Bristol extol the Roman virtues

Latest museum redevelopment is coming to us in Bristol, with the Bristol Museums and Art Gallery co-opting with the BM to provide a new exhibition on all things Roman and Bristolian (Bristolesque? Bristillian? … no idea)

A guardian news report break it down but it seems to promise good things. Further details to follow.


Hadrian goes to Phaselis – images from a Lycian harbour city

Some excellent Images courtest of FollowingHadrian…


Phaselis was an ancient Greek and Roman city on the coast of Lycia, today situated 35km south of Antalya. Shaded by towering pine trees, its ruins lie scattered around three small beautiful bays. Once a thriving port shipping timber and rose oil, its beauty is now admired by thousands of visitors each year.

Phaselis was founded in 690 BC by colonists from Rhodes. Due to is geographical position,on an isthmus, it became the most important harbour city of western Lycia and an important centre of commerce between Greece, Asia, Egypt, and Phoenicia. The city was captured by the Persians after they conquered Asia Minor and in 334 BC by Alexander the Great. Alexander admired the beauty of the city and remained at Phaselis throughout the winter of that year. This event elevated the city’s importance and prestige throughout the Mediterranean. After the death of Alexander the Great, Phaselis came under…

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We are running out of time to accept papers for the following. Get on it people!

An opportunity for 2 post-graduate students to present research at the Hadrianic Society’s Roman Army School, held in Durham city in Spring 2014 (dates tbc). For all students of Roman studies; see the following pdf for further details.


Application deadline for the Small finds session Call for Papers – TRAC 2014 (Which can be read in full here) is now set to 25th September. Share the love.

For TRAC – If you are interested in participating or have any questions please contact Stefanie Hoss at 

York Minster Undercroft – The New Gallery

On the 25th May 2013 York’s eponymous visitor attraction, the Minster, has reopened its undercroft – the archaeological museum displaying many of the in situ remains to be found beneath the building proper. Dangerous levels of weathering and structural stress nearly led to disaster 50 years ago, but a continued series of repairs and investment has ensured the preservation of this historic landmark. As part of a £20million redevelopment. titled the ‘York Minster Revealed’ project, most of the gallery space is redeveloped and the visitor experience generally is expanded.


The Minster itself sits directly atop the Principia of the legionary fortress. Whilst the physical remains of the Basilica SW wall are minimal in their survival, they constitute one of the very few remains visible at all from Roman York. The Legionary Bathhouse (now under a pub) and the Multangular Tower (the SW wall tower used continually from AD70 onwards and part of the City Wall).


The Basilica Wall

The Undercroft revealed is a beautiful little visitor attraction now (its predecessor was looking a little dated). The small finds are well displayed, nicely interpreted and have some intriguing touches. Using a moulded hand to hold the stylus on top of a tile graffito was a particular highlight. The displays are all representative of the time and money spent on this gallery – its worth it. To my mind, the rest of the Roman experience of York is really well developed; there is a slight obsession with the Basilica.The display obviously follows on into the Anglian, Norman and Medieval periods. A cinema at the end runs three short films – one of which is a very well produced piece lasting 3 minutes identifying the Rise of Constantine in York in terms of its Christian significance.


The Undercroft is free as part of an Adult entry ticket (£10, valid for a year) or entirely free if you are a York resident. Enjoy

TRAC Call for Papers

The following Call for Contributions for a session on Roman Small Finds and Ancient Social Practices at TRAC 2014 has been brought to our attention. HadSoc thinks this is right up our street… or should I say vallum?

 Session organizers: Alissa Whitmore & Stefanie Hoss

 While artifacts have always been a part of archaeology, over the past 20 years studies focusing on contextualized artifacts from a variety of classical spaces have allowed scholars to rewrite our understanding of the past. From the soldiers manning the turrets on Hadrian’s Wall caught unexpectedly sewing (Allason-Jones 1988) to women spinning and weaving in Roman forts (Allison 2006), Roman military archaeology has been taught a very interesting lesson on the integration of what we would deem civilian life into the Roman military. But this is just one example of many; other studies in material spatiality were able to throw light on different elements of the use of human space, be it domestic, productive, commercial, political, social, or religious space. Such studies reinforce the social importance of small finds, which can provide detailed evidence of ancient social practices, activities, and use of space, in addition to dates for a site.


