BAS Members’ Talks – December 2022

Our Christmas meeting is devoted to members talking about projects in which they have been involved.  Usually there are three speakers, but this year unfortunately one speaker had to drop out, so we only had only two.  The first was James Peddle, who spoke about his personal experience of digging at Ankerwycke and Cookham and his understanding of what both sites were revealing.

ANKERWYCKE

Ankerwycke nunnery and the surrounding land is owned by the National Trust and this site is mainly known for the yew tree, said to be as much as 2,000 years old.  However, it is also the site of a nunnery, founded in the 12th century and closed during the Reformation in the mid 16th century.  

The nunnery was built first of wood, later replaced with stone.  In trench 1 there was evidence of this timber/stone transition, with the base of some of the walls being built on stacks of tiles. A feature not seen elsewhere in similar buildings.

In trench 2 there was evidence that a later 15th century rebuilding of the nunnery reused part of the existing walls.  This trench also crossed some of the later garden features and a garden wall.  It looks as if the design and laying out of the later garden led to an extensive clearance of the remains of previous buildings on the site.

The National Trust will be excavating this site again in 2023 and will welcome BAS volunteers.

COOKHAM

Cookham is the site of an Anglo-Saxon monastery which has been lost, but recent excavations suggest that it lies under the existing church and cemetery.

Trench 1: BAS undertook a geophysical survey at the site and adjacent paddock in May 2022, and it had been hoped to find evidence of metal working.  But all that was found was evidence of ovens, hearths, and pits. .North of the site was a trackway.

Trench 2: This was dominated by north/south and east/west ditches containing 13 burials, three of which did not have heads.  Burials in the east/west ditch were dated to 680-770 AD. The burials in the north/south ditch were dated to 870/990 AD.

Work on the site is being led by the University of Reading.  They have money for the excavations, but none for finds processing.

THE PALATINE PAEDAGOGIUM, ROME

Keith Abbott gave this talk which he sub-titled Lost Voices of Rome’s Imperial Slaves. The Paedagogium was a school that taught the children of slaves and trained them to work in the royal palaces.  There were two Paedagogia in Rome. The one discussed here is the one between the Flavian Palace and the Circus Maximus. 

These schools educated high class slaves.  Young men, who were good looking, many of them Greek.  They were educated to be seen in public associated with the powerful men they worked for. They worked as waiters in public banquets, or as personal slaves.  These slaves were elaborately dressed and made up and while there is little mention them in Roman texts the graffiti found on the walls of this building indicate both who was educated there and details of their lives.

Graffitti found at the Palatine Paedagogium in Rome

Where we know the names of the slaves, they are mainly Greek, many associated with North Africa and often reflecting their function in their owner’s household.

The graffiti can be found in public and private spaces in the building and much of it is quite low on the walls.  Much of the comment as ribald – and sexual – speaking mainly of homosexuality.  However, some was about their position as slaves, their awareness of their servility and that they were valued for their functionality not for themselves.

While graffiti is common in Roman buildings, the graffiti in the Paedagogium relates specifically to the lives of those who lived and learned there.

report by Catherine Petts

Exploring the archaeology, history and heritage of Berkshire