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 –

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

From the British Museum Blog: Mystery of the Fetter Lane Hoard

An intriguing story from The British Museum Blog. In 1908 workers in London found 46 Roman coins. But these were minted in Alexandria, Egypt. How did they get there? The Museum’s Curator of Greek and Roman Provincial Coins explores. Link opens in a new tab or window – http://blog.britishmuseum.org/2015/08/27/the-mystery-of-the-fetter-lane-hoard/

NEWS ITEM: Exceptional Roman woman’s tombstone found at Cirencester, UK.

Article includes 10 pics of the discovery and opens in a new tab or window – http://www.gloucestershireecho.co.uk/Rare-Roman-tombstone-Cirencester-makes/story-26084235-detail/story.html

Big plans announced for Exeter Roman Baths site

Exeter Cathedral has announced plans to uncover the Roman baths and basilica found under the Cathedral green in 1971 during excavation of an Anglo Saxon cemetery and subsequently reburied to protect the remains. Plans include a subterranean museum, cafe and shop. The site is considered internationally significant. Details from the BBC here (link opens in a new tab or window) – http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-devon-30081921

NEWS ITEM: Romano-British Goddess Sculpture Uncovered During Dig at Roman Fort

During a dig at Arbeia Roman Fort, in the north of England, not far from Hadrian’s Wall, a small but well preserved stone head of a Romano-British goddess was uncovered by a volunteer. Here’s the link to the local newspaper, including a photo gallery – http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/roman-goddess-stone-found-during-7897902

UK Portable Antiquities Scheme Releases 2013 Annual Report

The UK’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport, along with The British Museum, have issued the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s 2013 Annual Report. The Report shows how, more than ever,  this model of public participation in the finding and recording of archaeological data can have huge benefits to finders, museums and the broader base of archaeological and historical knowledge. It is a model that should be emulated by many other countries in and beyond Europe.

Some amazing key facts from the Report –

* One million finds have now been recorded by the Portable
Antiquities Scheme (PAS) since 1997.
• 80,861 PAS finds were recorded on the PAS database in 2013 (finds.org.uk/database).
• 90% of finds were found by metal-detectorists.
• 91% of PAS finds were found on cultivated land, where they are susceptible to plough damage and artificial and natural corrosion processes.
* The great majority of PAS finds are returned to the finder.
• 993 Treasure cases were reported. It is hoped that many of these will be acquired by museums for public benefit.
• Important new Treasure finds included eight Bronze Age gold bracelets from Woollaston, Gloucestershire (2013 T805), a Civil War coin hoard from Staveley, North Yorkshire (2013 T635) and a post-medieval silver ewer from Kingston Russell, Devon (2013 T476).
It is worth noting here that if about 90% of PAS finds are returned to the finders, in just 2013 this would amount to over 70,000 individual objects being available to enter the marketplace for antiquities and related items. Those who claim, with no actual proof, that the antiquities market is flooded with looted objects should consider this number. In the space of a decade this would approach nearly a million objects, many tens of thousands of them being marketable Celtic, Roman, Saxon and other antiquities. All perfectly legal under British and international law.
The PAS 2013 Report is available to download or view in PDF format here – http://finds.org.uk/documents/annualreports/2013.pdf

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.