The ancient dead speak

Last weekend, me and my fellow explorer Craig, visited an exhibition that we’ve been looking forward to for a while. At the Museum of London Docklands, ‘Roman Dead‘.

This exhibition tells the stories of some of the people of Roman London, as seen through the evidence of their mortal remains, and of the funerary practices and methods of commemoration used by Roman Londoners. Literary evidence tells us that the ancient burial grounds of Londinium began to be discovered at least as early as the 1570s as John Stowe writes, in his A Survey of London in 1598, that as the ground around Spitalfields was being broken up for clay, the workers discovered cinerary urns (pots used to hold the ashes of people who were cremated), the cremated  bones and other remains of earlier Londoners.

This burial group, dating to 60-200CE, was found at Bishopsgate. The large glass jar would have held the cremated remains (in the tray in front), with a samian cup used as a lid.

The smaller glass jars may have been used to hold oils and perfumes used in the funerary rites or offerings to the gods.

I was interested to see the map of known burial grounds around Londinium (in red), particularly the two on the Southwark islands.

The burial grounds were situated just outside the city limits to avoid the pollution of the living by the dead and archaeologists have unearthed evidence of a wide range of funerary practices carried out by the people of London. The exhibitions includes evidence of cremations and inhumations (burials), a range of grave goods, buried with the deceased, and evidence of some more unusual practices. For example, the skeletal remains of a woman whose skull was removed, after death and possibly much later, after the body had decomposed, and placed on top of her pelvis.

As it is today, so it was in Roman London. We see people from all over the Roman world; from Britain and all parts of mainland Europe, the Middle-East and North Africa, and they all came to, or travelled through Londinium. Some of them died here. Some of these different funerary practices may have been influenced by people’s different areas of origin, by changing tastes and even by changing religions, but some perhaps also by the desire to ‘do what Granddad would have wanted’, possibly harking back to older tribal or cultural traditions not current in Roman Britain but which, in the face of death, felt to surviving family members or friends like the right thing to do.

The objects in the exhibition work around the people in the exhibition. Well, the remains of the people anyway. As well as cremated remains, on display are the skeletal remains of 28 individuals. With funerary collections, I particularly like to see the whole assemblege, or as much as possible of it, displayed together, if possible reassembled as it was in the ground. I think that seeing all of the objects together with the remains can tell us something about the people themselves, but also about their loved ones, their friends, the people who arranged and carried out the funeral rites. We can’t see the remains exactly as those people saw them at the point of burial, but it’s the closest that we can get.

So here are a few of the grave goods found:

The centrepiece of exhibition is this well preserved stone sarcophagus found last year near Harper Road in Southwark.

Stone sarcophagi are rare in London, this is only the third one found, so it’s a big deal. Most people buried in Roman London would have been buried in wooden caskets or possibly just laid in the ground wrapped in a shroud, so the lady interred here, and her family, must have been quite wealthy to be able to afford such a burial. This is the first time that the sarcophagus has been shown and I was struck by how big it is. It’s not overly wide, but it did look really long.

In the accompanying film archaeologists, conservation experts and one of the curators talk us through the discovery, recovery, investigation and conservation of the sarcophagus. When it was discovered, the archaeologists could see that it was badly cracked so it wasn’t excavated onsite. Instead a wooden frame was constructed around it, holding it firmly together and allowing it to be lifted out of the ground by crane, still filled with earth that had accumulated in it, and taken to the lab to be excavated in more controlled conditions. The breaks int he stone are very visible, even after conservation.

In the lab the remains of the occupant and a few fragments of the grave goods were found, already disturbed by grave robbers. There’s no way to know all of the objects that the lady was buried with, but the few pieces that remain include an engraved intaglio, probably from a finger-ring, and a tiny fragment of gold, possibly the remains of an earring.

The object that I think amazed me the most was this:

It may not look like much at first, just a rough plank of wood. And so it is, but it has been reused as the base of a wooden coffin. Close inspection reveals some marks left on the wood. The imprints left by the body.

