Finds processing at the BSR
October 4, 2012
by Penny Copeland
Jude and I are currently in Rome carrying out finds processing in the laboratory of the British School at Rome. We have been processing for a few days discovering fairly run-of-the-mill stuff in the bags and boxes. For Jude this is brick stamps and for me a lot of nails, rusty and corroded. Today, however, was a good day when pearls came out of the many oysters we have opened. Jude (who says hello as she is not blogging herself) in her processing of bricks enjoys finding the human element and today we had evidence for a piece of textile. Inside a brick. Unusually, the textile had somehow got into the clay mix and become part of a brick. It was, however, close to the surface and when the surface spalled off (taking with it part of an epigraphic stamp) the weaver’s pattern was revealed. A simple weave and apparently just a rag lost in the mix.
In contrast, after several days of tacks and nails, I found a little gem. Not literally but one of those finds that makes you exercise your brain and scratch your head. I have no idea what it is. This then provokes the act of interpretation, which is to say, knowledgeable guessing. For the reader, it is a type of bronze bar and not a nail so already a different calibre of finds. It appears complete-ish. It has three small evenly spaced loops on it. The process then involves developing a hunch, ruling out everything it can’t be, and inevitably coming up with an idea of something you haven’t actually encountered before, otherwise you would know what it is… Bearing all that in mind, my favourite interpretation (and there are really not many known possibilities) is that we have the string holder of a three stringed lute or lyre. This sends me off to the library (luckily I’m at an institution with a wonderful library just downstairs). The problem is that rare as hen’s teeth are archaeological bits of lutes, and although there are many, many paintings and sculpture I have not found one with the fine detail that I am after. Some images show conflicting evidence of pegs at the string holder but most show rectangular bars either thin or quite wide. I have learnt a lot in about two hours of looking but I am not yet able to say for sure what the item is and this process will be repeated many times, with many specialists consulted before I can come up with an interpretation I am happy with!