Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Roman bacon sandwiches

Dr. Andrew Birley and Justin Blake, the two main archaeologists, at Vindolanda.
Dr. Birley is discussing the Roman bacon sandwich and a typical diet for a soldier based at Vindolanda.
The "Y" shaped drain which is shown at one on the floor of one of the "corridor" or "strip" houses (shops) which form part of the Roman vicus or village. This would have been the floor of the butcher's shop where the blood was collected to make black pudding. Both cooked produce (hence the bacon sarnie) and livestock would have been sold from here. No health and safety rules in those times!

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

What did the Romans ever do for us?

One of my favourite clips from Monty Python's " The Life of Brian". The way in which John Cleese plays this scene is just pure brilliance!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Concrete Power of Roman Aqueducts

Quite a few people on my tours at Vindolanda ask me about Roman concrete. I've tried to find out about it as best I could. (Click on the "concrete link" for more information.) The video clip above describes the process briefly.

I got into discussion with one chap, a civil engineer, the other day, who has worked on a variety of civil engineering projects past and present. He is currently working on a project - something to do with the spire at Westminster Abbey. We had a chat about Roman methods of making concrete. I naturally talk about "opus signinum" which is a special waterproof concrete (broken up tiles mixed with lime mortar) which are still in evidence in the floors of the bathhouses. There is also the traditional Roman lime mortar concrete (the Romans were the first to invent concrete...which aided their imperial expansion plans massively). This film here shows that even their normal concrete, itself, is waterproof and goes on to show how the Romans built aqueducts and how they could bring in loads of water - 300 gallons per head per day in ancient Rome which is more than five or six times what modern day cities manage. So "what have the Romans ever done for us?" They gave us: concrete!

There are two bathhouses at Vindolanda. I show the visitors the more modern one (built c. AD213 for the Fourth Cohort of Gauls) and it is very near Stone Fort II...quite near part of an exposed aqueduct. So far so easy as to how they got the water to it. The big conundrum (maybe) is the older bath house at the far end of the site built for double the number of men (1000) c.AD100. It is not near a visible water source. It was demolished by the Romans themselves a bit later on. It had become outmoded and was too big for later garrisons. How did they get their water there? Well, having looked at this film where it talks about transporting water from 40/50 miles away, via aqueducts, into the heart of Rome.....then a few extra yards at Vindolanda isn't going to make a lot of difference quite frankly. Case closed. In fairness the archaeologists did find long alder pipes in 2003, fitted with oak pegs, where the water was still running through them almost two thousand years later. Maybe the water got to the bath house via a mixture of pipes and aqueducts. It definitely got there somehow as 100 men got to be clean all in one go!

A couple of years ago I read Robert Harris's superb novel, Pompeii, and its link is here. The whole premise of the book is built around the magnificent engineering of Roman aqueducts. The link, I've highlighted, is well worth the read as it is designed for book clubs. So now when I think of aqueducts I think of his book and the breath taking aqueduct at Segovia, Northern Spain. I can't remember whether I got my photo snapped there. I'll have to rootle around my old photo books. (Strawberry Jam Ann has just reminded me of a marvellous, world famous restaurant there where I was lucky enough to dine once - el meson de candido...The roast suckling pig is famed across Spain!)

I'm away from my computer over the next few weeks for a variety of reasons. I'll continue posting but may not be able to get back to you/your comments for a wee while. Happy Summer Hols everyone!

P.S.: Looks like an interesting programme on archaeology will be shown over the next month or so. It's called "Digging for Britain" and starts 9pm on Thursday 19th August on BBC2. It is shown at 10pm the same day on BBC HD for those of you with programme clashes! (Must admit that the silly but fab "Mistresses" is on at 9pm. !!)

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Hadriana filmed near Walltown Crags

This is me up near Walltown crags. It's something I've been meaning to do for ages - show you this hidden treasure. Not many people know about it. It's off the beaten track and I only noticed it, myself, last summer when I was driving along a tiny road near Hadrian's Wall.

I'd like to do more short films about different features in/around the area. They won't always be about Roman things. Although my obsession is primarily the Romans I am still captivated by the sheer diversity of the North East and West regions. There is so much here. It is all inter-related.

One of the things which I point out in the short video (which is about 2 minutes long) is a feature of Roman stonework called diamond (or feather or herringbone) broaching. These carvings on the stonework, created by the Roman legionary masons, provide a rough surface for plaster in many cases. One of the lesser known things about Hadrian's Wall was that it was whitewashed from tip to toe - each side along its entire 80 Roman must have stood out like a beacon, especially up along the crags, in its heyday.

There is a little more on this broaching here (re: Corbridge Roman Bridge Stonework) which comes from this website: TWM Archaeology. This whole website is a mine of information covering different time periods in the North East. Absolutely fascinating!

Sometimes I get a bit depressed that no-one is reading my blog (I've just re-read that and thought that's not fair on your loyal band of followers and readers but you know what I mean...) but I have been fiddling around looking at a few things on Facebook and have seen that people have linked to some of my posts. I know that this short video is nowhere near perfect (I hold the camera too close, at times, to my face for example) but I am determined to just bash away at things and get something blogged up. The amount of stuff which I have lost from the last couple of years (photowise is a bit galling) but it also provides me with the excuse to go round all the sites and photo them again. If I can get permission to film at certain places then that might be an easier and quicker way to show you what I find amazing rather than leaving it all to write up one day! My new motto is: "Good Enough!" "Bona Res Satis!" or "Bene Satis!"

Sorry too for not visiting all your blogs. I've not allowed myself to do this for ages because once I start to do it I find that hours have whizzed by. As usual, with me, it's all or nothing. My new resolution is to try and visit about 3 blogs per day (perhaps more) and leave a comment. I managed it Thursday and Friday but not yesterday or today. Must try harder!

P.S.: Hope to soon get back to reminiscing about my banking days...I know I keep promising to do it but I always keep my promises! ;)