Fishy fragment from Chedworth Roman Villa

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An artefact excavated from the National Trust’s Chedworth Roman Villa in Gloucestershire has been identified as part of a rare fish-shaped glass bottle, following extensive investigations.

Unusual glass fragment, probably from a fish-shaped bottle. Recovered from Chedworth Roman Villa back in 2017.
This unusual fragment was recovered from Chedworth Roman Villa back in 2017. Extensive investigation has now determined that it probably came from a fish-shaped bottle. [National Trust/ Rod Kirkpatrick/ F Stop Press]

The blue-green shard of glass, marked with an unusual pattern like fish scales, was found at the villa during excavations in the summer of 2017. Since then, it has been examined by specialists, and the late Professor Jennifer Price, a leading Roman glass expert, was able to determine that it was very similar to a fish-shaped bottle held at the Corning Museum of Glass in New York. Another vessel, made in the same way but with a slightly different shape, was found in a 2nd-century burial in Crimea.

By comparing the Chedworth artefact with the one in the Corning Museum, Jennifer established that the new find probably came from the ‘tail’ portion of a small fish-shaped flask, with the fish’s open mouth forming the opening of the vessel. It is thought that it may have been imported from the Black Sea area, and may have been used to hold perfume.

Nancy Grace, the National Trust archaeologist who led the post-excavation analysis into the find, said: ‘People have been enchanted by this find, but it has also been a long and difficult journey. To have found that it is the only one of its type so far discovered in Roman Britain adds to our knowledge of the importance of Chedworth Roman Villa. Other objects found at the villa show it was home to somebody of wealth and status. That such an exotic thing was brought from so far away underlines that the occupants were in touch with the furthest regions of the Roman Empire and wanted to show off that influence.’

The fish vessel was found by Peter Moore, an archaeologist and Masters student at the University of York, while he was digging around the north wing of the villa. Commenting on his discovery, Peter said: ‘When it appeared, the first wipe of the surface showed the colour, and it quickly became apparent it was something special. Excavating anything at Chedworth and knowing that you are the first person to gaze upon it for at least 1,800 years is a feeling that never tires; the memory of recovering this piece of glass certainly will not.’

The find is now on display at the villa.

This news article appears in issue 355 of Current Archaeology. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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