Monday, 30 December 2013

Course: Archaeology's Dirty Little Secrets

Archaeology's Dirty Little Secrets is a FREE online course run by Coursera.  Archaeology's Dirty Little Secrets is a MOOC, which is a Massive Open Online Course.

Here's the blurb for the course:  

In this class, we will ask and answer a series of questions about the role and practice of archaeology in the world today. If archaeologists are trained to investigate the past, what is left for us to study? Who gets to be an archaeologist? How and why do archaeologists hunt for “treasures”, and what do we do once we’ve discovered them? What can we know, and not know, about people in the past? What do archaeologists know about the past that most people would never guess – and why aren’t we telling you? Why are people entirely willing to murder each other over the fate of archaeological sites? Are Real Men alone capable of discovering the truth behind all this? 

Archaeology famously involves getting dirty in the line of duty. Students will experience its hands-on nature, through the use of numerous exercises and archaeological case studies. But there are other ‘dirty little secrets’ to learn about the field: not least how the stories archaeologists tell about the past have been used and abused, for purposes both good and bad. Our goal by the end of the course is to have you ‘thinking like an archaeologist’ and fully aware of the often-fraught politics of doing archaeology around the globe. 

Course Syllabus 
Unit #1: Just what are these secrets anyway? 
Unit #2: What has survived for us to find? And what have we lost?
Unit #3: So how do you find things? Archaeology ≠ just digging 
Unit #4: How do you get a date? (And why are dates so important?) 
Unit #5: What do you do with what you find? 
Unit #6: What is involved in the archaeology of people? 
Unit #7: Where does archaeology happen? Who can play? 
Unit #8: Who owns the past?  

Recommended Background Absolutely no prerequisites. Just be curious.

To accompany the course, there are Facebook ( and Twitter pages (  if you want to interact further.

Check out further details about the course here. They also do courses on Roman Architecture and a host of other subjects including history and science and much more, so check out their course database.

Why not give it a try?

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Comment: Io Saturnalia and Season's Greetings

Kurt reckons this painting looks like tea break at the dig compound ...!
Roman Saturnalia occurred in late December and was connected to the Winter Solstice. For more details see here.
Here's wishing you all a Happy New Year, and another successful digging season at Ravenglass in 2014!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Comment: Tullie House Museum, Carlisle

Kurt went to visit the Tullie House Museum in Carlisle recently to check out the Crosby Garrett Helmet currently being displayed there. Catch it while you can, as it continues its travels 26th January!

There was also a newly refitted Roman Frontier Gallery to explore, and there were a plethora of interesting Roman finds from Carlisle on show.  Here's a taster:
This is an elegant way of showing how the hair pins of bone and jet would be worn by a Roman woman, and also shows the glass beads she may have worn

Here's a selection of Roman glass beads, including three examples of melon beads

Roman bronze brooches which would have held up a Roman woman's dress (stola), as well as being decorative, and having a chain joining them (for further bling effect!)
An antler/bone comb.  The Romans didn't have hair brushes, just using combs instead.

 It's Venus Anadyomene again!

A steelyard, along with its lead weight, used for weighing out food and other commodities

A side-on view of the Roman ceramic roof tile system.  The flat tile, with edges turned up is called a tegula, and the curved tile is called an imbrex. 

Friday, 29 November 2013

Comment: Walking Through History ... this Saturday at 8pm, C4

Walking Through History - this Saturday. Watch Channel 4 this Saturday 30/11/2013 at 8pm to find out more about Romans in the Lake District. Lets see if we spot Ravenglass on it!  Tony Robinson  filmed at Ravenglass mere weeks before the excavation started.

Information on the website is as follows:

"It was 30 years after the Romans invaded Britain that they were ready to take on the challenge of  conquering the Lake District. With the toughest landscape they had encountered in the country, peopled by a rebellious tribe, it was no small task.

Two full legions - 11,000 armed men - marched north, led by two top generals. This extraordinary commitment was rewarded, and within a few years, the whole of Lakeland was under Roman control.

Tony Robinson tackles the journey, but, as he discovers on this 50-mile walk from Penrith past Ullswater to Ambleside and on to the Irish Sea at Ravenglass, the Romans encountered beauty and danger in equal measure.

Today the Lakes may be better known for Wordsworth, Beatrix Potter and, of course, walking holidays, but for centuries they were a hive of industry: a rich source of lead, silver and iron.

The Romans carved roads through the region and built impressive forts, bath houses and a major port, enabling them to keep control and export the minerals they wanted.

