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This blog is a behind the scenes look at the Roman Baths in Bath. We hope you enjoy reading our stories about life surrounding the Roman Baths.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

It's all About..... Weapons and Tools

During Science Week at the Roman Baths, visitors were invited to look at and handle some of the artefacts from the museum collection. Our visitors were encouraged to consider how tools were made during the Mesolithic to Neolithic period (c. c.10, 000 BC to c.3, 200 BC); the Bronze Age (c.3, 200 BC to c.700 BC); the Iron Age (c.700 BC to c.100AD); and the Romano-British period (43AD to c.400-500AD).

My ‘handling table’ held replica flint hand tools and two Neolithic flint arrow-heads – one from Yorkshire and one found at the Baths during excavations of the King’s Bath / ‘Sacred Spring’ in 1979. Visitors enjoyed handling the replica flint hand tools, which included a hand axe, a flint knife, a flint saw and some flint scrapers that were used to clean animal skins.

Me at my handling table
Next to the flint tools, visitors handled a replica cast of a Bronze Age ‘socketed’ axe head that was discovered in Bristol and examined a Bronze Age ‘flanged’ axe and a spear head from the Museum’s collection.

Our visitors were also able to handle lumps of metal working waste which were excavated from the Bath Easton bypass in 1990. There are a number of Iron Age settlements in the Avon valley and on the hills surrounding Bath, such as the camp at Bathampton Down.

Finally, the handling table held a photograph of the bronze ballista washer that is on display in the Roman Baths Museum. This circular piece of cast bronze looks a “bit like a plug”, according to one of our visitors, and it does! It was made to sit, with three others, on the four corners of the heavy wooden frame which made the front piece of a Roman ballista.

Roman ballista washer from Roman Baths collection BATRM 1983.13.b.1
A ballista was a siege weapon a little like a very large crossbow, which fired arrows, or bolts that were between six inches and up to a foot long. The bronze washer was also found during the excavation of the Sacred Spring in the King’s Bath in 1979; and when it was found, archaeologists thought that it belonged to the modern pump they were using to pump water from the King’s Bath so they could excavate! Our visitors were also told that similar ‘washers’ were found in Italy and Iraq, and experimental archaeology has shown that the size of the washer tells experts the size of the ballista weapon they came from – ours is one of the smallest, so probably came from one of the smaller weapons.

It is interesting how the washer came to be in the Sacred Spring along with other Roman offerings. Perhaps the washer was thrown into the Sacred Spring by a Roman artillery soldier as an offering for thanks for or a prayer for luck in a coming battle? What our visitors found most intriguing is that the ballista washer was found close to the Neolithic flint arrow-head that was with the flint tools on display! Archaeologists think that the site of the Sacred Spring was important before the Romans came to Bath, and maybe the flint arrowhead was thrown into the spring as an ‘offering’, or a votive, to whichever gods were believed to have been there thousands of years before the Roman goddess Minerva or Aquae Sulis came to Bath.

Tony - Collections placement

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