This session will focus upon analyses and interpretations of small finds that shed new light on ancient behaviors and spaces. We are especially interested in papers and artifacts which offer novel evidence for previously unknown activities and social groups in a given space, or those which contradict existing ancient sources and scholarly beliefs, forcing us to confront opposing sets of evidence and rethink our understanding of a given space or practice. Papers dealing with all types of small finds, activities, and spaces (public, private, and those in-between) are welcome and encouraged.

 If you are interested in participating or have any questions please contact Stefanie Hoss at 

Schoolroom Archaeologists

I was having a chat today with the resident Numismatist at work about a fellow colleague’s research interests. Archaeology and heritage is a strange world where one can entirely judge a book by its cover… or a person by their research interests. If we turn this analogy into a school room scenario:

The theoretical archaeologists are the slightly spacey kids who love politics and arguing simple for the sake of proving someone wrong (they are also, without exception sticklers for good grammar). The Practical archaeologists are the jocks of the operation; sporty kids who want to be outside and get antsy having to remain inside looking at a powerpoint presentation when they know that you cant actually use any of the information in the REAL world. Site managers are like the PE teachers of the above – really just want to be outside playing but struck down with too many meetings and too much paperwork. The numismatist is the foreign exchange student who is clearly very intelligent but seems to play up to the communication barrier just to see what will happen and is always dressed in sweatervests, even in summer. Small Finds specialists are the indie kids who have a new fascinating band/piercing/pair of shoes every other day and seem to be drawn primarily to shiny things like a magpie – they frequently spend time walking down corridors and singing loudly. Zooarchs want to be vets when they grow up and cover their work books in pictures of pugs. Ceramicists are usually seen as a bit too pale and strange to be in any of the other inclusive groups and have meaningful friendships via the internet instead. Geologists are in the wrong class and spend all day either trying to lick or blow up whatever is in front of them. The anthropologists are always going away on holiday during term time. Landscape archaeologists spend all day doodling on everything in site, including themselves because sometimes the biros really can paint a pretty picture. Historical Archaeologists sit at the front and genuinely seem to be paying attention. The kids at the back in the dark clothes obsessed with Vikings are all in a band together. 

I only mention this as having a personal research interest in magic – curses, charms and a lot of phallic symbols makes me the archaeological equivalent of an emo teenager trying to be non-conformist. This doesn’t seem so bad having successfully pidgeon-holed everyone else =)

We return….

The past month has seen the tumbleweed roll gracefully across the Saloon front that is this Roman archaeology blog. Like the good-guy protagonist sheriff I am now riding back into town from journeys unknowable to bring the fight to the poisonous soul of the Historical Ignorance Kid. Draw sucker!

And like all good spaghetti westerns I am including a wonderful link to a BBC news article about the recent excavations of a signficant Iron Age site in Devon.

Mosey on through this here hyperlink and have a gander pardners.

*Insert sound-byte from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly* =]

The Moving Story of the London Mithraem

This is a re-publication of an article written for the Hadrianic Society Newsletter in Autumn 2012 by contributor Rose Baillie.

Details of the Museum of London entry can be found here.

The London Blitz of World War 2 left numerous empty plots in the City of London, which far-sighted individuals realised were ripe for archaeology. Into the breach stepped the Roman and Mediaeval London Excavation Council, which appointed Prof W F ‘Peter’ Grimes, Director of the London Museum, to superintend excavations.

In 1954 came Grimes’ greatest discovery, a Temple of Mithras, together with the highest quality assemblage of Roman sculpture yet found in Britain. The excavation aroused enormous public and press interest and was carried on in circumstances of resource, financial and developer pressure that foreshadowed the rescue archaeology of the 1970’s. After Cabinet debate, a two week extension and 100’s of yards of queuing visitors, the Temple was dismantled and rebuilt in 1962 on Queen Victoria Street some 90m from its original location, while the sculptures went to the Museum of London. So far, so familiar.

All things come to an end, including the life of Bucklersbury House, the post-war development on the site of the Mithraeum. A convoluted and complex series of negotiations since 2008 have led to Bucklersbury House and a neighbouring property being acquired by Bloomberg LP, to be redeveloped as their new European HQ. An added complication was that the reconstructed Temple of Mithras had in the interim become a ‘Listed Building’. This meant that Museum of London staff got to superintend its dismantlement and to explore for any possible remains of the original temple.