But the traffic was not all one-way. As Tony discovers, many of the native Britons enthusiastically adopted Roman customs.

Most of the millions of us who visit the area will see nothing of our Roman predecessors, but they did leave a wealth of reminders of their 300-year occupation, if you know where to walk and look"

If you miss the 8pm showing, it's on Channel 4+1 on Freeview at 9pm on the 30th , and also Channel 4seven on Freeview, 7pm on 2nd December. 

Comment: Venus Anadyomene

When I saw first saw the dig's lovely Samian sherd with a female figure on it, I immediately thought it's Venus, and wasn't sure why, apart from the fact she has no clothes on!:

So I've looked into it more closely, and realised I may have been thinking of Roman pipeclay figurines, like this Venus here, from York Archaeological Trust's Excavations at 24-30 Tanner Row:

This is what Dave Hooley said about this figurine in 'General points from an accident of fortune' Archaeology in York Interim Volume 13 No 1, 1988, page 18-19:

Venus was not simply the 'Goddess of Love', she is depicted here [see the photograph above] as Venus Anadyomene, a guise which derives its inspiration from Aphrodite's birth from the seas, and is believed to be a dedication to the water-nymph guardian of the sacred waters from which all life flows. The figurine itself is almost certainly made  in Central Gaul.

The lifting of her hand is to shake water from her hair.  In addition Samian is imported from Gaul, where the pipeclay figurines are also made. So maybe this is common them for that area of the Empire, and it isn't a surprise to also find her on Samian.  I was certainly able to find archaeological reports online which mentioned the motif appearing on Samian, such as that found at Piercebridge.

However, I could easily be wrong, and it'll be interesting to see what the Samian experts say when the pottery is written up in coming years.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Comment: Romans in Ravenglass video now live!

I’m pleased to say that the Romans in Ravenglass video is now available to view on the Lake District National Park website. Just click here to view.

The 5 minute version is a cut down version of the 13.40 minute one which is well worth watching. It gives a really good impression of the dig and what all your hard work achieved. If you are lucky you might even see yourself in the video!!

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Comment: Get automatic updates of the blog!

This blog is updated fairly regularly, even out of season. But it must be difficult for readers to keep up to date, having to remember to keep coming back. To solve the problem, there is now a new Gadget!

If you look in the right hand column of the blog screen and scroll down a bit, you will find 'Follow the Romans in Ravenglass Blog By Email' and a box to enter your email address. You will need to verify the email by entering the word you will see on the screen, after that you will get an email from FeedBurner Email Subscriptions with a link to activate your blog subscription.  On clicking the link you should receive email updates to this blog.

In the pipeline are items about the various categories of finds as the specialists give in their reports, plus further information about the Geophysical Survey. Give it a go, and never miss new posts!

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Report: Lake District Archaeology Conference, 3rd November

The Lakeside Theatre in Keswick was pretty much sold out for the conference about this year's Lake District archaeology.
 The whole emphasis of the conference was community archaeology. With the formation of the Archaeology Network, the Lake District knows it has a wonderful volunteer resource for helping out with various projects within the National Park.  Added to that, there are several projects (for further information, see this newsletter) funded by the Heritage Lottery, as well as other other types of funding.  All would not take place if it were not for volunteers from the local community.

There are currently three Roman vici or settlement projects going on in the area!  There was Papcastle, Maryport and of course Ravenglass. So it was intreresting to hear about the various findings of these three sites, and someone commented that there would doubtless be a monograph on Roman Settlements in Cumbria appearing in the next few years.

The conference saw the first showing of Romans in Ravenglass - the film!  The version we saw was around five minutes long, and featured some now well known faces, including Holly, Kurt, Brian K, Leo, and Peter Frost-Pennington, as well as some of the diggers talking about their experiences. This version is due to be uploaded to the Lake District website shortly.  There is also a longer version of the film, which will hopefully be shown at the community presentation next year.

Ravenglass Director Kurt came over from York for the day to talk about the Dig.  Having only very recently got hold of the Geophys results, he was able to provide additional information with regards to the Roman roads, but said there is much more to come (this will be the subject of a future blog).
 It was also a chance to catch up with some of the Romans in Ravenglass volunteers!  It was great to meet up and exchange news.

Overall, it was an interesting and informative day, which gave a great insight to the work being done under the auspices of the Lake District National Park, as well as further Roman sites in the area.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Meeting: Lecture at Senhouse Museum, Maryport

This lecture may be of interest:
Tuesday 29th October, 7pm: Sand and Sea - Roman Maryport and the African Connection. A special lecture at Senhouse Museum by the Chairman of the Trust, Professor David Breeze who will be talking about the African connections that can be found in the Museum's collections. Tickets are £3.00 and are available on the night.  Details: Email:

Comment: Great British Rail Journeys ...


