Romans

Using archaeology to promote the study of STEM subjects

My Day of Archaeology is a bit different to previous years. Back in 2012 and 2013 I was doing lab work (for Feeding Stonehenge and Paisley Caves respectively) and in 2014 I was doing teaching preparation and looking at microscope slides. This year I am technically not doing archaeology at all, though I have been using archaeology. Let me explain – I am a geoarchaeologist, which means I use methods and approaches from geoscience to address questions about the human past. In my current job, which I just started this month, a large part of my role is trying to increase the numbers of students (and women in particular) studying Civil Engineering and Geosciences at Newcastle University. Like archaeology with the popular image of adventure and Indiana Jones, civil engineering has it’s own public image (bridges, buildings! machinery!) and if you say geoscience, the first thing most people think of is rocks. Compared to the image of archaeology which has a broad appeal, it can be much harder to convince people that civil engineering is something they would enjoy. Likewise, there is much more to geoscience than rocks (though personally I am quite a fan of rocks…). This is where the archaeology comes in.

For my Day of Archaeology, I have been putting together outreach events for schools and families, to try and broaden the appeal of geosciences, and to convey the diversity and breadth of the subject. One of the talks I am doing is on Geoscience and Archaeology, using case studies from archaeology to show how we can apply geoscience methods in ways people might not have thought about. I am also working with the Great North Museum: Hancock, to develop geoscience inspired activities for Earth Science Week in October. In a similar vein, I have been writing a blog post (not yet published), on the links between civil engineering and heritage. Back to the bridges stereotype, many famous bridges (or civil engineering structures in general), have become part of the cultural heritage of a place, and it could be argued that their symbolic function is equally as important as their practical one. The Golden Gate, Millau Viaduct, London’s Tower Bridge – all have become iconic symbols of a region or city. In Scotland, the Forth Bridge was recently awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. And of course anyone with an interest in Roman archaeology knows the importance of bridges as material culture. Newcastle itself was known as Pons Aelius (Hadrian’s Bridge) to the Romans! Archaeology is everywhere, even where you may least expect it.

bridges

Bridges: iconic landmarks and heritage symbols (images from Wikipedia)


Roman Coins: Behind the Scenes at the Yorkshire Museum – Alec Boyd and Kerrie Hoffman

The Yorkshire Museum’s Numismatic (money and medals) collection is composed of over 44,000 objects, approximately 35,000 of which are coins. As you can imagine with a collection of this size the documentation and curation of these objects is a massive undertaking. We took up the challenge of helping curator Andrew Woods with this task. One day per week for 6 months we volunteered to photograph primarily Roman Republican coins and then update the records for these objects to provide a more precise location in the museum store. This work makes the collection more accessible both physically and digitally.

A wooden storage cabinet with one tray removed. Coins are placed in each of the round depressions.

A wooden storage cabinet with one tray removed. Coins are placed in each of the round depressions.

Meeting at 10:00am we proceeded to the museum’s research room situated behind the scenes at the Yorkshire Museum.  Our daily routine began by setting up state of the art photography equipment. Andy would then select a series of objects for the day.  Our main task was to use this equipment to photograph these objects and produce high resolution digital images.

Numismatics volunteer Kerrie using a copy stand to produce high-resolution images of coins.

Kerrie photographing coins

These images could be used for both documentation and presentation material. We then had to update the museum’s collection database to include these new images and revise the object’s storage locations.  Each day we took turns alternating between these two tasks to broaden our exposure to the curatorial process.

Numismatics volunteer Alec updating the YMT database with information about coins

Numismatics volunteer Alec updating the YMT database with information about coins

For each coin we photographed both the obverse (heads) and the reverse (tails). A coin’s obverse usually depicts the current ruler whilst the reverse often shows an image (such as a god, animal, or structure) or phrase which symbolises the ruler’s sovereignty. During our time on this project we took over 6000 photographs of over 3000 objects, averaging approximately 200 per week. As we worked through the collection we saw the faces of 45 emperors and 13 kings.

A Gold Solidus of Valentinian that has been uploaded to Wikimedia Commons and viewed 16000 times

This is a coin we photographed in our first week and the Wikipedia page has been viewed 16000 times

The images taken for this project are not exclusive to the YMT online public resource. They have already made their way to Wikipedia and we hope that they will soon be featured in an online collection with contributors across the world. The image above is featured on the Wikipedia article: ‘Gold coin‘.

