By Feenagh Johnson, Project Supervisor

At the end of last year, Allen Archaeology (Marine division) undertook a small excavation in the Market Town of Bourne, Lincolnshire.

The site at Bourne

The site at Bourne

Now I maybe biased, having grown up a mere stone’s throw away, but I already thought the site was pretty exciting… and then this little lady turned up in the first excavated feature. She was covered in mud and in many fragments but enough of her features were visible to identify a face, and it was the unusual form of her hair that gave her the nickname “Marion” (as the frills looked like a medieval headdress).

Finding Marion

Finding Marion

Muddy marion

A muddy Marion

Although similar to their better known cousins, the face pot, head pots are usually made of a fine fabric with the body of the vessel moulded into the form of human head. Their exact nature is uncertain but it has been postulated that they are ritual vessels, with another notable Lincolnshire example, the “DON MERCVRIO” head pot, being dedicated to the cult of Mercury.

The fully cleaned headpot

The fully cleaned headpot

However, the Bourne Head pot is unique; she is beautifully hand painted with a distinct hair style and facial features. It’s very possible that the vessel was “made to order” sometime in the 4th century AD, and it would be nice to think that she was modelled after an actual person before being ritually deposited… unfortunately we can only hypothesize!

illustration by C Bentley

illustration by C Bentley

 

Roman coin

By Yvonne Rose, Archives Supervisor (with thanks to Adam Daubney, Lincolnshire Finds Liaison Officer, for the original identification)

This month’s featured find is a lovely silver denarius recovered from a large site in North Lincolnshire.

The coin features Mark Anthony who was a Roman politician and general under Julius Caesar. It has been dated to 42 BC and is a quite rare example of the type. The obverse depicts Mark Antony’s bare head, and to the left of his portrait is a lituus – a symbol of augury. In ancient Rome, augurs were part of a college of priests whose duty was to interpret the will of the gods by observing natural signs, particularly the behaviour of birds. The reverse of the coin shows the radiate head of Sol, the Roman god of the sun. Interestingly, Mark Antony’s son by Cleopatra was named Alexander Helios; Helios being the personification of the sun in Greek mythology.

The coin, when new, would have borne a legend around the outer edge of the reverse. Now completely worn, it would have read M ANTONIVS III VIR R P C. This is the abbreviated form of “Marcus Antonius tresviri rei publicae constituendae”, which roughly translates to “Marcus Antonius, one of the three-man commission for restoring the constitution of the republic”. This commission was known as the Second Triumvirate and was the political alliance of Octavian (Caesar’s great nephew and adopted son), Marcus Aemilius Lepidus and Mark Antony. It was formed in November 43 BC, following Caesar’s assassination the previous year, with the intention of defeating his assassins, Brutus and Cassius, who had gained power in the eastern territories. It is possible this coin was minted to celebrate victory over the assassins in 42 BC.

Coins were manufactured using circular “blanks” of metal which would be warmed slightly to make them more malleable, and then placed within a metal die with the mould for one side of the coin on it. The metal die with the mould for the opposing side of the coin would be placed on top of the blank and then hit with a hammer. This is why many obverse and reverse sides of the coin don’t match up, as the die moulds weren’t necessarily lined up before hammering.

Coins were usually manufactured in static mints in towns, but this coin is likely to have been made in one of the military mints travelling with Mark Antony in Italy. As it was struck 81 years before Claudius invaded Britain, it makes it quite an intriguing find to have it made its way to North Lincolnshire!

Roman buckle

By Yvonne Rose, Archives Supervisor with Mike Wood, Project Manager and Finds Specialist

Our find of the month for October is a rather nice example of a Roman buckle. This type of triangular-shaped buckle dates to the second half of the 4th century and is found at predominantly military sites in Britain. Indeed, ours was found in Lincoln, just outside the east wall of the Roman city. In this period of history, buckles are still a relatively rare find, much less common than brooches.

The buckle was discovered together with other artefacts in the grave of an adult male. The other associated objects include a crossbow brooch, a small silver mount, a fragment of decorated copper strip which could be part of another brooch, the broken plate of a further buckle, as well as 10 iron nails which may indicate the presence of a coffin. All of these objects are typical of the burials of males from positions of authority in the late Roman Empire.

