I received a call on the morning of Day of Archaeology from the PR officer from KAS about a recent find that they are funding me to conserve for the Maidstone Archaeological Group. It has recently been translates by Roger Tomlin in Oxford. there are two columns of seven names each. This discovery will be published in Britannia and KAS is working on a press release for it. It had gone to Switzerland for neutron tomography, because we were hoping to read it without having to unroll it. Unfortunately, this the method was not conclusive (this time – an earlier experiment had been successful), , so it has been unrolled, although quite fragile and now needs a supportive backing.
After the inital excitement of the arrival of new material in the lab, curiosity had to be curbed and the main task of the day tackled. This task was to process and interpret anayltical data acquired last week during many days work on the SEM. I use many different analytical techniques to investigate the more important archaeometallurgical residues passing through the lab – and the analytical SEM is one of the most useful.
The backscattered electron images reveal compositional contrasts through their grey scale. In this image the dominant phase, appearing pale grey, is fayalite (an olivine mineral, approximately Fe2SiO4).
Across the centre of the image is a discontinuity, produced by the chilling of the surface of an individual lobe of slag as it flowed from the surface and cooled in the air.
The crystals are large, suggesting the slag cooled slowly, and the lobe margin is not marked by the development of much iron oxide, so this example probably cooled right in the mouth of the furnace.
As well as producing these images, the analytical SEM also permits chemical microanalyses from tiny spots or areas of the sample.
The second backscattered electron image shows a tiny detail of the first image, with the location of microanalyses.
The instrument provides the chemical analyses, but they then have to be recast as mineral formulae – and that was today’s task. With many hundreds to do that was a substantial task in front of the spreadsheet. Gradually a picture emerges of the overall composition of the slag and of its constituent minerals.In this instance, the slag proved to be typical of residues produced during the smelting of iron ores from the Forest of Dean. That is a useful result in itself, allowing one aspect of the economy of this Roman settlement to be understood. As other samples from the same site are interpreted further details will emerge – permitting reconstruction of the yield and efficiency of the furnace as well as aspects of the technology itself.
Archaeometallurgical residues provide a very direct link back to a particular occasion in the past, when an artisan did a particular job in a particular way. The waste material provides key evidence for that moment in time. Although studying the waste, rather than the product, might seem perverse, there is often a richer set of evidence about hte nature of the process to be gleaned from the residues than from the artefact. Crucially, the residues also typically remain close to the site of the activity, whereas the products were dispersed after production and may not be able to be linked back to their point of origin.
Careful investigation of such archaeometallurgical residues may allow us to come as close as we ever could do to looking over the shoulder of the Roman smith at his work.
My day started like any other day for me. Wake up at 7:30am (ish), make a coffee, put the Today programme on the radio and shamble about the house until the caffeine kicks in. The morning is also when I catch up with the US archaeology blogs that I follow.
Arrival at Work
First order of business is to turn on my workstation and, while that wakes up, make another cup of coffee.
I check my emails.
I’m waiting for a reply from English Heritage to my request for a license to carry out a geophysical survey at Bigbury Camp Iron Age hillfort, near Canterbury. It seems like I’ve been waiting ages for a reply, but it’s really only been two weeks.
A Little Background for the Uninitiated
Because Roman law forbade burial within settlements, the roads leading to and from Roman cities were lined with tombs and cemeteries. What may strike us as unusual, or at least unusual to our understanding of modern burial practices, is that the deceased’s age at death was not always recorded on their memorial. This is not to say that this practice was rare, just far from standard across the Empire.
What Ray and Francesco are doing is looking at the ages recorded on memorials and picking up patterns in the overall distribution of the range of chronological age at specific archaeological sites.
My Part In This
This research has produced a unique database containing around 24,000 entries. That’s 24,000 individual burials from across the Roman Empire; each entry recording many different pieces of information about the deceased, including their name, age, memorial inscription, and, in many cases, their social status, too. But this is not the only information recorded, as there is often the same detailed information about the person who erected the memorial.
My part in this is to prepare the database for analysis within GIS (Geographic Information System) software, which can be used to plot density and distribution patterns in the data and display this visually over a map of the Roman Empire.
The database as it stands isn’t suitable for using within GIS, because each entry represents an individual. To be able to plot density based on ages, I’ve been combining entries that share the same age and sex. For example, if there are ten entries from Carthage for females aged 9, it will become one entry for females aged 9 from Carthage, with a total count of ten.
Once the database has been prepared, it’ll be time to start querying the data and plotting density maps to see what the data says about chronological age across the Roman Empire.
While I’ve been working on the database, I’ve also created a website that will host the GIS and tabular data. The GIS server will be able to draw maps based on a user’s query, so that anyone can view the patterns in the data for themselves.
What Does the Data Show
Well, there’s not much I can say about the findings of the study, because, one, it isn’t finished yet, and two, I can’t just spill the beans about it. What I can say, however, is that age data from memorials is not a credible demographic tool. The declaration of age on the memorials appears to conform to the set of key ages which were considered of crucial importance to Roman society. A contemporary example could be the age of retirement as an indicator of the beginning of old age, or the age of 21 as a common indicator of a person’s entry into the world of adulthood.
