Sunday, May 1, 2016

My Little Bit of Londinium?

When traveling I never know for sure when or even if my electronics are going to work, so posting is "as possible".  But I do hope in a few days to start regular reports from the excavations up at Vindolanda.

Way back in the early history of Detritus of Empire (over five years ago!) one of my first entries was on Mudlarking the Thames. Because I am flying over London at about the time this automatically posts I thought a brief update was in order.

When I took my then 12 year old son to London we went mudlarking and picked up some interesting "bits and bobs".  They were later put into a couple of small display boxes that I kept in my office back in the days before I became a rootless freebooter.

Clay pipes, industrial slag, pottery shards, a plastic pirate and the neck of an 18th century wine bottle.

But notice the small greenish square in the lower box.  I was of the opinion that it was a tessera, that is one small component of a Roman mosaic floor. But is it really?

As I was getting my archaeology eyes tuned in before going over seas I decided to take it down for a look see.

Here it is from three different angles.  The dark object with the holes that is adjacent is probably the strainer from a broken tea pot.

What you can tell from this is that somebody went to moderate effort to make it square.  But not an obsessive amount of effort, it has its flaws and imperfections.  The edges are rounded which would normally be a point against it being part of a mosaic floor.  But recall that this had been sloshing around in Thames mud with the tide washing back and forth over it for a long time.  The final image is from the top down and shows the speckles of mica(?) in it.  This confirms that it is stone, not ceramic.

I suppose to play fair it should be mentioned that just a few feet from where I picked this up a couple of luckier mudlarkers hoisted up an entire section of mosaic floor, about one foot square and with the tesserae nicely embedded in a red clay subflooring.  This certainly indicates that some part of ancient Londinium was coming to light on that day and on that stretch of bank (just down stream from Execution Dock), but my bit did not come from the exact same source; their mosaic slab was all white tiles.

So, a quick look for any similar size and shape of Roman tesserae from nearby yielded:

These specimens found a mile or so upstream at Blackfriars.

Less glittery but the color is similar.  Not having been in the river for an unknown length of time they still have their nice sharp edges.  I not only think I have a Roman tessera I think mine is nicer than these.
Note:  Digging at Vindolanda I hand over all finds to the supervising archaeologists.  On the Thames foreshore everything is jumbled up and out of context.  You are allowed to keep things you pick up but of course the Museum of London would like to know if you find anything brilliant.

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