Smashing news about the Chedworth Villa roman glass

The glass when first found

At last we can tell the story of what the specialists found out about the little piece of glass Pete found in 2017 at Chedworth Villa. You may already know its story as it hit the press and social media yesterday, 22nd July.

Not long after excavation I had taken it to Professor Jenny Price, a roman glass expert. She was very intrigued by it and thought she had seen something resembling it in the past, but from the Middle East. Features of the glass indicated that the technique used to make it was also unusual, differing from that used to make glass with similar decoration. The glass had a distinctive profile showing that it came from a long bottle with an oval shape and a sharp taper at the end. So away it went with her, so she could study it and consult many experts around the world.

The glass fragment showing loops of yellow and white

Eighteen months later Jenny was able to report back to us that it probably came from an area around the Black Sea. She had found a reference to another similar glass flask that had been excavated from a burial in Chersonesus in Crimea. It turned out to be part of a fish-shaped flask with the fish’s open mouth forming the aperture of the vessel, and probably held perfume or an unguent of some kind. 

It was the first piece of this kind of glass ever to be found in Britain, a very rare find.

Jenny also found a very similar fish-shaped flask that had been restored from many pieces, at the Corning Museum of Glass in New York. By comparing the two examples, she concluded the Chedworth piece came from near the ‘tail’ of the fish bottle

An archaeological drawing of the place were the piece of glass fits on the fish flask

Sadly, Jenny passed away a few months ago. Earlier, Pete, who found the glass, had a chance to go and see her and talk about the fish. He said he could see she was enchanted by it, and we are so pleased she had a chance to solve this puzzle and knew how excited we all were by it. It is a very special find.

To have found that it is the only one of its type so far discovered in Roman Britain adds to our knowledge of the importance of Chedworth Roman Villa.

That such an exotic thing was brought from so far away seems to underline that the occupants were in touch with the furthest regions of the Roman Empire and wanted to show off that influence and connections.

Illustration of what it may have looked like by archaeological illustrator Maggie Foottit

This little gem of glass and the illustrations can now be seen on display at Chedworth Villa in Gloucestershire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

. 

The only other example of such a fish-shaped Roman bottle comes from a 2nd-century burial in Crimea. 

The technique used to make the Chedworth bottle was unusual, with decoration laid on top of the blue-green surface to create ‘scales’ in loops of white and yellow. It was more common to incorporate different colours into the body of the vessel itself.  

at the University of York who was helping with a dig to understand more about the north wing of the villa. 

Peter said: “When it appeared, the first wipe of the surface showed the colour and it quickly became apparent it was something special. Excavating anything at Chedworth and knowing that you are the first person to gaze upon it for at least 1,800 years is a feeling that never tires, the memory of recovering this piece of glass certainly will not. 

“Recovering such a unique find is incredibly humbling, it will no doubt prove a talking point for years to come. I am delighted that it will be displayed at the villa, enabling visitors and future generations to marvel at its beauty.”

Nancy Grace concluded: “This find shows there is still more for Chedworth to tell us about Roman life in this corner of Gloucestershire.” 

The fragment is going on display at the villa as part of the Festival of Archaeology (until 28 July) and will remain on display throughout summer.

 

Throw back Thursday – Industrial beauty

We thought we would do a few ‘throw back Thursdays’ and re visit a few of our past posts from a few years ago for new followers, this one is from 2015 about one of our smaller properties, a hidden gem.

The forge

The forge

I started my digging life on an industrial site near Barnsley in Yorkshire, and my relatives worked in the mills and mines of West Yorkshire, so I have a soft spot for industrial sites from the past.

A while ago I visited one of our small industrial gems in Devon. I had some leather drive-belts to drop off for them to use from a large collection we acquired in order to get the  right sizes for some for our grist (corn and grain) mills.

leather drive belts of all sizes waiting for new homes

Leather drive-belts of all sizes waiting for new homes

The property was Finch Foundry near Okehampton, the last working water-powered forge in England. There are three water wheels powering hammers, shears and blade sharpening stones. This set up lead to the foundry becoming one of the South West’s most successful edge tool factories which, at its peak, produced around 400 edge tools a day, of many designs and types.

