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, 19 July 2017

Way Back Wednesday: the Science of Skeletons

As well as organising the Science Week events at the Roman Baths, I was able to design a handling table. My topic of choice was human remains, as I have an interest in them and there is a lot they can tell you. One issue with this is the ethics of choosing to have human remains in public areas of the site as visitors may not wish to see human remains outside a case. This was overcome by producing a sign to warn visitors about the remains on show and to only have skeletal elements not whole skeletons out.

My research for the table was into how you could age and sex a skeleton from different elements. It was hard to condense the information down into language that the everyday reader would understand as there are lots of technical words such as diaphysis and epiphysis for the shaft and ends of long bones respectively.  This could have be why information sheets explaining how to do this have not been produced before.

Skull of a Roman Male

One common comment made about the table was about the condition of the teeth.  Teeth are the most common skeletal element found as they are resistant to chemical and physical destruction. The teeth which attracted the most attention belonged to a 25 year old Roman male, and the condition divided opinion. Some said they were well looked after and in better condition than the modern equivalent, while others said they were worn. The teeth could be in better condition due to the fact the Romans didn’t consume as much sugar as the modern population, as sugar wasn't available in Europe at this time. Instead, they were worn due to milling methods used to make flour leaving sand which in turn wore down the teeth.

The assessment of skeletal remains is very subjective, as this comment on the teeth wear shows, so even if you know the correct methods you might still be wrong, and if sexing you only have a 50/50 chance of getting it right!

Katharine Foxton

Bradford University Placement Student

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Saltford Festival: Musings on Metalwork

Roman Baths object handling at Saltford Brass Mill

At the beginning of June, our Collections and Learning teams packed up the van and spent the day at Saltford Brass mill for the Saltford Festival.

We took a selection of archaeological metalwork to fit with the theme of the location, choosing objects from the local area and that could showcase the use and preservation of different types of metal.

Copper Alloy

A pair of Roman tweezers found in Keynsham
As we were in a Brass mill, brass would be the most fitting metal to choose! However, archaeologists choose not to distinguish between brass and bronze, instead using the term ‘copper alloy’. Bronze is a mixture of copper and tin and brass is a mixture of copper and zinc, and without scientific testing it’s very difficult to distinguish between the two.

You can recognise copper alloy from the tell-tale green colour caused by corrosion, sometimes called verdigris.


A selection of iron objects including an axehead from the site of the Thermae Spa in Bath
Again, iron is recognisable from the way it corrodes, producing distinctive red rust. As with all metals we do our best to slow down and prevent this process, keeping the objects as dry as possible in sealed containers with packets of silica gel to absorb any moisture.

The objects pictured are in particularly good condition. Archaeological metalwork is not always so lucky!


A piece of the lead sheets used to line the Great Bath

Lead from the Roman Baths has survived incredibly well and some Roman pieces are still in place, for example the sheets that line the Great Bath. We took a section of that lead with us to Saltford, and almost everyone commented on the incredible weight of just this one small piece!

You may question the use of lead, and rightly so. Today we know that it is poisonous, and we definitely wouldn’t use it to line our baths! However, the Romans didn’t know this and instead prized it as the perfect material for plumbing.


A silver coin of Julian II
There are a number of silver objects in the Roman Baths collection, and most of them are coins. The examples we took to Saltford included a Roman Imperial coin known as a siliqua of Julian II, made at the mint at Trier, Germany. 

Silver is a perfect choice for making currency, and even though this coin is well over 1,000 years old the design is as crisp as the day it was struck! 

Did you know?

The Latin for Lead is plumbum (also used for its chemical element symbol Pb), which is where the word ‘plumbing’ comes from!


Collections Assistant