Roman Finds Group Spring Meeting 2015 Centre for Interdisciplinary Artefact Studies, Newcastle University Finds from the Roman North and Beyond 16th - 17th March 2015

16th March 2015 - 17th March 2015

Roman Finds Group Spring Meeting 2015 Centre for Interdisciplinary Artefact Studies, Newcastle University Finds from the Roman North and Beyond 16th - 17th March 2015

Read the Synopsis of Papers.

The 2015 RFG Spring Meeting was based in Newcastle on Monday 16th and Tuesday 17th March and was jointly hosted by RFG and the Centre for Interdisciplinary Artefact Studies of the University (

There were four sessions of papers, with fourteen illustrated talks, on various aspects of finds from sites throughout the north, and an organised visit to Segedunum Roman Fort, Baths and Museum. This was an excellent opportunity to hear about recent finds and research in the north, as well as to view one of the major museums along Hadrian's Wall which has undergone major work in the last few years. There were also recent finds from Vindolanda and South Shields and poster displays and the sale of books etc.

Joint Roman Finds Group Centre for Interdisciplinary Artefact Studies Meeting Spring 2015

Meeting Programme and Timetable

Day One : Monday 16th March 2015

Pre meeting

13.00 Registration. Welcome tea/coffee
13.25 Welcome and Introduction, Dr James Gerrard, Department of History, Classics and Archae ology, University of Newcastle.

Session One : Current Finds Research at The University of Newcastle

Chair : Dr Jane Webster , Senior Lecturer in Historical Archaeology and Head of Archaeology, De partment of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Newcastle.

13.30 Dr James Gerrard, Lecturer in Roman Archaeology, Department of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Newcastle. ‘Rethinking the Irchester bowl, again’
14.00 Emma Gooch, MA Student, Department of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Newcastle. ‘A load of old bulls: ‘phallic horns’ in bovine imagery’
14.30 Evan Scherer, PhD Student. Department of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Newcastle. ‘The Use and Abuse of Late Roman Artefacts in Transylvania’
15.00 Tea/Coffee – viewing of finds and posters.

Session Two : Finds from South Shields

Chair : Dr Mark Jackson, Lecturer in Archaeology, Department of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Newcastle

15.30 Dr Stephen Greep ‘A very late Roman furniture makers workshop from Arbeia’
16.00 Matt Fittock, PhD Student, University of Reading ‘Pipeclay Figurines from South Shields in their wider setting’
16.30 Alex Croom, Keeper of Archaeology, Tyne and Wear Museums Service ‘Finds from recent Vicus Excavations at Arbeia’
16.50 Keynote Speaker: Lindsey Allason-Jones ‘Working with Roman Finds’
17.30 Wine/soft drink reception (with snacks)
18.00 Close
19.30 Evening dinner at the Ottoman Turkish Restaurant (details on booking)

Day Two : Tuesday 17th March 2015

Session Three : Finds from the North

Chair : Justine Bayley, Chairman, Roman Finds Group

09.00 Dr Philippa Walton, ‘Research Fellow, University of Oxford . ‘Cataloguing and analysis of the Roman 'votive' assemblage from Piercebridge, County Durham : An Update.’
09.30 Dr Rob Collins Research Associate on the Frontiers of the Roman Empire Digital Humanities Initiative (FREDHI) at Newcastle University ''Great Whittington: New finds identifying a new site in the Wall corridor'
10.00 Frances McIntosh, Curator of Roman Collections, English Heritage /PhD student, Newcastle University’ ‘Clayton; Collector, Conservator and Curator’
10.30 John Cruse, ‘Independent Researcher and York Archaeological Society Quern Co-ordinator ‘Roman Querns in the North – Some Distinctive Regional Types’
11.00 Annual General Meeting/ Tea/Coffee - viewing of finds for non RFG Members