The marks left by the knees.

And by the ribs.

This, for me, was the object that really made me go “Wow!”. The dead really do leave a lasting impression.

The Roman Dead exhibition is at Museum of London Docklands until 28th October 2018 and it’s free to visit. Yes! Free!

 

 

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Blast into the future

Last weekend saw three days of loud. Three days of bands playing loud. I like bands playing loud so, obviously, I was there.

My travelling companions on this trip were Ellen, Rob and Simon, who had descended on The Smoke for the occasion, and also Jeremy on the Saturday. Over the course of the weekend I saw a whole range of bands but it was impossible to see everyone so I’m just going to focus on a few of my favourites who, for me, really stood out (n.b. other favourites are available but these were mine).

I started the weekend wishing that I’d arrived just a little earlier, as I only caught the last song from Flowers must Die and it sounded great; funky and bouncy is a good way to get things started. They were swiftly followed by Julie’s Haircut who played a cracking set with a little bit of jazzy sax and a lot of krauty-rock.

I spent all day Saturday at an archaeology conference (which was very very good BTW. See #lamas18 for some tweetage) and then sprinted over to The Garage straight afterwards to wreck my hearing. Unfortunately I’d missed Temple Ov BBV and Mamuthones and, just to make it worse, my friends were all raving about them. 😦

Gnoomes, from Russia, reminded me of 1990. They’re that shoegazey moment before it went all fey and a bit too shimmery-dreampop. There was something about them that reminded me of The Pale Saints, although they don’t actually sound like The Pale Saints. They’re definitely the pop end of the weekend and I liked them. I liked them enough to go and see them again a couple of days later.

I’ve seen Housewives once before … maybe I should qualify that statement as they played in pitch blackness so I couldn’t actually see them, but I heard them all right. From that first hearing my general impression of them was that they were a band that plays on the intensity of the experience. Mainly confusion. This time they played in the light, all dressed in white with bold colourblock back projections.

Tricky time signatures were a strong feature of the set, so not the most obviously poppy sing-a-long but nevertheless pretty dancey but also intriguing. The thing I think I found the most disconcerting on this viewing, was that the bass player looked, and danced, like he was in Haircut 100.

I like Hey Colossus but they’re a band that I don’t seem to see very often. I like how heavy but funky they are and they do have some cracking tunes. Seriously, ‘March of the Headaches’ is such fun 😀 . They didn’t play it on this outing but they did play a seriously good set. Very intense, heavy and relentless but they’re also a band that you can really dance to. I really like ‘Back in the Room’ which is on the newest album Guillotine – “3,2,1 you’re back in the rooooom”. More of this please.

Unfortunately Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs had had to cancel due to a family medical emergency. We all hope everything is OK and look forward to seeing them again in the future (they’re playing at Raw Power. Go to that!).

A lovely chilled out Sunday afternoon? Don’t be silly.

I made sure that I got down to The Garage fairly early to catch the great bands playing in the afternoon, starting with Bonnacons of Doom. Honestly, the afternoon couldn’t have had a better start.

A bit of theatre with shadowy figures dressed in robes and reflective disk masks, some great music and a fantastic front-woman (Kate?), throwing all manner of shapes and blending her vocals in with the other instruments, mostly sounds rather than words. And a gong!

I’d really been wanting to see Kuro, as I’ve managed to miss them a couple of times, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. In fact I’d say that they were way more than I’d expected. I’m not exactly sure what I’d expected but this was more. This is classical music for doomheads. Kuro team a deep electric bass (Gareth) with violin tracery, screams, squalls and snippets of melody (Agathe), building a big, dense soundscape / soundtrack which draws us all into its reality. It sounds like either the creation or the destruction of worlds. Take your pick.

We’re also treated to the spectacle of Gareth on hurdy-gurdy! It’s not often you see someone whip out a hurdy-gurdy at a gig. I mean, it does happen (c.f. France) but not that often so it brings a touch of “ooh, look at that” to the proceedings. Great stuff.