Buckles with triangular plates are known from both the late Roman and early Anglo-Saxon periods. Roman ones usually have openwork plates with D-shaped or, as with ours, kidney-shaped frames; whereas the Saxon ones tend more towards oval frames and solid plates.

The buckle is made from cast copper alloy and measures 50mm in length. The pin is present, as are three copper alloy rivets, one in each corner of the plate. From the junction with the frame, the arms of the plate extend to meet at a cleft terminal lobe with a pointed projection either side. The heart-shaped aperture of this buckle is particularly attractive.

German archaeologist H. W. Böhme studied buckles with integral triangular plates as part of his survey of late Roman artefacts in Britain, and the settlement of England by the earliest Anglo-Saxons (Böhme 1986, Liste 1, Abb. 5, Abb. 14). He dated them to the middle or second half of the 4th century and his map shows that they are found in small numbers not only in the British Isles but also along the European frontier of the Roman Empire, along the Rhine and Danube rivers.

Böhme, H W, 1986, Das Ende der Römerherrschaft in Britannien und die Angelsächische Besiedlung Englands im 5. Jahrhundert, Jahrbuch des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums Mainz 33 pt. 2

Chris Clay

Chris cracking the whip as Director (any resemblance to other archaeologists, living or dead, is purely coincidental)

What is your job role?

Director, for my sins

How long have you worked for Allen Archaeology?

Since the beginning…

How would describe your excavation technique?

Rusty

How long have you been working in archaeology?

20 years, there or thereabouts

How did you get into archaeology?

I would probably have to blame Indiana Jones for that one

What is the best thing about your job?

I get to see all the shiny things without having to dig them up

Specialist skills?

Remembering site codes

Best site hut biscuit?

Well it is quite obviously the Bourbon biscuit. No question

How long have you worked for Allen Archaeology?

I have been working for the company as a PA for almost a month after completing my 3 month Traineeship through ‘Allen’.

How would describe your excavation technique?

After being given a feature to excavate, I like to ponder at the rather often ambiguous impressions on the ground (if there are any!) to establish a starting point. Or ‘Edge’ as a finicky Archaeologist would like to call it. I then use my trusty trowel and spade to scrape and dig away the mud that is almost identical, but not identical to, the mud surrounding it. Aka the ‘Fill’ and the ‘Cut’. During the time of excavation, I will sometimes over-analyse the hole I’m digging which helps me think about the bigger picture. It’s amazing how much the history and the apparent irony of a muddy hole can teach you!

How long have you been working in archaeology?

4-6 months

How did you get into archaeology?

I wouldn’t leave

What is the best thing about your job?

The awareness that people before you stood where you stand and lived their lives in the same world that would be totally unfamiliar to us.

Specialist skills?

Hawk-eye

Best site hut biscuit?

Caramelised Biscuits

 

Mark Allen, Director and founder of AAL

Having been volunteered to write a blog post on why Lincoln is such a good place to come and work it took me back to my first few days in the city back in 1997 (blimey, 20 years ago!).

I had just finished work on a pipeline and had my contract extended, with accommodation thrown in at Lincoln. Despite having previously lived in Nottinghamshire (the county immediately to the west of Lincolnshire) I had no idea where Lincoln was! I soon tracked it down, booked my train ticket and headed there. At the station I was picked up by my then employer and taken to the accommodation, where I had to wait until the owner was tracked down to a local hostelry where he was slightly the worse for wear. Welcome to Lincoln I thought…

At the time the University had not yet begun its major programme of expansion and Lincoln was not in very good shape. On my first evening I randomly ended up in a rather rough pub that did not do food, so ate some out of date stale crisps, drank a beer and retired for the night on a very empty stomach vowing to leave this place as soon as possible.

Now I realise this is not exactly winning you over, but bear with me….

