Welcome to the Roman Baths Blog!

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, 31 October 2012

Tuesday Time Table - Roman Textiles

The variety of cloth in the Roman period was not as diverse as today. The Romans only had cloth made from both animal and vegetable fibre, i.e. wool, silk, flax and cotton. Their availability determined their value, for example, as silk cocoons were difficult to find silky cloth was very expensive.

Now for a little bit on how the people of the past created thread and how they made cloth. The Romans used mainly five or six different sources of material to make thread. The most common was wool, which is made from a sheep’s fleece, carded using combs and then spun using a drop spindle.

Mulberry Moth

Silk is also an animal fibre, is spun by an insect called the mulberry moth. When it is a caterpillar it eats the leaves of the mulberry tree and weaves a cocoon of silk thread around itself. Man releases this thread by boiling the cocoons.

Combing Flax

Obtaining thread from flax and hemp is a more labour intensive process. Fibres are taken from the stems of these two plants by submerging them in water and then by beating the dried stems. These two phases soften the hard outer stem which can then be removed more easily. They are then combed and spun into a thread. While hemp was a fibre of low value more suitable for ropes and linen, the cloth made from flax fibre was a luxurious fabric often worn by priests.

Cotton Flower

Cotton comes from the cotton plant. As it ripens woollen seed balls form and they are then picked by hand. This fibre, like wool, is then carded and spun to obtain a thread. Cotton was a rare and luxurious fabric in the Roman period and it was imported from India and southern Egypt.

Roman Loom
Using a loom, a number of threads are then woven together to make cloth. The loom is the frame that supports the threads as they are being woven together. Looms come in different shapes and sizes and they can look different as they eveolved through the centuries to suit the nature and size of the cloth being produced.

Woven Cloth
[For more on spinning see http://www.bathsbloggers.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/spinning-yarn.html ]

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Hat and Feather - The Copper Alloy

Following on from the explanation of the Hat and Feather excavations and Will’s blog on the worked bone, this blog will take a closer look at some of the copper alloy objects from the site.

Living in Aquae Sulis Case
As part of the recent redevelopment of the public displays at the Roman Baths, nine pieces made from copper alloy from the Hat and Feather site were chosen to go on display in the new Aquae Sulis area. Below are images and information we have drawn from some of these objects to better inform you, the viewer, about Roman Bath.

Roman hair pins

As Will so neatly explained in the worked bone from the site blog, these types of pins were used to fix things. In this case they were used to fix the fancy hairstyles as seen in a previous blog http://www.bathsbloggers.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/qui-dignes-es.html

Living in Aquae Sulis Case

Hair Pin BATRM2001.62.2.5

Hair Pin BATRM2001.62.2.5
Hair Pin BATRM2001.62.2.6
Roman brooches.

Brooches were worn to hold clothes in place and as ornamental decoration. Brooches changed with fashion and styles and you can see below three different types of brooches popular during the Roman period.

Bow Brooch BATRM2001.62.2.8

Floriate Cross Plate Brooch BATRM2001.62.2.9

Oval Brooch BATRM2001.62.2.7
Roman balance arm

Used by Roman traders and merchants to be sure of the weight of the goods they were selling. They used scales, in which an arm had a hook suspended from it (to attach to whatever was being weighed) and a weight. When the arm balanced exactly, the trader and customer could see that the item being sold was the same as the weight.

Balance Arm  BATRM2001.62.2.3
Reconstruction of Roman Balance
Along with these objects on display at the Roman Baths Museum there is a display of the object material and more information on the site at T R Hayes’ Furniture Store, London Street, Bath (the site of the excavation). If you are interested to see more then why not pop along to the shop and take a look? Not local? No time? Then follow this link for more information on the creation of the display http://www.bathsbloggers.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/hot-off-press.html  

Helen Harman - Collections Assistant

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Hat and Feather - Worked Bone

As promised following last week's blog here is a little bit more on some of the bone artefacts from the Hat and Feather yard, Walcot Street, Bath......

The Roman items from the Site

A reconstruction of the items, showing how they may have looked
The Hat and Feather site has a varied collection of bone items either lost or discarded by the occupants. An antler offcut (1) shows that items of bone and antler were being produced on the site which may have contained a Roman workshop and some of these items may have never been completed…..

As with most Roman sites, one of the most common finds of worked bone are fragments of pins (2) used to hold clothing instead of buttons, or to fix hair into fancy hair styles. These were probably then discarded as they became broken by the Romans who lived and worked on the site.

