Roman coins – Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your Hawthorns…..

HawthornRoman coins and hawthorns, what on earth is the connection? Well, last autumn Guy Bud, a second year Oxford Ancient and Modern History undergraduate, started looking at our large assemblage of Roman coins from the site. Guy is an enthusiastic numismatist and was interested in looking at the range and nature of our assemblage. In the course of his analysis he discovered our coins came from a wide range of mints all over the Roman Empire, as far away as Constantinople. He also pointed out that the date range spans almost the whole of the occupation of Roman Britain, from the 1st c. A.D. to the very late issues of the early 5th century – though the bulk of our coins are undoubtedly 3rd and 4th c. Our coin assemblage numbers over 2,500 coins and this is largely because it is temple site where coins featured as a major type of votive offering. Guy has also pointed out that some of the coins have been deliberately cut into halves and quarters and some seem to have been pierced. They may have been pierced by a nail pinning them to a wooden post or screen in the area of a shrine as a dedicatory act, and similarly the cutting of the coins could represent the use of coins as offerings. The deliberate destruction or defacing of coins might also represent the well-attested phenomenon in prehistoric and Roman Britain of ‘killing’ objects before offering them to the gods. This act makes them unfit for human use and thereby reserved for the gods only. Our article of the waterlogged pit on this website also discusses the phenomenon of the ritual ‘killing’ of certain votive objects on Roman sites.  The coins are being catalogued in detail by Ian Leins, a coin specialist at the British Museum, but this is very much a long-term project, so in the meantime we would like the volunteers to get involved in making our collection more accessible for all and to discover more about the nature of the coin collection in the process. Guy Bud is thinking of doing a small dissertation project on the 3rd c. radiate coins in the collection, and is particularly interested in looking for die-linked coins where groups of coins can be traced to a very specific production site and time.

GuyWe persuaded Guy to do two talks about the Marcham Roman coins to all our volunteer groups in November and March. Guy revealed so many interesting things about the Roman coins, that a number of the Trendles team were inspired to get more involved with post-excavation work on the coins. One of our volunteers, Trevor Greer (a coin enthusiast and a keen photographer!), has offered to photograph the coin collection so we can have an extensive photo library of the assemblage that other people can access. In the future we will look into whether we can put this on-line as a resource for both our volunteers and for anyone interested in Roman coins. Though our Roman coins are mostly in a good condition and don’t require CoinCleaningspecialist conservation and cleaning, there are still a number of coins that are obscured by attached mud. So under Guy’s tutelage, our Wednesday volunteers have started to clean the more robust coins very gently with soap and water. This will enhance them both for analysis and for our planned coin photographic project. We have been told that the conservators working on the famous Staffordshire hoard of Anglo-Saxon metalwork used natural thorns from hawthorn and other shrubs as the ideal tool for cleaning delicate metalwork. These thorns are both robust, but also very fine and flexible enough not to scratch or damage any delicate metalwork. Having discovered it is not easy to find a shop that sells thorns, one of our ever-resourceful volunteers, Steve Nicholson,  turned up one morning with a jam-jar full of carefully cut thorns ( taken from his garden) and all ready to use on our coins! Cleaning work using these prickly tools has already started and so far we can attest to them doing the job extremely well!



Roman Pottery Display and Talk with Trevor Greer

TG1On 11 February Trevor Greer, one of our regular Trendles volunteers, gave an excellent talk and handling session on his own collection of Roman pottery to the Tuesday volunteer group. This collection included many whole vessels, plus fragments from beautifully moulded dishes depicting hunting scenes and musicians and maritime scenes. As most of the pottery we identify on the Trendles project is in the form of broken sherds, it made a nice change to handle complete vessels and imagine how they might have been used in Roman times. Trevor has built up an extensive knowledge of Roman pottery overs the years and explained many features to our group, such as the use of the distinctive foot-shaped potters stamp on the red-slipped Arrentine wares. Many of the red-slipped and black-slipped ware from Roman North Africa and Italy were very similar to the Gaulish colour-coated wares we found on TG2our site at Marcham. His collection included a series of decorated pottery oil lamps, and he demonstrated the evolution of the lamps from the small finely-modelled early types to the larger and simpler late Roman and Byzantine types. A lamp depicting fighting gladiators and another showing a lioness were particularly striking. Trevor also showed us some amazing fragments of modelled applique designs that were originally attached to expensive serving dishes. The horse head applique was beautifully made. All we needed after this ‘show-and-tell’ session of some spectacular Roman table plates and vessels was some Roman delicacies and perhaps a bottle of Italian wine to complete the ancient dining-room experience!

How much can you learn about animal bones in about 6-months?