Children are also poorly represented in the data. But, within this under-representation, there are greater and smaller numbers which may mean something. Roman Law explicitly stated that a child under three years was not permitted a proper funeral, (although simply having a tombstone didn’t necessarily mean that you had had a proper funeral, either). This may sound harsh to us, but, as infant mortality was much higher than it is today, they would have been more used to child death, and so there would be a certain desensitisation over an event that today would be horrific to experience. However, before we condemn Roman parents as monsters, there is a peak in the data for the age of three, which could be showing instances in which the parents lied about the child’s age in order to provide a proper funeral
So, working my way through data on 24,000 burials may be quite repetitive and a little morbid, but this kind of information is the bread and butter of archaeology. The repetition does allow time for an inevitable reflection upon life and death, though. I doubt there is an archaeologist who isn’t moved to these same reflections when dealing with data derived from burials. When data like this are analysed, what gets thrown out the other end are impersonal numbers; the reduction of 24,000 lives to a single statistic can’t really get much more impersonal!
But I think it’s impossible to forget that these were real people, as I think this one, randomly selected inscription shows:
To the spirits of the dead. Lucius Annius Festus [set this up] for the most saintly Cominia Tyche, his most chaste and loving wife, who lived 27 years, 11 months, and 28 days, and also for himself and for his descendants.
Is this really any different to what you’d find on a gravestone today? Lucius was obviously devoted to his wife, and he must have grieved at her passing. You or I would feel no different.
There’s still much work to be done, so I’ll finish this here. Thanks for reading!
A note on the title of this entry:
The phrase ‘Dis Manibus Sacrum’, (often shortened to D.M.S.), is found on many Roman graves. The Manes, to which it refers, were the spirits of the dead, so it can be translated as “Sacred to the Spirit-Gods” or, more loosely, “To The Memory Of…”.
A team of students worked this past July on an archaeological dig to unearth the remains of a 9,000-seat Roman theater in the former Roman metropolis of Clunia (in the
present-day province of Burgos, Spain).
Students, all of whom study Archaeology at various American, Australian and European Universities, joined a team of archaeologists and archaeology students from Spain uncovering important information about how the Romans built and used the theatre. Our scope also included layers of post-use looting, which can tell us what happened to the theater after the final curtain-call. The daily tasks included the excavation and mapping of the site, in addition to extracting and cataloguing artefacts.
Clunia is widely considered by archaeologists as one of Spain’s most fascinating Roman cities, having served as one of northern Hispania’s capitals during the 1st and 2nd centuries. ArchaeoSpain teams consist of between around 10 participants from around the world who join Spanish crews of 10 to 20 more people.
Shannon and the other students have learned not only how to conduct an excavation, but also how to interpret the archaeological clues discovered,
said ArchaeoSpain director Mike Elkin.
Over the past few years, our joint Spanish-international crews have uncovered priceless information about Spain’s ancient past.
In recent years, teams of students joining the ArchaeoSpain fieldschool have assisted in major discoveries at various sites in Spain and Italy. In Valladolid, teams are excavating the necropolis of Pintia, an Iron Age burial site that has revealed important clues about warrior classes from the 5th century B.C. In Pollentia on the island of Mallorca, the high-school group – one of the few archaeological programs for high school students in the world – has been uncovering sections of that city’s Roman Forum. At Monte Testaccio in Rome our team is helping unearth clues about Roman trade throughout the empire. And in Son Peretó, also in Mallorca, we are excavating a Byzantine settlement dating to the 6th century.
Interviews with the project team
Yes, really. I first fell in love with old buildings in Pompeii, where I spent summers working as an excavator from 2002-2008. Every day it struck me that I was in a place that still looked and felt like a real city. To my mind, this was down to the fact that the buildings are still standing. After more than 2000 years. Someone did something very, very right when making those buildings and I want to know more.
For my D.Phil research, I have landed in an opportunity to study structures in Ostia, Italy, which is also a preserved city-sized site. The structures I’m investigating are all brick and mortar masonry, with concrete filling up the center wall core. This is what Vitruvius called opus caementicium. To be honest, I’m most interested in the people who made it: the builders who developed this wonderful, magical material that is still performing successfully more than 2000 years after it was first installed. Where did they get their materials? Why were certain materials preferred over others? How were the materials processed and mixed together? How did builders’ choices affect the concrete and its performance? Were the same mix types used for both public and private structures? Why is this stuff still standing? These are the questions driving my research, and I am looking to answer them by investigating the material itself.
