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.

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Roman walls in car parks. This is actually a ‘thing’.

In 2012, archaeology in car parks hit the headlines. The perfect mix of the prosaic and the sensational; the ancient and modern, seemed to excite the interest of people who usually had no interest at all in archaeology. Of course, you throw in a king and an ‘odd feeling’ and that gets the tabloids going. But I am a Romanist and we don’t do kings. We do, however, do car parks.

On my wanderings I have found myself in many a car park, squeezing between Vauxhall Astras and Ford Focuses, tramping about the place to look at…what? Walls. There’s loads of them. So many that I’ve decided that ‘Roman walls in car parks’ is an actual ‘thing’. So here are a few.

York (Eboracum).

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Ok, that doesn’t look like much but York was an extremely important and powerful city in the Roman period. Founded by the soldiers of the ninth legion in 71CE;  the seat of Roman power under Septimius Severus’ from 208-11 (and the site of his death in 211), the capital of Britannia Inferior under Caracalla; the location for Constantine’s accession to the purple in 306.

This is all big stuff. Seriously.

It’s ok. Those bits of wall in the car park aren’t the only surviving Roman walls. There are some quite impressive sections still surviving to full height. With bastions.

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There is also Roman wall in other British car parks. Here in London (Londinium), you have to go underground. Under the aptly-named London Wall is the London Wall Car Park and if you go along to the motorcycle bays (around Bay 52), you can find… the London wall.

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I like this because you can see the construction methods clearly, the inner core made from rubble with tile courses for stabilization, faced with nicely worked  stones on the exterior, all on a beautifully chamfered  plinth.

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Nearby, hidden behind a nondescript door by the side of the ramp down to the bit of the London Wall Car Park that’s under the Museum of London…

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This is what remains of the west gate of the fort and it’s associated guardroom, which stood in the north-west corner of Londinium. Built in about 120CE, the fort predates the city wall and was utilized to form the north-western corner of the enclosed city when the wall was built  in the third-century.

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This isn’t always accessible but the Museum does do regular tours/talks so look out on their website for those.

And here’s Colchester (Camulodunum).

In Colchester you can see a mixture of original and recreated Roman wall. Here’s a bit of the recreated.

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Basically you can just see what the Roman wall looked like when it was pretty new, and you can, again, see the way that the wall is built using courses of stone blocks with layers of terracotta tile for stabilization.

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Round the corner is a decent stretch of the real thing.

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It’s looking a bit less pristine but then, it is pushing 2000 years old. The city was fortified with walls when it was rebuilt after its destruction during the Boudiccan revolt of 60/61.

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The walls were built fairly rapidly and utilised whatever building material they could find. Within the wall structure you can see bits and bobs, like this piece of roof tile (tegula), some of which show signs of burning.

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Again, there are other, pretty extensive, Roman walls surviving in the city. And they are easy to follow round, taking in some of the city gates on the way

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I’ve observed that this is not just a British thing.

Arlon (Orolaunum)

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Further afield, in the Belgian city of Arlon, is this magnificent section of wall, complete with a bastion.

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The foundations were built using old bits of worked stone, inscriptions and tomb stones, and it’s possible to still see some of those in-situ.

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An earlier blog post has a few more pictures of the delights of Roman Arlon and some more of the many many carved stone monuments found there.

Paris (Lutetia)

There is a rather sorry little section of the Roman city wall in Paris. The door here was locked so I could only see it through the glass but it’s not that impressive in any case. Still, here it is.

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It’s in the stairwell of an underground carpark on Boulevard Saint-Michel.

As far as I’m aware, that’s about it for the Roman city wall of Paris but I discovered that there are some other Roman walls in a car park in Paris. The brilliant Crypt Archeologique at Notre Dame is one of the best places to see the remains of Roman Paris (see also the amphitheatre, the ‘arènes de Lutèce’; and the great big bathhouse at Musee Cluny). I had thought that Crypt Archeologique was just next to the Notre Dame carpark…

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…but a display about the discovery of the remains shows that the site is actually inside the carpark, albeit separated from the vehicles, so I’m claiming this one too.

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The crypt contains, among other things, Roman houses, a bathhouse, a bit of a bridge abutment and part of a quay on  the River Seine.

Nimes (Colonia Nemausus )

Nimes is another city where it is possible to follow the circuit of the old Roman walls, happening upon gateways, decent sections of standing wall and sorry little scraps along the way.

Here’s one of the sorry little scraps.

