real people: Roman ‘CBM’ from Colchester Royal Grammar School

Today (16th November), several crates of Roman ceramic building materials (CBM) from the Trust’s recent site at Colchester Royal Grammar School were being processed here at our HQ by some of our dedicated volunteers. We excavate large quantities of Roman CBM (bricks and tiles) in Colchester and the fragments of CBM can be large. Four of the fragments being processed today are very interesting: they are two joining fragments of a box-flue tile, and two separate fragments of roof-tiles.

The box-flue tile was ‘keyed’ (incised with a pattern of lines) by hand, one of the roof-tiles shows a fingertip-wipe mark and the other shows part of a hobnail shoe print. These are all fairly common finds in Colchester, but they are always interesting because they show direct evidence of people living and working in Roman Colchester. The box-flue tile would have formed part of one of the vertical flues of a hypocaust (a domestic under-floor heating system): it was keyed so that it could be plastered over and concealed in the wall of a room. The roof-tile was decorated with the fingertip-wipe mark, probably to be used as part of a roof with a decorative border of these marks. The hobnail shoe print would have been accidental – items of Roman CBM were made of wet clay and then laid out to dry in the open air, where people and domestic pets could wander over them. Fragments of Roman CBM with paw-prints are also a fairly common find!

These examples of Roman CBM were probably locally made. Two Roman tile kilns were excavated at Moat Farm in Lexden by the Colchester Archaeological Group in 1970 (see CAG Bulletin, number 14, page 22). The kilns were dated to the later 1st century AD and were thought to have been constructed by members of the local native population, imitating a Roman military kiln design. A few years ago, the Trust plotted the surface scatter of CBM fragments in the vicinity of this kiln site: the scatter indicates that the two kilns were part of a large brick- and tile-making industrial complex.  Items of Roman CBM were fired in kilns after they had been dried out in the open air.

The images show the two joining fragments of box-flue tile, the fragment of roof-tile with the fingertip-wipe mark, and the fragment of roof-tile with part of a hobnail shoe-print. [Image to follow.]

 

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