Update: Recent archaeology and antiquities related news

Below please find a selection of news items from the past few weeks dealing with archaeological discoveries and research, antiquities and ancient art that we felt to be of special interest. All links will open in a new tab or window. Enjoy –

A recommended video channel on early technologies and cultures

It’s been some time since Clio Ancient Art offered any antiquities from the Neolithic but the “Stone Age,” as well as the related subject areas of early technologies and experimental archaeology, are certainly of great interest to many of our followers. That’s why I’m recommending a video channel on YouTube called “Beyond2000BC.” The series is presented by Will Lord, who runs a commercial operation putting on workshops on everything from flint knapping to bronze casting and Medieval archery. There are other comparable channels by survival experts, etc. but I particularly like Will Lord’s sense of craftsmanship and appreciation for the process of making.

The “Beyond2000BC” channel currently hosts something over 60 videos. Here is a direct link to one of these, a recent video about a bronze casting workshop and the ancient and medieval objects the participants were trying to replicate Opens in a new tab or window):

https://youtu.be/sZd9bJevicg

and here is a link to the channel’s home page. Enjoy the videos.

https://www.youtube.com/user/Beyond2000bc/feed

ceramic wall art, ceramic wall hanging, non-traditional ceramics, Christof Maupin, modern ceramic art

A Confluence of Art, Ancient and Modern

In January of this year I wrote a brief article for this Blog dealing with my own experiences as both a dealer in ancient Mediterranean art and an artist myself, and the influence one has upon the other. The article was inspired by an exhibition that was a collaboration between the British Museum and Turner Contemporary at Margate, England. Turner Contemporary has commissioned artist Hannah Lees to respond to a group of Roman Samian Ware bowls, part of the BM’s collections, that had been washed ashore from a Roman shipwreck quite near Margate. The result was a thoughtful collaboration between modern art and the art of antiquity, offering modern viewers a new level of insight into the art and artifacts of the ancient past, while also recontextualizing the modern work.

In that January article I compared some of own work to ancient and later works that had influenced my approach, even if I had not been fully aware when I was making it. In this article I’d like to continue exploring that theme. When I first began to make art of my own a few years ago, I made a very conscious effort to avoid copying or even allowing myself to be influenced by the types of art and artifacts I handled and sold every day as an antiquities dealer. Of course, one cannot entirely block out all influences. These will surface, as they did in my case, whether one likes it or not. So at some point I began to make, not copies but stylistically similar objects in some media, such as ceramics, to those I found appealing, not just from antiquity but the more recent past, as well. A good example is comparing the 13th Century French medieval tankard (top) with my own stoneware tankard with a pie crust foot (below), though mine was influenced perhaps more by medieval English types.

BM photo French Tankard 13th Century

13th Century French earthenware tankard, now in The British Museum

Ceramic historic reproduction late Medieval tankard

Stoneware Medieval English-style tankard with “pie crust” foot. Christof Maupin. Made early 2016

As I continued with this theme, I found great value in learning how ancient and other more recent works had been made from a technical standpoint. It is widely known that relatively few people in the field of art history have much practical experience in studio art. Having spent so much time the last few years working in various media in a studio setting, I can say with certainty that a more substantial studio art regimen should be a requirement for art historians. The insights gained from the practical side of “doing” art lend themselves well to finding answers to the many technical questions art historians must ask about individual works or whole classes of objects. Below is a series of images of English slipware, some marbled, some trail decorated, from the late 1600s to early 1800s. Below these, my own reinterpretations of these styles and techniques.

Christof Maupin artist, Wilmington NC artists, North Carolina pottery, modern pottery influenced by the past

Stoneware plate with multiple layers of thickly applied underglazes and clear glaze on top. Christof Maupin. Made early 2016.

modern trailed slip decoration, trailed slip pottery, Christof Maupin artist, North Carolina pottery, modern pottery with slip trailed decoration

Small stoneware tray with my own interpretation of 18th Century English trailed slipware. Christof Maupin. Made 2016. Sold.

