It’s difficult to resist the urge to compare, especially as they were playing old Loop songs, but I can really hear the differences. When you’ve been listening to particular songs for 25 years you get to know every beat and strum. Hugo’s bass-playing is pretty different to Neil’s, so I could really hear the differences there, especially on Burning World (again, not a criticism, just an observation. There’s no reason why Hugo should sound like Neil.). And of course Wayne’s drumming is quite different to John’s, but Wayne has been playing with Loop for a few months now, so he’s already a familiar part of this musical landscape. With new material these differences in style won’t be so apparent, so all the more reason for new Loop songs :D Newie-newness please :D (I don’t want much, do I?). Oh, and Dan’s guitar was way too quiet. Seriously, TURN IT UP!

Angers 2

Now the judgement…

So, were they any good?

Well, yes actually.

They did start off sounding a bit tentative. I’d be very surprised if they weren’t all feeling a bit apprehensive as this headline slot is their first ever gig together (as far as I’m aware there were no warm-ups, no low key pre-festival gigs. Talk about deep ends!). They did seem to settle in really quickly though and it actually felt like they’d relaxed. I guess that the whole run-up must be pretty nerve-wracking but once you’re actually playing, you just get into it. Dan’s guitar was too quiet and the whole thing could have been louder.  I should fess up here though. I like the volume to be absolutely skull-shattering, so it probably was quite loud. Just not loud enough for me. Basically, if I can hear myself think afterwards, it wasn’t loud enough. But they did gel and that’s pretty good going, to sound so together right off the bat.

1011683_10152275590801436_1416266155846454296_n (1)

The crowd was really responsive and there was a bit of a mosh-pit, stagediving, crowd-surfing and all that. This was quite hilarious to me, as most of my back-in-the-day experiences of Loop involved getting kicked in the head by stagedivers. That hasn’t happened in a while so I came over all nostalgic :lol: You could tell that Robert is all grown up now because he told people to be careful rather than just letting them go ahead and half kill each other :) .


When he introduced Straight to Your Heart Robert said that it was for anyone who had seen them play in Paris a few months ago. I saw them play in Paris a few months ago so you know what?  I’m owning that one :D


So I hope that they enjoyed the gig and that they want to keep on with Loop.  They do have at least another couple of gigs scheduled for November in the Netherlands (which I can’t go to :( ) but I hope that there’ll be more. And new material too. It is worth it and it’ll mean that we have a whole new band to love.

Long Live Loop.



* ” – I’ve just HAD to Anglicize the spelling. I can’t bear the absence of ‘u’s.


*** That’s Robert Hampson – Mr Loop; Dan Boyd – Brightonian and arch Loop fan; Hugo Morgan- better known as the bass player from The Heads; and Wayne Maskell – The Heads’ drummer and, latterly, Loop’s very own Animal.

I did lots of other, non-Loop, things in Angers, and I even found some Roman stuff, so if you have any interest at all in non-Loop Angers, look out for that.

Power to the people.

More groovy music, this time at Baba Yaga’s Hut’s Raw Power Weekender.


Baba Yaga’s Hut have put on a stonking weekend of fun. I’m only here for the day, not the whole weekend, but there’s a whole load of bands about whom I know nothing, and a few of whom I’m aware and would like to see, and one in particular that I really want to see (again). This is not a bad mix; something old, something new… etc.

The main bands I actually got to see were (a bit of) Terminal Cheesecake – something old. The popular choice, natch.


 Something new (to me), Gum Takes Tooth – Drums and synth, quite dark, crowdsurfer-inspiring.


Something else new (to me), AKDK, who shall hereafter be known as Okie Dokie – Two band members, two drummers, two synths. Top fun.


Something with a lot of hair, Bo Ningen –  Much less squeaky live than they sounded on record. This is a great relief. They’re pretty good actually. Quite theatrical.


and something shouty, Girl Band – Shouty wins it. Obviously.

Girl Band


If you like shouting, you’ll like Girl Band.

I like shouting, so I think they’re great. They’re great on recordings (you can hear some of their music on their Bandcamp page), but live they’re amazing. The lead singer Dara Kiely shuffles about on stage like a nervous schoolboy about to give his first recital in front of his Mum and several aunts…and then he opens his gob. He goes from 0 to shouty in about 0.0006 seconds. Combine that with ground-glass guitar,  machine-gun drums and cough-mixture bass playing and you’ve got Girl Band.


Various reviews have picked up on touches of other bands/music about them; Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Daft Punk, Mark E. Smith, Sub Pop circa 1988, “Stephen Malkmus suffering an existential crisis in the midst of studying for his mid-terms as a death-disco revival party rages in the dorm room next door“. I get the odd sprinkling of the Happy Flowers, especially live, but they don’t actually sound like any of these. It’s more the overall effect that you get. They’re punk, post punk, noise, pop and dance, all chewed up and spat back in our faces.

Sample lyrics include “petits pois, petits pois, petits pois, petits pois, petits pois”, “nutella, nutella, nutella, nutella, nutella” and somewhat less/more cryptic, “He starts every sentence with “I know I’m not a racist but…” “. Deep, no?


The crowd for this gig started off pretty small, mainly because Terminal Cheesecake were still on upstairs, but it soon filled up and became downright rawkus. They were even heckling Barry. Poor Barry.

Oh yeah, and there are no girls in Girl Band. Only boys.


Pip pip

The slithy toves

Ah, ATP doing it for to the kids, once again. Booking and promoting a mega one day London festival called Jabberwocky, then…oh no!… divers alarums.


So are ATP and Dash Tickets Slithy Toves? Lets examine the evidence.

  • Slithy: Humpty Dumpty says: ” ‘Slithy’ means ‘lithe and slimy’. ‘Lithe’ is the same as ‘active’. You see it’s like a portmanteau, there are two meanings packed up into one word.” The original in MischMasch notes that ‘slithy’ means “smooth and active”. The i is long, as in writhe.*

Well ATP has been pretty lithe, cancelling the Jabberwocky festival a mere 72 hours before it was due to kick off, saying that it was due to poor ticket sales after claiming, just a few days ago, that there were only 200 tickets left.

And they’re both being pretty slimy about refunds. ATP is insisting that refunds will be made at the point of purchase, for many people this is Dash Tickets, ATP’s preferred/linked? provider. Dash are saying, “no, no, not us Guv” and pointing to the Ts & Cs, insisting that they’re just a portal through which money has flowed to ATP. They’re like a couple of eels, the pair of them.

  • Tove: Humpty Dumpty says ” ‘Toves’ are something like badgers, they’re something like lizards, and they’re something like corkscrews. [...] Also they make their nests under sun-dials, also they live on cheese.” Pronounced so as to rhyme with groves. They “gyre and gimble,” i.e. rotate and bore.*

Hmm, well I like badgers. And I like lizards too so, as right now I like neither ATP nor Dash, that doesn’t seem to fit very well. Nests under sun-dials? Cheese? None the wiser. But the corkscrew bit works. These companies are both trying to twist the facts to suit their own narratives. Not working chaps. And yeah, rotating and boring. That kinda fits too.

Based on the available evidence I’d say that yes, ATP and Dash Tickets are indeed Slithy Toves (badgers and lizards notwithstanding).

Naughty people, NAUGHTY (wags finger at them disapprovingly)

Don’t know what the hell I’m going on about? See here:–a-fans-frustration It probably won’t help at all, but it’s a fun read.


If it hadn’t been for ATP, Loop would never have got back together, so they have a little stash of get out of jail free cards with me. Take note though ATP, this is a written warning.


Dash Tickets hadn’t worked their probationary period yet, so they’re sacked.