Anthroprophh feature Paul Allen out of The Heads (seriously, why the hell weren’t The Heads playing!!!?), Gareth out of Kuro back again, and wonder-drummer Jesse Webb.

Paul Allen’s rock guitar wig-outs and wailing vocals are held firmly in place by the absolutely monstrous rhythm section. This is probably the best rhythm section this side of anywhere. The last time I saw Anthroprophh, Paul ended up with his trousers half way down his legs. I don’t know how that happened but I was interested in seeing if this was a regular occurrence, or just a one-off special. Turns out it was a one-off special. Clothes stayed firmly on, which meant no undue distractions from the absolute onslaught of choons 😀.

Closing out the weekend was Gnod. Rob’s new favourite T-shirt band.

Gnod don’t do things by half, they do things by double.  Twin basses bring an extra helping of heavy to go with the loud.

They’re great for fans of repetition (me) that builds and builds to a veritable avalanche (also me). I felt compelled to go and find my own little space so that I could just dance on my own. Just me and a bloody big racket. The final song of the set, a ~20 minute long juggernaut left everyone a little dazed but happy :D.

A word about the weekend’s visuals. That word is stonking. Designed by John O’Carroll from Rocket and Sam Wiehl of Liverpool Psych Fest fame, each band’s sound and scene was expressed by their own background visuals and lighting and that really added to the overall feeling of this being a special event. Not run-of-the-mill.

This blog is generally quite lightweight and easy going so I don’t want to suddenly get all ‘gender politics heavy’ on you but I will say that it was nice to see such strong representation from the female contingent of the ‘Loud’n’Heavy’ community. These types of events can, and in the past certainly did, end up being total sausage fests but Rocket Recordings is definitely not pushing the women aside. I’m not talking about absolute gender parity here, we go where the music takes us, but I can’t help noting how good it is so see a few more ‘girls to the front’. Nice one Rocket.

And I can’t finish this post without mentioning the merch stall. Merch stall? Merch room actually. With an ever-changing selection of goodies, this proved fatal to any sense of fiscal restraint. I’m happy with my purchases but I’m not buying anything else this month!*

Thanks to everyone at Rocket Recordings, all the bands and everyone else who chipped in a little or a lot to make this an amazing weekend. We all limped home a little bit broken but happy.

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*Except that Rocket has just sent out an email notification of a new release by Gnod. Damn you Rocket *shakes fist*.

The fat of the land

No, this post isn’t about the Prodigy, it’s about muck.

In 2017 a monstrous fiend was discovered lurking in the sewers beneath the streets of Whitechapel. The ghost of Jack the Ripper? No. The FATBERG *screams*

Sewers are good, and necessary, and help to reduce outbreaks of cholera in heavily populated areas like London. Sewers are also a bit smelly and dirty and full of things we never wanted to see again.

The term ‘fatberg’ was first used by London sewer workers to describe the accumulations of oil and grease and ‘stuff’ that build up in sewers, and which have to be cleared out regularly  in order to keep the channels flowing. It’s a real word now because it entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 2015 but in September 2017, the mother of all fatbergs was found in the Whitechapel sewer.

It was big. Weighing ~130 tonnes and stretching along the sewer for over 250 metres, so it had to go. The difficulty was its sheer mass and solidity. The usual method of removal is to blast it with jets of water to break it up, and then suck it out through pipes into tankers for disposal. Unfortunately, the Whitechapel Fatberg was, in places, so rock solid that blasting it with jets of water couldn’t break it up, so the only alternative was for the sewer workers to hack it to pieces with  picks and hand-shovels. Over the course of nine weeks, eight waste engineers, working nine hours a day rid the sewer of the fatberg.

The workers had to wear protective clothing and masks in order to avoid being poisoned by the toxic waste or infected with diseases, which can be breathed in or even absorbed into your system through your skin.