Over the six months we did not work exclusively with the Roman collection and had opportunities to document coins of other archaeological periods. Highlights included:

  • Photographing and preparing parts of the Waterloo collection for display at the Castle Museum.
  • Documentation of the Blake Street Hoard, the oldest hoard from York.
  • Preparing English Civil War coins in the Breckenbrough Hoard for display.
  • Photographing the returning Vale of York Viking Hoard now on display at the Yorkshire museum alongside our images.

We are now coming to the end of this project, with the hope that this and similar projects will allow more people to contribute to the documentation of the museum collections and further their accessibility. Many fantastic opportunities also currently exist, details of which can be found on the YMT website.

We will be completing another post to show you interesting coins we have photographed, and some of our personal favourites, so check back soon!

This post originally appeared on the York Museums Trust Blog: Roman Coins: Behind the Scenes. It was posted by Pat Hadley on behalf of Kerrie and Alec.

 

The Romans beckon

Doing a little bit of working writing up some notes on my PhD before heading off to Aldborough later today. I an education advisor for the Historic Houses Association and will be visiting Aldborough Manor to hear what they have in mind for making greater educational use of the Roman remains they have on their land. From Mesolithic to Roman in one day, 4,000 years in the course of an hour’s bus ride. Looking forward to it.

Rebecca Jones (Historic Scotland) – Scottish Borders

Borders ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Borders ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Rebecca Jones, Historic Scotland

Rebecca Jones, Historic Scotland

Carry on Camping in the Scottish Borders

I’m Rebecca Jones and I used to work at RCAHMS but since August 2012 have been on secondment to Historic Scotland where I am now Head of Archaeology Strategy.

I have picked what appear to be a series of empty fields in the Scottish Borders, not far from Lauder on a hill above the Leader Water. These unassuming fields, now home to various sheep and crops, once held an army of around 40,000 Roman soldiers and probably the Emperor Septimius Severus and his entourage campaigning in Scotland in the early 3rd century AD with the specific aim of completing the conquest of Britannia (he did not succeed…).

All that we can see now at St Leonards is the differential growth of crops over the buried features (‘cropmarks’), best recorded through aerial photography.

North-east side of camp and one of its entrances, together with a settlement and enclosure which intersect the camp’s perimeter. Copyright RCAHMS (SC882008)

North-east side of camp and one of its entrances, together with a settlement and enclosure which intersect the camp’s perimeter. Copyright RCAHMS (SC882008)

We can recognise these linear cropmarks as being of Roman origin due to their characteristics: rounded corners, entrance gaps protected by additional stretches of ditch. In the case of St Leonards, this camp site lies close to the Dere Street Roman road, midway between two probably similar sized camps at Newstead (near Melrose) and Channelkirk (near Oxton). At 173 acres / 70 hectares, it is the largest camp recorded in the Roman Empire in Europe. Larger camps have recently been discovered in Syria: these may not have held a larger number of troops than St Leonards but perhaps needed a buffer within the perimeter to counter the threat of hostile Syrian archers.

Plan of St Leonards. ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Plan of St Leonards. ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Archaeology has a challenge when it comes to enthusing people about buried remains that they cannot see, particularly if there is no excavation in progress to show the depth of the ditches dug around the perimeter of the campsite, the fragmentary remains of ovens where they baked their meals and the rubbish and latrine pits where they disposed of… well, anything needing disposal! Yet we can fire imaginations by inviting our audiences to conjure up images of rows upon rows of tents housing soldiers who originated from around the Empire and spoke a variety of languages, not just Latin. The Emperor Septimius himself was from Libya in Northern Africa. We don’t know for definite that Septimius was here – we have no dating evidence from the site – but the most likely context for such a huge camp is the presence of the Emperor and his bodyguards and administration. I certainly love the idea that, for a few days and nights at least, the whole of the Roman Empire was run from these fields in the Borders.

This is what I’ve chosen for Day of Archaeology, but why not tell us your favourite archaeological sites in Scotland on Twitter using #MyArchaeology.

 

Robert Adam (RCAHMS) – Edinburgh

Edinburgh. ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Edinburgh. ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Robert Adam, RCAHMS (copyright RCAHMS)

Robert Adam, RCAHMS (copyright RCAHMS)

I’m Robert Adam and I am the Aerial Photographer with the Aerial Survey Team, recording all aspects of the historic landscape that makes Scotland what it is. In my twenty-nine years as photographer with the RCAHMS, I have had the good fortune to travel the country and photograph both architecture and archaeology from the air and on the ground.Not being an archaeologist hasn’t prevented me from appreciating, learning and understanding the basics of the subject. However, like many other non archaeologists, I always thought that archaeology was found in the hinterlands of any country. From the farm land fields of Scotland, of which I have photographed many a crop mark site to the highland clearance areas through to an Indiana Jones type of site set in the deserts.