To give a quick overview, the mortar and concrete I am analyzing was made of lime, volcanic sand aggregate, and water. Sounds rather simple, however, the combination of materials they were using produced complex chemical reactions, known to modern concrete scientists as pozzolanic reactions, which resulted in a sophisticated, high quality material. My sample collection was collected from a series of structures in Ostia from the 2nd century CE, by which time – at least in Rome – concrete was well-developed and had been employed in large-scale Imperial building projects. My task now is to analyze the Ostian structures to determine how well-developed their concrete industry had become by that time. The benefit of a site like Ostia is that the ancient city is left largely in tact without modern development. This means that unlike in Rome, where centuries of modern development has destroyed all but the most protected monumental structures, it will be possible to evaluate the buildings within their original cultural context.
The analytical techniques employed for my research are borrowed from geology and concrete science, which makes this a truly interdisciplinary project. My samples are essentially synthetic composites of natural materials that can be investigated with traditional petrography. I’m using light microscopy of thin sections to identify and quantify the aggregate, to describe the cementitious matrix, and to identify any obvious degradation features or alteration products. Today I’m working on point counting one of the samples, which is pretty straight forward. I move across the sample in 1 mm steps, and at each location I record what I see in the cross hairs of the eyepiece. Besides the obvious benefit of quantifying each of the different components, I’m also getting to the know the sample really well. As I go, I’m recording information about the state of degradation or alteration, the shape and fillings of any cracks or holes, particle size and shape, and any other details that may give me a clue about what the builders were doing when they made the concrete.
I am also using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) to collect high-resolution, high-magnification backscatter images of the samples. At this scale I can get a better look at the binder-aggregate interface to see how well-bonded these components are. It is also possible to see any microscopic cements that have formed in pores, cracks, and the vesicles of aggregate clasts that would otherwise not be visible. The SEM also detects the atomic weights of everything in the sample, which show up as differences in the greyscale colour of the image. It also can calculate the chemical composition of the different components, so using a combination of chemical data and backscatter images, I can determine what types of cements have formed (strengthening) and how much leaching has occurred across the matrix (degradation). The ratio of calcium to silica is key in both cases.
X-ray diffraction is also on the menu, assuming I can find the funding to pay for it. This technique is incredibly useful for identifying the mineral assemblage in rocks and materials. In this case, I will use it to confirm the original petrographic identification of minerals in the aggregate and to find any other alteration minerals that could not be seen in thin section. The presence of certain minerals like gypsum or ettringite usually indicate alteration of the mortar itself, but minerals such as stratlingite and calcium-aluminum-silicate-hydrates suggest the mortar was rather well-formed in the first place.
So today, I’ll be giving an account of what it’s like for me in the lab. I realize that being stuck in the lab sounds like a death sentence to some people, but for me, it’s where the magic happens.
I dug at Crickley Hill in 1993, but began research on the Crickley Hill archive in 1997, as part of my MA in Archaeological Research at the University of Nottingham. My dissertation would focus upon the late- to post-Roman activity on the site, and provide a platform from which I could continue research in order to publish Volume 6 in the series of site reports. This report will cover the late pre-Roman Iron Age (‘Period 3c’), Roman, and Early Medieval (‘Period 4’: also called the ‘Early Middle Ages‘, or ‘Dark Ages‘) phases of occupation and ritual within the Early Iron Age hill fort. In this post, I’m going to provide a brief outline of work on the Crickley Hill archive
Heading out to site soon- been stuck tackling the joys of paperwork (even when on site the admin doesn’t go away). Also sorting out our end of dig part (although we don’t actually finish for another two weeks).
For private reasons we spend our summer holidays on the island of Mallorca since more than ten years. So I’m probably the most relaxed contributor to the Day of Archaeology.
If I wasn’t here, I should be sitting Continue Reading →
Getting started in archaeology: volunteering and studying as a part-time mature student
I’m going to explain how and why I came into archaeology (which will discuss volunteering and studying as a part-time mature student), and why I went into the field of early medieval archaeology. I hope this will show the positive effects of history and archaeology in schools, the role of museums in stimulating interest, and the significance of public access to archaeology. It will also hopefully provide some insight into the value of education, and the challenges of studying archaeology as a mature student.
Sun is shining in Massaciuccoli, Tuscany! We’re diggin’ this interesting Roman building, it’s 5 professionals, plus many students from Pisa, Florence, Cardiff & Aberdeen Universities!
The excavations in Massaciuccoli started long ago with the digging up of the thermal bath covered by beautiful I century A.D. mosaics in 1934. Today the Team of professionals and students is immersed in the excavation of the rest of the building, just across the road. This more recent excavation started in 2006 and it will finish in the next year, 2012.
Because of the display of the building and its surronding, initial therories categorised it as a Roman Villa, but due to new finds such as a pottery stamp with the image of two gladiators and pieces of a furnace, new theories have arose. One of them is the possible use of the building for pottery production, and the area 4000 may have been a market place open to the public. In the area next to area 4000, there was also found a holy room containing an altarpiece and in front of it a base for a statue. In this room the walls are covered by a mix of mashed bricks, clay and a kind of mortar that draws them together.
It is an interesting site which offers new challenges and experiences everyday. Young archaeologists and students from around the world are invited to join our excavation!
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