Session Four. Finds from the North and Beyond

Chair : Sally Worrell, PAS National Finds Adviser, Roman Artefacts, UCL

11.30 Barbara Birley, Curator, Vindolanda Trust, ‘From tablets to toilet seats – an update on the recent finds from Vindolanda
12.00 Jenny Proctor, Post Excavation Manager Pre-construct Archaeology, Recent finds from Be dale, N. Yorks’
12.30 Dr Hella Eckardt, Associate Professor, Department of Archaeology, University of Reading‘ Literacy and power: Bronze inkwells in the Roman Empire?’
13.00 Meeting Close

Session Five : Visit to Segedunum Roman Fort, Baths and Museum

13.15 Transport to Wallsend Museum (lunch available)
14.15 Alex Croom: Introduction to the Wallsend Museum
15.00 Nick Hodgson: The Bath-house and Wall reconstructions
16.00 Transport to Newcastle Railway station will depart from Wallsend (15/20 minute journey— timed to meet the 16.59 departure from Newcastle Central Station)

Synopsis of Papers

The Irchester Bowl, again
James Gerrard

The Irchester Bowl is a relatively well known late Roman and early medieval bronze vessel form. They are usually hemispherical with an inturned rim and an omphalos base and have typological links to the famous early medieval series of hanging bowls.

This paper examines the typology, distribution and date of these vessels and draws on new discoveries and forgotten information to present an up-to-date review of this interesting vessel.

A load of old bulls: ‘phallic horns’ in bovine imagery
Emma Gooch

Bovine imagery was a relatively common feature of zoomorphic ‘Celtic’ art and bovine finials from both the pre-Roman Iron Age and the later Romano-British period are comparatively well attested, most especially as finds recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database. The ‘phallic’ – and thereby symbolic – nature of the horns upon a copper alloy bucrania excavated during the 2005-2006 Pre-Construct Archaeology fieldwork at Grange Farm, Gillingham in Kent, however, is not common. This unusual example of a well-known artefact type therefore represents an interesting case study upon which to base a consideration of the potential symbolism of such artefacts and their associated imagery.

This paper presents a contextual find spot analysis of the Grange Farm find and a comparative contemplation of it relative to similarly styled vessel escutcheons, firedogs and cosmetic mortars in an attempt to postulate its potential function, chronological placement and cultural affiliations. This comparative analysis is then expanded to consider the potential symbolic significance of bovine depictions, especially the small minority with ‘phallic’ horns, in ‘Celtic’ and Romano-British art.

The Use and Abuse of Late Roman Artefacts in Transylvania
Evan Scherer

The presence of early Christianity in Transylvania has been a hotly-debated topic over the last two centuries.  The evidence has been displayed mainly through a Late Roman numismatic presence in the region, as well as a disparate assemblage of finds ranging from hand-made objects to so called "high-status" finds imported from the far reaches of the Empire.

This paper examines "high-status" finds through a case study of Pilgrim Flasks from the monastery of Abu-Mina in modern-day Egypt.  By deconstructing the historiography surrounding these artefacts, as well as placing them in their larger context, an attempt is made to re-address aspects of the material evidence of early Christianity in Transylvania.

A very late Roman furniture makers workshop from Arbeia
Stephen Greep

During Excavations of the Commanding Officers house in the south-east corner of the Roman fort at South Shields (1986-91)  a considerable quantity of waste and worked red deer antler was recovered - the largest quantity (at least 22 antlers; around 12kg of material) so far recorded from Roman Britain. Although the deposits were disturbed and the waste occurred over a fairly wide area of the site, it clearly represents waste products from the manufacture of wooden furniture. All stages of production are represented, although the major (but not only) final product was small, two-grooved strips well represented from sites elsewhere in Britain. The workshop is dated on coin evidence to post c. AD388 and represent the latest evidence of furniture manufacture yet recorded from Roman Britain.

This presentation will examine the working techniques, implications for late fourth/early fifth century cultural and industrial practices and place this find in the context of decorated furniture making throughout the Roman period in Britain.