Series 3 of Great British Railway Journeys is currently being repeated on BBC 2 at around 3.30pm on Sunday afternoons.  Journey 18, Cockermouth to Eskdale was shown on 27th October.  As well as seeing part of the West Cumbrian Coast, Michael Portillo called in at Muncaster Castle and met Patrick Pennington who showed him Henry VI's cup called The Luck of Muncaster.  Portillo of course also took a trip on La'al Ratty, but did not visit the Roman Baths. The programme is available on BBC I-player until 3rd November - follow this link.

Next week, Portillo will be travelling from Kirby in Furness to Lancaster, and finds out the secrets behind Kirkby's famous blue slate.  Since we found some slate on our excavations, it will be worth seeing the programme!


Saturday, 26 October 2013

Digger's View: Dux has a Standard Bearer ...


Brilliant knitting wizard and digger Liz kindly knitted a lovely companion for Dux in the form of a Roman Standard Bearer! Both soldiers are now posted in Eboracum for a tour of duty, but will be returning to Glannoventa next year.

People have asked where Roman rubber ducks can be obtained. Dux was bought in the British Museum Shop at their Pompeii Exhibition in July 2013.  The exhibition has now finished but the ducks can be bought online here.

If you want to knit your own Roman legionary, or even legion, the pattern can be found here

Perhaps they would be perfect Christmas gifts for a Romans in Ravenglass digger this year?!

Friday, 25 October 2013

Report: By Supervisor Rowan - What did we find in Trench 3?

Photo 1: Trench 3, the wall parallel with the east wall

Photo 2: Trench 3, the east wall (right), possible oven (centre foreground) and north wall (upper centre)

On the higher ground at the south-east end of the trench were the footings of two stone-built walls, running diagonally across the trench and probably joining at a corner just outside the edge of excavation (Photo 2). These were built of medium-sized stones, with white clay possibly used as a bonding material, and appeared to be part of one building. A brown clay-silt deposit lay between and partially over the walls, with two small areas of stone and pea-grit surfacing set into hollows in the top of the deposit. The ‘Venus’ sherd of Samian pottery came from one of these surface areas. A deposit of burnt clay overlying a charcoal layer was located against the west side of the eastern wall of the building, cut into the clay-silt surface, and could represent the remains of a clay oven. This activity seemed to post-date the demolition of the building. An orange clay layer found below the clay-silt deposit could be remains of an earlier floor surface associated with the building.

A further possible wall was located to the east of, and parallel with, the eastern wall. This had a different construction style, being narrower, with small, neatly set stones forming a flat surface, and a row of larger stones along the eastern side (Photo 1). The wall was covered by a line of pinkish-red clay with burnt timbers to either side, suggesting this structure had stone footings and clay and timber walls. The full extent of this wall has not yet been revealed, and it is unclear if it is later in date than the building to the west. A linear gully or slot (not yet investigated) ran parallel to this wall, and a further vertical-sided linear cut ran off it at a right angle.

In the north-west part of the trench was a possible cobbled surface; and a second line of pinkish clay, which could be similar to that overlying the walls to the south-east.

Various possible cut features were observed cut into all of the deposits, suggesting there was prolonged, intensive occupation in this part of the site.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Report: By Supervisor Bryan - What did we find in Trench 2?

 Photo 1: Trench 2 looking north(ish)

 Photo 2: Trench 2, looking east. Rubble layer, with wall of square stone blocks beginning to appear (right)

The most distinctive feature in Trench 2 was a dump of stone rubble, in the middle of the trench (see Photos 1 background and Photo 2), which separates the deposits to north and south. Part of the rubble was removed, revealing a wall built of large square stone blocks with a fine pebble surface to either side (just visible to right on Photo 2).

The deposits to the north were largely unexcavated, as they were under water most of the time! Hopefully they can be excavated promptly next year, as they overlie and so partly conceal, the rubble layer.

The dark deposits on the south side of the rubble contain fairly large amounts of slag and appear to have been related to industry. The latest of these deposits overlie the rubble layer and may well be late Roman or early post-Roman in date. Various features were cut into these deposits. At the south end of the trench was an amorphous linear feature (an eaves drip?) aligned north-north-east/south-south-west, possibly associated with two large post pad footings on the same alignment a little to the north. These features cut into a pebble surface (foreground, Photo 1). Moving northwards, possible charred planks await excavation (see black patches, centre of Photo 1). Between the possible planks and the rubble layer were a multitude of post-holes, on an east-west alignment (being excavated by the pair of diggers closest to the camera, Photo 1).

