Block Blog: Primary Investigations
At this juncture in the investigation of this block-lift, I am making every effort to outline the relationships (if any) between artefacts. As can be see in the first photograph, plenty of small pieces of iron plate, often with no telling association with larger plates, emerge as soil is scraped away. Aside from photographing their position for future reference, and examining them for signs of the remains of fittings, impressions of textile or leather, there is not much that can be done with these anonymous fragments. Moreover, these fragments often overlie more interesting and coherent features, and so I am generally removing these: I will most likely x-ray these in large batches at a later date. As you can tell by the annotations, I’ve begun to get a good idea of the fragile nature of the fragmentary, corroded copper and iron artefacts mixed in the burial deposit, and have begun to grasp how difficult lifting the larger pieces of lorica will be.
So far I have had limited success at recovering any ‘true edges’ of the iron armour, as most of the vulnerable thin plate has been broken. Finding edges greatly improves our chances of identifying plates, and where two edges have been found, dimensions such as the width of the plate can give us an idea of which part of the lorica cuirass the plate comes from. It also helps us to make educated comparisons with examples of Roman armour found from other sites. For instance, the iron plate recovered in the second photograph has a width of 6.5 cm across, dimensions similar to those recorded for the armour fragments found amongst the Corbridge Hoard, and from the Austrian site, Carnuntum. It also has the very corroded remains of two copper alloy rivets, which improves our understanding of how the cuirass was constructed and held together.
As I work I am keeping the surface of the soil block wet, by spraying it with deionised water. This prevents the soil from drying out too much, separating, and breaking the iron remains as it falls into chunks. As most of the iron is in such a poor condition, consolidation with a removable acrylic adhesive, such as Paraloid B72 (ethyl methacrylate copolymer) is a must (which is why in some photographs the iron surface appears to have a dark sheen to it).
Whilst excavating an area of the block to the left of the photograph, I came across an exciting, (and sadly, very degraded) find: copper alloy wrapped around a thin iron plate. It can be seen in-situ in the photograph to the right, and after excavation in the photograph below. Sadly, as not much of the object has been recovered, a firm identification of this piece hasn’t been reached yet, though further excavation might yield more clues.
Readers may have noticed that I have begun to clean the outside of what is most likely a girth hoop. The exposed iron plate is 1mm in thickness, and the hoop is broken in several places, that I can see from the surface. When focusing on this feature, I will have to be careful to remove enough soil and other burial debris to reveal the curved plate’s shape, whilst maintaining the earthy support until I am ready to remove the that section of armour from the soil block. The next blog entry will focus on describing the results of excavations in this area, which includes a copper-alloy tie loop, still associated with the iron plate.
Darganfod y Gymru Gynnar - yn y Gelli
Taking Stock of the Block
After documentation, the next step was to take stock of the overall condition of the block, and to make a preliminary inventory of the types of archaeological materials I could see.
As can be seen in the birds-eye-view photograph, there are some large cracks running across the block: these most likely occurred during lifting and transportation from the site to the museum. Unfortunately, these extend through some of the exposed armour, and areas of thin, mineralized iron plate have broken. This kind of damage, whilst regrettable, couldn’t have been avoided.
I wanted to keep the broken pieces in place for as long as possible, as the positioning of the remains is important to our interpretation of the events taking place in these two rooms of the warehouse. In order to ensure that fragments stayed together (at least for the interim) I used a wax-like substance called Cyclododecane, which I melted and brushed onto the artefacts. The Cyclododecane will eventually sublime altogether, and so I will not have to remove it later.
In addition to the iron plates, there are also a range of other interesting artefacts visible on the surface of the block. There appears to be a scattering of copper alloy scale armour (see photograph for an example), which would also have been worn by a soldier.
At the edge of the block is a large copper alloy stud, its use in antiquity currently unknown: it is not an artefact which has been associated with lorica segmentata. As the photograph shows, the copper has corroded considerably and is very thin.
Scattered amongst these exciting finds are the usual types of artefacts found during archaeological excavations: pieces of red ceramic tile, fragments of pottery, bits of animal bone, and crumbly lumps of white plaster (from the building itself).
Excavating the block will be both time consuming and challenging: I have selected a number of small tools to use. I am unable to place a microscope over the block, and so will be using an optimizer (a visor with magnification lenses) instead- I do not want to miss any small artefacts or details during the excavation.