Even though they were only handling a small sample, the conservators at the Museum were also kitted out with similar protective gear. During the process of preservation mould grew on the samples and flies hatched out of them. The samples were x-rayed to see what was inside (and to check for hazards like sharps), then they were dried out, reducing the risk of contamination, and enclosed in three boxes, one inside another inside another. They are now displayed in sealed units.  That Fatberg bites.

And here it is.

I was initially (madly) expecting the chunks to be huge, sofa-sized pieces but, having seen what was involved in preserving them and the hazards they posed, I can see why that could never be.

So why on earth has such a piece of grimness ended up on display in a museum?

Well, the Whitechapel Fatberg’s ‘celebrity’ presented the Museum of London, and the ‘Curator of Fatberg!’, Vyki Sparkes,  with an opportunity to tell the story of something that is common and everyday in our city, as in all cities, waste. The enormous volume of waste generated by a big city is a constant problem that has to be monitored and managed but which we don’t all necessarily consider very often. Putting a piece of it in the museum that tells the story of London helps us to consider it. On display, we’re only seeing a tiny piece of a huge problem but it’s a way to have the conversation about how we can all help to reduce that problem, just a little bit.

We can all think about what we’re flushing down the loo. Flushable wet wipes may be marketed as easy to dispose of, but they don’t biodegrade so flushing them is just shifting the problem to somewhere else. The Fatberg, as it’s name suggests, is made up of a base of fat; oil, cooking fat and fats found in product such as hair conditioner. Some of this, at least, doesn’t have to end up down the drain. We can all make decisions about how we dispose of our waste and also make decisions about what we purchase and how that can help to reduce waste a bit.

You can read about the rationale and process for bringing the Fatberg to the museum on the museum’s own blog.

The good news is that the fat content of the fatberg is actually recyclable. It can be recycled and reused as biodiesel fuel, powering the buses. Other elements have been recycled to make fertilizer.

The Fatberg has just gone on display at The Museum of London and will be there to visit, for free, until the 1st July as part of the ‘City Now City Future’ season.

 

p.s. Is that a Double-Decker wrapper sticking out of the Fatberg?

 

2017 and all that

Some of you, if you are Facebookies, may have been inundated with ‘Year in Review’ videos which are, frankly, rubbish. Facebook is crap at picking the images that tell the story of your year and always end up with old, reposted pictures, your ex who just dumped you or that one from where you saw an old mattress dumped in the street. The only way to do it is to chose your own images and tell it your own way. So here’s mine.

Around the world

In 2017 I’ve mostly been interested in Northern Europe. I don’t know why, but that’s just the way it was. So, here’s a whistlestop tour through my whistlestop tours.

Boom!! Cologne

Bang!! Paris

Wowee!! Rome, with The Couple Formerly Known As Trowelsworthy (TCFKAT).

Kablammo!! Orvieto

  

Crash!! Mainz

 

Kapow!! Bad Durkheim

Badabing!! Frankfurt

Bazinga!! Bavay

Wow!! Paris (again). Thanks for the cheapo tickets Eurostar.

Bang!! Senlis

Crash!! Leiden

 

Whoopee!! Amsterdam

Other places are available.

Tourists at home

It’s fantastic to visit far, or not so far away places, but home is best and being a tourist in your own home is great fun. On many of my touristic days out, Craig has been my travelling companion but I started the year, in traditional style, at the Twelfth Night celebrations on Bankside.

Then nose-hunting with Craig

And I also visited the London Lumiere with Pete and Dayna.

Me and Craig went to Freemason’s Hall.

And to the ‘Glad to be Gay: the struggle for legal equality’ exhibition at LSE. This celebrated 50 year since the decriminalization of homosexuality in Britain.

The City of London Police Museum.

 

We went to Banqueting House for ‘Long Live Queen James’, an evening exploring LGBT stories from the court of King James I/VI.

And we had a poke around the restoration works at Ally Pally.

 

The Supreme Court, with Jeremy

I went to Highgate Cemetery with Sacha and Stuart.

And with Craig and Jeremy to the London Transport Museum.

(“Exchange stations shewn thus”)

Plus loads more. Seriously, London is very cool. Go and look at it.

