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Northumberland fort find gets to the bottom of Roman history

A rare find has allowed archaeologists to get to the bottom of everyday life at a Northumberland Roman fort.

What is believed to be the only wooden toilet seat to be found in the Roman Empire has been unearthed at Vindolanda on Hadrian’s Wall.

We are absolutely delighted with the find. The seat has survived because of the fantastic preservation conditions on site,” said Vindolanda director of excavations Dr Andrew Birley.

This site has also produced discoveries ranging from the famous Vindolanda wooden writing tablets and socks, to a gold coin and a gladiator drinking glass.

The seat was discovered by Dr Birley in the deep pre-Hadrianic trenches at Vindolanda. There are many examples of stone and marble toilet seat benches from across the Roman Empire but this is believed to be the only surviving wooden seat, almost perfectly preserved in the anaerobic, oxygen free, conditions which exist at Vindolanda.

Dr Birley said that in the chilly conditions of what was the northernmost limits of the Empire, a wooden seat would have been preferable to stone.

Wooden toilet seat found at Vindolanda

The Roman toilets would have been serviced by running water.

The Romans brought this toilet technology to Britain 2,000 years ago. It was cleanliness to the max compared with what had gone on before,” said Dr Birley.

The seat has been well used and was decommissioned from its original location and discarded amongst the rubbish left behind in the fort before the construction of Hadrian’s Wall started in the early Second Century.

Dr Birley said: “There is always great excitement when you find something that has never been seen before and this discovery is wonderful.

“We know a lot about Roman toilets from previous excavations at the site and from the wider Roman world which have included many fabulous Roman latrines but never before have we had the pleasure of seeing a surviving and perfectly preserved wooden seat.

“As soon as we started to uncover it there was no doubt at all on what we had found.

“It is made from a very well worked piece of wood and looks pretty comfortable.

“Now we need to find the toilet that went with it as Roman loos are fascinating places to excavate as their drains often contain astonishing artefacts.

“Let’s face it, if you drop something down a Roman latrine you are unlikely to attempt to fish it out unless you are pretty brave or foolhardy.”

Discoveries at Vindolanda from latrines have included a baby boot, coins, a betrothal medallion, and a bronze lamp.

Archaeologists now hope to find a spongia – the natural sponge on a stick which Romans used instead of toilet paper, and with over 100 years of archaeology remaining and the unique conditions for the preservation of such organic finds a discovery may be possible.

The wooden seat will take up to 18 months to conserve and once this process is complete the artefact will be put on display.

Source –  Newcastle Journal, 27 Aug 2014

 

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‘Scotland’s dodo’ bone found at Scottish Seabird Centre dig

A bone from an extinct bird known as “Scotland’s dodo” has been uncovered following an archaeological dig in East Lothian.

The bone from the Great Auk, a species last seen in British waters on St Kilda in 1840, was recovered at the Kirk Ness site, now known as North Berwick.

It was unearthed during a dig at the Scottish Seabird Centre.

Archaeologists said the find sheds new lights on human habitation of the area in the Middle Ages.

The archaeological dig, by Edinburgh-based Addyman Archaeology, and supported by Historic Scotland, revealed bones of butchered seals, fish and seabirds, including the bone of the Great Auk.

The upper arm bone of the flightless bird was unearthed at the entrance area of an early building and has been radio carbon dated to the 5th to 7th Centuries.

The seabird was a favoured food source in medieval times as it was easy to catch.

Human predation led to the decline of the species, ensuring that by the middle of the 19th Century it had become persecuted and exploited into extinction.

The penguin-like bird was 1m tall and its range at one time extended from the north-eastern United States across the Atlantic to the British Isles, France and Northern Spain.

Tom Brock, chief executive of the Scottish Seabird Centre, said: “The discovery of the Great Auk bone on site at the Scottish Seabird Centre is fascinating but also very sad.

“We are so fortunate in Scotland to have a rich variety of seabirds and we must use the extinction of the Great Auk as a warning to future generations to look after our wonderful wildlife and the marine environment as an absolute priority.

“There are both behavioural and environmental lessons that must be taken from this internationally-important finding, and as an educational and conservation charity we will remain dedicated to inspiring people to enjoy, protect and learn about wildlife and the natural environment.”

 

Tom Addyman, of Addyman Archaeology, said: “The discovery of the Great Auk bone at Kirk Ness is an illuminating find, as we seek to understand and document the importance of the area in the history of wildlife and human habitation in the Middle Ages.

“We hope that its discovery helps historians and conservation experts, such as the Scottish Seabird Centre, to educate future generations about the precious nature of our natural resources.”

Rod McCullagh, senior archaeology manager at Historic Scotland, said: “In the last two decades, there has been a renaissance in our understanding of the archaeology and history of early Medieval Scotland.

“The discovery of the remains of domestic buildings and the associated detritus of daily life at Kirk Ness gives us a glimpse of what ordinary life was like in East Lothian at this time.

“That ‘daily life’ involved the killing of such valuable birds as the Great Auk is no surprise but the discovery of this single bone perhaps attests to a time when hunting did not overwhelm such a vulnerable species.”

Source – BBC News    12 May 2014

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Foreign Snakes Invade London

A species of foreign snakes that are said to be capable of crushing small children to death are on the loose in North London.

Over the last few weeks, 30 Aesculupian snakes, which can grow up to two metres in length, have been spotted up trees, rooftops and climbing up the drains of houses around the Regent’s Canal area.

The snakes that are thought to originate from the former Yugoslavia have been known to attack small dogs and their numbers now seem to be growing in the capital.

Tales of snakes being spotted around the Regent’s Canal area began in the 90s, but it was not until the head keeper of reptiles at London Zoo spotted one that they were confirmed as the Aesculupian.

Since then there have been a number of sightings across and these have increased in frequency over the last couple of months.

This has led to some residents fear that they could start entering houses and causing distress.

Mum-of-three Sylvia Taylor, 33, told the Daily Star: “If they are capable of killing small animals then surely they could constrict small children?”

Aesculupians are known for loving milder temperatures than most other reptiles and usually find their homes along river beds or streams, making Regent’s Canal the perfect place for them to live.

There are many theories as to how the snakes first got to living on the banks of Regent’s. One popular tale is that they were released on the quiet by the Inner London Education Authority as part of a secret scientific experiment.

Secret scientific experiment or not, since being introduced to London they have succeeded in making the capital their home and their numbers continue to grow.

While the large snakes have been known to attack small dogs and occasionally babies, they are more adept at feasting on small rodents and birds – so London’s pigeons and rats watch out.

Source – New Zealand Herald   12 May 2014

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