In the next few years the University (in fact Lincoln has two) oversaw a major programme of expansion which also saw significant investment in the city by retailers, restaurants, and of course pubs: got to cater for the increase in thirsty students. Almost overnight the city was transformed into a vibrant place to be, whilst retaining its sense of character and heritage.

Lincoln Cathedral

Lincoln Cathedral – it’s pretty darn magnificent

The city is absolutely dominated by the Cathedral and to a lesser extent the castle, and these are located in the picturesque Bailgate area at the top of the hill (Lincolnshire is not flat!), which is steeped in Roman and later history. The Newport Arch is the only complete Roman gateway that you can still drive through. The quirky character of the city really shines through. Where else can you see the largest Steampunk festival in Europe one weekend and the next the famous clog and morris dancing festival (not to be missed!).

Steampunk

Steampunk in progress

This year Lincoln has been voted by university students as the cheapest place in the UK to live, and with its friendly vibe, really gets its hooks into you when you spend some time here. It is not quite on the tourist trail as is, say York, so you don’t get the heaving crowds in the summer, which is also nice.

So to summarise, come to Lincoln! It really is a great place, we have a top team of ultra-friendly people, and it’s cheap! Despite my initial foreboding, being here 20 years almost to the day, I cannot think of a better place to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roman glass bangle

Yvonne Rose, Archives Supervisor and Mike Wood, Project Manager and Finds Specialist

Our find of the month for September is this spectacular fragment of glass bangle, found in the rather unremarkable setting of a ditch fill in North Lincolnshire.

This is a Kilbride Type 2, named after H. E. Kilbride-Jones who, in 1938, created a detailed typology of early Roman glass bangles. The Type 2 bangles are characterised by having from one to three narrow, twisted cables, generally blue and white, fused lengthwise onto a translucent core, most commonly ice-green or blue, but occasionally colourless. They are usually D-shaped or triangular in section. If it had been complete, our bangle would have had an internal diameter of approximately 60mm.

Bangles of all materials are most common in Britain during the 4th century. The major exception to this are the coloured glass bangles which, by contrast, appear to have been at the height of fashion in the earlier centuries of Roman occupation in Britain. Despite their relatively short lifespan, there are many examples of this type of bangle in the north of England, and even Scotland. Recent work has indicated that this type has been found on several sites north of the Humber in the former Parisi territory. It has been suggested that they may have been manufactured in Roman forts, using raw materials brought over from the continent, and this would explain the spread northwards.

There has been some debate about what precisely these glass rings were used for, and whether all of them were worn as arm or leg ornaments. It has been suggested that some of the broken fragments appear to have had a value as amulets of some sort, with an example found deposited with a cache of stones, fossils and other coloured glass objects in an empty burial cist in a prehistoric cairn at Cairnhill, Aberdeenshire. However, the most commonly accepted theory is that they were used as anklets, armlets, bracelets or possibly even for tying up hair.

What is your job role?

Project Archaeologist working in the Heritage Department. I do desk-based assessments, occasional building surveys, and general GIS work for illustration.

How long have you worked for Allen Archaeology?

About five months at the time of writing.

How would you describe your excavation technique?

Messy unfortunately. I’m better at keeping my desk neat than I am at cleaning up section edges…and my desk isn’t exactly tidy…

How long have you been working in archaeology?

On and off since 2015, starting from the end of my second year of university.

How did you get into archaeology?

I stumbled into it really, and found it a good fit. I was working in a bookshop on the high street looking for something better to do, so on a whim I looked into Hull University and chose archaeology. While I was there I found my way into research projects and volunteering on digs and in museums, then after that I ended up working in geophysics with little bits of excavation here and there on evaluation jobs. It was a really fast trajectory, especially given I didn’t do history or anything similar at GCSE or A-level. Everyone I’ve met in archaeology has been very encouraging, which helps. It’s a very friendly profession.

Sheep in a field

Archaeology in its natural environment

What is the best thing about your job?

It can push you towards being a bit of a generalist I think, at least it has done in my experience, so it’s a really good excuse to keep buying more and more books (‘I need them for work!’). Being able to keep reading up and applying that knowledge immediately is one of the most rewarding things about archaeology. I like going out on site visits too, there’s nothing like seeing archaeology in its natural environment!