Well, a lot it seems…

As part of the project’s objective, a group of us started sorting animal bones in preparation for the expert who has to further analyse them and prepare the specialist report.

The first task was to try to sort the bones into species:  horse, cattle, pig, sheep/goat, and large, medium and small mammals where it is not possible to identify them closer. This is easier said than done when you have no clue about skeletons or bones, never mind knowing the name or where it is in a body.  With hindsight we were pretty awful at the start, but it is very satisfying to correct yourself at a later date.

Training day with Priscilla

Training day with Priscilla

There is an extensive reference collection of the most common bones.   Of course, not all bones are in this collection, but manuals and photographs are available. There were some non-domestic animals to be identified which was rather difficult, but we had visits from the expert, Priscilla Lange, to help us with this task. We also have managed to add to this sample collection.

Part of the fun for me was the experimental archaeology part of it which meant talking to the local butcher, get some unusual part of a skeleton and clean them at home, by boiling them for hours!  There are still some bones buried somewhere in my garden.

It was good fun to go through the whole process and, hopefully the expert will appreciate the trouble we went through to help her out!

The next stage for our group is to do some stratigraphy – a context number list of all the trenches for the experts.  What a challenge!

Roelie Reed – Trendles Project Volunteer

All Change!

Lisa's talkIt’s hard to believe that the Trendles Project is one-year old!

After several months, the teams working on stratigraphy, pottery and animal bone are swapping tasks and learning new skills.  The stratigraphy group are the first to go through the changeover.   Lisa Brown, our Iron Age pottery specialist spent the morning with the group, and we were all fascinated to hear Lisa explain how the clay was sourced (and sometimes curated) and how the pots were made and decorated.  She also showed us the different fabric types and how inclusions such as shell and flint were added to the clay to spread the heat more evenly when the pot was fired.

Over the next few weeks the group will learn about Roman pottery and animal bone in archaeology, before choosing  what they want to work on the next.

Dr Peter Warry’s Talk

Pictures and tiles 004When you tell someone that you have been digging and then that you don’t mean working in the garden, 9 times out of 10 their next question is ‘what have you found?’  Their eyes light up expecting tales of treasure or weapons with a tale to tell. What they don’t expect is that the interest lies for many in the evidence of everyday lives lived in the past. Even the dedicated digger may not enthuse over the pieces of brick and tile found on Romano British sites, the ceramic building material usually referred to as CBM, does not excite in the way pottery or bones do.

But Peter Warry has changed that for Roman roof tiles. His detailed studies show the changing shape of the cut aways, the shaping where tiles overlap, has changed over time establishing the date of building and the phasing of sites.  This has contributed to research on sites all over England and into Scotland.

Pictures and tiles 007

And some tilers ’sign’ their work with finger impressions


There is also, quite literally, the personal finger prints of the tile maker

The tiles were made in wooden moulds as they were large and the wet clay heavy to handle. Where the maker has pressed the clay down in the angle in the mould he sometimes used his thumb or otherwise two fingers.

Pictures and tiles 009-1

Smooth edges where the clay has been cut can be seen

This was one of the most interesting and informative talks I have heard recently.

Patsy Jones – Trendles Project Volunteer

Visit to the Silchester Excavations – Roman Town Life Project

Ditch in Insula IX

Ditch in Insula IX

The group took a day off from records, pottery and animal bones to visit Reading University’s excavations at Insula IX and the new trench in Insula III, and were given a detailed tour by Amanda Clarke the Director. The excavation had now reached down to the earliest levels on the site representing the Late Iron Age. The group were able to see the 3rd century Roman road level over a metre above the Iron Age layer with intervening stratigraphic levels. The Iron age streets were interestingly laid out in a north west/south east orientation whereas the later Roman streets were laid out in and north south and east west orientation suggesting who was now in charge at Silchester. This years’ excavation had revealed an Iron Age ditch with an ankle breaker slot rather like a Roman military ditch, but it had been dated by iron Age coins found in the ditch fill. Roman military finds had however been found at Silchester. A large rectangular hall outlined by slots and post holes had also been discovered, possibly the largest Iron Age building so far found in Britain and suggesting an important person lived at Silchester.  Around it a number of round houses were being excavated.

Wall in Insula III

Wall in Insula III

The new Insula III had been opened to locate the alleged Roman Baths possibly part of an important building as some monumental stone work had been located in Insula IX which may be associated with it.  Unfortunately the Victorians had appeared to have just dug a large hole destroying valuable stratigraphy and had not dated the buildings. This emphasised the value of modern methods of excavation, recording of the stratigraphy and finds in order to date and interpret the archaeology in post-excavation. Some walls were however appearing and some late Roman archaeology near the surface which had been missed by the earlier excavators had been found so all was not lost.