Conservation of Roman Armour- Opening the Block
After wheeling the large block into the archaeological conservation laboratory, I began the task of removing the plaster bandages covering the top of the block.
This proved a simple and satisfying job- the bandages were easily torn off in layers, revealing the Clingfilm barrier underneath. In order to reinforce the sides of the block, yet more bandages were wetted and wrapped around it.
The next step in opening up the block was to peel back the Clingfilm. This had to be done very carefully, as I didn't want dust from the plaster covering the archaeological artefacts beneath. Pegs and bulldog clips were very useful in holding back the plastic layers neatly.
After much anticipation, the armour was revealed. As I had not been present during removal of the armour from the fort, this was the first time I was able to see the lorica, and I was very impressed by the corroded remains.
As I excavate the armour contained within this soil block, I have to document every individual feature, and the physical relationships between all the artefacts. This provides invaluable information for the archaeologists working on the project, who want to tell the story of Isca.
This documentation process involves taking many photographs and making copious notes day by day; before I even begin to excavate the block using small hand tools, I drew a plan of the whole block, at a 1:2 scale. It was easiest to do this by laying string across the top of the block, and drawing it in sections.
After all this preparation, I cannot wait to get started excavating the soil overlying the armour and other artefacts- though this will take a very long time.
Conservation of Roman Armour
Archaeologists from University College London and Cardiff University have been excavating remains of Isca, the Second Augustan Legion’s permanent fortress, since 2007. The area excavated has centrered on a building in Priory Field, located in modern day Caerleon, South Wales.
Excavations in summer 2010 focused on an area of a courtyard building, with evidence to suggest it was a warehouse. A room in this building revealed some very exciting finds: the apparent remains of Roman body armour, ‘lorica segmentata’.
Archaeologists spent days carefully exposing these rare finds, which seem to have been thrown haphazardly on the floor of the warehouse.
These fragile artefacts were then carefully removed by conservators from the National Museum of Wales. The exposed objects were wrapped in Clingfilm, to prevent them from being contaminated by the materials used to support them.
Plaster of Paris bandages, similar to those used in hospitals, were very useful for holding these soil blocks together, and preventing damage to the artefacts whilst in transit.
Once the plaster had set, the team undercut the plaster blocks: this was a tense moment, as the archaeologists did not want to cut through any material that they could not see.
Supporting the artefacts with robust materials meant that they could be driven back to the National Museum at Cathay’s park safely. There they will be re-opened and carefully micro-excavated in the conservation laboratory.
The largest of the blocks removed measures about a metre squared, and had to be carried into the museum by 6 men, given its weight.
Progress of the investigation of this block will be recorded here.
Face to Face with the Past ... Part Two
One of the most popular displays at the National Roman Legion Museum is a stone coffin that contains the skeleton of a Roman man. The coffin also contains the remains of grave goods that he would need for their next life, including the base of a shale bowl and fragments of a glass perfume or ointment bottle.
Now we turn our attention to the coffin lid.
Like the base it was broken by the digger. Here it is with all the fragments lined up ready to be joined. Some areas are missing, but the gaps will allow people to see inside the coffin when it is put back on display.
The top of the lid looks so uneven and eroded because acid rain soaked into the soil has dissolved the limestone. This process eventually leads to the formation of limestone caves in nature. Solution holes, the start of mini 'caves', can be seen in the lid.
Adhesive alone may not be strong enough to keep the heavy fragments of stone together.
To help strengthen the bond, metal rods will be inserted across the join. Holes have to be drilled into the broken edges of the stone. This is a tense moment as any mistakes could cause further damage.
The stone could split or flake; we just don't know how it will react to the drilling!
Thankfully all goes well and the drill makes light work of the task.
That pile of stone dust will also come in useful; we can mix it with the glue to help secure the rods.
Another hole now has to be drilled in the edge of the adjoining fragment; this must match up perfectly to allow the rod to fit across the break.
First stage is to dab paint thickly around the freshly drilled hole.
The fragment is then placed in position and pressure applied.
This has to be done quickly before the paint blobs dry, but also with care as we don't want paint smeared everywhere
The paint has left a good imprint on the other fragment, so we know where to drill the second hole to fit the rod.
The metal rods now have to be cut to the right length, about 7cm.
This was harder than we thought as the stainless steel is very tough. We had to stop several times as the blade kept heating up.
Only 6 more to go!
With the metal rods in place within the join and epoxy glue applied, the two pieces are brought together.
Care is taken to align the edges before the two sections are held in place and the adhesive allowed to set.
