Review – 50 Roman Finds from the Portable Antiquities Scheme

3 mins read

John Pearce and Sally Worrell
Amberley Publishing, £14.99
ISBN 978-1445686844

Like its predecessors, this new book in the ‘50 Finds’ series presents a range of carefully selected artefacts in a well-illustrated, brief volume, which highlights the way in which the material record vividly reflects life in the past. With the Roman period represented by more finds than any other in the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) database, the authors have chosen a wide variety of both exceptional and everyday objects that reflect the interactions between Roman and Iron Age cultures in Britain.

The chapters are themed to correspond with ‘small finds’ categories used by archaeologists studying this period: symbols and tools of power; artefacts associated with worshipping the gods and influencing fate and fortune; objects related to dressing and styling the body; artefacts used in travel and communication; and those related to the home. This approach offers an insight into many different elements of life for the occupants of Roman Britain through the material they left behind.

Some of the objects chosen encapsulate the conflict, both cultural and physical, between the different cultures present in Britain. For example, the Crosby Garrett helmet, a stunning and unusual example of military equipment used in parade drills (see CA 287), represents a clear ceremonial display of Roman power. This contrasts with the linchpins belonging to Iron Age chariots of the sort reported to have been used by the Britons against Caesar, which reflect the opposition with which the Romans were met. However, there are also objects that show how the two cultures co-existed and were influenced by each other, such as sets of toilet instruments with nail cleaners (an object only found in Britain), ear scoops, and tweezers, which were of Roman origin but used and adapted by Iron Age individuals, reflecting a combination of Iron Age and Roman practices in grooming, cleanliness, and attitudes towards the body.

This accessible and engaging volume demonstrates the breadth of the vast Romano-British material record and the extent of the information that can be gathered from it. The overriding theme of the book is the fascinating relationship between Roman and Iron Age communities and the unique Romano-British material culture that this produced.

This review appeared in CA 361. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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