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On the Rue Armand-Barbès, just by the side of the pavement, are these hardly-noticeable remains of the city wall.  It’s a bit more obvious when you look at the run of the wall that leads into the nearby car park.

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It’s not much to look at but it’s just a small element of the, quite extensive, remains of Roman Nimes and so, for a Romanist like me, worth looking out for on my way round town.

Angers (Juliomagus Andecavorum)

In Angers, in terms of Roman remains, there is, frankly, not much. In the Roman period there were the usual houses, bath-houses, bridges and temples, including a Temple of Mithras. All of this has been built over,  plundered for later building work, and swept away for the construction of the castle and later ramparts.

So what is left?

Apart from some artefacts, now in the local museum, there is only this stretch of wall on Rue Toussaint.

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It’s a chunky stretch of wall made mostly of petit appareil but also looks like it has been altered, built on and up against, and knocked through so that it contains elements of Roman and later construction. It’s actually by the side of a road but there are designated parking spaces all along this stretch, so I’m calling it a car park.

A few kilometres away, there’s more.

Tours (Civitas Turonum)

Enclosing the carpark behind the Studio Cinema on Rur des Ursulines is this stretch of the Roman city wall.

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The wall has clearly been built from reused material with a mixture of petit and grand appareil

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There’s another stretch in the Jardin de St Pierre le Puellier. This area has actually been set out as a public garden with signage about the walls and the bastion.

Cologne (Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium)

And, lastly, I was just in Cologne, a city with some quite decent stretches of its city wall still standing, on my latest car park-related jolly. So here it is, the Roman wall of Cologne, in a car park.

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And another car parky-bit.

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These are in an underground car park right underneath the Cathedral. The remains of the north gate of the city have been reconstructed up at ground level but down here we can see the in-situ remains. This being a rather historical car park, there’s also a medieval well!

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And down the road is another section of the wall bordering another car park.

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Ok, this doesn’t look very Roman, does it? But, trust me, it is. The Roman wall core has subsequently been faced with brick so it all looks much later but, at its core this is still in-situ Roman wall. You can see this better at the exposed end of the wall.

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In the making of this post I gatecrashed a tour being run by one of the Curators of The Museum of London. He raised an interesting point about how the decision to preserve the particular bit of wall we were looking was taken. As a car park is, essentially, a big empty space, I started to wonder about the discussions that preceded the decision to preserve or not preserve, and how that discussion might differ if it was, say, a row of houses rather than a big empty space that was being built. How many chunks of Roman wall have been swept away, demolished to make way for new homes and shops? Probably loads. Maybe it’s easier to argue for the preservation of ancient monuments in car parks specifically because a car park is big empty space. That might explain why there are so many bits of Roman wall in car parks.

And so I rest my case. Roman walls in car parks are clearly a ‘thing’. The evidence speaks for itself.

Oh, and if you’re planning to seek out random archaeology in random places people will, inevitably, wonder why on earth you’re taking photos of a crappy bit of old wall in a car park, so be prepared for funny looks.

Looking for Londoners: Working the Walbrook

Having to get a job.

If I was independently wealthy I wouldn’t have had to have gone to a job interview the day before yesterday but, things being as they are, I did have to go to a job interview the day before yesterday.

I blame my parents.

Anyway, after the interview I went off to meet my pal Craig for one of our, now pretty regular, weekly wanders. After doing a few others things, we ended up at the Museum of London. This is always a great place to pop in, see what’s new and have another little look at familiar things, and there’s currently a really good free exhibition of images of blitz-damaged London (http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london/whats-on/exhibitions/perspectives-of-destruction).

In the space dedicated to ‘Looking for Londoners’, there is also a free display of Roman hand tools, excavated from various sites along the Walbrook Valley, which I was very keen to get a look at.

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The Walbrook, one of London’s famous ‘Lost Rivers’ cut a north-south slash through London from Finsbury Circus to Canon Street and along its banks were workshops of all kinds. Leatherworkers, metalworkers, coopers, jewellers, carpenters and more all set up shop along the Walbrook and archaeologists excavating sites along its course have found the lost and discarded remnants of their trades.

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One thing to flag up straight away: check out the condition of these artefacts! Some of them are pristine. This superb preservation is the result of the waterlogged conditions of the sites. The thick wet mud lacks a crucial ingredient for decay and rust; air, so these anaerobic conditions slow down the normal processes by which objects deteriorate and, often, entirely disintegrate.

So let’s have a look.