Medieval pottery of all sorts has long been an area of interest for me. So when I decided to make a “medieval” plate of my own, I added some personal touches. I simplified the central design so that it stood out against a cream to white plain background. I also set one of the fleur-des-lis in the surrounding “frame” off center, so as to eliminate any possibility of the piece being interpreted in a religious framework. Below are two examples of medieval to post-medieval plates of the sort I might have imagined when I was creating my own work, which is shown beneath them.

North Carolina pottery, Christof Maupin artist, Wilmington NC artists, modern pottery with medieval images

Ceramic plate, original design incised and enhanced with white, orange and green underglaze slips and clear glaze. Christof Maupin. Made 2015.

Still on the subject of pottery, closed form vessels have long been symbolic of many things to many cultures. One common thread is the notion of the female form as a vessel or of a vessel being analogous to female fertility. This last idea was widespread in popular – as opposed to official – religious thought in both classical antiquity and the Middle Ages. The transport amphora, the incredibly common pottery vessel used from at least the 7th Century BC through to the Byzantine period, and in some parts of the Mediterranean world right up into the modern era, certainly can be equated in many ways with the female form, in all its variety. Amphorae came in all shapes and sizes, depending on the products they carried, popular style preferences and by time period. Look at some of the examples below:

Clio Ancient Art, Clio Antiquities, Roman amphora, Greek amphora, pottery amphora, British Museum

A selection of Roman (mostly foreground) and Greek (mostly background) transport amphorae, 4th Century BC-4th Century AD. The British Museum. Image: Clio Ancient Art

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Small Romano-Egyptian pottery amphora. 1st-4th Century AD. Clio Ancient Art. Sold

I have always had a strong personal response to this form. In 2015 I made the collage piece below. It involves simply colored paper and watercolors on a board backing. I found the act of repeating the small amphora shape over and over irresistible.

collage art, Christof Maupin art, amphora

Collage, Untitled – colored paper and watercolor mounted on black board. Christof Maupin. Made 2015.

My favorite medium is glass, in all its forms. This includes glassblowing, flame or torch working, slumping, casting and enameling. Perhaps no other form of glass is so strikingly beautiful to my eye as the ancient glass inlays produced in Egypt during the Ptolemaic and early Roman periods. Expensive to produce and time consuming to make, the astonishingly precise, technically accomplished small scale works were used as furniture inlays, architectural components and enhancements to a variety of small objects. Having worked in glass myself – torch work, blowing and enamels – I can fully appreciate the extraordinary technical skills of the ancient craftspeople who made these objects, using relatively simple technology. In making enamel pendants, I’ve had the opportunity to use a clean white enamel background against which to set simple multi-colored canes of glass. The effects are quite pleasing, though they seem paltry compared with the extraordinary mosaic glass products of post-dynastic Egypt. Below are two examples of Egyptian glass inlays from the Ptolemaic (305-30 BC) Period and very early Roman Period (30 BC-100 AD). Below them, two examples of my own work using enamel on copper with glass canes.

AN EGYPTIAN MOSAIC GLASS GRIFFIN INLAY PTOLEMAIC PERIOD, CIRCA 2ND-1ST CENTURY B.C.

Egyptian mosaic glass griffin inlay. Ptolemaic Period, Circa 2ND-1ST Century BC

An Assemblage of Romano-Egyptian Mosaic Glass Inlays with Trefoil Garland Patterns and a Festoon

Romano-Egyptian glass inlay fragments with trefoil garlands and festoons.

glass cane, glass rod, white enamel, enamel pendant, enamel on copper, Christof Maupin artist

Enameled copper pendant with melted glass cane on white enamel background. Christof Maupin. Made late 2016.

glass cane, twisted glass rod, white enamel, enamel on copper, enamel pendant, Christof Maupin artist

Enameled copper pendant with melted glass cane on white enamel background. Christof Maupin. Made late 2016.

I could not review my personal relationship with and interpretation of the art of past without a brief visit to the shrine of Mark Rothko. In my opinion, Rothko was the greatest painter since Turner; certainly the greatest of the 20th Century. I can remember being quite young and visiting the Berkeley Art Museum, standing in front of several large Rothko canvases. I was stunned but didn’t know at that age how to articulate what I was seeing and experiencing. In fact, it was decades more before I really could. I have never tried to “copy” or in any way imitate Rothko. But his influence on my response to the visible world is always present and beyond my control. Perhaps it is no surprise that he was also a great lover of antiquity and also of Renaissance art. Below are two fine examples of his large canvases. Below them, two pieces of mine in very different media that I think are directly influenced by my reaction to Rothko’s work.