One of the waterwheels can be seen through the opening in the wall on the left

One of the waterwheels can be seen through the opening in the wall on the left

When you visit you are met by the smells and the noises of the machines, a taste of what it may have been like to work in this forge. But it is only part of the noise that would have been made, as not all the hammers, shears and grinders are in use during your visit!

Some of the workers and owners of the forge

Some of the workers and the owner of the forge

One of the water powered hammers

The water-powered hammers on the right and large shears on the left

There is also a carpenters’ shed at the forge. As the business grew Finch Bros expanded into providing carts, gates and even coffins. At the property you can see the  large variety of edge tools made at the foundry, along with a display of tools used by the wheelwrights and carpenters and learn about the Finch family. I recommend calling in if you have a spare hour, its not far from the A30, and there is a lovely garden and of course there is tea and cake 🙂

I hope this short video will give a flavour of the site, with all its squeaks, quacks, whooshes and clacks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A summary: Chedworth 2018

The soil is back in place and the dust has settled. The North Range corridor and grand reception room mosaics now lie 10-15cm deep.

IMG_9575

Who knows when they will be uncovered again but thanks to the help of so many ..we have been able to make an excellent record ….into the future they can be seen as fine images and videos ….while the originals lie protected from the weather and erosion under the ground.

We had glimpsed bits of these mosaics in 2013, 2014 & 2016.  Before that, in 2000, Cotswold Archaeology had uncovered an area and Roger Goodburn revealed other sections in 1990.

We thought that everything had been uncovered by James Farrer in the 1860s.. but this year, we revealed sections of mosaic, particularly along the south side of the reception hall, which were still covered by late Roman building debris..mainly roof tiles and rubble. Simon identified a coin we found here as belonging to Theodosius I (AD 379-395), one of the last Roman emperors to circulate coins in Britain.

This rubble was not a pristine collapse of debris, left where it had fallen after the villa roof fell in. It was a remnant..picked over for goodies perhaps in the 6th-10th centuries. However, we have identified nothing later than the Theodosian coin in this stuff so far.

By the close of the excavation, we had uncovered sections of mosaic covering an area over 30m long and 6m wide. At times, it seemed, we had taken on something over-large ..but the weather, although very hot, helped us work together to achieve the hoped for result. More survived under the tarmac and grass than we suspected.

As we reburied them… we wondered what world the mosaics would be exposed to when eventually uncovered again.

Last year, we excavated the mosaic in Room 28. It was perhaps used as a summer dining room…so lets imagine and go for a stroll with the owner… after a meal taken here in the late 4th century.

We walk from the room and enter the 3m wide corridor with its hopscotch pattern of decorated squares, each a different design. We progress west as far as a chequerboard mosaic doormat in front of a broad stone threshold.

Perhaps servants are here to open the double doors for us and we step into the great reception room. It stretches before us now.. long and broad and high.. decorated with brightly coloured panels of painted wall plaster. The floor is beautiful .. we know it now. Intricate grouped geometric designs  bordered by 3 bands of alternating white and red tesserae with a broader white band around the edge of the room.

Half-way along, on the south, is a stepped? external entrance into the courtyard. Although the archaeology was badly damaged here, lines of dressed stones suggest a doorway …and it would be expected.

We still stand in the corridor doorway and directly in front of us at the other end of the room are the kerbstones which mark the entrance to the colonnade leading to the West Range of the villa and the flight of steps which lead to the baths.

Jutting into the courtyard at the south-west corner of the reception hall is the ornate square water feature which we excavated in 2014. Another revelation of the grandeur of this place.

To the right of this, the red stripe border turns west at right angles to mark the position of a foundation (utilising an earlier wall line), a secure foundation for a heavy imposing decorative feature, built against the centre of the room’s west wall. We can imagine an important fixed feature. Perhaps the statue of a god, an ancestor or emperor. From here, leading north, a flight of steps carries us into…the owner’s office. A place of discussion, business and command. This is Room 24, where, in 2014, we found the evidence of the raised pillar hypocaust.

This year, the fragment of carved stone, Nancy found, is thought to come from an ornate stone side table which is evidence for the furniture which once graced this room. We can place this with our exotic eastern mediterranean marble fragment found near the centre of this room in 2014.

