Barbican Research Associates
providing an integrated post-excavation service for the archaeological community
In 2005 to 2006 we completed the analysis of the finds recovered during the excavations of the Roman bath-house at Dorchester in 1978 by what was then the Central Excavation Unit. The work was funded by English Heritage. The site will be published in a forthcoming monograph of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society. A summary of the results is shown below.
The excavation strategy adopted at this site was to uncover the final phases of the use and disuse of the bath-house. Excavation of the early contexts associated with the initial building and use was relatively rare. On the whole, therefore, the finds assemblage is strongest for the late Roman period, but some intriguing indications of who was responsible for building it do occur.
Activity appears to have started in the Neronian period and the presence of two large pieces of blown window glass securely stratified in an early construction trench is a most unusual occurrence. Blown window glass is normally a 4th century phenomenon with the window glass in use in the 1st to 3rd centuries being made by the casting process. Interestingly there are at least three other occurrences in the west country where blown window glass is found securely stratified in 1st or very early 2nd century contexts, two of which (Exeter and Gloucester) are associated with the activities of the Legio II Augusta. It is tempting to suggest that this window glass indicates that legionary craftsmen were made available to help design and build this new bath-house. Certainly the layout of the Dorchester bath-house closely resembles the ones built by the II Augusta at Exeter and Caerleon. Blowing window glass is a highly skilled operation in comparison to producing it by the cast method, and it is a skill much more likely to have been encountered at this time amongst the specialist craftsmen of a legion, than amongst civilian contractors.
The excavations produced two very useful stratified assemblages of pottery. One, dating to the first third of the 4th century, relates to activity in the bath-house. It is dominated by drinking vessels and seems to come from a suite of rooms that may have had a banqueting or meeting room function. This type of activity is also suggested by the other finds which have a higher number of items associated with food presentation and consumption than is often seen in bath-house assemblages.
The second group of pottery dates to the very end of the 4th century and into the 5th century. By this time the bath-house seems to have ceased to function and clearly the pottery relates to a different type of occupation on the site. It is useful in that it helps to define what a very late pottery assemblage was like in this part of the country, and will be a valuable research tool.
A graffito on a wall plaster fragment from the bath house reading VATIPO - see Britannia 38 (2007), p. 350 no. 7.
A bone hairpin from the bath house.
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