Moosic, moosic, moosic

There have been some stonking gigs this year. This isn’t all of them, but it is some of them. How many can you name?*

 

Random Romans

There are always more Romans about, so I went to have a look for some. I popped up for a quick visit to Newcastle and Carlisle to see some of the Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibitions.

 

I went to Hull! I’ve never been to Hull before but they have a fantastic Roman mosaic collection so I decided to make the effort and go and have a look. Well worth it.

I managed a couple of short trips up to Glasgow and Edinburgh, taking in Bothwellhaugh Roman bathhouse in Strathclyde Country Park with Ellen and Simon,

 

the bathouse and Antonine Wall remains at Bearsden,

and finally made it to Eagle Rock at Cramond.

 

Back in town, the eagerly awaited opening of the London Mithraeum didn’t disappoint.

When I was in Germany, I popped down to Speyer to see the Roman Collection at  Das Historische Museum der Pfalz (The Historical Museum of the Palatinate).

What else? What else? Volunteering on a schools’ project at the Museum of London’s Archaeological Archive (Me! Working with children!!), and I spent half the year working at Tower Bridge (actual paid employment!). This is surely enough to pack into 12 short months.

So that’s 2017 from me, and from my boys, Archie and Bertie. I hope you’ve had a good year and roll on 2018.

 

Oh, and here’s that one from where I saw an old mattress dumped in the street.

From the ashes

I’m certainly not the first to post a ‘first look’ review of the newest museum space in London, and I’m pretty sure that I won’t be the last, but here I go. Just a quick look.

By now I’m sure you’re all familiar with the story of London’s Temple of Mithras. Discovered during the clearance for redevelopment of a bombed out site near Cannon Street (1952-4). Saved for the nation (sort of) due to intense public interest. Relocated to the wholly inappropriate site on the concourse of Temple Court, Queen Victoria Street. And there it sat for 50 years do so until…

Now, finally, returned and restored to (more or less) its original site following the re-redevelopment of the site by Bloomberg for its new European headquarters. So, after much waiting and with high expectations, I was finally there.

Oooooh, it’s good. It is. It’s good. I mean, it’s Bloomberg, who have all the money in the world, so it’s a bit ‘corporate sleek and shiny’ but that’s ok. It’s nicely done. Understated rather than flashy. On entering, visitors’ first encounter is with the modern as the entrance hall, Bloomberg Space, holds (at the moment) a tapestry and sculpture by Isabel Nolan but we’re soon into the Roman, which is what we’re all here for, with a wall of finds from the 2011-14 excavations.

This collection is just a tiny proportion of the ~14,000 artefacts excavated from the site and includes a representative sample of everyday objects, as well as a few star finds.

This is the sort of display that could be a bit frustrating as the floor-to-ceiling format means that many of the objects are way above eye level. But, never fear, visitors are provided with ipads giving close-up views and information about the objects on display. This can also be accessed on your phone, which is handy.

From there, visitors begin to descend down to the earlier street levels, with a timeline running down the stairs for orientation. You can see how far back in time you are travelling, the lower down you go.

At the next level down we’re starting to get into the mithraic mindset. Three interactive stations give information about mithraism, about the cult in the Roman world, its iconography and possible meanings and about the London Mithraeum specifically.

I was particularly interested in the info on the London Mithraeum. This is also, basically, a waiting area as the visit to remains of the mithraeum itself includes an av presentation which gives visitors an impression of the atmosphere and sounds of the mithraeum in use. This runs about every 20 mins and then there’s time to stay and have a proper look at the remains too.

And here it is, finally, the London Mithraeum.

The presentation is, again, quite understated. Nothing too flashy. Even the av atmospherics aren’t over the top. They just give an impression of what a mithraeum would have been like, subtly filling in the spaces where the walls and columns would have been and bringing just enough life into the space. Looking at the remains themselves, this reconstruction is much more sympathetic than the 1960s one. Nuclear cement bonding…gone. Crazy crazy-paving…gone. Instead we have, as far as possible, the original remains, including the timber risers for the steps, the well and (look closely by the entrance) the door pivots.