Towards the east end of this north wall would have been another door. This time into Room 25 but an entrance less imposing. It did not need steps to enter because Room 25 has a channeled hypocaust .. so the floor was built at the same level as the reception room. The evidence for this doorway is a concentration of erosion, the mosaic floor worn away by 5th to 6th century footfall.. repaired with only mortar and clay at a time when the Romano-British economy had fallen apart and the mosaicists had ceased to trade.

The steps and statue focus on Room 24 ….as the centre of power.

Steve has identified an unexpected change in the central mosaic pattern design and perhaps this pointed to the position of the doorway into the courtyard….but it may just be a mistake.

Of course.. I am spinning a yarn. It is good to have a story and I am giving you my best truth based on an interpretation of the evidence.

IMG_9579a

A dodgy drawing of my imagined view from the north range corridor through the reception hall towards the colonnade and the west range. The line of kerb stone here suggest a broad open entrance and perhaps, at this point there were once folding shutters rather than doors.. to act as a screen in the colder weather. A splash of blue on the left indicates the water feature. I have picked up the mistake in the central panels of the mosaic and drawn a central doorway to the courtyard on the left. Steps have been created up to room 24 and no steps for the suspected doorway to Room 25.  I have put a statue on a plinth to explain the kink in the red stripe border and decided that the staircase to the baths was a single flight accessed from the colonnade. Also two side tables are shown as interpreted by Anthony from the carved fragment Nancy found this year.

There were four other trenches.

Two were to pick up the line of the outer west boundary wall of the villa. We found this wall, made of chunky blocks of stone bonded to the south Nymphaeum wall. Even in the drought the Nymphaeum spring water still trickled into its pool. The wall’s junction with the Nymphaeum shows that it has been largely recreated in the 1860s. There is a straight joint and then the ashlar gives way to irregular blocks of stone. Different phases of construction but not enough time to fully understand the sequence properly.

IMG_9552

Where the villa west boundary wall joins the Nymphaeum (scale 20cm divisions)

Peter and I projected the wall line 12m to the south and excavated another trench. Although there was a spread of rubble here, nothing but a patch of mortar indicated that the wall survived this far south.

IMG_9556

The second trench to locate the boundary wall. Just rubble this far south. Peter stands where the alignment of this wall joins the Nymphaeum

The third trench was in raised baths Room 21 on the west side of the reception room. This was dug to find the wall dividing the early tepidarium bath with the room we found under the east side of Room 21 in 2015-2016. Amy and Fay found a line of blocks of stone on the proposed alignment but they were loose and we did not have the time in the end to go deep enough to prove the theory.

IMG_9577

The trench to locate the earlier tepidarium east wall. Richmond interpreted it in his 1960s rebuild where the vertical ranging rod stands. His work cut away the south (top in photo) edge of the archaeology. Displaced blocks of stone on this alignment suggest that it might survive at a deeper level.

The last trench was a revisit and expansion of one excavated in 2016. This was to date three walls. Firstly, the south wall face of the North Range Corridor and Reception Hall. Secondly, the buttress which supports this wall on the south side where the wide doorway leads from the corridor into the reception hall. Thirdly, the east wall of the gallery which divides the inner and outer courtyards of the villa.

I am particularly interested in finding new evidence for the beginning and end of the villa and this trench it seems contains evidence of an earlier phase.

At the end of the 2016 season we found a square flagstone and the top of a heap of yellow mortar and rubble which contained 2nd century evidence. This year we confirmed that the coins in the darker soil, above the yellow building rubble dated to the late 3rd century. Nothing 4th century: which is unexpected because we were sure that both the buttress and the corridor wall had been built towards the end of the 4th century.

I found a cutting against the corridor wall filled with a dark grey silt which had been dug through the deep mortary building rubble. This contained two worn undateable coins. At first it seemed that this was a foundation trench for the corridor wall but it didn’t work archaeologically… The trench cut the rubble.. the rubble was heaped up against the buttress foundation …and the buttress foundation abutted the corridor wall. You see what I mean ? …It creates a time warp. You can’t build a wall before its buttress.

My present story is that it is a later trench cut perhaps to take away a flagstone, a neighbour to the one we found wedged between the buttress and the corridor wall. There may once have been a line of flagstones against the corridor wall here.