All stuck together now.
Hopefully the metal dowels will give the extra strength required, especially as we have to move the lid from the workshop in the basement to the gallery upstairs, where at last it can be reunited with its base.
Unfortunately we have no lift....any ideas!
The only option is good old fashioned man power just like the Romans!
Here some of the team (our modern day Roman slaves) take a well deserved break after bringing one of the coffin lid fragments up the stairs.
Before the lid is put in place the skeleton has to be laid out again. Being careful to get it right!
Unfortunately one item will be missing for a while and that's the skull. This is needed for analysis as we try and find out more about the man buried in the coffin 1800 years ago.
Once everything is in place a new Perspex cover can be installed to support the stone fragments of the lid.
The Perspex is only 1cm thick so hopefully it will be robust enough to take the weight of the solid Bath stone blocks.
Now the tricky task of installing the lid begins.
Thankfully all goes well and the Perspex proves strong enough to take the weight.
At last, 15 years since its discovery, the lid is once more back where it belongs, on top of the coffin.
Although the lid partially obscures the contents of the coffin, new lights will be installed to help illuminate the interior.
The first phase of the redisplay is now complete, so in the second phase we turn our attention to the Skull.
Follow the blog as we attempt to learn more about the man buried in the coffin.
Where did he grow up and what did he look like?
Wyneb yn wyneb â'r gorffennol - ailarddangos arch Rufeinig
Un o'r arddangosfeydd mwyaf poblogaidd yn Amgueddfa Lleng Rufeinig Cymru yw'r arch garreg sy'n dal sgerbwd gŵr Rhufeinig. Mae'r arch hefyd yn dal gweddillion nwyddau claddu fyddai'n ddefnyddiol iddo yn y bywyd nesaf, yn cynnwys gwaelod dysgl siâl a darnau o botel wydr fyddai'n dal persawr neu eli.
Darganfuwyd yr arch ym 1995 ar safle mynwent Rufeinig ychydig y tu allan i Gaerllion. Mae'r fynwent bellach yn rhan o Gampws Caerllion Prifysgol Cymru Casnewydd. Mae wedi cael ei harddangos yn Amgueddfa Lleng Rufeinig Cymru ers 2002, ond yn Haf 2010 dechreuwyd ar y gwaith o ailarddangos yr arch mewn modd fyddai'n adlewyrchiad gwell o'r gwreiddiol diolch i nawdd Cyfeillion Amgueddfa Cymru.
Mae'r arch wedi'i gwneud o flocyn solet o garreg Faddon ac yn dyddio o tua 200OC. Gan ei bod oddeutu 1800 mlwydd oed ni fyddai'r arch yn medru dal pwysau y caead gwreiddiol sydd mewn dau ddarn mawr. Mae ochrau a gwaelod yr arch yn cael eu hatgyfnerthu a bydd y caead yn gorwedd ar orchudd Persbecs gyda gofod fel eich bod yn gallu gweld y sgerbwd oddi mewn.
Bydd gwaith pellach yn cael ei wneud i ganfod mwy am ein gŵr Rhufeinig oedd oddeutu 40 mlwydd oed pan fu farw. Diolch i nawdd yr Ymddiriedolaeth Ymchwil Rufeinig, caiff dadansoddiad Isotop ei gynnal ar ei ddannedd a ddylai ddangos ble cafodd ei fagu a pa fath o fwyd a fwytai. Byddwn hefyd yn ceisio ailadeiladu ei wyneb fel y gallwn beintio portread ohono gan ddefnyddio'r un technegau a deunyddiau a ddefnyddid gan y Rhufeiniaid.
Dilynwch y gwaith wrth iddo fynd rhagddo yn ystod y flwyddyn nesaf.
Ein nod yw cwblhau'r gwaith ailarddangos erbyn diwedd 2011 fel eich bod yn medru dod wyneb yn wyneb â'r gorffennol!
Mae'r arch, y sgerbwd a'r nwyddau claddu, wedi cael eu harddangos ers 2002.
Ers hynny mae wedi dod yn un o arddangosiadau mwyaf poblogaidd yr oriel.
Roedd bylchau yn yr arch yn galluogi i bobl wthio pethau i mewn iddi.
Dyma rai o’r pethau a gafodd eu gadael, dim beth fyddai Rhufeiniwr am ei ddefnyddio yn y byd nesaf debyg iawn.
