Here I am in England, Cleaning Dead Pig Teeth

Hi! This is Lauren, and this is my first blog post, so bear with me.

Today, day 9 on the site, we got to learn the first step of finds processing – cleaning the finds! I have to say, this was really what I’ve been waiting for here. I am extremely interested in finds processing and museum studies, so this was absolutely thrilling for me! Each of us was given a bag of potsherds and bone fragments from a specific context, a bucket of “warm” water and a toothbrush.

Everything one needs for finds processing. Learning about stairlifts was optional.

Oh, yes. I was prepared.

It was actually really cool, in part just because we were cleaning things that had come out of a different trench from the one we were working in – we hadn’t seen any of this stuff. We also learned a great deal about the different kinds of pottery which can come out of the site. I even cleaned a small fragment of decorated samian ware, which was very neat.

Scrubbing tiny bits of pottery with a toothbrush, hoping that it was not previously used.

I think, though, that the most incredible experience in this two hour session was not cleaning the pottery – it was cleaning the bone. The almost two thousand year old animal bone is remarkably well preserved, just like the famous writing tablets on the site, but some of it is a little… squishy. Sometimes it crumbles in your hands, and that’s when it gets a little, well, icky. The coolest and weirdest thing that I cleaned today was a part of a jaw bone, which Justin (the site Deputy Director) identified as having come from a young pig. Let me tell you, the size and texture of those teeth felt… well, remarkably human. It was very, very cool, but just a little bit unnerving.

My favourite part of today – removing the dirt from between the teeth of a two thousand year old (ish) dead pig. And I am completely serious.

Of course, this hasn’t been the hardest work I’ve done here. It has, however, been one of my favourite parts of the field school so far, and I still sometimes can’t believe how lucky I am to be here, tackling ancient dirt with a toothbrush. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned in less than two weeks, and I can’t wait to get back to the site to learn more!

7 thoughts on “Here I am in England, Cleaning Dead Pig Teeth

  1. Hello Lauren – can you tell us anything about the context of the finds you were cleaning today, even if they weren’t from your own trench? Is this rubbish from a midden/refuse heap? Was pork common in the Roman diet? One final question! Was the pottery any help in narrowing down a date for your deposit?

    1. Thanks to everyone who complimented my post! To David Wilson: unfortunately, we were not shown which section of the trench our bags of finds were pulled from, so I’m unable to tell you anything about it. Most of what we find here does tend to be rubbish or castoffs from the Romans (or more modern people!), or occasionally things that have been dropped, such as coins. None of the pottery which we processed (or at least, none of the stuff that I washed) is terribly useful for dating the context – while we have lots of potsherds, most of it is coarseware with few markings or stamps. If we had a section of samian or mortaria that had a maker’s stamp on it, we might be able to get an idea of the time frame. However, I think during my two-hour period of washing potsherds and bone I only came across one piece of decorated samian, and it definitely didn’t have a stamp. But thank you for your questions!

      1. Thank you Lauren. Even without detailed dating you can still make some general comments about Roman diet both among the troops and the associated vicus. Based on your pig bone did the Romans do barbecue?!

  2. Great post. Pictures are nice, but I like to read the stories too. Keep up the posts with lots of text!

  3. Hello Lauren – can you tell us anything about the context of the finds you were cleaning today, even if they weren’t from your own trench? Is this rubbish from a midden/refuse heap? Was pork common in the Roman diet? One final question! Was the pottery any help in narrowing down a date for your deposit?

  4. Lauren, this was a great post to read. You convey so well the excitement of getting hands-on experience, and never knowing just what you might encounter in your collection of finds. I can tell from your post that this is really an intensive learning experience!

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