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.
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
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.
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.