Pipeclay Figurines from South Shields in their Wider Setting
Matthew Fittock 

Pipeclay figurines are an important yet under-examined category of artefacts that provide a valuable insight into the religious lives of those who inhabited Roman Britain. Produced in terracotta workshops located in the Allier Valley and region around Cologne during the first and second centuries AD, the figurines from South Shields comprise an important part of the finds recovered from the north of the province. The range of figurine types from the site is limited and includes common depictions of Venus, Dea Nutrix and Minerva, but also an interesting plinth base inscribed by the craftsmen Servandus that is particularly rare amongst the wider material now available from the country.

This paper will assess the social distribution and contextual deposition of the collection of pipeclay figurines from South Shields alongside a wider corpus of discoveries from nearby sites, like Benwell and Wallsend, to evaluate the possible function and social significance of these objects across the region. Comparison with other pipeclay figurine assemblages recovered from London, wider Britain, and Gaul will also highlight any distinctive patterns of regional consumption and use, while subtle fragmentation patterns additionally provide an insight into beliefs and ritual practices that help further explore the nature of religious life in these areas of the Western Provinces.

Finds from the recent excavations in the vicus at South Shields Roman Fort
Alex Croom

The area currently under excavation at the site was placed just outside the south-west corner of the extended fort, with the aim of looking at the defences of the supply base, to see how close the vicus came to them, and to find out if the area had been in use before the supply base. Activity in the area continued from the late second until the fourth century, although most of the small finds come from third-century deposits. There was a workshop for gold- and silver-working close to the fort defences that was in use until the mid-third century. Most of the other finds of interest came from the fill of the supply base ditch.

Working with Roman Finds
Lindsay Allason-Jones

Everyone expects to see a report on the finds from an excavation in its final report. To many people the production and publication of a catalogue is the end of the process; for many finds specialists, however, this is merely the end of Stage One.  In recent years, much synthetic work has been done on finds and this work is shedding considerable light on the way people lived in the past but occasionally offers insights in to life in the present.

Newcastle University has a long track record of working with artefacts and in 2008 set up the Centre for Interdisciplinary Artefact Studies (CIAS) to take this work further. Much of this activity has involved contributions by scholars from different backgrounds; some, such as conservators and metallurgists, have traditionally worked with archaeologists; some, such as psychiatrists and musicians, have not. This paper explores some of the unexpected byways the speaker has wandered down whilst pursuing knowledge about artefacts

Cataloguing and analysis of the Roman 'votive' assemblage from Piercebridge, County Durham : An Update.
Philippa Walton

RFG members will probably already be familiar with the assemblage of approximately 4,000 Roman objects which has been recovered from the bed of the River Tees at Piercebridge, County Durham. The assemblage includes a diverse range of material from jewellery to military artefacts, coinage to medical instruments and appears to represent a large ‘votive’ deposit dating predominantly to the mid Roman period.

At present, the assemblage is being processed as potential Treasure before possible museum acquisition. In addition to my continued efforts to package, photograph, catalogue and analyse its contents, 2014 saw specialist reports completed on the pottery and leatherwork.  This paper will therefore provide an update on current work and outline some exciting new discoveries. It will also aim for the first time to give an overview of the entire assemblage and tentatively to ask what it represents, who put it there and why?

You can follow the progress of the project on Facebook. You do not need a Facebook account to access the page:

Great Whittington: New finds identifying a new site in the Wall Corridor
Rob Collins

Roman artefacts are a staple of the PAS' Find's Liaison Officer's diet, and has been amply demonstrated by Tom Brindle, new Roman sites can be documented through objects recorded by the PAS. However, these sites tend to be more common south and east of the Fosse Way, with fewer new sites identified in the north and west of Britannia, let alone north of Hadrian's Wall. Yet, intriguing discoveries around the village of Great Whittington in Northumberland point to an interesting and important new site in the Wall corridor.