However, I found that you do not need to travel further than your front door to encounter an archaeological site. I live in the south side of Edinburgh and found only recently the Caiystane near Oxgangs Road, a standing stone with weathered cup markings. Nothing particularly outstanding, and one of many in the area.

Drawing showing view of six standing stones and wayside crosses. No.1 the Caiy Stane. Copyright RCAHMS (DP050277)

Drawing showing view of six standing stones and wayside crosses. No.1 the Caiy Stane. Copyright RCAHMS (DP050277)

 

There are several suggestions as to the origin and purpose of the stone. The stone may have been erected in the Neolithic period and marks a burial. Others suggest it commemorates the site of a battle between the Picts and the Romans.

General view of the Caiystane. Copyright RCAHMS (DP092799)

General view of the Caiystane. Copyright RCAHMS (DP092799)

 

 

 

It’s a fairly featureless piece of stone and not what you’d call attractive, but it’s where it’s sited that makes it fascinating: smack dab in the middle of a housing estate. It is a site with an interesting and unknown history; nestled somewhat inconspicuously within the estate that many people must pass in a day not giving it a second look.

This is what I’ve chosen for Day of Archaeology, but why not tell us your favourite archaeological sites in Scotland on Twitter using #MyArchaeology.

 

Rebecca Jones RCAHMS Day of Archaeology

My name is Rebecca Jones and I’m a Romanist. My regular work at RCAHMS is as an Operational Manager in the Survey and Recording group where I am responsible for Data and Recording, overseeing a range of projects relating to the data in our online database, Canmore, and its mapping application, and working in partnership across the sector to deliver information to the public. Information Management is one strand of my research interests but another is very firmly placed in Roman military archaeology.

View of the eastern defences of the Roman fort at Ardoch (©Rebecca Jones 2008)

Scotland is one of the best places in the Roman empire to study the archaeology of the Roman army. Repeated attempts to conquer Scotland left a legacy of remains that are the envy of the rest of the Roman world. One of the places where this is most evident is the Roman fort of Ardoch in Perthshire.  This is the location of one of the best earthwork Roman forts in Britain, and the plain to the north of the fort was a marshalling ground for large armies on campaign through Perthshire to the north.

The fort itself was occupied several times leaving a legacy of multiple ditches still surviving as earthworks. I have accompanied several tours of the site and visitors never fail to be impressed by the scale of the defences. Some of these were excavated in the late 19th century by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and some of the photographs from those excavations are amongst the most fascinating early excavation shots held in the Collections at RCAHMS.

But not only is the fort an amazing site. To the north lie at least five marching camps. These were temporary structures occupied by invading armies who were housed in rows upon rows of leather tents. We are fortunate that they built ramparts and ditches around the perimeter of their encampments, for it is these that leave visible archaeological remains. Imagine a field of tents from T in the Park or Glastonbury: after the weekend is over and the tents have gone – what have you left? No doubt a sea of litter but the Roman’s did not live in our disposable culture. Once the litter is cleared you probably have a muddy field. But then six months later? Is there any evidence that those tents were there? But if a regular perimeter rampart and ditch with particular rounded corners and entrance protection is built, then that leaves an archaeological footprint that we can detect as Roman. The majority of the camps at Ardoch have been levelled through centuries of ploughing and only the perimeter ditch can be seen from the air through differential cropmarkings in dry summers, although stretches of three still survive as upstanding earthworks.

Rebecca Jones explaining the camps at Ardoch

A handful of other camps in Scotland have revealed internal rubbish pits and ovens through aerial and geophysical survey and excavation but for most camps, it is the perimeter which we can identify. The camps at Ardoch witnessed one of the largest Roman forces that ever took to the field in Britain, with the largest camp enclosing over 54 hectares / 130 acres.

It’s this combined evidence of the transient Roman army plus the troops stationed in the fort here for several years, that make these seemingly peaceful fields in Perthshire so fascinating.

So you want to be a Roman bioarchaeologist…

If you’re anything like me, you’ve wanted to dig up the bones of dead Romans for as long as you can remember.  (Well, except for that brief period where I wanted to dig up dinosaurs and the even briefer one where I thought I might become a mathematician.)  But if you live in the southern U.S. like I do, you’re certainly not discovering Roman skeletons in your garden all the time.  What does a Roman bioarchaeologist do every day?  Generally, teach, research, and talk to colleagues and the public about teaching and research.