Gwaith yn dechrau. Rhaid tynnu’r sgerbwd a’r nwyddau bedd yn gyntaf a’u storio’n ofalus.
Tra’u bod o olwg y cyhoedd bydd y sgerbwd yn cael ei brofi ymhellach i ganfod mwy am y gŵr yn yr arch.
Rhaid i bob deunydd modern a ychwanegir i wrthrych allu cael ei waredu. Mae hyn yn ei gwneud yn haws i waredu gwaith cadwraeth heb achosi niwed i’r arteffact gwreiddiol.
Yma, mae mur y gellir ei waredu yn cael ei beintio ar yr arch. Bydd hyn yn gwahanu’r garreg wreiddiol a’r deunydd a ddefnyddir i lenwi’r bylchau a lefelu’r ymyl.
Roedd yn rhaid cyrraedd y mannau mwyaf lletchwith hyd yn oed!
Rhaid i gaead yr arch orffwys ar arwyneb gwastad!
Yn anffodus mae mwyafrif ymyl wreiddiol yr arch wedi erydu, felly gyda chymorth sbwng, tâp â dwy ochr ludiog a chaead gwydr yr arddangosfa wreiddiol, gobeithiwn greu lefel newydd i ymyl yr arch.
Gludwyd haenau o sbwng i’r caead gwydr gwastad. Pan cyrhaeddwyd rhan uchaf yr arch, defnyddiwyd hyn fel y lefel ar gyfer yr ymyl newydd.
Roedd y rhan nesaf yn llawer o hwyl...cymysgu’r deunydd llenwi.
Rhaid i’r deunydd hwn weithio fel pwti a setio’n galed wedi sychu. Mae’n rhaid iddo fod yn ddiogel i’w ddefnyddio yn yr oriel agored hefyd ac yn debyg mewn lliw a gwead i’r garreg Faddon wreiddiol.
Defnyddiwyd cyfuniad o glai sy’n sychu mewn aer, a thywod i atal crebachu ac i roi gwead gwell. Defnyddiwyd paent acrylig i’w liwio ac fel glud naturiol. Roedd y gwaith yma braidd yn anniben ac fe gymrodd hi beth amser i gael y gymysgedd yn gywir!
Pan oedd y gymysgedd yn barod llenwyd y bwlch rhwng y sbwng ac ymyl yr arch...
...gan ofalu peidio cael cymysgedd lenwi dros yr arch i gyd.
Mae’n edrych yn dda, gobeithio y bydd yn sychu heb grebachu gormod.
Mae’r lliw braidd yn olau ac nid yw mor euraid a’r garreg Faddon wreiddiol. Credwyd bod y garreg wedi dod o chwarel Rhufeinig i’r de o ddinas hynafol Caerfaddon. Mae’r garreg yn feddal ac yn hawdd i’w cherfio pan yn wlyb, ond yn sychu’n galed.
Arolygu gwaith y diwrnod! Gobeithio y bydd y llenwad yn wastad pan gaiff y gwydr a’r sbwng ei dynnu.
Mae’n rhaid llenwi’r bylchau yn ochr yr arch er mwyn atal pobl rhag cyffwrdd y sgerbwd pan gaiff ei ailarddangos.
Caiff y caead gwydr a’r sbwng eu tynnu gan ddatgelu’r ymyl newydd. Mae’r llenwad wedi sychu’n llawer goleuach na’r disgwyl felly bydd yn rhaid ei beintio er mwyn iddo asio’n well.
Bydd mwyafrif y llenwad yn cael ei guddio gan y caed sy’n ymestyn tu hwnt ac i lawr yr ochrau. Arferai’r ochr hon sy’n gorgyffwrdd orffwys ar gefnen a amgylchynai ymyl uchaf gwaelod yr arch.
Gellir gweld gweddillion y gefnen hon ar ochr dde’r llun ychydig islaw’r llenwad.
Dadorchuddiwyd yr arch gan beiriant cloddio a’i torrodd yn sawl darn. Arbedwyd mwyafrif y darnau, ond cafodd un darn gymaint o niwed fel na ellid arbed y darnau.
Yn hytrach na llenwi’r bwlch i gau’r ochr, penderfynom osod ffenestr arsylwi fel y gallai ymwelwyr byrrach weld y sgerbwd y tu mewn hefyd.
Mae’r arch yn aruthrol o drwm ac ni ellid ei symud o’r oriel yn ddiogel. Roedd yn rhaid i’r gwaith cadwraeth gael ei wneud yn yr oriel allai fod yn sialens ar brydiau.