Located approximately 1 mile north of the Wall, the modern village is just south of the Devil's Causeway Roman road, and approximately 1 mile east of Dere Street where it crosses through the Wall at the Portgate. Discoveries have included a vessel hoard, a small purse hoard of 5th century date, and a rather diverse array (for Northumberland) of small finds and coins. An overview of these discoveries will be offered, and a tentative interpretation of the site provided.

Clayton; Collection, Conservator and Curator
Frances McIntosh

John Clayton (1792- 1890) was a wealthy lawyer and businessman who used much of his money to purchase stretches of Hadrian’s Wall. Once in his possession they were protected from stone robbing and quarrying, were often restored and many parts were excavated. Through his excavations he accumulated a large collection of Roman material from the Central Sector of Hadrian’s Wall. This collection is now cared for by English Heritage and displayed at Chesters Museum (built by Clayton’s heir in 1895). My PhD aims to look at the history of the collection, as well as to investigate specific aspects of the collection to see what can be gained from studying an antiquarian collection.

This paper will focus on the coins within the Clayton Collection as a case study for the challenges involved in working with antiquarian collections. The low number of coins has meant numismatic analysis has been limited however research into the reason for the low number has helped illuminate differing practices, as well as the antiquarian networks in existence in the 19th and early 20th century. This research helps to put John Clayton into the context of his time, and shows just how many people have been linked to this Collection. Items from the Clayton archive have been used to get an insight into Clayton’s interests and expertise, as well as the specialists he consulted. In order to analyse material collected in the 19th century, and understand why certain finds were collected or not, the processes at play must be considered, and the coins offer an example of this methodology.

Roman Querns & Millstones with Double, Opposed Perforations
John Cruse

This paper investigates two groups of Roman querns and millstones, which in addition to the customary central perforation, also have two opposed, often D-shaped, openings.

One group are hand querns, with diameters up to 50-55cm, with their opposed openings set within D-shaped hoppers. They were first noted in 1892 and have been discussed as ‘distinctive group’ by David Buckley & Hilary Major in 1998 (1). As more examples have been recorded (~50 are now known), a clearer picture is emerging of their chronological development, of the restricted regional distribution in northern England of their two variant types and of their likely mode of manufacture.

In addition, there is another group of larger diameter examples, lacking the distinguishing D-shaped hoppers, with a range of individual features which identify them as upper stones of powered millstones. In the absence of intact published examples, the presence of an off-centre perforation on a fragmented millstone often goes un-remarked. With over 20 examples now known, including the first complete stone, it can now be shown that this previously unrecognised millstone design is largely a Later Roman phenomenon, with a far wider distribution than the above hand querns. We will also explore how these three perforations functioned and examine the possible advantages of this design.

  1. Buckley DG & Major H (1998), The Quernstones, in Cool HEM & Philo C, Roman Castleford :Excavations 1974-85: Volume 1: The Small Finds, p244-7

From tablets to toilet seats – an update on the recent finds from Vindolanda
Barbara Birley

2014 was an exceptional year for the Vindolanda excavations, producing a wide range of wonderful, rare and beautifully preserved artefacts from the site. The archaeological work took place in three areas and all the following locations produced something special.

The excavations in the field to the north of the Stanegate Road uncovered an impressive Roman military kiln site and although we are just beginning to understand this area, we have recovered a large amount of brick and tile and evidence for the manufacture of coarse ware pottery. Three of the most outstanding artefacts were a very fine appliqué mould of Apollo, a wooden potter’s wheel and an enamelled seal box.

Inside south east quadrant of the 3rd-4th century fort, the second year of excavations revealed the last layers of occupation on the site. A gold aureus of Nero was found in this area as well as a host of late Roman and post-Roman artefacts and building levels.