The tour was concluded with a visit to the ‘finds area’ where the recently washed material was laid out. A number of cases containing the various pottery types found at Silchester showed great similarity to the types currently being processed by the Marcham group. The finds manager showed the group some of the special finds of Roman metal work including a copper alloy toilet set, a brooch and an unusual jug handle shaped like a leg and foot. There was also some unique glass imported into the late Iron Age settlement in the Ist century AD. The richness of the objects hinted at a wealthy community possibly the base for King Verica or another important Iron Age leader, in touch and trading with the Roman world before the conquest.

John Hawes, 8 August 2013

Historic Village Walk – 30 July 2013

DSCN0024Eric Dunford, our Trendles Project Treasurer and volunteer, took the Tuesday volunteers on a fascinating historic tour around the centre of Marcham.  Despite the unfavourable weather (the only day it really rained that week!) we all set off with raincoats and umbrellas and learnt a lot about the story of medieval and post-medieval Marcham. Highlights of the tour included the story of the eccentric Institute building in North Street (complete with flanking lions and gothic windows).  Eric told us how the building was endowed by the Anson family in the 19th century and was fitted with all sorts of amenities including baths for the Marcham ‘unwashed’ poor,  but as there was no maintenance endowment (and the unwashed didn’t fancy using  the baths!) the building gradually fell into disrepair and is still in limbo now.

We took shelter from the rain in the beautiful church at Marcham and learnt how the medieval structure was substantially rebuilt in 1837. Manfred gave us a hilarious account of the infamous Victorian vicar of the church, one Davy Jones, fellow of Christchurch. We heard how his misdemeanours included drinking, womanising, fighting, refusing to bury certain unfortunate corpses, and possibly even murdering someone! We also had a tour round the grounds of Denman College (currently owned by the Women’s Institute) which was originally built as a home for the local Duffield family. After the tour finished we all felt enlightened, entertained and rather soggy round the edges!

Pottery and Biscuits –

– looking for the delicious sounding ‘raspberry roundels’ in our Marcham pottery assemblage.

A visit to Marcham by Jane Timby, our Roman Pottery consultant, 23rd May 2013

Jane Timby talkJane spent the day with us in the pottery sorting work-room at Manor Farm and supervised a refresher pottery identification workshop. After a really interesting talk about the arrival of both the technology (and possibly some actual potters) and the products of proper wheel-thrown vessels into early Roman Britain, she showed us some samples of various regional British Roman fabric types. We showed her the range of Roman pottery fabric types our volunteer group has added to our Marcham pottery fabric reference collection over the last few months, and she was able to identify the kiln groups for them.

 The volunteers were particularly interested in her views on some usual 1st c. A.D pottery fabrics we had identified from the top layers of an unusual barrel-shaped enclosure, located just to the south of the temple and temenos complex. These turned out to include a few sherds of some rare high-status glazed Gaulish imported vessels (dated 40-60 A.D.) and a collection of fine decorated greywares showing a range of unusual barbotine applied dots and lines and swirls, early stamps and very elaborate incised designs, that Jane suspects may have derived from a local early pottery workshop that seems to pre-date the huge Oxford-centred Roman pottery industry that developed later in the region.

'Rasberry Roundel' decoration, compared to the much tastier version preferred by our volunteers

‘Rasberry Roundel’ decoration, compared to the much tastier version preferred by our volunteers

It was a very enjoyable and productive day and the only disappointment for our team was Jane having to correct us on one of our more excitable identification sessions, where we had thought we had found a design called “raspberry roundels” found on early 1st c. Lyons vessels. Ours was very similar, but a copy-cat British version with the less delicious-sounding name of “applied barbotine dot panels”! You can’t win them all and the pottery group will continue to strive to identify as many fabric types that sound like a luxury M& S biscuit as we can!

Sheila Raven

Clay Above Their Heads

IMG_0920-2Peter Warry brought samples of Roman tegulae or roof tile and research documents to present his findings to the volunteers participating in pottery identification and analysis of animal bone from the Marcham excavations.

Peter encountered a problem over 10 years ago finding data on the vast quantities of roof tile dug out of trenches and dumped on spoil heaps, seemingly without further thought to its own story and how it might contribute to the interpretation of the life and time of the site under excavation.  So not to be deterred, Peter spent a few years on spoil heaps and working with the Directorate at Marcham, Silchester and York sites, to name but a few, to identify and classify tegulae in the context of the excavation stratigraphy.

Unlike pottery where inclusions in the clay, production methods for specific usage and possible trade routes are interesting evidence, the clay used for tile making was unadulterated local material and as such is of interest but not likely to contribute to the typology.

