Copper Conserved: Cholsey Excavations Unearth Unusual Finds in Agricultural Setting

on Tuesday, 28 November 2017. Posted in Conservation

CMAS are excited to be working on the conservation of two Roman copper alloy items recently excavated by Foundations Archaeology.

The site at Cholsey, South Oxfordshire is thought to be an Iron Age settlement which evolved into a Roman Villa site. The villa buildings have been preserved in situ, but excavations were carried out on almost 2 hectares of land surrounding them.

The excavations revealed numerous burials and enclosures including a number of impressive corn driers.

Interestingly the archaeologists propose that the site was a prosperous farm that evolved to a villa, unusual as villas were more commonly set up by representatives of the empire.

CMAS are conserving a copper alloy necklace with a circular pendant, possibly made from bone, and a large copper alloy bowl.

The bowl was found upturned within the base of a corn drier, on top of charcoal deposits.

The backfill from the demolition of the corn drier was deposited on top of the bowl. This shows that the bowl was deposited at the time that use of the drier ceased, possibly as a closing offering and that this was done at the same time as closure of the site, not at a later date.

X-rays have revealed numerous riveted repairs to splits and cracks in the vessel carried out during its working life. This implies that some value may have been attributed to the item for it to have been repaired and reused so many times.

Methodical cleaning under magnification has been carried out of the copper alloy surface to remove soil and corrosion products. There are significant deposits of charcoal on the exterior surface of the bowl and darkening/ charring of the metal surface which may suggest the bowl was heated during use. The charcoal deposits are very loose and powdery on the surface of the bowl and to retain them in situ although informative would have required securing with an adhesive. The use of an adhesive could interfere with results of chemical analysis of this material. Therefore it has been decided, in consultation with the archaeologists, to remove the charcoal deposits, but retain them for possible analysis in the future.

Learn more about Foundations Archaeology and their work here

Beth Baker, Senior Conservator

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