The yellow rubble layer was deep and interesting. Full of blue and red painted plaster debris and occasional sherds of pottery including a fragment of samian and the rims of two 2nd century black burnished ware jars. It had been heaped over a water tank beneath a stone spout. If this rubble is late 2nd century then the buttress and corridor wall must be earlier…

…Though of course finds in dumps of rubble can be displaced and redeposited. Cross reference everything and assume nothing.

The tank had an outlet hole that drained into a ditch. The tank and debris sat on a spread of grey limestone slates spread across to create a rough floor surface. On the last day, Stephanie and her daughter found an oyster shell, charcoal and occasional scraps of pottery and tesserae here and Carol and Nick found a deposit of animal bones under the buttress foundation.

IMG_9562

The rough stone floor surface continuing under the stone tank and beneath this the foundation of the East Gallery wall. The foundation for the later stone buttress for the corridor is on the right edge of the photograph.

I made one last small incision against the gallery wall and found beneath the stone slab floor and the mortar layer below it, a foundation trench filling and the base of the gallery wall.

So the sequence is clear…first the gallery, then the corridor then the buttress. We will take our samples for radiocarbon dates and Nancy will send the finds for analysis. They will help us tell a better story.. something a little closer to the truth

And so we say goodbye to our excavations at Chedworth Roman Villa. Thank you so much to all the staff, specialist experts and volunteers who have helped us since 2010. Particularly of course the property staff and volunteers at Chedworth. You are all wonderful.

And looking back…Guy, Aparna, Catherine and James…Harry, Kate, David and Mike. Fay and Carol our fine supervisors of course. The core team Peter and Amy, younger Nick and Nick the wise and Stephanie… who discovered archaeology this year and  Rob our longest volunteer (since 1986!) who in this last evening photo…conveniently stands where the statue might once have been.

IMG_9499

Thank you !

 

 

Day 12 – Rogues gallery

Here as promised are the ‘small finds’ we have found over the last few days 🙂

 

A coin, worn but enough remains for a coin expert to identify

The reverse of the coin with a bit more detail.

Another coin, very clear, you can read the lettering. Probably IMP TETRICUS PF AVG, so probably Tetricus I rather than Tetricus II, who ruled the separatist Gallic empire from AD271-274 Thanks Pete for the identification

The reverse of the Tetricus coin

And the next coin, very worn on the obverse,

The reverse has a little bit of detail, hopefully enough for an identification

The last of the coins and this one is worn and probably beyond identification

Not a coin but a lovely piece of roman glass, part of the rim of a bowl maybe.

Last but not least is a hob nail, from a roman shoe, it was found between tow loose tesserae in the corridor mosaic. Avery fine example of its type!

 

Books & Our Landscapes

Books transport us, take us beyond ourselves- but to a recognisable place. Often we are ambushed by the words, words that touch us and unlock our heart.

IMG_8557

Blackmore Vale from Hambledon Hill, Dorset

We all view the world though our own unique experience and as an archaeologist I see the beauty of our countryside as the expression of the many generations that worked and shaped it, a precious jewel to be conserved. Writers evoke the many moods of places…places like Thomas Hardy’s Dorset or Winston Graham’s Cornwall .

09.12.11 Hod Hill 060

Hardy’s Cottage near Dorchester, Dorset: the birth place of Thomas Hardy

Through their writing, we are drawn to the locations that helped spark these authors into their creative genius – Hardy’s Cottage, Max Gate, Trerice. The buildings are the launch pad to their setting – the intricate majesty of the south west’s coast and countryside.

IMG_6345

Gunwalloe. Cornwall

The first book I recommend is by W.G. Hoskins. In his introduction, he tells the book’s story: he had searched in vain for a book which unravelled the intricate history of the landscape -therefore, in frustration, he created this pivotal work. He writes: ‘The English landscape itself, to those who know how to read it aright, is the richest historical record we possess. There are discoveries to be made in it for which no written documents exist, or have ever existed’ (The Making of the English Landscape).

At college, his book inspired me to go out and seek the myriad hidden stories held within ordinary farmsteads and fields.

However, landscape is far more than a museum of past lives: it is a work of artistry. The landscape has moods, light and shade, it constantly alters in weather and seasons, has memories.

