Archaeology research seminars

Seminars are held at 4.15pm, in the Sorby Room, Wager Building, unless otherwise stated.

Archaeology Research Seminar Series: Spring Term 2019

Thursday 28th February - Kresimir Vukovic

Death by Water: myths of the Tiber, the underworld, and human sacrifice

This paper tells the story of Rome and its river as reflected in myth and ritual. The city of Rome was built on the banks of the river Tiber in an area most prone to seasonal flooding. As the original settlements expanded beyond the hills into the valleys the situation became fatal for many of the inhabitants. The Cloaca Maxima was a feat of engineering that attempted to overcome the problem of flooding and make the Forum a viable town centre. A number of sanctuaries in and around the Forum testify to attempts to appease deities of water and the Tiber. The record is consistent with offerings we find on bridges and river crossings. The ancient ritual of the Argei retains a memory of human sacrifice offered at the Sublician bridge on behalf of the city. The Tiber Island was a religious complex of healing and sanitation but also carried memories of death and destruction. The river links it up to a place called Tarentum situated on the Campus Martius where we find an ancient cult of the dead. The Romans told myths that connect the Tarentum with the Tiber Island and recent archaeological research seems to fit the ancient perspective.


7th March - Philippa Walton & Hella Eckardt 

Bridge Over Troubled Water - River Deposits in the Roman World
Prehistoric archaeologists readily view the deposition of objects in water in ritual terms but Romanists often see assemblages from rivers as accidental losses or rubbish deposits. Work on bridges has focused on architecture and technology, and the religious resonances of river crossings have been neglected. This paper will present current work on Roman river finds, using the assemblage from Piercebridge as a case study.


14th March - David Nash

Mapping Stone Age mobility in the Kalahari Desert using silcrete provenancing

The ability to identify specific sources of stone can yield information on how far and where our ancestors travelled to obtain raw materials. When combined with chronological and palaeoenvironmental data, insights into temporal variations in landscape use and resource acquisition patterns can also be obtained. This seminar introduces the Leverhulme Trust funded "Landscape archaeology of the Kalahari" project, and presents initial results from the most extensive analysis of Stone Age mobility patterns in southern Africa to date. The study utilises geochemical fingerprinting of silcrete artefacts excavated from five open-air Middle Stone Age sites within Ntwetwe Pan, central Botswana. Results suggest complex patterns of silcrete procurement, with stone obtained and transported over distances of several tens of kilometres from multiple regions of the basin.

21st March - Lisbeth Claes

Coins for a safe passage? Coin Deposits in the River Aa (NL)
Last year, two metal detectorists, the brothers van Schaijk, found several silver and bronze coins near the Aa, a river that flows near the city of 's Hertogenbosch, far away from the Roman limes. There is no habitation present from the Roman period, nor did any Roman battle happened there. The lecture will present how historical research and archaeological excavations suggest the presence of a ferriage where the coins were found, hinting that the coins were either lost or deposit. This evidence raises questions about the presence of an itinerary between the vicus in Ceuclum and the temple of Hercules Magusanus in Empel.

28th March - Gary Bankhead

Deliberate Deposition or Accidental Loss? - A New Understanding and Interpretation of an Urban Past
It is evident that the 11,900 artefacts recently recovered from a submerged multi-period archaeological site in the River Wear in Durham City constitutes a 'civic' scale sample of material. This riverine collection contains a wide variety of 'the small things forgotten' lost or discarded by its citizens into the river that reflect the changes in the possessions and activities of a town's inhabitants. This physical evidence of possessions has shown that people's daily lives were in fact far more focused on continuity; the functionality of preparing food and undertaking jobs, engaging in the enduring realities of relationships, fashion, wealth, belief and health. It is apparent that the river did not distinguish, it caught all that was deposited (lost or deliberately dumped) into it; a sampling process that has operated consistently through the history of Durham. Objects were deliberately consigned to the water either as rubbish or as sacrifice; both cases sees the river cleanse and remove those artefacts from the world of the present. The inclusion of artefacts associated with medieval pilgrimage adds to the debate that specific selected objects were thrown into the river as personal acts of belief as a thank (ex votos) or supplication / promise offerings.


A reception in Archaeology foyer will be held after the seminar.

For further information, contact Paul Flintoft or Matthew Jacobson

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