My Kingdom for a Tap Washer ?

Lead mining was a key industry in Derbyshire. The Romans were the first to mine and export lead, on an industrial scale, from Derbyshire and there are remnants of Roman lead mines scattered throughout the district at places such as Carsington and Wirksworth. The physical mining of the lead ore (raw material also known as Galena or Lead Sulphide) was not done by the Romans but was undertaken by slaves and criminals convicted to a life in the mines by the Roman Justices. The only up side of such a life sentence was the fact that the toxic lead dust, poisonous and explosive methane gas trapped in the surrounding rock, falling rocks, oxygen deprived, suffocating mine works, and back breaking work, meant that your life was likely to last just a few months.

Hadrian Pig of Lead

Bars of lead known as ‘pigs’ marked as belonging to the Emperor Hadrian  (AD 117 – 138). Each pig measures over half a metre. Discovered at Cromford Moor, near Wirksworth. 1777.

Lead was used by the Romans for many purposes. Perhaps, most importantly, because it could be melted down to produce silver for coins and jewellery. It was also used in the earliest pencils which comprised a lead and tin core; the pencil mark being easily erasable with softened bread.  Other uses were in glass, pottery glaze, writing tablets, weapons, fishing and goods weights, and to make pots, cups, and kitchen utensils.

Lead poisoning destroys the human nervous system, causes hair loss, memory loss, anaemia, constipation, and skin ruptures, among a long list of other toxic ailments, so, it is unusual to find that a very popular use for lead in Roman times, was its use in cosmetics and foodstuffs. White lead was used to create a foundation cream with which to lighten the faces of Roman ladies (and occasionally men). This was often enhanced with the application of red lead, nowadays used in the manufacture of rust-proof paint and batteries, to add a touch of rouge. Lead compounds were also used to make black hair dye and added to wine to enhance colour, flavour, and preservation.

Due to its resistance to acid and alkalies, lead was often used to line water aqueducts and make water pipes, valves, and other plumbing related fixtures.There are many theories as to why the Roman Empire finally came to an end but, perhaps, one of the more curious theories is the one that suggests that the Roman Empire collapsed due to its citizens being poisoned by the water which flowed through the Roman, lead- based, plumbing systems.

 

 

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Re-discovering Some Derbyshire History in the Museum Stores

By Heather Miles

As a recent graduate, caught in the vacuum between finishing a BA and jumping into the black hole that is Postgraduate Study, I have found myself temporarily sheltered in the relative calm of Buxton Museum. By playing the part of a volunteer, I seem to have tricked them into unknowingly giving me refuge, and I have spent this past August blissfully recording archaeological finds in a quiet office.

My project has been to update the digital records of small finds and pottery from a series of archaeological digs around Carsington and Hognaston, Derbyshire, in the 1980s. This is no small task, as I have unboxed over 700 finds lying in storage unrecorded and anonymous. Many objects sit unidentified in dusty Ziploc bags, sadly a life shared with much of our nation’s archaeological record – not all finds can be as revered as the Sutton Hoo helmet or Richard III’s skeleton.

An unassuming cardboard box, sat in storage for over a decade, contains 22 bags of cremated human remains.

An unassuming cardboard box, sat in storage for over a decade, contains 22 bags of cremated human remains.

Fortunately for me, this absence of information has created a great learning opportunity. In order to record what is in front of me, I have had no choice but to learn fast how to identify pottery wares, animal and human bone, flint objects, and metallic ores, as well as how to best preserve them when items are in need of repackaging or protection (for example, old cardboard boxes can be rather acidic). As I delve deeper into the collection and begin to understand more about our local past, more and more exciting objects are appearing before me.

One of my favourite finds so far is a leaf-shaped flint arrowhead from Hognaston Reservoir. This type of arrow is typical of the Neolithic era (4000 – 2000 BCE), a form produced for its aesthetics over the more practical barbed triangle you might tend to associate with an ‘arrow’. This particular example is of great quality, a delicate and regular shape that would have required an artisan’s skills. Because it is quite thin, and there isn’t any visible wear, it is possible that it was created purely for ceremonial purpose and was likely never used.

A leaf-shaped flint arrowhead, Neolithic era.

A leaf-shaped flint arrowhead, Neolithic era.

Apart from the occasional small find, though, there is an abundance of pottery. Locally produced Derbyshire ware fills bags in vast quantities, sometimes with over 200 sherds in one bag. It has its own rough beauty, varying from brick red to deep purple or black, with a distinctive coarse surface covered in quartz and stony grit.

Other less commonly found types of pottery give evidence of a rich Roman trade with the rest of Britain and the continent. Multiple types of Gaulish wares are present, as well as colour-coated wares from Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire. One piece of colour-coated ware in particular bears an enduring mark of humanity, a clear fingerprint pressed into a Roman box-lid from the 3rd century AD. Other sherds display intricate decorations, some made by rolling a patterned stamp across the surface, some carefully etched in using a point by hand.

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A fingerprint on a Roman box-lid, 3rd century.

 

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Four sherds of pottery showing different decorative patterns.

I feel excited to be re-discovering artefacts that give insight on all aspects of life: eating habits, organised craft production, burial, trade and commerce, and even military presence. People have settled in Derbyshire throughout the ages, and all have left their permanent impression on the landscape – and eventually, in Buxton Museum’s store rooms.

Visions of the Past

I’m pleased to introduce David Carmichael, one of the project’s new Collection Assistants. Here, Dave takes a look at the project through fresh eyes, and reminds us all why we’re undertaking Collections in the Landscape…

It was with feelings of trepidation and excitement that I entered the green doors of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery to begin my first day of work as Collection Assistant. Trepidation, because I was aware of the mammoth task (forgive the pun!) which lay ahead of us in transforming the museum upper gallery into a permanent exhibition fit for a 21st century audience and, perhaps, beyond. Excitement, because the Buxton Museum Collection is a vast melting pot of archaeology, culture, art, history, geology, biology, the ‘just plain weird’ and plenty of, as yet, undiscovered facts and revelations, with which I was keen to get to grips.

There is something for everyone in this amazing collection: from prehistoric mammoth jawbones and Peak District hill-tribe weapons of war, to the living biology of the landscape, cocooned in the brachiopods, that inhabited the sea which covered the Peak District millions upon millions of years ago. Or, if archaeology and history are not your thing, the beautifully rendered artworks of local painters and sculptors, capturing the monumental and immeasurable rawness of the Derbyshire and Peak District landscape are on regular display.

Dave - hard at work already!

Dave – hard at work already!

Collections in the Landscape is the overall name of the project we are undertaking and my first task is to research and identify objects of interest relating to the ancient Iron Age and Roman Fort of Melandra; situated just above Glossop. These objects of interest will, in turn, be used to plan a walking trail to, and around, Melandra, that can be accessed as a mobile phone app or online.  And, so it was that as I opened my first acid-free archive box and carefully delved into its contents; hundreds of uncategorised pieces of Roman Grey-ware pottery sherds, that trepidation turned to exhilaration as I realised that we were on a journey. A journey through history and time that will be realised, but not end, in 2017.  Who could fail to be inspired?

David Carmichael