The final area included some of the pre-Hadrianic anaerobic levels below the later 3rd century vicus buildings. These are the places where the organic objects survive and produced some of the best preserved finds. Leather boots and shoes, wooden objects including bowls, part of a wagon wheel, stylus and ink on wood tablets and a toilet seat to name but a few. The metal objects from these excavations were generally in pristine condition and included many personal artefacts.


A ditched enclosure and villa at Bedale, North Yorkshire: finds from the Bedale, Aiskew and Leeming Bar bypass excavations
Jenny Proctor

Pre-Construct Archaeology began a series of excavations ahead of the construction of the Bedale, Aiskew and Leeming Bar Bypass in North Yorkshire in November 2014. Work is continuing into March 2015 on two major sites which are impacted by the road scheme, and thus any observations are, of necessity, preliminary.

The earlier of the two sites is represented by a ditched sub-square enclosure measuring c. 50m internally, located towards the southern end of the bypass. Sections across the ditch on its most substantial side have revealed it to be up to 6.80m wide and 1.80m deep, and recut on at least one occasion. The interior of the enclosure has been badly damaged by ploughing with only a few pits and a possible large hearth surviving. Small quantities of handmade Iron Age tradition pottery as well as a few sherds of wheel-thrown Romano-British pottery and samian ware demonstrate that the enclosure was in use into the Roman period. A beautifully preserved bone weaving comb, along with fragments of quernstones, are perhaps indicators of the type of activities being undertaken. The well–preserved animal bone assemblage is dominated by cattle and sheep, with bones from very young calves suggesting that the settlement was involved in animal husbandry. Pig and horse are also present along with wild species such as red and roe deer. As well as evidence for butchery, the animal bone assemblage includes material indicative of craft working, while slag, fragments of hearth lining, hammerscale, copper-alloy waste and crucible fragments indicate working of both iron and copper in the vicinity.

The 3rd- to late 4th-century Aiskew Roman villa is located on a ridge of higher land defined by Scurf Beck to the west and Dere Street, just over 1km to the east. Catterick lies c. 10km to the north and Alborough around 25km to the south. Geophysical survey indicates that the villa is of substantial size and is set within a landscape of enclosures and field systems.

Within the area investigated a range of rooms adjoins a 4m-wide north-south aligned tessellated corridor. In most areas the stone wall foundations have been robbed with only very small areas of coursed stone wall surviving, but an intact concrete floor surface overlain by collapsed painted wall plaster gives an insight into the finish and decoration of rooms.

A small room, around 4m square and apparently added onto the north-west side of the complex, has now been fully excavated. This was heated as demonstrated by the bases of pilae stacks, and demolition debris including box-flue tiles. Painted wall plaster in many different colours demonstrates that this was a well-appointed room.

Large quantities of animal bone along with oyster and mussel shell give an indication of the inhabitants’ diet. Personal items include bone pins, copper-alloy brooches, glass beads and jet and shale bracelets. Well-preserved iron tools include knives and a cleaver.

Writing power: inkwells and identities
Hella Eckardt

It is generally thought that only relatively few individuals could read and write in antiquity, with literacy being essentially limited to the elite and the army. Crucially, literacy relates to power, in terms of ‘power over texts and power exercised by means of their use’ (Bowman and Woolf 1994: 6). Writing enabled a form of domination to be imposed and sustained even on illiterate individuals (Pearce 2004: 44).

Previous research has focused on the most obvious evidence (e.g. stone inscriptions) and overall levels of literacy in the Roman world. This paper will examine one particular category of writing implement (bronze inkwell) as a case study of how contextualised and theoretically-informed finds analysis can be applied even to relatively rare objects that have never been studied as a group. I have compiled a substantial corpus of ca. 400 bronze inkwells gathered from dispersed publications in order to address the question of how they were used to express identities across the Roman Empire. The distribution and contexts of bronze inkwells are compared to other writing equipment, and a close study of their depictions on wall paintings and tombs gives an insight into symbolic and cultural meanings. The paper aims to understand what inkwells ‘did’ in Roman society, and how their use related to expressions of identities and power.


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