So, all in all, this new museum space is a bit of a triumph. I could probably have done without Joanna Lumley’s breathy delivery on the voice-over, and I’d like to see some more detailed info about the recent MOLA excavations and the actual process of reconstructing the remains. Maybe just the addition of the MOLA publications for reference or printed copies of the  excellent (and free!) downloadable booklet. But these are minor points and personal preferences.

The London Mithraeum is free to visit but you do need to book a slot. Get booking because it’s proving popular. You get a free booklet when you visit and the use of the aforementioned ipads for info onsite.

Horse guards parade.

The Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition currently on display at ten sites across the northern frontier lured me up north for a short visit. As I didn’t have the time to get to all of the exhibition sites, I prioritized the expos in Newcastle and Carlisle at the Great North Museum: Hancock, at Arbeia Roman Fort & Museum, at Segedunum and at Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery.

I’ve previously written about the extreme coolness of Roman cavalry parade helmets, so this is a little bit of an extension of that, as well as just a general Roman cavalry parade helmet love-in.

First up, Arbeia.

Arbeia Roman Fort, situated at a strategic point on the River Tyne was founded in about 120CE and was occupied right up until the end of the Roman period in Britain. Throughout this long life-span, the fort served as a base for (among others) auxiliary units of cavalry from Spain,  the First Asturian, and boatmen from Mesopotamia. It was converted into a supply station in the Severan period, handling the import of commodities destined for troops in the military zone.

At Arbeia Roman Fort, the Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition, ‘Uncovering cavalry‘ is more about highlighting objects in the existing collection with just a couple of additions of objects on loan. This iron cavalry helmet from Limesmuseum Aalen is known as an ‘Alexander’ type due to its resemblance to portraits of Alexander the Great from around the same period, CE150-250.

Many surviving cavalry helmets are made from copper-alloy, sometimes coated in silver, but far fewer iron helmets have been found as they are more prone to corrosion. This helmet was found in a scrap metal dump near the workshops of Aalen cavalry fort.

A quick hop over the Tyne on the ferry took me to Segedunum. The larger exhibition there, ‘Rome’s elite troops – building Hadrian’s cavalry’, looks at the make up of the cavalry units and some of the manoeuvres used by cavalry units in battle.

Segedunum Roman Fort was built in about 127CE, when Hadrian’s Wall, originally starting at Pons Aelius (Newcastle upon Tyne) in 122AD, was subsequently extended by four miles to the east, to Wallsend. The fort was home to mixed cavalry-infantry units including the Second Cohort of Nervians in the 2nd century and, in the 3rd and 4th centuries the Fourth Cohort of the Lingones.

Alongside objects from Segedunum’s own collection are several helmets and helmet cheek-pieces on loan. One unusual helmet from Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins is this double-eagle crested helmet, a type worn by members of the Imperial Horse Guard in the third century.

  

Also in the exhibition is this silvered shield boss on loan from a private collection in the UK. The boss shows significant damage, probably sustained in battle during the Dacian Wars.

The boss is decorated with incised images of mythological subjects; Mars, Medusa, Jupiter, Apollo and Hercules. The outer part is decorated with images related to battle; shields, winged Victories, armour and a helmet.

There are two inscriptions on the boss; at the top, a statement of the ownership of the shield by Marcus Ulpius, a member of the Imperial Horse Guard in the time of the Emperor Trajan, and at the bottom, a record of the donation of the shield boss as an offering by Flavius Volussinus in memory of Marcus Ulpius.

Back in town, I went off to Newcastle’s Great North Museum: Hancock to see two helmets of a particular type. The display there, ‘Hadrian’s Cavalry: Shock and awe – the power of the Roman cavalryman’s mask’ shows the Ribchester Helmet (on loan from The British Museum) together with a second helmet of the same type (on loan from a private collection).