Mark Rothko, abstraction, expressionism

Mark Rothko Sketch for Mural No.4 1958

Mark Rothko, Rothko paintings, abstraction, expressionism

Mark Rothko. Number 61. 1953

Christof Maupin artist, PastPresent Art Craft, enamel on copper, enamel pendants, transparent enamels

Pendant, Transparent and opaque enamels on copper. Christof Maupin. Made early 2016.

encaustic on ceramic, ceramic tiles, non-traditional ceramics, Christof Maupin artist

“Tiwanaku Revisited” – Stoneware and terracotta tiles inset into stoneware frame. Tiles decorated with vitrified underglazes and (bottom) melted copper strips. Frame colored with encaustic paint (purified bee’s wax with pigments). Christof Maupin, made early 2017.

I am more convinced than ever that taking time to explore linkages in visual language and modes of expression in cultures separated by great distances in time and geography can help viewers appreciate more deeply both the ancient and modern.

This Blog has many links to Clio Ancient Art’s online stores. To access my personal artwork, go to (opens in a new tab or window): https://www.etsy.com/shop/PastPresentArtCraft

Staffordshire Hoard Conservation Programme Completed

A new post on the Staffordshire Hoard website has announced completion of the cleaning and conservation project. With many tiny fragments emerging from the soil during this process, the total number of pieces is now about 4,000. Several pieces have been reconstructed from these fragments, with surprising results. The research phase is continuing and a catalog, research reports and much more will be available online in 2018. The Hoard website already has an excellent photo gallery of some of the key objects. Read the latest here (opens in a new tab or window). – http://www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk/news/staffordshire-hoard-conservation-programme-completed

Antiquities News Update

There have been several exciting antiquities related developments in the news over the past month, particularly in the field of Roman archaeology. Here is a roundup of some we found especially interesting (links open in a new tab or window). –

* A great short video on one artifact from The British Museum’s multicultural Sicily exhibition – https://youtu.be/rLhfKLGEY2U

* Rare discovery of Late Roman official buried in Leicester –
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160707101031.html

* Roman Ceramic Factory Found in Israel – http://www.livescience.com/55523-roman-pottery-shop-israel-photos.html

* Bronze figure of Roman goddess unearthed at Arbeia
in South Shields – http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/bronze-figure-roman-goddess-unearthed-11673851

* August Blog update on excavations at Vindolanda Roman Fort – http://www.vindolanda.com/_blog/excavation

New Video from the Museum of London Looks at a Genetic Study of Roman Londoners

The Museum of London has undertaken the first multidisciplinary study of the inhabitants of a Roman city anywhere in the Empire. In the video Curators Dr Rebecca Redfern and Caroline McDonald explain how this was done through the analysis of the ancient DNA (aDNA) of four different individuals from the Roman period. This analysis has established the hair and eye color of each individual, their chromosomal sex, and to identify the diseases they were suffering from. Their research has created a detailed ‘picture’ of the inhabitants of Londinium, the Roman name for London.

Video opens in a new tab or window –

https://youtu.be/SbU1lSZWVno

Royal Gold Cup, British Museum, Duc de Berry

Medieval Antiquities in London: The British Museum and Museum of London

In dealing with antiquities, one tends to focus on objects truly “ancient” in that they belong to cultures such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome. Defining precisely what is ancient or an antiquity is itself something of a puzzle, with scholars, dealers, curators and collectors all having varying opinions. Clio Ancient Art has defined any object made prior to the year 1500 AD as an antiquity. This allows art and artifacts from the later Byzantine Empire, Medieval Europe (or at least Europe prior to the full flowering of the Renaissance) and Medieval Islam to be included.

