Uncovering the past: the finds

Last time we looked at the archaeological digs that took place at Alvin Street, and this post is going to look more closely at the items they unearthed.

In total around 160 finds were recovered from the three trenches, including lots of pottery, fragments of clay pipes, worked bone, metal artefacts, building materials and over 7kgs of animal bones!

There is an old saying in the county ‘Scratch Gloucestershire – find Rome’ and the excavations certainly reinforced this point.  Most of the material recovered was of Roman date although the medieval and post-medieval/modern periods were also represented.

Pottery

Roman pottery was the most numerous and not only comprised local and regionally made wares that dated to the 3rd and 4th centuries (201-300AD and 301-400AD) but also imported and high status wares typical of the 1st to 2nd centuries (1-100AD and 101-200AD). Most was in very good condition, suggesting that it was all deposited around the same time in the 3rd to 4th century.

In terms of identifying what the pottery items were, various forms of pots, some amphorae and three different types of mortaria (the Roman equivalent of a mortar in a mortar-and-pestle) were all recognised.

Large ceramic finds (clockwise from top right): mortaria fragments, pot and amphorae

Large ceramic finds (clockwise from top right): mortaria fragments, pot and amphorae

In broad terms, while most of the pottery was average, everyday items some were more expensive, valuable pieces that were probably not used on an everyday basis.

The later pottery was far less numerous and represented by post-medieval/modern glazed earthenware, some fragments of white ware and lots of terracotta flower pot – not surprising considering the fact that the Alvin Street site was once a nursery!

Non-Roman ceramics: Note soot on medieval pot base (top left)

Non-Roman ceramics: Note soot on medieval pot base (top left)

Other ceramics

This comprised fragments of clay pipe, including one piece of stem with its Shropshire maker’s name/location (“Samuel/Acton/Brosly”) and two pipe bowls both identified as being made in Gloucestershire.

Clay pipe fragments: bowl and stem

Clay pipe fragments: bowl and stem

Building materials

Lots of building material was found in the excavations. The most common were roof tiles and these included a piece of late-medieval/post medieval tile, several Roman sandstone roof tiles (one still with a hole for a nail) although the most numerous were pieces of Roman terracotta roof tiles. Roman roofs were typically made using a system of two different components, the tegula (a flat tile with a raised edge) and the imbrex (a half-pipe part). In use, the imbrexes were laid over the joints between the tegula to keep water out and pieces of both were recovered from the trenches.

Roman roof tiles: Sandstone (L); Imbrex and tegula (R)

Roman roof tiles: Sandstone (L); Imbrex and tegula (R)

Worked bone artefact

One of the most ‘human’ finds was the head of a bone toothbrush which came from Trench 1 and was dated to post-1780. This object was in a really good condition and as a result, not only were some of the bristles preserved in their drilled holes, but green staining indicated how they had been secured in place – by strands of copper wire.

Bone toothbrush head – showing green staining

Bone toothbrush head – showing green staining

Metal artefacts

Only three metal artefacts were found in the excavations. The largest was a heavily corroded and encrusted copper alloy coin from Trench 1. Although neither face had enough surviving detail to allow identification, the diameter and thickness suggest it is an ‘as’ or ‘dupondius’ of 1st or 2nd century date. A moderately corroded, rod-like copper alloy fragment was also found in Trench 1 which is probably part of a hairpin or brooch pin of Roman date. The other metal object was a heavily corroded iron nail found close to the copper-alloy rod.

Clockwise from top-left: Roman coin, possible hairpin/broach-pin and corroded iron nail

Clockwise from top-left: Roman coin, possible hairpin/broach-pin and corroded iron nail

Animal bones

A total of 147 pieces of animal bone were recovered and most was well preserved, although highly fragmented, which made about half of it unidentifiable beyond the level of ‘large’ or ‘medium mammal’. Amongst the remainder however cattle, sheep/goat, pig, horse, chicken and hare were all identified.

Cattle bones dominated the assemblage, but butchery marks were present on all the cattle/pig/sheep bones indicating both preparation of a carcass, and of removal of individual cuts of meat. Much of the bone also had historical fractures suggesting marrow extraction. The animal bones were highly indicative of being domestic waste.

Animal bone: lower skull of cow with upper teeth (L) and assorted bones (R)

Animal bone: lower skull of cow with upper teeth (L) and assorted bones (R)

For details and project updates visit www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/archives/fortherecord

Most of the project costs are being covered by grants and contributions from project partners. But we are seeking donations too. You can do this online at www.foga.org.uk.

Funders and partners

One thought on “Uncovering the past: the finds

  1. Pingback: ‘It brings history alive’ | Gloucestershire Archives

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