ISSN 1357-4442Editor: Simon Denison

Issue no 55, October 2000


Mosaics retrieved from flooded Roman city: British team rescues Roman Zeugma from rising waters of Turkish dam

A team of British archaeologists played a major role this summer in rescuing inscriptions, mosaics and a wealth of other evidence from the Hellenistic/Roman city of Zeugma in south-eastern Turkey, as about a third of the site was slowly inundated by the rising waters of the controversial Biricek Dam.

Zeugma was founded by one of Alexander the Great's generals, Seleucus I Nicator, on the River Euphrates in about 300 BC, and became one of the great cities of the eastern Roman Empire. Abandoned sometime after the 10th century AD, the city was eventually buried under hillwash and was only rediscovered by scholars in the early 1990s when plans for the dam were already in place.

The British team, led by Rob Early of the Oxford Archaeological Unit, uncovered evidence for different `zones' in the low-lying areas of the Roman town including a wealthy residential suburb and industrial quarters. Of particular note was a townhouse that seems to have belonged to a high-ranking military officer. The artefacts from the house included a helmet and spears, lamps and jewellery including a gold ring.

Fine mosaics decorated the floors. In the dining room, one depicted three figures - `the three miserable women', as the excavators called it - similar to a design from Pompeii. A large double reception room contained images of fish and dolphins, part of which had been damaged and repaired at a later date.

The town's industrial area contained a jumble of much smaller buildings. One contained an amphora full of reclaimed mosaic pieces, presumably for use by the town's building trade. Another contained what is thought to be a weaver's kit, while a third contained copper-coated lead weights and a set of scales identical in design to ones found in London. According to Mr Early, similar scales can be bought today in the nearby town of Saniurfa.

Many of the Roman buildings were built over Hellenistic predecessors. The discoveries suggest the pre-Roman town may have been more extensive and important than archaeologists had thought. One 1st century BC inscription - of a type put up in principal cities - depicted the local king Antiochus I of Commagene shaking hands with Apollo, and demanding the worship of his citizens. Antiochus submitted to Pompey in 64 BC bringing his kingdom into the Roman world. The inscription stone had been reused in a later building.

Dozens of mosaic floors - amounting to some 600 square metres - have been retrieved from Zeugma in recent years and are now undergoing conservation at Gaziantep museum. Meanwhile the Turkish Government is considering proposals to turn the unflooded (and at present largely unexcavated) two-thirds of Zeugma into an archaeological park.

Post-medieval pottery collection found in Ely

A huge collection of complete and broken 16th and 17th century pottery has been found in an `industrial' quarter of Ely in Cambridgeshire. The pots all had slight defects and appear to have been dumped by the cartload, straight out of the kiln, into a former artificial channel leading into the River Ouse.

The pots included a number of designs known to have been made in Ely, including dark-brown handled tankards known as `Babylon ware'. One rare find was a complete light-brown `Pipkin' cooking pot with handles and three feet.

Also found were the foundations of a pottery kiln full of Babylon wasters and other Ely-made products. Excavator Alison Dickens of the Cambridge University Archaeological Unit said it was extremely unusual to be able to link pottery finds with particular kilns. `To be able to say this pot was made in this kiln really is fantastic and very rare.'

The artificial channel was one of three cut in the medieval period from the river and leading, probably, into the centre of the town. They would have allowed small boats to deliver goods directly to market without having to offload their cargoes at riverside wharves. Intriguingly, the area was known as Empty Shore in the medieval period, lying between Castle Hythe close to Ely castle and Monks Hythe nearer the cathedral.

Archbishop of Canterbury's palace discovered in Kent

The country palace of the medieval Archbishops of Canterbury has been found and excavated by archaeologists working in Kent.

The palace, at Teynham some 15 miles west of Canterbury, was used by the archbishops from the 9th to the 16th centuries, and was noted for its vineyards and wine. However, the buildings were demolished in the 17th century and the precise location of the site was gradually forgotten.

The palace was rediscovered as a result of fieldwalking and geophysical survey by the Swale Archaeological Survey followed by small-scale excavations this summer, directed by Paul Wilkinson. Parts of the foundations of the main palace complex were uncovered, including a gatehouse, courtyard and stables. Domestic pottery gave the expected late 8th-16th century date range, with the majority belonging to the 13th and 14th centuries.

According to Dr Wilkinson, finds from the site indicate the splendour of the building. Outside it was faced with dressed stone blocks, while inside were found glazed floor tiles bearing the fleur-de-lys motif, and stone tracery windows made of Caen stone and decorated with hand-painted coloured glass. A smaller building on the site excavated in the 1970s is now thought to have been the estate's wine store.

The land was first granted by King Cenewulf of Kent to Archbishop Athelard in 801. The manor buildings were greatly extended by William the Conqueror's archbishop, Lanfranc, in 1070. Henry III stayed there in 1231. A document of 1376 records the tiling of the main hall and the `squire's chamber'.

In 1538, Henry VIII persuaded his archbishop Thomas Cranmer to exchange Teynham for other estates, and the site remained in royal hands until given away by James I. The buildings were later demolished but a few ruins remained on Ordnance Survey maps as late as 1906.