How can our experience of it be captured? A book can guide us there, perhaps in a few pages describing an ordinary, though extraordinary, Mayday walk through fields to a village. ‘I seemed to capture everything together-medieval England, myself at ten, the summers of the past and the summer really coming….Dodie Smith writes a fabulous dream-like passage in ‘I capture the Castle’ such a surprising book… ‘Did anything as beautiful as this ever happen before?’

Our surroundings are so precious, internationally so. This was certainly the opinion of George Orwell who after escaping from the horrors of the Spanish Civil War wrote: ‘And then England – Southern England, probably the sleekest landscape in the world. It is difficult when you pass that way…to believe that anything is really happening anywhere’ (Homage to Catalonia).

Books grab us and encourage us to go and care for and experience our surroundings before it is too late. My last quote is from The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. Stephens, the butler, is given leave to escape his gilded cage, a great house in Oxfordshire (Dyrham in the film).

DSCN2218

Dyrham, Gloucestershire

To take a journey across the south west to meet a love he cannot acknowledge. He stops in unfamiliar surroundings and an old man invites him to take a path ‘you won’t get a better view anywhere in England’. The incident is a metaphor for the book. Take your chances while you can. Stephens is persuaded to climb the steep and winding path…. and is not disappointed.

That evening in Salisbury he recalls the moment.

IMG_9191

Marshwood Vale from Lambert’s Castle, Dorset

‘For it is true, when I stood on that high ledge this morning and viewed the land before me, I distinctly felt that rare, yet unmistakable feeling-the feeling that one is in the presence of greatness. We call this land of ours Great Britain, and there may be those who believe this a somewhat immodest practice. Yet I would venture that the landscape of our country alone would justify this lofty adjective’.

Open a book today, let it beckon you down a new path.

IMG_8549

Bibliography:

Hoskins, W.G., 1955, The Making of the English Landscape, Penguin Books, 14-15.

Kazuo Ishiguro, 1989,The Remains of the Day, Faber, 24-27.

Orwell, G., 1938, Homage to Catalonia, Penguin Books, Faber & Faber, 220-221.

Smith, D., 1949, I Capture the Castle, Random House, 177-185.

The glass find – first thoughts

The glass when first found

Now we have recovered from the digging and back filling of the trenches at Chedworth Roman Villa, we can start on the post excavation work and find out more about what we found. The star find this year was a small fragment of glass that Pete found in room 27. Having contacted the main specialist on roman glass and sent lots of photographs, an e-mail returned asking for a very detailed description of where it was found, as they had not seen anything exactly like it before in Britain. They needed to see it in the flesh and as luck would have it we were both attending the Roman Finds Groups conference so I took it along. After looking at it from all angles the verdict was that it needed to be shared wider, to roman glass specialists, roman archaeologists and roman finds people beyond Britain. The only possible comparable piece Jennifer had ever seen was from near Iran! The post excavation work is like excavating again, in that you never know what you will find out about the objects you have found, discovering the story never ends. Once again Chedworth villa produces something unusual, watch this space for more updates on this wonderful fragment of glass.

The lovely colourful glass

Sunset 8.15pm Chedworth 2017

So the 5 year North Range research agenda is complete.

Chedworth Roman Villa 1 cMike Calnan_ Naitonal Trust

Picture copyright Mike Calnan taken by mini-copter on Thursday. The North Range to the left with the green and blue gazebos in Room 27. You can just see our exterior trenches beyond the walls on the slope top left.

We had started backfilling on the previous day so it seemed unlikely that we would leave late for home on Friday.

Always the optimist. I had arrived at 7am to video the site amongst birdsong.

Carol crossed the corridor, climbed the bank and picked blackberries.

Fay squinted at the rising sun in the valley as I moved the pencil along the staff. Taking levels on the boundary wall.  ‘There’s a breathless hush in the close tonight’. The lull before the storm.
‘Ten to play and a match to win’

Nothing like a bit of imperialist poetry to steel one against the day but who would come to help us? So much recording to do…so many trenches to fill.

Then John kindly arrived despite his birthday, Nick and Nick and Alexander and Harry to join the rest of us stalwarts and we began the long day…

We loaded the last tools as the sun began to set and Amy remained with us until the end. Fabulous! Carol said that the last day on a dig was like childbirth… painful but worth going though again. We were so grateful to everyone for putting the site back together after all our exploration.