 

The Ribchester Helmet was found in Lancashire in 1796, as part of the Ribchester Hoard. It’s a bronze ceremonial helmet with a distinctive peak. The second helmet has been dated to roughly the same period as the Ribchester Helmet; 70-110CE/75-125CE.

Also at the GNM is Mithras.

The museum is home to a brilliant collection of Mithraic images and objects collected from sites along and around Hadrian’s Wall. Alongside more familiar mithraic imagery of the Tauroctony and the companions of Mithras, Cautes and Cautopates, this collection also includes this amazing carved stone sculpture of the birth of Mithras, with the god emerging from the Cosmic Egg.

Added to this, until 27th August, are three objects on loan from the collection at the Museum of London. The three marble busts were found buried under the floor level of the Mithraeum at Bucklesbury. They are a marble head of Minerva, the head of Serapis and the head of Mithras himself.

This is such a great idea. Bringing together the two best Mithras collections in the country. It’s also a good opportunity to have a bit of  look at Mithraeism in two different environments; the Mithraeums up on Hadrian’s Wall were in a military zone and associated with forts; e.g. Housesteads/Vercovicium and Carrawburgh/Brocolitia, while the London mithraeum was in civilian, urban area. The accompanying film also looks at the discovery of the London mithraeum in the 1950s.

A swift trundle west to Carlisle brought me to Tullie House Museum for the Guardians on the edge of empire – cavalry bases and Roman power exhibition, and more helmets. This is the largest of the exhibitions that I visited and there were some fantastic objects on display.

The fort at Carlisle, Stanwix/Uxelodunum, is thought to have housed cavalry troops, most the Ala Petriana. Home to a thousand mounted troops and their horses and support staff. This unit’s exceptional service earned them Roman citizenship while still serving. This is the unit in which Flavinus the signifer whose memorial now stands in Hexham Abbey, served, albeit at an earlier date.

The exhibition focuses, again, on the role and organization of the cavalry on the frontier and has an impressive range of helmets, face masks and other armoury pieces on display.

There are some pretty showy pieces, including this 2nd-3rdc. CE ‘Ostrov’ type helmet from Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins.

The helmet is a shape similar of one found in a burial at Ostrov, Romania and has a distinctive Phrygian cap shape on the upper part, topped with the head of a griffin and covered in scales.

The Gallery Attendant on duty when I visited was also very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the exhibition, and I had several conversations with her while I was looking round. She was particularly interested in this 3rdc. CE Amazon face mask (from Archäologische Staatssammlung München) and wondered about its origins and possible influences on the styling.

 

It really has a strong eastern look, reflecting the exoticism of the Amazon warriors. But comparing  it with the second Amazon face mask in the exhibition (mid-2nd – mid-3rdc. CE, from Archäologisches Landesmuseum Baden-Württemberg) just shows up how exotic this one really looks.

This 1stc. CE ‘kalkreise’ type face mask (below), on loan from a private collection, is interesting as it has markings on the cheeks. As Imperial cavalry forces were usually auxiliary, i.e.non-citizen, units raised in provinces incorporated into the empire, these could have been indicative of tribal tattoos.

It’s really interesting to see the number of helmets and masks, and other pieces of armour, on display that are from private collections. This makes these displays even more worth seeing while they’re on, as there’s no telling whether they’ll be displayed in public again.

So there you are. A little peek at a few of the Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibitions. It would have been nice to have been able to do all ten as a road trip but I only had time for a flying visit. And I should also just point out that these exhibitions are in addition to the already excellent Roman collections at the museums and sites in question. Of course, on the back of seeing these exhibitions and displays, I’m now going to have to get down to Mougins to visit the museum there, and it has encouraged me to add more of Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium to the (never-ending) list.

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The Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition continues until 10th September at ten sites along Hadrian’s Wall and down the western coast as far as Maryport.

Three days in May

Loop. Three nights of Loop. Three consecutive, ear bashing nights of Loop. 😀

Ear bashing night 1: Bristol Exchange

Bristol. The scene of past Loop disasters and past Loop triumphs.

