Just before Christmas I headed to Oxford to meet with Emma Durham, who is working on the Chedworth antiquarian collections, and we then headed to the Ashmolean Museum to meet marble expert Susan Walker, Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities.
We both had finds bags with various pieces of marble from past and recent excavations at Chedworth Roman Villa. The piece I had was the one found in August 2014 (see post Day 12 – last discoveries and careful covering). Emma had a few pieces from the original excavations in the 1860s.
We met Susan and were led through a maze of stairs and corridors to her book-filled office, she cleared a space on the table and we handed over our treasures. We opened our notebooks and waited, pens at the ready. Susan looked at each piece of marble in turn and made a few interesting opening comments. Three pieces that looked slightly different in surface colour turned out to fit together into a larger piece, others were different in thickness and marble type. After a few questions about the site and finding of the pieces, Susan started to tell us the story she saw in the marble.
All the marble looked to be East Mediterranean, and most pieces seem to be wall veneers, but are quite thick, which may indicate use in a bath house or water feature. Some of the marble looks to be from Paros, which was favoured for water features. I think the pattern in the marble added to the effect, when under water, of movement.
Susan identified one piece that was worked along the edge, part of a basin, tank, vessel or sink, and most likely came from Proconnesus in the Sea of Marmara. She was amazed this got all the way to Chedworth. She explained that the marble was probably all 2nd/3rd century (Severan) due to the type of marble that was quarried then. At that time the set up with marble was that the Emperor had first call on any marble and only small amounts were then available to others, some of which would be exported to Britain and come in via London. It seems that, to be able to acquire this kind of marble, the person who owned Chedworth Villa had a very high status.
The questions this raises are to do with the dates. Was the marble used in the earlier villa on the site (2nd century) or was it reused marble acquired for the later villa (4th century) from somewhere else? Have there been other finds of these marble types in the area, in Cirencester for example, and how much has been found in the country as a whole? Once again more questions than answers, so onward we go with more research and potentially more exciting discoveries.
Emma and I left the museum with big grins on our faces. It had been a very exciting encounter, thank you Susan for bringing this stone to life, and I hope I have interpreted my scribbled notes right!
Oh, and I must not forget the piece we dug up this year; it’s called Cipollino, little onion marble, probably from the Greek island of Euboea.