So where to next?  Peter amassed a great deal of tile sherds and noticed that during the production stage there are notches cut into the top and bottom of the clay so each tile would rest securely on the tile above and below on a typical 30 degree roof angle.  On a closer look, Peter identified four cutting styles; some cut by hand and others seemed to be moulded.

IMG_0922Did the Romans bring the production skills with them in the second century and did the production methods change over time?  Peter researched Roman military establishments and villas on the Continent which suggested the tegulae production style travelled with the invaders and also noted that tiles made for civic buildings were of a higher specification than tiles produced for villas and other general buildings.

Which of the notch style came first and last?  The huge trench at Roman Silchester in Hampshire, was the perfect excavation site to measure the recovery of tile sherds to examine layer by layer over the seasons between 1997 and 2004 so gave Peter the date range of style A, as he called it, up to AD 120, style B between AD 100-180, style C, AD 140-260 and style D onwards from AD 240.

Peter then observed that the earlier tiles had straight parallel flanges and concluded that they would have been made by pushing the clay into a mould and smoothing the top with a ‘cheese’ wire and then cutting the notches by hand.  A change in production occurred in the third century AD with the introduction of a negative mould so the top of the tile is at the bottom of the mould and by building in a notch shape into the mould it was quicker to produce.

Roman tegula with maker mark and paw print

Tegula with makers mark and paw print

From kiln evidence on military sites Peter deduced that they would have produced their own tiles.  Tiles for civilian use were often made on farms and may have been franchised from evidence of makers initials stamped into the clay.  Tile production would have been an all year round activity and Peter worked out that it would have taken 14 people to quarry, move the clay and form the tegulae. During the dryer months between May and September it took 14 days to load the kiln, fire and unpack the tiles.  Timber to fire the kiln would be gathered during the winter months.

To have your roof tiled was a status symbol and the makers made finger patterns on the corner of each tile before firing.  However on someone’s roof there was an addition of dog paw prints.

On the Marcham site, Peter suggests there is no evidence of buildings with roof tiles but a 3rd-4th century scatter could have been a ritual deposit with coins and pottery, particularly in Trench 2, the cruciform building.  However the Temple had good evidence for a tiled roof which survived after the building fell into disuse.

If you would like to find out more about Roman tile, Peter’s research is published as – Tegulae: Manufacture, typology and use in Roman Britain.  2006 BAR British Series  417.  Archaeopress, Oxford.

Jacqui Newton

Fired Clay – The Unloved Ceramic

A Talk by Janice Kinnory to the Trendles Team

Fired ClayJanice described the number of different uses which fired clay was put to in the Iron Age and Roman period. Fired clay artefacts are often overlooked by archaeologists in favour of the better known fired clay item ‘pottery’.

Janice had studied the salt making industry in the Iron Age and Roman period and described the process and the unique clay vessels associated with salt called ‘briquetage’. This material is rare in Oxfordshire, but during post excavation work on the Marcham assemblage a fragment of briquetage, from Droitwich in Worcestershire, had been found which showed that salt was being traded to the Marcham site.



A fired clay crucible was also included in the assemblage showing that objects such as brooches and pins were being cast in copper alloy at the site and probably sold to those visiting the temple.  Interestingly these crude vessels, which are handmade and fired in a clamp, are discarded after use as the residual impurities remain adhered to the clay rendering the crucibles unusable for further castings.

Burnt daub has been found at Marcham although this has been accidently fired due to fire destruction. The burnt clay retains the pattern of the wattle core which would have burnt out in any fire. This gives the archaeologists an indication of another type of building on the site apart from the stone and mortar buildings which would not have survived if they had not caught fire. This was another way where fired clay adds to the picture of how people were living at Marcham nearly two thousand years ago.



One of the greatest uses of fired clay was in roof tiles (the flat tegula and the semi- circular imbrex) the style of which is still use in the Mediterranean today. Janice described the large number of roof tiles found in the Noah’s Ark area suggesting the temple had a tiled roof. Often shoe prints or animal prints are found on tiles which occurred when they were being sun dried prior to firing. The Romans also fired clay to make bricks, flue tiles for hypocaust heating systems and drain pipes although none have been found at Marcham. Finally tile has been recycled at Marcham by cutting them into small cubes to be set in mortar to make tessellated pavements and floors. A range of different size ‘tesserae’ were shown to the group,

Janice’s enthusiasm for this subject was quickly seen by the group who asked a number of challenging questions. The importance and wide range of fired clay uses shows how these often ‘unloved’ objects contribute to our knowledge of the past.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                John Hawes