I met fellow ‘enthusiast’ Dave in Bristol and we went for a nice cup of tea before the gig. Then we trolled along to The Exchange, running into Soundhead Martin and guitarist Dan in the pub.

Support for the night was by Salope (Gareth out of Anthroprophh, Big Naturals and Kuro), which consisted of a drone of electric cello and theramins. I rather liked this.

When Loop came onstage to their usual drone-intro, which is when I always get a bit excited, they launched straight into The Nail Will Burn. The set included several older tracks and two tracks from the most recent Array 1 ep, Precession and Aphelion but, alas, not the groovy Radial.

Collision sounded great and Arc Lite was spot on 😀 Ending on Burning World is a lovely way to go out too.

I’d say that this was a good solid Loop gig, very enjoyable and a great start to the weekend of Loop gigs.

Set list:

Ear bashing night 2: London, Raw Power Festival

Baba Yaga’s Hut, one of the best London promoters, also presents one of the best London weekenders, Raw Power, now in its fourth year. At The Dome (Boston Arms) in Tufnell Park from Friday to Sunday evening various levels of psych heaviosity is hurled out onto an expectant audience. This year included some Loop heaviosity.

As is the way with me, I didn’t go for the whole day straight through. The Dome is not far from where I live so I can pop in and out. This time I popped in for Japanese New Music Festival (brilliant and hilarious), Qujaku (scary wailing), Cosmic Dead (very hairy) and, obviously, Loop. I think that Loop worked really well in the context of this event. They’re heavy enough to hold their own in the assembled line-up but also dancey enough for people who don’t really know them to just have a good old frug. The sound at the Dome was pretty well spot on so we were getting all the volume and distortion as it’s meant to sound without any mess or superfluous fuzz.

The audience was upbeat and totally went with the band on this journey into sound 😀 Robert was pretty jolly too so there was a nice level of banter: audience member, “play Fix to Fall”,  Robert, ” we can’t play that. It’s too hard” and (while tuning his guitar) “I’m having trouble with my g-string” (how we laughed!).

The setlist was the same as in Bristol.

Ear bashing night 3: Manchester, Transformer Festival

Ooh, controversy. When The Victoria Warehouse announced the ‘too good to be true’ line-up which included Swans, The Fall, Royal Trux and, of course, Loop, the gig-hivemind drew in its collective breath and said, “smells like Barry Hogan”. Barry Hogan; he of a swathe of ATP triumphs and disasters. This assumed connection, together with a couple of, frankly, disastrous and heavily criticized events at the Victoria Warehouse seemed to really put people off buying tickets, despite the hilariously cheap price.

Sure enough, when we got to the venue it was nowhere near full. On the plus side, this made it a much more comfortable experience than friends of mine have had there in the past; no queues for the bar or loos, no crushes getting into the different rooms, plenty of space to just hang out with friends and we were able to actually see the bands. On the minus side, the lack of bodies may have contributed to the extremely echoey sound, rattling around inside this giant box. The Fall sounded (from the back of the main room) like they were playing in a tin can and Loop’s set was definitely affected by an eerie echo.

It sounded like they spent the first couple of songs battling valiantly with the sound onstage before giving up on subtlety and wacking everything up to 11. I think that Wayne (drums) in particular, was having to work extremely hard to hold it all together.

Nevertheless, Loop playing a ridiculously loud, ridiculously heavy set in a disused warehouse is a scenario that I can happily get behind and I enjoyed the gig enormously, despite the problems. And I wasn’t the only one. New best occasional pal Rob was seeing Loop  for only the second time and responded with a level of joie de vivre that is to be applauded. He was giving out badges!

So, of the three nights, I enjoyed all of them but the London gig was the best. A great atmosphere, pretty heavy playing and excellent sound all worked together to make this the best one. Lots of Soundheads were out and about over the weekend so it was also nice to see people and catch up with them (you all know who you are. Thanks for being great company x).

And now I’m looking forward to Liverpool Psych Fest in September for some more Loop action.

PLAY RADIAL!!