Os ydych yn ein gweld ni yno yn ystod eich ymweliad, dewch draw i ddweud helo. Byddwn ni’n fwy na pharod i ateb cwestiynau am y project.
Last day of the festival
Festival of British Archaeology 2009
So the festival ended. After two weeks of almost continuous events across three of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales’s sites. And the best was definitely saved until last.
With fine weather throughout the day The Vicus put on a fantastic show. They performed a Roman funeral ceremony in the centre of St Fagans before a crowd of two to three hundred people. A young lady played the recently departed and two gladiators fought for her.
Then the mourners processed to the funeral pyre, an impressive timber platform around which more rituals were performed, and where the young lady was substituted for a pig.
There followed tense moments for the organizers. It’s easy to schedule a cremation ritual, and building the pyre wasn’t too challenging, but with all the wet weather the day before, would it light? With a hundred and fifty people watching as a fire brand was thrust into the middle of the pyre, a fizzle would not have looked good.
But good fortune smiled and the pyre lit, smoking heavily before the flames spread. The grave goods on the pyre were quickly burnt or broken, with one glass bottle melting in the heat.
It burnt for the rest of the afternoon, until by closing time on the site there was just a bed of ash with the unburnt back of the pig resting on top. By next morning almost all of this had burnt away and we set about recovering the cremated bones and the grave goods for further analysis.
Cremated remains are common finds from the Bronze Age and Roman periods and our work here will go some way to helping interpret these finds when they come up in future. So a great spectacle and a useful source of data.
A big day in the Celtic Village
Festival of British Archaeology 2009
This weekend is the grand finale of the Festival events, and it started dreadfully. Torrential rain all night and no let-up until eleven o’clock, but much happened before then.
First thing in the morning The Vicus, anamazing Iron Age / Roman re-enactment group, arrived in force and took over our Celtic Village and the grounds around it. Our wood shelter became an armoury, the roundhouses were taken over for cooking and crafts, and outside the village our old furnace was fired up and used to smelt iron ore.
Things really got under way once the rain had cleared and the ground started to dry. Then it was a continuous stream of visitors for the rest of the day.
For me the highlights were:
- the trimmed down combat display where the Vicus’s British warriors and Roman soldiers showed off their equipment and demonstrated the various merits of a range of spears. It was a trimmed down display because the rain had left things too wet underfoot for full-scale combat. But the forecast is good for the rest of the weekend, so tomorrow’s performance should be the full extravaganza.
- watching the bloom come out of the furnace around 4:30. The Vicus’s blacksmith has yet to pass judgement on the results, but they certainly looked pretty good. And when one considers that things only really got started around midday they seemed almost miraculous.
So tomorrow is the big one. In the Celtic Village we have a repeat of all of the above (with bronze casting substituted for iron smelting), and the festival will be brought to a show-stopping conclusion with a reenactment of a Roman cremation cemetery. Fingers crossed the weather stays with us.
Look above: look within
Festival of British Archaeology 2009
On Wednesday and Thursday this week (29th and 30th July) Sue Fielding and Geoff Ward from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales demonstrated building recording at St Fagans. Thanks to them, visitors had the chance to record a 500 year old house, Hendre’r Ywydd Uchaf, which once stood near Ruthin in the Vale of Clwyd.
I couldn't get to the event myself, but Adam Gwilt who helped organise things sent in this report.
"Geoff has been getting people to look more carefully at the way the house was built and showing young and old alike how to measure and draw the exposed timbers of a wall partition inside the house.
Sue has been enlisting the help of people, using the ‘total station’ survey equipment. Using a laser beam to record the dimensions and details of one of the rooms, a 3D drawing of the room has grown in front of our eyes on the laptop computer screen.
On Wednesday, the stream of people was slow but constant, though the torrential rain all day affected the numbers of visitors. After early showers on Thursday, the much improved weather brought people to us in significant numbers, at times queuing to enter the house to see what was going on!
We used a red flag banner to let visitors know that something was going on in this house in the large museum grounds, while the additional building trail developed for the Festival has helped some children to hunt for evidence relating to the long use of this building.
The event was a great success with Sue commenting: ‘Many children have really enjoyed using our new survey equipment to generate an immediate visual and digital drawing of this historic house. I was really pleased that the Royal Commission was asked to contribute to the Festival events hosted by the national museum.’ "