At this point it was realised that something of a trick had been played on the public for last 50 years, as John Shepherd, former MoL Archive Manager and Grimes expert, told a meeting earlier this year. The fact is that the reconstructed Temple was little more than a ground plan in stone, with which Grimes was very disappointed.

The work was undertaken without proper planning, the stones from the Temple were unnumbered and moved haphazardly to two successive locations and many were lost. The reconstructed Temple had hard modern cement and crazy paving in the aisle. It was built on the street-side roof of an underground car park, on the wrong orientation, without character and context. The one part of the building that was undoubtedly in its correct location was the worn doorstep, with well preserved iron sockets on which the original doors hinged. However,for want of many other visible Roman remains, it became a familiar fixture on London heritage tours. This unsatisfactory structure has now been recorded, dismantled by expert masons and moved once more into storage, ahead of re-instatement as part of the new development.

Thanks to Grimes’ excellent work we know that the London Mithraeum was built around 240AD on an east/west alignment on the rather soggy bank of the Walbrook stream. It was built to simulate a dark cave for Mithraism’s esoteric rituals. It was rectangular, about 18m x 8m with a semi-circular apse at the western end that would have held the main cult statue. There was a sunken floor in the central nave and side aisles separated from the nave by seven columns. Undergoing various modifications, it remained in use as a Mithraeum until around 350 AD. By this time the structure was suffering from severe subsidence and the walls were creaking. It seems likely that the building was taken over by the followers of another pagan cult, probably Bacchus, who repaired it and used it until the end of the Roman period.

Possibly out of respect for the old religion, a group of sculptures were buried in a pit under the floor of the nave. These included heads of Mithras, Serapis and Minerva, the hand of Mithras, and a figure of Mercury. In fact the mostimportant sculpture from the Mithraeum had already been found nearby in 1889. This is the archetypal sculptural scene of Mithras slaying the cosmic bull, with the torch bearing Cautes and Cautopates, surrounded by the 12 signs of the zodiac, the sun, the moon and two wind gods, dedicated by Ulpius Silvanus, emeritus of Legio ll Augusta, from Orange.

One legacy of the discovery of the London Mithraeum was that it began the process by which archaeology eventually became incorporated into City planning and redevelopment. A surprising amount is still being found in the City of London, despite much of the built environment being replaced every 20-30 years. Over time many adjacent sites have been excavated, to build up a bigger picture, while the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (LAARC) provides a home for finds and researchers.

It was always hoped that the new Walbrook Square would contain the reconstructed Mithraeum in a more historically accurate form, for which planning permission has been given. At the time of writing discussions are underway as to what form this will take. Early reports said the Mithraeum would be rebuilt at its original location.But there is a complication. In the archaeological re-evaluation of the site after demolition Ian Blair, of Museum of London Archaeology, had squeezed himself into a narrow trench and located the remains of Grimes’ excavation. He found a great deal more of the Temple’s original foundations still in situ than anyone dared hope. There were substantial parts of the narthex and aisle walls. And, yes, Grimes’ orientation and levels were spot on, but some reinterpretation may be needed, as some of the extant roman remains are from another building, not the Mithraeum.

You cannot put the reconstruction of a reconstruction on top of what is now a ‘Scheduled Ancient Monument’.So the plan is that there will be public access at street level very near the original location, into a lobby with a display about Mithraism, leading into a darkened, enclosed, lower level reconstruction of the Mithraeum made from the saved stones, which will evoke the cave-like atmosphere favoured by the cult. Nearby but not visible, will be the remains of the original Mithraeum, still resting in the silt of the now invisible Walbrook. It is hoped that the new assemmbage with open in 2016.

Archaeological Words #5

Last one of these for a short while. Not at all least, however, are the nouns associated with flint tools. The original contributors to the world of flint descriptions clearly though of the prehistoric tools as like pets, given the use of ‘dorsal’ and ‘ventral’ surfaces for top and bottom (like with fish), and proximal and distal for front and back (like with animal bone). Breaking them causes a ‘bulb of percussion’, leaves ‘conchoidal ripples’ and can be worked further with ‘retouch’. Flints are a world to themselves.

Heads Up

Here is the link for original story

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