Today (14th June), Trust archaeologist Emma Holloway was drawing a small find from our recent excavation on the Butt Road car-park site, next to Roman Circus House (September-December 2012).
The excavation produced a great deal of evidence of a remarkable Roman cemetery, including over 370 funerary features such as inhumation burials, cremation burials, etc. The cemetery contained adult graves and an unusually large number of children’s burials. Some of the deceased children had been buried with grave goods, for example, a jug (once containing drink) or a bowl (once containing food) for the journey to the underworld, and one child’s grave contained several items including a mirror and a pair of iron shears. Other unusual elements of the cemetery were the rare bustum (a pyre burial), and groups of burials which had been fenced. Other objects from graves include two further mirrors, several pairs of shoes, a large number of pots, and the remarkable ‘Medusa’ medallion.
The medallion or pendant is made of carved jet. In Greek mythology, Medusa was a monster (a Gorgon) with the face of a woman and living venomous snakes as hair. Looking directly at her would turn you to stone. Medusa was beheaded by Perseus, who then used her head as a weapon; he gave the head to the goddess Athena to use as her shield boss.
Jet is a minor gemstone (a mineraloid) with an organic origin, as it is formed from decaying wood under extreme pressure. Jet was considered to have magical qualities, so it was used to make amulets and pendants which would protect the wearer from the ‘evil eye’. So the Medusa medallion from the Roman cemetery at the Butt Road car-park site must have been carefully deposited in a grave to protect the deceased person during their journey to the Underworld.
The images show Emma drawing the Medusa medallion, the medallion with the unfinished drawing, and the medallion in detail.