IMG_4788

Plan from an old guide book to show the numbers of the rooms in the north range 27-30. Our boundary wall and drain trenches were above 30.

What can be said.

On the north side, the boundary bank ran clear across the trench and was easily traced following the contour of the valley above the North Range. A heap of Roman debris lay over it and below the rubble a level stony area suggests a trackway though we did not fully excavate this.

IMG_7850

Detail of the Roman wall on the outside face of Room 30. This shows the time when the North Range had a new suite of rooms added to the east. The foundation trench for the old build is stony and has the ranging pole on it. That to the left more soily marked by the trowel. The courses above abutt except for one which cuts into the old build and ties the walls together.

Just below is Rob’s trench against the exterior wall of the kitchen. The beautifully placed 0.33m wide flagstones 0.3m from the wall face. We thought the stones covered a drain. We lifted one and the surface crumbled into hundreds of fragments. Below was only 0.1m of sand and charcoal above the natural clay.

The current story is that the stones were the firm foundation for a timber drain that was built along its surface. The wood had long rotted away but there are stories of iron linking rings being found here.  We still need to track down the source.

No doubt now about the later addition of the suite of rooms 30-32 onto the east end of the North Range. Both in Fay’s trench, within Room 30, and this trench, the abutting joints and change in foundation trench fills were clear.

Our two small trenches in the North Range Corridor showed that there was no mosaic left east of Room 26 but that the narrower and earlier corridor wall could be traced past Room 27. It was not found opposite Room 30 but the ground here has been badly disturbed. Sir Ian Richmond’s 1964 breeze block wall ran deep this far east.

IMG_7868

The two trenches in the north range. The one in the foreground had the stones of the narrower and earlier corridor in it.

Peter’s trench in Room 27 had now been backfilled and made  level with replaced turf….. but what had been the point of the deep dressed stone wall against the corridor. Was it an early pre-corridor wall. I am placing a lot of faith in comparative C14 dates from foundation trench fills. The fragments of charcoal have been helpfully plentiful in these but not an ideal dating tool …too crude really for Roman deposits.

We stopped for lunch and the discussions …over leaving cake …turned to mattocks. We admired the prize tool of the dig … the new yellow fibre-handled mattock which Nancy purchased specially. Mattocks are wonderful things… if deftly hefted. We told mattock stories……

We then faced Room 28. I moved forward with parallel tapes and ranging poles, drawing metre by metre and as each space was vacated, the terram, topsoil and turf followed.

IMG_7896

The topsoil and terram being placed.

The mosaic survived best in the north… though its gradual deterioration south documented its loss.. Down through the mortar bedding and limestone rubble hardcore. Even the hardcore disappeared in the room’s central zone… becoming a dark soil containing the two hearths and a foundation of rubble between areas of burning. These ragged remains are an exciting discovery. We need to search for comparisons and obtain radiocarbon dates from their organic deposits. I hope for a 5th-6th century date to reveal a time when the villa was still standing.. but had declined from a grand mansion house to a manufacturer’s workshop.

Chedworth Roman Villa 4 cMike Calnan_ National Trust

Copyright Mike Calnan photo of Room 28 on Thursday. Peter’s trench in Room 27 bottom left.

The last trench was Peter and Alexander’s, behind Rooms 25 and 26. Peter had been digging there until the afternoon to understand it better. The trench showed that 25 had been added on but it had once had a different broader plan. This earlier phase had  been part demolished before being rebuilt. The foundation trench along 25’s  north side was clear but to the east the natural bedrock had be dug away deeply and steeply. I jumped down onto a loose mortar surface and slid the trowel under the lowest course of the earliest phase of 25. This cutting continued north-east through the trench section into the slope of the hill. Perhaps a drain or earlier stoke hole… but time was up.

IMG_7903

The deep trench cutting natural and the wider foundation under Room 25. Room 26 is on the left. The cutting continues under the section line to the right.

Fay shouted out the levels from the slope and I joined the backfilling.

but the story is not over until the samples are analysed, we have made cross-comparisons and the reports are written. What of our painted glass.. the pottery, the charcoal and other finds?… we will see what they tell us.