Origins of Pompeii-style artefacts examined at ISIS
22 Feb 2009



Roman artefacts which are nearly two thousand years old with similarities to those found at Pompeii in Italy have been examined at ISIS.

Roman jug from Kent excavations (Courtesy Oxford Archaeology)

The bronze artefacts, which include a wine-mixing vessel, jugs and ceremonial pan-shaped objects, were discovered in Kent in two high status Roman pit-burials that are among the best examples ever seen in Britain.

Archaeological scientists will compare the 1st Century AD artefacts from Kent with those from Pompeii in Italy. The researchers hope to learn more about our heritage by discovering whether the Roman items were imported from southern Italy, or manufactured using similar techniques in Britain. The neutron beams at ISIS allow for detailed crystal structure analysis of these rare objects without cutting out a sample of the material.

Dana Goodburn-Brown, a conservator and ancient metals specialist, is analysing the artefacts along with archaeological scientist Evelyne Godfrey at ISIS to see how they were made. It is hoped the experiments will answer many questions about how the items were made to give more insight into their origin: for example, the metals used in manufacturing, how they were cast and finished, and how metal pieces were joined together.

‘‘Our experiments will hopefully aid us in characterising different Roman metalworking practices and perhaps recognising the distinction between imported south Italian goods and high standard copies produced by skilled local craftsman," said Dana Goodburn-Brown.

"These artefacts represent a time of great change in Britain - they appear shortly after the Romans arrived in this country, and may represent locals taking on cultural practices of these 'newcomers'.”

Previous excavation in an area close to where the items were found had predicted archaeological discoveries, but they were bigger than expected, with settlements ranging from the Bronze Age to the late medieval period.

The excavations were carried out by Oxford Archaeology working for Skanska Civil Engineering on the Highways Agency scheme to widen the A2 between Pepperhill and Cobham. Oxford Archaeology employed Dana Goodburn-Brown to carry out conservation and analysis of metal objects from the site. The work was funded by the Highways Agency and experiments at ISIS are supported by beam time allocation from the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

Andrew Taylor, ISIS Director said that for rare and highly-valued objects, analysis with neutrons can give fantastic insight. Neutrons are a very powerful way to look at matter at the molecular level and they give unique results that you can’t easily get with any other technique.

"The measurements are extremely delicate and non-destructive, so the objects are unharmed by the analysis and can be returned to the museums unscathed," he said.

"The neutron beams we have at ISIS are a very versatile research tool and we’re always keen to help researchers answer a broad range of questions.

"Here we realised that we could take the same analysis methods we developed to look at parts of aircraft and power plants and use them to help archaeologists understand how ancient objects were traded and manufactured.”

About Oxford Archaeology

Oxford Archaeology is the one of the largest independent archaeology and heritage practices in Europe with nearly 400 specialist staff, with permanent offices in Oxford, Lancaster Cambridge and Montpellier, France.

About Skanska Civil Engineering

Skanska is one of the world’s leading construction groups with expertise in construction, development of commercial and residential projects and public-private partnerships.

About the Highways Agency

The Highways Agency is an Executive Agency of the Department for Transport (DfT), and is responsible for operating, maintaining and improving the strategic road network in England on behalf of the Secretary of State for Transport.