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This fantastic looking implement is actually a double-ended scraper/brush tool, found at Bucklersbury House. To the left is a cutting/smoothing tool (think of a paint scraper or polyfiller knife), and to the right, a socket into which bristles would have been packed to create the brush. It’s exact use is unknown but it may have been used for applying gold leaf or for smoothing and painting small areas of wall plaster like this (below), found at St. Mary Axe (the Gerkin),

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Sometimes tools feature text; stamps giving a maker’s name as a form of advertising, stamps marking goods made by or for the Roman state, owner’s name, and so on.

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The stamp above is inscribed, in reverse, with ‘MPBR’, which has been interpreted as an abbreviation of Metalla Provinciae Britanniae: ‘the mines of the province of Britannia’, so may have been an official stamp to mark ingots of metal.

These two tools, a bradawl found at Moorgate Street and a chisel found at Bucklersbury House, have marks stamped into them.

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The chisel has been stamped with ‘MARTIA(L)’. Possibly the maker’s name.

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The, possible, maker’s mark on the bradawl hasn’t been punched very clearly and is illegible.

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Nevertheless, in these tools we see evidence of two layers of London’s industrial life. The stamps represent evidence for those making the tools, either locally or further afield, that other workers then used to make products for Londoners.

As well as the tools, there are are a few pieces of the products being made. This scrap of cut and printed (or maybe stencilled?) leather, found at Lower Thames Street, is the vamp of a slipper (the front and centre part of a shoe’s upper), decorated with a  gilded design.

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I was trying to work out what kind of shoe it might have been and it looks like it might have been part of a toe-post sandal, with the post held in place by the hoop at the top.

The display also contains a really unusual tool.

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I don’t think that I’ve seen one of these before but it’s actually a sort of saw, used in barrel- and bucket-making. It’s for cutting a groove around the inside of the bucket or barrel, into which the base would sit. It’s called a croze.*

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It’s unusual to find the wooden elements of barrels and buckets as, unless they are found in anaerobic conditions (they’re sometimes found in wells), these organic elements just rot away and disappear. This croze is clear evidence for the coopers who made the buckets and barrels needed in London, and the specialist tools used.

Lastly, there is this lovely, near complete pot from St Thomas St. Southwark.

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A close look at the neck of the pot reveals these details. The pot is decorated with tools of a trade; a smith’s hammer, anvil and tongs.

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The pot was found at the bottom of a timber-lined well and it’s not unusual to find objects deposited in wells as part of a ritual closure deposit. Perhaps the well belonged to the smithy and was ritually closed down when the smithy ceased trading, with an offering of thanks to the god Vulcan.

There are lots of other tools in the display. This is just a small selection. The Museum of London is free to visit so do go along and have a look.

This display was curated by Owen Humphreys (@Roman_Tools), PhD student, Museum of London & University of Reading.

http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/discover/roman-rubbish-reveals-lost-londinium

*UPDATE: Someone I used to work with just read his blog and then messaged me to say hat her Dad had one of those crozes, which his Dad, a blacksmith, had given him some time in the 1940s. Hand tools really haven’t changed in millennia.

Roman counter culture: Dodgy geezer.

Well, it’s our last week for a little while and it all ended on a rather dodgy note.

And here it is.

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What a sorry specimen. It’s little more than a chip off the old die. I had just over half of the 6-face and a sliver of a couple of other faces but that’s it.

 And then I turned it over…

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The first thing to notice is that hole. It lines up with one of the 6 pips, which is odd. The maker has drilled a hole in the die and then covered it over with a dot-and-double-ring pip on the surface. Hmmm.

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Then there’s that grey stuff. It looks like a tooth-filling. Is it lead? Hmmm.

The other clue that there is something iffy about this die is the weight. Although it’s just a tiny scrap, it weights as much as some other complete dice that we’ve had. Hmmm.

It’s a dodgy die, later known as a ‘Fulham’. The maker has hollowed out a little space inside the die and then filled it with with a weight (possibly lead, but I’ll try to find out what this substance is). This would influence the outcome of throws, perhaps increasing the chances of ‘high’ or ‘low’ throws.  Naughty people.

And this brings me on to what we will be doing next. These dice have all been really interesting, but so far we only know a limited amount about them. They’ve been removed from their contexts. We don’t know much about where they were found, what they were found with, or even their dates. We’ve had ‘Roman’, but ‘Roman’ in Britain covers 400 years! Can we narrow that down a bit? We also need to know what, if anything, the conservators made of these objects. What did they think that grey stuff is?