Great Britain is fortunate to be among those societies that live every day with the physical evidence of a continuum of culture all around them. Most English museums, even in small communities, have excellent collections of the art and artifacts of every day life, ranging from the stone age to the industrial era, including the loosely defined “Middle Ages” – In England, the period beginning with the Roman departure from Britain and ending with the rise of the Tudor Dynasty. Those living in London are especially fortunate in having two spectacular collections of Medieval antiquities to visit: The British Museum and the Museum of London. This photo essay examines a few personal favorites from among countless marvelous objects dating to this broad period of time. All photos should be credited to Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

Saxon, Anglo-Saxon, Post-Roman, early Medieval, Saxon Brooch, Saxon shield boss, Museum of London

A Saxon silver gilt brooch and gold shield bosses, all dated to around 600 AD and found in the greater London area. Behind them, an early hand made Saxon pottery vessel. Museum of London.

Saxon art, Saxon England, Saxon brooch, Museum of London

A brooch made of copper decorated with gold plates, gold wire and polished garnets. Dated to about 650 AD, it belonged to a wealthy Saxon woman who was buried in what is now Covent Garden with beads, rings and other personal items. Museum of London.

Viking spearheads, Viking weapons, Museum of London, Viking London

Viking bronze spearheads found in the Thames and dating to the 700s and 800s AD. Museum of London.

Anglo-Norse, Anglo-Saxon art, Museum of London

A grave marker dated to shortly after 1000 AD, found near St Paul Cathedral in 1852. The style is Anglo-Norse and was popular in both Scandinavia and late Saxon England. It depicts a stylized lion in combat with a serpent. Museum of London.

Constantinople, Byzantine Art, Byzantine Empire, Byzantine triptych, Borradaile tryptych

Known as the Borradaile Triptych, this magnificent work of ivory was created between 900 and 1000 AD in Constantinople (today known as Istanbul), capital of the Byzantine Empire, and made its way to a convent in France at some time in the Middle Ages. The British Museum.

Ivory comb, British Museum, Medieval Art

An otherwise indecipherable Latin inscription on this comb of elephant ivory, an exotic material, contains the word “God” suggesting it was made for religious ceremonies. It dates to between 1080 and 1100 AD. At this time in England, combs were used to groom the priest prior to consecration of the bread and wine to avoid their being contaminated. The British Museum.

Medieval glass, Venetian glass, Islamic glass, Museum of London

Fine glass imported from distant lands was no doubt an expensive commodity in Medieval London. The green Islamic glass vessel at left dates to around the 10th Century. The two finely enameled Islamic glass shards at bottom center were made in Egypt or Syria in the 13th or 14th Century. The enameled glass at far right was made in Venice around 1300 AD. Museum of London.

Royal Gold Cup, British Museum, Duc de Berry

This remarkable enameled gold cup was commissioned by Jean Duc de Berry for his nephew Charles VI of France in 1391. The wars between England and France saw it pass to the English royal household in 1435. During Henry VIII’s reign Tudor roses were added to the stem. James I gave it to the Spanish ambassador in 1604 to mark a peace treaty and it was gifted to a Spanish convent in 1610, where it remained until appearing on the Paris art market in 1883.

Tristram and Isolde, Medieval tiles, British Museum

Wealthy private homes, churches and key public buildings often had floors covered in decorated ceramic tiles. The tile making industry flourished during the 13th, 14th and early 15th Century. This group of tiles tells the beginning of the popular story of the adulterous love affair between Tristram and Isolde. The full story sequence would have included over 30 of these groups of tiles. They were probably commissioned for an important private residence. Late 13th Century. The British Museum.

Medieval art, Medieval enamel brooch, British Museum

This brooch was made in either England or France around 1400 AD. It features white enamel with a pink tourmaline, a stone that would have been rare at the time and probably came from Sri Lanka. Henry of Lancaster, later King Henry IV of England, is known to have given this type of white enamel jewelery to his friends. The British Museum, on loan from All Souls College, Oxford University.

Fishpool Hoard, Medieval art, Medieval coins, Medieval jewelery, British Museum

Above and Below: The Fishpool Hoard of gold coins and jewelery, buried around 1464, based on the latest coins in the hoard. It consists of nearly 1,300 gold coins and many pieces of fine jewelery. It seems to have been buried by a Lancastrian sympathizer fleeing the Battle of Hexham (during the Wars of the Roses), as the Lancastrians were defeated by the Yorkists there.