Specialist skills?

Asking questions that lead to more questions rather than answers…so maybe research skills?

Best site hut biscuit?

Fruit shortcake! The little round flowery shaped ones with sugar on top, lovely with a cup of tea. Plus because they’re small you can eat quite a few at once.

By Richard Brennan, Project Archaeologist

As with all great archaeological discoveries this story begins with the final product, the 100% excavated feature in all of its glory, something uniquely special. You can see a large hole dug into the ground with a longer and shallow shaft continuing to the west (and some painted sticks for decoration)!

The mystery feature

The mystery feature

If at first look you excitedly whispered to yourself that this is obviously an Iron Age corn dryer or some kind of oven or even a kiln, then, like us, you are unfortunately mistaken. On the surface, the feature appeared to have a flue-like wing (to transfer heat) continuing to the west and a possible oval wing (to dry grain or bake ceramics) to the east. If it was a corn dryer or oven then one would expect accompanying integral structural components, to you know, house the feature, store the goods, and keep out animals and what not. Our Go Pro shot of the immediate surrounding area shows no evidence for any post holes or beam slots. So just what did we have here if not an oven, kiln or corn dryer structure?

GoPro shot of the feature

GoPro shot of the feature

We half sectioned the “flue” wing and quarter sectioned across the “oven”. I worked on the “flue” and south facing section and my colleague in the north facing section of the pit. It quickly became apparent that our feature was probably neither a corn dryer nor oven nor kiln, and in fact most likely a large waste pit, with some sort of raking channel…I know, right.

So why do I think this? Well, there was no baked lining to the feature (the clay geology if baked would appear a reddish orange colour). The feature contained

The vast majority of the finds were heavily worn, fragmented and obviously discarded away as broken pieces of rubbish within the remnants of the charcoal deposits. Lastly, the stratigraphy of the waste pit indicates a possible prolonged use and that it was open for some time as phase after phase of dumping had been taking place. Had it been a corn dryer or oven we might expect a single dump event as its use came to an end.

Although all this is still speculation until the expert reviews come through, what at first we thought might have turned out to be an Iron Age corn dryer, oven or even possible kiln is probably ‘just’ a waste pit.

Shale bead

The shale bead

Yvonne Rose, Archives Supervisor

In 2015 we excavated a very wet site close to the Brayford Pool in Lincoln. One of the finds, which is due to head off to the museum very soon, is this lovely example of a shale bead. It was found during analysis of the samples which was a lucky catch!

The bead has broken down the middle, probably along a natural stress line. Shale is a type of sedimentary rock which is made up of layers and layers of compressed clay and other minerals such as quartz, and as a consequence it can easily laminate along these layers. XRF (X-ray fluorescence) was used to determine the material, as jet and shale can look quite similar. XRF uses X-rays to work out the elemental breakdown of the item; different elements react differently to x-rays and by seeing how the x-rays react, technicians can work out the elemental make up of an object.

The bead is a roughly oval shape with a hole in the centre which has most definitely been drilled. The shape of the hole suggests that it was drilled from both sides rather than straight through from one side. This bead would mostly likely have been one of many on a necklace or other form of strung jewellery. The bead itself doesn’t show any sign of hard wearing suggesting that it was a fairly new bead or necklace, or that it was only worn for special occasions.

This bead was quite difficult to date from its shape alone. Artefacts manufactured from materials such as shale, with its propensity to laminate especially as it dries out, tend not to survive the centuries. This results in an incomplete archaeological record of all the styles and construction methods used throughout the Neolithic and Bronze Age eras, meaning accurate comparison for dating purposes is not always possible. The closest beads in appearance to ours are from a shale and amber necklace from Balmashanner, Angus in eastern Scotland which date from around 800 BC. As you can see from the picture, there are broad similarities to our bead but it’s not quite the same style. From this comparison we can assign a broad date range for our bead to around 1000‒800 BC.

We can have a lovely specimen of a shale bead but without an extensive record collection to compare it, we can only guess to at its age. So keep digging and finding lots more shiny beads!