This will be an ongoing task which Guy John and I will be working on over the summer. I’ll post anything of particular interest but for now I’ll leave you with his fantastic little gaming scene from the Bardo in Tunis.

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Roman Counter Culture: same again, guv.

We’re back at the Museum of London again this week to finish the digitization of the Museum collection of Roman, and later, dice.

This is pretty much ‘more of the same’ except for one beauty at the end, so here they are.

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Again, these dice have all be taken off display in the Museum for us to work on. They’re probably back on display by now.

I had another one very similar to this (below) last week.

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And here’s a nice, but rather squat bone type 1 die.

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I also had this very nice type 2 die.  Unfortunately one of the plugs was missing from the 4 face, but otherwise, it was in very good condition.

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We also created a record for this lovely jet (-like) die.

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It’s in really good condition, the only damage being a chip out of one face. These black-material dice don’t scan well, as the edges tend to disappear into the background. This one will be photographed instead. We were all having a conversation about what the white substance in the pips might be; wax? clay? some wort of resin? Dunno, and we’re not going to scrape any out to get it tested, so it’ll just have to be a mystery for now.

Glynn was giving a paper at the Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference (TRAC) utilizing some of the objects that we’ve been working on, specifically the jet and amber pieces. I was attending the conference and can report that his paper went down very well. This lovely amber die, which I’ve been hiding this picture of since November, was a particular hit.

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Roman Counter Culture: Museum pieces

This was the view from my window this week.

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The wall running along the bottom of the photo is the medieval city wall, built on the foundations of the Roman wall which formed part of the city wall and the fort. We’ve relocated for a little while, from the LAARC to The Museum of London to work on the pieces that are actually on display. Glynn had already swiped the necessary dice from the display cases, just for a little while, so we can create digital records of them for the Museum’s Collections Online.

As we only had access to one scanner, we worked on the basis of a division of labour. John scanned the dice and saved the images while Guy and I worked on the descriptions, weights and measures. Then we all started on cleaning up and assembling the images.

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I started with a nice Type 2 die…

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One of the plugs was missing, but otherwise it was in pretty good shape.

And then this one (below). The 6 face looks nice and square, albeit with slightly wobbly pips.

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The 3 face, somewhat less square.

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It’s a bit of a wonky one. Most of the faces are different sizes and there’s a distinct curve to the 1 face.

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This one is a bit (lot) more regular.

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We’ve see a great deal of variety between the dice we’ve been working on. That raises questions about manufacturing techniques and the rationales for production.

From the museum collection, we came across two that looked almost like a pair.

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They came from the same site, although not from the same contexts, and Guy and I did think that they looked like they might have been made by the same person. This was just because of the size and shape, and the way that the pips look. The sides are not very even, with the 6 and the 1 faces being nice and square, but the 2,3,4 and 5 faces being quite rectangular. They would have had a definite tendency to land with either the 6 or the 1 face uppermost. They looked like they were reasonably nicely made, but have suffered some damage.

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They were recovered from a cemetery context, which made me wonder – RANDOM SPECULATION ALERT!! – is it possible that these dice were being made specifically as funerary objects? I wondered this because their shape does make them a bit dodgy for use as gaming dice, but wouldn’t matter at all if they were made as symbolic objects to be buried with the dead. They could then be made from oddly-sized off-cuts of bone, and it wouldn’t matter.

I’m going to have a little think about this, and try to have a look at more dice found as part of burials to see if there really are any patterns, or if we just have a slightly tipsy dice-maker here.

More from the Museum next time.

Roman Counter Culture: Slight Return

…and we’re back in the room.

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Yes, we’re back at the LAARC, working on the remainder of the Museum of London’s collection of archaeological dice.

We have some exciting plans for the data that we’re collecting but for now I’ll just content myself with posting a few pictures of this week’s dice.

Here’s my first die of 2015.

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It’s a bit broken, but it’s nice.

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John had this stunner.

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It’s a lovely lozenge-shaped die, but it wasn’t the easiest piece for John to scan.

Now, the running title here is Roman counter culture, but one (at least) of our dice today wasn’t Roman at all. We’re playing fast and loose but just go with us.

Here it is.

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It’s listed as post-medieval and is very small, with the sides only measuring only about 4mm. The pips are also placed very very close to the corners and edges which has caused some breakage around them.

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The pips were actually a little difficult to see clearly by eye, but they’re much clearer in the photos and the scans.

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We’re going to be working on scanning the last few dice over the next few weeks and then we will start having a look at the find spots, contexts and distributions to see what that might tell us about dice production and use in Roman, and later, London.