13 WPMed hoard 1 BM

To see Clio’s selection of medieval antiquities, especially Saxon, Visigoth, Frankish, Norman, Byzantine and Islamic objects, visit these pages: http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/c26_p1.htmland http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/c26_p2.html

Dover, Roman, lighthouse

The Roman Lighthouse at Dover: An Unlikely Survivor from Antiquity

Located on the grounds of Dover Castle in Kent, England, is a well preserved Roman lighthouse constructed from the orange-red tiles found throughout the Roman world, and from local flint and other stones. The original structure seems to have been erected about 50 AD with major reconstruction around130 AD, and was perfectly situated atop the high chalk cliffs of this area to help guide maritime traffic moving through the Channel between the ports of southeast Britain and what is now France, Belgium and the Netherlands. It was originally one of a pair, the other lighthouse having been situated on the cliffs about one thousand meters to the southwest. That structure did not survive the centuries and its foundation is now buried beneath 18th Century fortifications.

The lighthouse’s function is known with certainty due to its very close resemblance to other surviving lighthouses in Egypt and Spain and excavated examples in Italy, as well ancient depictions of the famous Pharos lighthouse at Alexandria, Egypt. In its original form it would have been square inside and octagonal outside, with four levels. It stands about 75 feet tall today, with the top 19 feet being Medieval reconstruction. It owes its survival mainly to having been used as a church tower in the Middle Ages and a variety of other uses over the centuries. Adjacent to it is the church of St Mary in Castro, the original fabric of which was partly constructed of material recycled from the lighthouse and other nearby Roman remains by the Saxons around 600 AD. Roman tile and worked flint are clearly visible throughout the structure. The Saxon church is a significant monument in itself, though it has seen much rebuilding. It is still in use today.

Trains from London to Dover take between one and two hours, depending on time of day. The lighthouse can be accessed today with an admission ticket to Dover Castle. The site is managed by English Heritage. Dover Museum offers excellent exhibits covering the Roman and Saxon periods and these strongly complement a visit to the lighthouse and church. Views from this location are spectacular, with the French coast visible on a clear day, the harbor of Dover directly below and the expanse of the Channel and the Dover cliffs stretching off for miles.

Links:

English Heritage page for Dover Castle – http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/dover-castle/

Dover Museum – http://www.dovermuseum.co.uk/Home.aspx

ImageDover Roman Lighthouse. To the right is the Saxon period Church of St Mary in Castro. Note the use of Roman building material in the church’s fabric. In the distance at left is Dover Castle.

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A close up view of Dover Roman lighthouse. The figure standing at bottom right between the lighthouse and church offers a sense of scale. Note the layers of Roman tile alternating with worked flint and stone.

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View from inside the lighthouse, showing clearly the square interior plan and four levels.

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Exterior detail, showing the use of Roman tile in the window arches.

The Museum of London: Roman Antiquities

The Museum of London offers, in my view, one of the most complete and satisfying museum experiences anywhere. Tracing the development of the greater London area from prehistory right through today, it offers not only extraordinary artifacts but art, interactive exhibits, dioramas, reconstructions and more to help the visitor understand London in any era. Indeed, I would recommend a visit to the Museum of London for any London visitor who wants to understand something of the development, character and geography of the City during their stay.

The Roman exhibits are remarkable, in that they make a very thorough attempt at reconstructing at least a glimpse of daily life in Roman London over its 300+ year history. This brief photo essay offers just a sample of exhibits I found to be of special interest during a 2012 visit.

ImageInscribed tombstone of a 3rd Century AD Roman centurion, found during reconstruction of St Martin’s Church, Ludgate Hill, in 1669. His clothing and the staff in his hand offer clues to his rank. The inscription reads: “To the spirits of the departed and to Vivius Marcianus of the 2nd Legion Augusta, Januaria Martina, his most devoted wife, set up this memorial.”

ImageImage

These 2 images are from a display of household wares in ceramic and glass, both Romano-British and imported from elsewhere in the Empire. In the lower image are several items, including ceramic oil lamps and parts of glass vessels, decorated with imagery related to gladiators and the arena.

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Part of a reconstructed Roman glass maker’s workshop that was excavated in London. Large amounts of recycled glass were broken up for melting down into molten glass, from which new glass vessels and objects were made.

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An example of the excellent educational exhibits in the Museum of London. This is an actual section of a Roman mosaic floor, mounted in a display where it can be touched by visitors.

