Sunday, October 29, 2006

Roman Portable Ovens

I've just been reading the latest Research News: Newsletter of the English Heritage Research Department Number 4, Summer 2006, pages 23-24. In it there was an interesting snippet about rare Roman Portable Ovens (Clibani). In particular, there was a photo of the fragments from the Chester Amphitheatre excavations, and the comment that the fragments were collected as ceramic building materials. So it's a possible thing that may be found in cbm samples, along with all that amphora ...

On searching on the web, I found that a similar photo of the Chester fragments is included in the Chester Amphitheatre Newletter issue 9, 12.08.06 It will download as a PDF and you will need Adobe Acrobat to read it. See pages 6-7 in the pdf. There's a helpful description of the sherds.

Failing that, get hold of a copy of the Research News, details as above. They are free; I can't remember exactly where from, but try emailing: in the first instance. Most of the edition is given over to Chester's Amphitheatre Project, which is quite interesting in itself.

If you want to see a picture of a near-complete oven, there's a drawing of one in: W F Grimes, 1930. 'Holt, Denbighshire: The Works-Dept of the Twentieth Legion at Castle Lyons' Y Cymmrodor Vol XLI, 1930, page 212. Or you can see one in use in this online impression. It's on the right of the drawing, and an adult is putting something into it, or taking something out. The drawing was created from a clibanus found on the excavations at Prestatyn, Wales, which was a Roman baths and civilian settlement. The full reference to the drawing is: Blockley M, 1986. 'The Prestatyn excavation: education, presentation and video' IN Cracknell S & Corbishley M (eds), 1986. Presenting archaeology to young people, CBA Research Report 64, 17-23

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Adventures in archaeological research: 1

I've just started the second, more intensive research phase for my Early medieval ceramic building materials in Yorkshire article.

First up, is establishing the presence of curved and flanged tiles in Scarborough. This has entailed checking out the origination of this oft-quoted occurence. It seems to come from J N Hare's Battle Abbey publication (1985). Anthony D F Streeten's refreshingly substantial Ceramic Building Materials report (p79-102) discusses the presence of curved and flanged tiles at the Abbey. He then cites the Scarborough curved and flanged tiles, and the references is: P and N Famer, pers. comm. The tiles were found from the early phase of Scarborough ware (pottery) production, where they were found amongst wasters.

The next step was to find out if this material was ever published. Cue a visit to the British and Irish Archaeological Bibliography.

There were three references:

An introduction to Scarborough Ware and a reassessment of knight jugs
1979, Peter G Farmer: privately published by author

Symposium on Scarborough Ware
1982, P G Farmer, N C Farmer & et al: Medieval Ceram, 6, 1982, 66-119

Excavations at the deserted medieval village of Osgodby near Scarborough, 1956-65
1968, Peter G Farmer: Trans Scarborough Dist Archaeol Soc, 2(11), 1968, 29-61

Unfortunately, none of them are after the date of the pers comm from the Battle Abbey report. However, I will still check them out. To do that, I have to find out if the local libraries have got them.

I checked the University of York - they have Medieval Ceramics. They also have a puzzling reference to the Trans Scarborough Dist Archaeol Soc at the Borthwick, but I suspect they don't have the complete run. However the Scarborough and District Archaeological Society have a website, and if I need to, I will go directly to them. Indeed they have several more recent Scarborough archaeological publications, but I've already checked those (they are in my CBM library) and the legendary curved and flanged tiles are not mentioned there.

Next with trepidation onto the the privately published 'An introduction to Scarborough Ware ...' But it's not a problem. The York Minster Library has a copy. Phew.

Another avenue of enquiry would be to talk to P. and N. Farmer. Unfortunately, Peter Farmer had died, as his obituary was reported in Medieval Ceramics in 2001. I haven't yet made much headway in finding out the whereabouts of N. Farmer. Indeed, on the personal contact front, there may be several other people to talk to, as they are currently involved in the archaeology of Scarborough, so it is likely I will try them first.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The perils of a freelance archaeologist

I never wanted to be freelance. It's not good for me personally, and it's not good for the brick and tile. Being outside archaeological organisations means that both you and, more crucially, your material can easily be ignored. This is a real problem if you do brick and tile, where there is barely 'a market.'

A circular argument is used: why get the material reported on thoroughly if not much can be got from it? But of course, the more intensively it is studied, the more it will yield tangible results. A no-brainer, one would think, but frequently, I have to point this out, or heavily imply it. Unfortunately, diplomacy is not my forte; I'm just interested in doing the brick and tile properly, not in networking and furthering my career per se. The results of intensive study won't be the same as its close, much-studied cousin, pottery, but more information will be found out about brick and tile, which was a major ceramic industry from the Roman period onward.

As a freelance, apart from having to find work, accommodate brick and tile in one's home, and do battle with the Inland Revenue when they can't believe how little one is earning, one of the major problems is fellow archaeologists. It is all to do with respect (or lack thereof), and also a careless attitude to those who have to live on a financial precipice. Recently I had to do battle with an archaeological organisation that did not want to pay me an average rate for doing a day's work. Actually, I'll be putting in perhaps around 1.5 days, but I thought I'd be generous and not charge the whole whack (silly me) All sorts of excuses were thrown my way - particularly along the lines of we wanted to use the funds for a more worthy cause. Frankly, they tried to make me feel guilty at charging this average rate for this work. I offered to stand down; it was the only thing I could do, as I was not going to take a lesser rate, knowing that the work entails much preparation as well as intensive execution. It went a little higher within the organisation and fortunately my rate was approved. But the whole episode has left a very bad taste (and just when I was starting to think it couldn't get any worse ...)

I presume I am being viewed as a gold digger, because I insisted on charging a very average rate. Hello!? Would I be in British archaeology if I was in it for the money? The idea's laughable. What I earn from archaeology doesn't really cover the costs of research, travel, associated expenses, etc, concerned purely to do with studying brick and tile. Trying to argue 'the more worthy' clause doesn't wash with me - as far as I'm concerned the continuing and evolving study of brick and tile is as worthy a cause as anything else in archaeology. Unfortunately some (most?) of my colleagues don't seem to agree with me.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Tiles in odd places: Shires West, Leicester

In November/December 2006's British Archaeology (Number 91, pages 20-21) Tony Gnanaratnam reports on the excavations in Leicester from April-December 2005 - Revealing a lost community. It was a large site which focussed on St Peter's medival church and cemetery. No doubt, at some point the article will gravitate to British Archaeology's web archive, sans photos. In the meantime, of interest to tile fans is the presence of two floor tiles in one of the graves:

... The coffin contained two floor tiles, one with the mid 14th century arms of the Dukes of Lancaster (the earldom of Leicester eventually passed to Lancaster)

There is also a photo of the grave, and it shows that one of the tiles was tucked behind the head of the skeleton. Published in the article, I also found it on the dig's website, so have included it here.