Roman rural settlement research at the Lincolnshire Archaeology Day

I wrote a short while ago (here, in fact) about the annual Lincolnshire Archaeology Day hosted by the Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaeology, and that two talks in particular were of interest to Romanists.  Well, the day has now been and gone, and was very successful indeed in terms of both the numbers in attendance and the talks delivered. I’d love to be able to write about all of the talks (there was some fascinating discussion of Middle Saxon settlement for example) but that’s not the focus of this blog, so I’ll focus instead on the Roman themed content.

Dr Peter Halkon – “T’other side of the river: Britons and Romans in the territory of the Parisi”

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Dr Peter Halkon speaking at the SLHA Archaeology Day 2016. Photo: Antony Lee

Dr Halkon’s talk focused on the cultural identity of the Parisi tribe, the northern neighbours of Lincolnshire’s Corieltavi and often viewed in the past as a sub group of the Brigantes. Work in recent decades, not least Dr Halkon’s own projects, have begun to firmly establish the Parisi as a tribe with a distinct identity. The famous Arras culture chariot burials (concentrated in the centre of the tribal area), paralleled by examples in northern France, were cited as examples of this distinct British identity and connections with the continent. Dr Halkon highlighted that the 36kg of iron fittings in a chariot burial represented around 288 days of labour – a very valuable resource to be placed into a grave.

He highlighted the South Cave hoard (now at Beverley museum) as another example of the Parisi’s distinct personality. A hoard of 5 swords and 33 spearheads, interpreted as either a votive hoard or a weapons cache, brings comparisons to the practice of spears being thrown at bodies in graves. The name Parisi may even mean ‘spear people’.

Dr Halkon then highlighted potential African connections as evidenced through the mosaics from the Rudston villa. The mosaic of the victorious charioteer has stylistic simarities with mosaics depicting the same image from Tunisia, and the ‘Venus’ mosaic’s animal depictions include a type of staff associated with venetores (animal fighters) in African arenas.

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The Rudston ‘Venus’ mosaic. The crescent-headed staff above the bull in the semi-circular panel on the right is the potential African connection. Photo: Antony Lee

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The Rudston charioteer mosaic. Photo: Antony Lee

Dr Steven Willis – “Recent fieldwork at Roman sites on the Central Lincolnshire Wolds”

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Dr Steven Willis speaking at the SLHA Archaeology Day 2016. Photo: Antony Lee

Dr Willis’ project on the Lincolnshire Wolds has now been running for 18 years. He chose the Wolds for a research project as they have been historically under-researched, despite cropmarks having been mapped and there being a long history of metal detecting on them. Due to the lack of large settlements, and therefore less development taking place, professional archaeology has not been able to investigate them as fully as other areas.

Dr Willis highlighted a number of sites the project has worked at, beginning with the multi-period Iron Age and Romano-British settlement and probable shrine site at Nettleton / Rothwell, south of the walled town of Caistor. Among a description of the features and buildings identified, Dr Willis highlighted a lead defixio (curse tablet) from the site, its partially surviving text listing personal names. Whether these represent villians being cursed or the wronged parties remains a mystery. Dr Willis’ work at this fascinating and important site has been published – see the details on my publications page.

He then highlighted work at Hatcliffe Top, a rural farm complex. Geophysics on the site have revealed a busy sequence of enclosures, all of late Roman date. Finds at the site have included whalebone, raw galena (possible evidence of lead smelting) and large quantities of coal. The coal is likely to have been imported from South Yorkshire or Nottinghamshire, and may reflect pressure on local woodland resources. Many oyster shells were also recovered, but these did not show evidence of having been farmed. The site has not yet produced much building material and only a small quantity of tile, suggesting that most roofs were not tiled. Dr Willis wondered if this reflects supply problems in the later Roman period. A non-literate curse tablet was discovered nearby. Unlike the Rothwell example, above, this contained no words at all, but had instead had the impressions of iron nails which had been hammered sideways into it with some force. That such an act might be seen to mimick literate curse tablets is clear – the curse perhaps spoken rather than written, and the potential ritual significance of the use of iron may also be significant.

Dr Willis then discussed  a site at Brookenby, known from metal detecting finds but for which no cropmarks are known. The site has produced thousands of fragments of roof and box flue tile. Geophysical surveys carried out in 2014 have revealed enclosures and a possible road, and the site may be a villa complex with outbuildings. Excavations on a ditch beside the probable road found the jawbone of a large cow. A circular anomoly has also been investigated, but so far its purpose remains undetermined as excavations have not yet gone deep enough. Roman material has been plentiful and the feature may be a well or evidence of quarrying.

Dr Willis finished by talking about a site at Churn Water Head near Walesby, at the source of the River Rase. Tufa, a volcanic rock beloved of Roman architects for its strength and light weight, has been found at the site, and is so far the only place it is known on the Wolds. Dr Willis speculates that, as the position of the site might be a viable one for the source of the aqueduct that fed Lincoln, the tufa might represent the remains of an architectural feature associated with it.

Dr Willis’ Lincolnshire Wolds project has a blog, which can be seen here.

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3 thoughts on “Roman rural settlement research at the Lincolnshire Archaeology Day

  1. Pingback: New funding for late Roman pottery studies in Northeast Lincolnshire | Roman Lincolnshire Revealed

  2. Pingback: Stories from stones – Roman gems lecture | Roman Lincolnshire Revealed

  3. Pingback: ‘Rural Settlement in Lincolnshire and Beyond’ conference | Roman Lincolnshire Revealed

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