Beneath the dark deposits were lighter deposits, including orange burnt clay, observed in the base of all the cut features excavated so far. The overall impression is of a long sequence of intense Roman activity, much of it industrial in character.

Evidence of later activity was restricted to the post-medieval (17th-19th century?) ploughing. One of the last features excavated was a small drainage or boundary ditch, at the south end of the trench. This contained clay pipe, and so is associated with the post-medieval farming. Hopefully only Roman (and early post-Roman?) features remain to be excavated next year!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Report: 30th September

All the digging had stopped, and now the packing started in earnest.   The first cabin to go was the Welfare Unit.   Meanwhile, the trenches were being backfilled:

The Finds Officer took the opportunity for a couple of snaps of the finds before they were packed away in their boxes:

This is the colour-coated folded beaker that was found during the last week of the dig.  It has a buff fabric, but a grey-brown slip over it, which may be trying to imitate a metal such as pewter.

Ironically on the first Saturday of the dig, there was a Potter at the Pennington Arms, showing how he made made reproduction Roman pots. One of the pots on show was a folded beaker, laying on its side - these pots tended to have small bases, so were top heavy:

Eventually, the finds were all packed up ready for the van that was to arrive mid-afternoon:

Then it was a case of taking down the fencing and waiting for the van:

By around 5pm, we were all packed up and ready to return to Yorkshire.

We're now looking forward to the 2014 season of Romans in Ravenglass!

Digger's view: Early one morning ...

On the last day of digging (28/9/13), Bryan, Kurt, Rowan and Sandra got into site, got set up, and then waited for the diggers to arrive.  Over their tea and coffee, Rowan, Kurt and Bryan discussed the strategy for the day.  Meanwhile, the Finds Officer went on the prowl with her phone camera ...

Comment: A few stats ...

Thanks to the efforts of the Visitor Team (ably led by Brian and Leo throughout) in recording who came to see the site, here are a few figures:

Between 4th September and 28th September, we had 1131 visitors.  These comprised:

Females: 454
Males: 489
Children: 188

The busiest day was: Sat 14th Sept - the first open day
The quietest day was: Weds 18th  Sept - during the rainy week!

The majority of the visitors were fairly local and from Cumbria.  However, people also came from all across the UK, Europe, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  These out-of-county visitors may well have been visiting the Bath House, however the Romans in Ravenglass project was able to enhance their visting experience!

Thank you to all the members of the Visitor Team for their efforts - it meant that the diggers could concentrate on digging, whilst the visitors had an informed tour of the site.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Report: By Director Kurt - What did we find in Trench 1?

From an early stage, the gravel surface at the south end of the trench and the alignments of large stone blocks in the middle of the trench seemed good candidates for the Roman street with timber building to one side that were indicated on the 2011 geophysical survey. However, the stony layer overlying the building contained post-medieval as well as Roman pottery, and the use of such large, if not massive, stones as a foundation was in contrast with the foundations evident in Trenches 2 and 3. Overall, this left a nagging doubt that we were dealing with a relatively recent building that happened to follow the Roman alignment.

However, two further layers of rubble, with distinct dumps (barrowloads?) of cobbles, stone and shale fragments contained only Roman pottery. Furthermore, similar deposits appear to continue beneath the building, which suggests that infilling of the ditch as its fills settled had been a long process. The current interpretation is that the massive blocks are the foundations for a timber building, perhaps of two storeys, with the rubble forming a bed for earth floors that have been removed by ploughing.

Although it is assumed the building extended to the edge of the street as is usually the case, the massive blocks as found were restricted to the rear part. It is suspected that the blocks had subsided into the fills of a large east-west ditch that became disused before the building was constructed. The blocks (and associated rubble layers) appear to have been an unsuccessful attempt to form a solid base for the building on the unstable ground. The front of the building, on firmer ground, may have had much slighter footings or even been built with earth-fast posts, and we hope to find evidence of this next year. 

An alternative theory is that large stone blocks also formed the foundation of the front of the building. If so, as these blocks would not have settled into the ditch they would have obstructed ploughing, and may even have protruded above the ground surface. Consequently they would have been removed, presumably for re-use elsewhere. If so, we will find only a gap in the building construction marking the absent stones. Either way, there is the exciting possibility of finding a large ditch beneath the building next year.