A tooth from a hare or rabbit (3) was found at a Roman level. The Romans kept rabbits but finds are rare and so this object needs further research. This find could be confused with bracelet fragments such as (4) since it is curved and has the same cross section as Roman bone bracelets made from a thin strip of bone curved into a loop, then held by a metal fastening and pins.

Also found was a pinned handle (5) (where the blade is held in place with a metal pin) made from the leg bone of a sheep. The maker has used the natural bone shape as a starting point from which to shape the handle.

Another handle (6) has taken more work to produce. It is made from an antler point that has been smoothed down and hollowed out. Its purpose is probably to prevent a wooden handle from splitting as it holds the blade in place (6A.) Alternatively it could have formed the other end of a handle held together by a washer at the blade’s tail (6B).

A 19th Century Bone Ring pull and how it may have looked
The most recent bone object (7) is almost two thousand years younger. It was found in the cellar remains of some 19th century cottages and is most likely the ring pull from a drawer. The green stain is perhaps the last remains of a copper or brass fastening. Unlike the Roman examples, where bone was used as a material in its own right, this ring pull was probably intended to imitate ivory.

Will - Post Graduate Collections Volunteer

Additional web sources:

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Hat and Feather Excavations

Hat and Feather excavation photo
The excavations at the Hat and Feather Yard formed part of a series of excavations that spanned the late 1980s and the early 1990s centred on an area of Bath called Walcot, which lies less than a mile to the north east of the centre of Bath along one of the main access roads.

Plan of excavations
The evidence from these excavations showed that people settled in Walcot shortly after the invasion in 43AD but before the Baths and Temple were built by the springs. They founded a settlement that grew rapidly in the first two centuries into a bustling small town, capitalising on the tourist trade provided by the Temple and Baths. The influx of people from the Roman Empire included highly skilled stone masons, carpenters, blacksmiths, potters, and glass makers. They brought with them new skills in stone carving, metal working and glass blowing. Trade and industry flourished and the area around the Hat and Feather yard grew to become a mix of workshops and domestic dwellings that remained in use until the fourth century AD.

Reconstruction drawing of the Walcot area during the Roman period
What the archaeologists had uncovered was a site of great importance, showing the development and growth beyond the city walls during the Roman occupation, and later shrinkage. All the archaeological evidence indicates that after the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, the once bustling suburbs of Bath had all but disappeared. By the time the Saxons conquered Bath in 577 AD, the town had shrunk back to within the city walls. Extension of the city settlement during the early medieval period was limited to the very south of Walcot Street. The city began to spread again in the 13th century, but it was not until the 19th century that Walcot became a major suburb of Bath once again. At that time the site contained cottages and outbuildings of the Hat and Feather Pub which still stands next to the most recent occupant of the site, a furniture store (T R Hayes).

In next week’s blog Will tells us a little bit more about some of the worked bone from the site.

Did you know?
The name “Walcot” is thought to mean either “place of strangers” or “cottages of the Britons.”

Helen Harman – Collections Assistant

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Tuesday Time Table - Stone Tools: Bath

Thousands of years before the Romans came to Britain the land was occupied by prehistoric hunter–gathers. Stone tools were a big part of everyday life for the hunter who used them for warfare/defence, cooking and craft.

In the centre of Bath there is little evidence for prehistoric occupation. However, there is evidence to suggest a large amount of settlement lay on the surrounding hills.

Sacred Spring Excvation
During the excavation of the Sacred Spring within the Roman Baths complex in 1979 a number of prehistoric flint tools were found. The finds included scrapers, an arrowhead and unfinished projectile points, a possible knife, worked flakes and two microliths. Tool technology of this assemblage is characteristic of others found in Mesolithic Britain; particularly the microliths. The projectile points indicate a later Neolithic date. All of this clearly tells us that the prehistoric population had been attracted to the hot springs at Bath for centuries before the Romans ‘discovered’ them.

Flints from the Spring
At Rainbow Wood, on the outskirts of Bath the evidence strongly suggests temporary prehistoric settlement. Here excavations uncovered 306 flint fragments including hundreds of flakes, an arrow head, a blade, scrapers, an awl and microliths. The presence of this flint assemblage confirms prehistoric activity of an early farming group. This is just one of a few sites that have excavated on the hills around bath that show this type of prehistoric activity…..