Osteology Field Lecture

Sometimes I get to teach osteology in the field (Tuscany, Summer 2004)

Teaching.  The great thing about the American incarnation of the discipline of anthropology – something I didn’t honestly learn until graduate school – is that it’s what we call four-field: it combines archaeological, biological, cultural, and linguistic approaches to understanding humankind, past and present.  As a university professor, it means that, in a given semester, I teach undergraduates about genetics, monkeys, and cultural relativism more often than I talk about my own research projects on the ancient Romans.  But the amazingly diverse subject matter of my typical Introduction to Anthropology course also means that I can draw from almost any topic in the week’s news to illustrate my lectures and to foster discussion: How does the hubbub over the “gay caveman” from the Czech Republic reflect our preconceived notions about sexuality?  Why does anyone care if Shakespeare – or any Elizabethan Brit – smoked pot?  Who polices American gender norms, telling us that little boys can’t paint their toenails pink and little girls shouldn’t pretend to nurse their dolls?  In teaching students about anthropology, I try to teach them to question the ideas we take for granted and to critique the categories that we often think of as inherent and immutable, to let them see that every culture has its own rules and is a product of its own time.

Roman Woman with Healed Broken Nose

Roman Woman with Healed Broken Nose

Research.  I’m not going to lie – fieldwork is the best part of my job.  Who wouldn’t like digging up dead Romans by day and eating pizza in the shadow of the Colosseum by night?  While teaching gives me the thrill of watching students who have never been exposed to anthropology realize they love it, holding the bones of someone long-dead and reading their biography from their bodies still gives me chills.  After two millennia, the Romans introduce themselves to me, telling me where they were born, showing me their scars, and complaining about their arthritic knees.  It can be hard to listen to the woman with a fractured nose (a victim of domestic violence?) and especially to the babies who didn’t have a chance to grow up because of a simple lack of antibiotics and multivitamins.  And yet, as the field of bioarchaeology has advanced and incorporated the techniques of chemical analysis, my research on the ancient Romans has gone beyond the wildest dreams of my 12-year-old self.  I’ve gotten to identify immigrants to Rome and to investigate their lives in the largest urban center of its time, a topic the historical sources rarely discuss.  I’ve gotten to find out what the average Roman ate, and to see that their childhood diet was actually quite different from what they ate as adults.  And I’ve gotten to work with an array of amazing international archaeologists and anthropologists along the way.

Outreach.  The final piece of my job is not mandatory but is becoming increasingly common.  In his keynote address at the American Anthropological Association meeting last fall, the archaeologist Jeremy Sabloff pointed out that there are no academics representing the face of anthropology.  We no longer have a Margaret Mead or a Franz Boas. Moving the discipline forward in the digital age, he said, means that it’s going to be “public or perish.”  So why be content with the few dozen people who will read your dissertation?  Being an academic today is about putting yourself out there as an expert, being the face of some topic, the person who can explain the importance of an anthropological concept to students and the public.  I have tried to take up this challenge with my own blog, which I envision as a public form of the informal communication that I have all the time with my colleagues.  Through blogging, I have started discussions with people in my field, in other academic disciplines, and outside of the academy completely.  It’s also been useful as a way for me to work through my plot bunnies (or academic otters), those nagging ideas that may not be fully formed but need to get out so that I can focus on one thing at a time.  Fortunately, other academics are also choosing this route to public engagement, and projects like Day of Archaeology allow us to contribute to a broader discussion of what the discipline means and how best to show others our enthusiasm for it.

It’s certainly not easy being a bioarchaeologist in academia, juggling several facets of our work on a daily basis and multitasking like mad.  But the rewards are fantastic: not just flying around the world to excavate in exotic locales, but watching students have “a-ha” moments after a heated discussion about evolution, and explaining to the public why we anthropologists don’t single out the privileged few who “shaped” society while ignoring the millions of others who actually made that society function.

I may not be a dinosaur-mathematician, but I’ve discovered that my childhood dream of studying the dead could come true with a little hard work.   I will continue to define myself broadly as an anthropologist and narrowly as a Roman bioarchaeologist for as long as I can.


 Kristina Killgrove currently teaches anthropology at Vanderbilt University, researches the Romans at Gabii, and interacts with the public through her blog (Powered by Osteons) and her Twitter feed (@BoneGirlPhD).