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Reconstruction of a finely appointed room in a Roman home in London, based on excavations. The mosaic floor is original.

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A display or Roman jewelry, including brooches, rings and bracelets. Most are made of bronze and decorated in various techniques, including enameling, embossing, silvering, tinning or gilding.

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The 5 denominations of Roman coinage during the 1st and 2nd Centuries AD

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Roman gold coins of the 1st and 2nd Centuries AD, all found in London.

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3rd Century AD Roman limestone relief of 4 mother goddesses, found reused as building material in London. These deities may represent a merging of native or local British goddesses with deities from the traditional Roman pantheon.

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3rd Century AD limestone sculpture of a male figure and horse representing either Castor or Pollux (the Heavenly Twins), found near the Temple of Mithras in London.

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Excavations in 1999 at Spitalfields, London uncovered a Roman cemetery, including this stone sarcophagus containing a decorated lead coffin dating to the 4th Century.

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Inside the Spitalfields coffin was the skeleton of a young woman who died in her 20s. Tests revealed she may have come to England from southwestern Europe. Forensic studies resulted in this facial reconstruction.

Visit the Museum of London website at: http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/london-wall/

Visit Clio Ancient Art to see our selection of Roman Antiquities: http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/c15_p1.html

Romans in the Park: A Visit to Ancient Verulamium

For travelers accustomed to visiting ancient classical sites in the Mediterranean and Near East, Roman ruins in England may at first seem underwhelming. They tend to be relatively small in size and often poorly preserved; sometimes little more than a few courses of brick remaining. But it is precisely this manageable size, and the fact that so many Roman sites in England have been so thoroughly studied for so long, that allows the modern visitor to appreciate more intimately these sites. A short train ride north of London, St Albans is a case in point.

A settlement has existed at St Albans since the late Iron Age, when it was a center for the Celtic tribe of the Catuvellauni. With the arrival of the Romans in AD 43, the town began to grow and prosper. But in AD 60 or 61, the year of the Boudiccan Revolt, the town was largely destroyed. Verulamium recovered quickly and by AD 140 the town had doubled in size, covering 100 acres, and featuring a Forum, public baths, many prosperous private townhouses and outlying villas. Despite fires and other blows, the town continued to grow and had sufficient resources at its disposal around AD 275 to build an impressive defensive wall and ditch enclosing an area of 203 acres.

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Long surviving section of Verulamium’s city walls

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Surviving section of Verulamium’s city wall known as St Germain’s Block

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Mosaic preserved in situ and featuring subfloor heating, from a townhouse in Verulamium AD 160-190

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The Abbey Church at St Albans showing use of recycled Roman brick and other building material

Today the site of Verulamium sits in an idyllic public park, with playing fields, ponds, bike and walking trails and large expanses of open green space and woods, all just at the edge of St Albans itself. The antiquities of the ancient site were recorded as early as the 16th Century, with serious excavations beginning in the mid-19th Century. Much of the site was listed as a public monument in 1923 and acquired by the City of St Albans in 1929. Mortimer and Tessa Wheeler began systematic controlled excavations in 1930. They were followed by the likes of Kathleen Kenyon and other prominent archaeologists, and excavations continue on a smaller scale today. Verulamium Museum was opened on the site in 1939, with major improvements in 1998.

Verulamium Museum houses an outstanding collection of Roman mosaic floors, some of the best Roman wall paintings to have survived in England, and a vast collection of small finds, from the most humble to the magnificent. The quality of the displays is excellent and includes recreated rooms from private homes in the town and finds from the many outlying wealthy villas in the region.

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Example of the high quality displays in the Roman Verulamium Museum

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The Shell Mosaic, circa AD150, now in Verulamium Museum

Display of Roman Brooches in Verulamium Museum

Display of Roman brooches in Verulamium Museum

Display of Roman Oil Lamps in Verulamium Museum. Both Local and Imported Examples.

Display of Roman oil lamps in Verulamium Museum. Both local and imported examples.

This writer recommends a visit to Verulamium Museum prior to setting off to see the remains of the town. A very good guide book is available from the Museum shop. There are also many good restaurants in the High Street of St Albans for the hungry visitor.