From a stolen seal to a buried Brahma: members of the public reported 24,000 new discoveries last year

Some 24,000 newly-discovered antiquities were reported to archaeologists by members of the public in the second year of the Government's voluntary recording scheme for portable antiquities. They included a lead seal possibly connected with the South Sea Bubble company, the lid of an 11th century Anglo-Scandinavian reliquary, a sculpture from 9th century Pakistan and a set of Roman bells.

The lead cloth seal, found by a metal detectorist in Lancashire, is very similar to those used by the South Seas and Fisheries Company - the company at the centre of the South Sea Bubble fiasco of 1730 which ruined hundreds of investors. The seal was used to label textiles traded with South America. Similar seals have been found all over the continent from Texas to Tierra del Fuego, as well as in London.

The seal's findspot in Lancashire, however, was completely unexpected. According to Geoff Egan, an expert in post-medieval artefacts at the Museum of London, it may have been lost on its way from the loom to a port from which the cloth it labelled was dispatched.

`Or it may have come from a shipwrecked cargo that was illicitly brought ashore, the incriminating label saying which company it belonged to being discarded at some suitably remote spot,' he said.

The 11th century silver alloy reliquary lid was found by a detectorist in Suffolk. Decorated with the figure of Christ with the Hand of God above, the reliquary's design has many parallels in northern Europe and reflects the close links between eastern England and Scandinavia in the period. The reliquary's back-plate and the relic it once contained were both missing.

More unusual still was a figure of Brahma thought to have been carved in Pakistan in the 9th century. It was found buried in a back garden in Winchester. The sculpture may have been brought to England by an army officer serving in the Sub-Continent - but how it came to be buried under the roses remains a mystery.

The hoard of Roman bells, made of bronze with iron clappers, was found by a detectorist in Essex. Intriguingly, the bells had been buried in a circle, perhaps as part of some forgotten ceremony.

The new discoveries, recently published in the scheme's latest annual report, were all made during the year to autumn 1999. Since then, a further 30,000 objects are thought to have been reported, giving a total of some 75,000 antiquities reported since the scheme was set up in 1997.

About 9,000 of the finds are now catalogued online with some 600 pictures. They can be seen at

Planning inquiry boost for historic landscape

Conservation of an area's historic landscape character was cited this summer as a material reason for rejecting three large-scale housing proposals in open countryside south of Reading in Berkshire.

The inspector's report, given after a year-long public inquiry, could stand as an important precedent for future cases in which the historic character of typical, non-designated areas of countryside is under threat.

The inquiry examined Wokingham District Council's draft local plan, and in particular three rival planning applications to build 2,500 new houses. For Grazeley, the site allocated for the houses by the Council's plan, the inspector concluded that despite much landscape change in the last 200 years, the local settlement pattern of small isolated hamlets and farms in a relatively tranquil landscape retained a character reminiscent of pre-20th century England. `It is a character worth preserving in my view. Planning policies should be used to protect the remaining areas of historic settlement pattern rather than reinforcing the trend that has led to the destruction of too much of that pattern,' he said.

For the second site, at Shinfield, the inspector noted that the historic settlement pattern had been largely swamped by later development, but that a well-preserved field pattern to the east of the village was a special feature worthy of protection. A proposal to lay out playing fields over this area, he said, would be an `inappropriate and ineffective' way of preserving it.

For the third site, at Spencers Wood, he drew attention to another area of well-preserved field pattern and an area of non-registered late 19th century parkland which was `perceived by local residents as an historic feature' and was worthy of preservation.

All three sites were rejected by the Inspector because insufficient consideration had been given to the availability of brownfield alternatives.

In brief

Mine Howe

Excavations this summer at the underground chamber of Mine Howe on Orkney, which was rediscovered last year, have confirmed it as Iron Age in date, based on a plethora of Iron Age finds and the close structural similarity between the chamber and Iron Age brochs. The chamber was surrounded, outside, by a deep ditch and by buildings where iron and bronze-working took place. Finds from the ditch included Roman glass and a Roman enamelled brooch.

Neolithic Derry

That rare thing, an early Neolithic settlement, has been found at Londonderry in Northern Ireland. It contains at least four large rectangular buildings and one roundhouse surrounded by a palisade.

Most interestingly, the settlement seems to have been involved in a battle. One section of palisade was burned, and within the burned remains were numerous flint arrowheads, possibly used as `fire arrows'. Other finds from the site include axes and other tools, ritual deposits of quartz and pottery, and one axe broken in two pieces found 30 metres apart - perhaps broken by accident and hurled away in rage.

Elsewhere in Ulster, the posthole remains of a single Neolithic house - another rare discovery - were found this summer at Spa in Co Down.

Saxon criminal

The remains of what may have been an executed Saxon criminal have been found at Hinchingbrooke near Huntingdon. The skeleton, buried on its knees face-down in a pit, resembles those found at an `execution' cemetery at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. It was one of the latest finds at a site that had been a Roman villa estate, and previously a middle and late Iron Age farmstead.

Trial excavations this year found traces of Roman aisled barns, painted wall plaster, a polygonal building thought to be a temple and possible garden features. The Iron Age material included roundhouses with querns, complete pots and iron `currency bars' deposited in their ditches. The site, owned by Cambridgeshire County Council, was to have been fully excavated this summer, but the dig was cancelled at the last minute. The land will now be put up for sale.

News is compiled by Simon Denison

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© Council for British Archaeology and individual authors, 2000