May 19 2013

Welsh History Month continues with a Roman Brooch changing lives!

Roman Brooch

Roman Brooch

Pic: Wales Online

Cadw’s Community Archaeologist, Caroline Pudney, tells how a Roman brooch can change lives in our latest essay from Wales Online‘s Welsh History Month series. She says:

Imagine my surprise and delight when this brilliant star-shaped brooch popped out of a very muddy field in Caerleon in 2010. Little did I know that this was the beginning of my journey to help others get a similar kick out of shiny objects.

It was all legitimate, of course. I was part of a team of archaeologists from Cardiff University and University College London excavating a field in the Roman legionary fortress at Caerleon. The excavations revealed a warehouse building and a series of square rooms surrounding a large courtyard as well as some truly amazing objects, including this brooch.

Questions, Questions, Questions

As I knelt there admiring the craftsmanship, I began to ask the sorts of questions everyone asks. Who wore this brooch? Whose cloak did it fasten? Was it one of the soldiers of the Second Augustan Legion who was stationed here? Was it a prized possession perhaps? A gift from a loved one? The intricate design and enamelling would surely have made this an expensive object. Or did it belong to one of the officer’s wives or a local girl from the tribe of the Silures?

So far, so good; lots of questions but no answers. The excavations in Caerleon, however, not only trained undergraduate archaeology students but also gave volunteers a chance to get involved, especially people from the local community who might not normally be interested in archaeology.

I then began to really understand that the past has something for everyone and that community engagement is not just a buzz word but a way of helping people learn and care about their history. It doesn’t matter that we don’t have all the answers; what matters is firing the imagination to ask the questions in the first place. For me this was the beginning.

Now, as community archaeologist at Cadw, I can help to create opportunities for everyone to experience archaeology, discover beautiful objects like this one and question what the past means to them.

The Birth of MORTARIA

Taking this Roman brooch as inspiration, the MORTARIA project was born. MORTARIA stands for Motivating Offender Rehabilitation Through Archaeological Recording, Investigation and Analysis. It’s a fitting acronym because mortaria is also the name for Roman versions of mortars (from a pestle and mortar) and Roman objects provided the inspiration for this project. This innovative project was designed to contribute towards the rehabilitation of offenders at HMP & YOI Parc, Bridgend.

One participant recalls:

The archaeology course was very interesting with a lot of different aspects to it. The lessons themselves were not too intense which promoted the students to learn easier and pick up more information about things like the Roman military [formations, structure and hierarchy of legions].

By taking this cross-disciplinary approach – using archaeology, photography, cookery, IT and art – we were able to devise a range of activities that could improve numeracy, literacy and communication skills in particular. We also helped participants to develop their observation and analytical skills, and learn to work as part of a team. And we encouraged participants to understand how their behaviour impacts on others – all valuable lessons to help people find jobs and lead fulfilling lives.

A Roman Star-Shaped Brooch

This beautiful enamelled plate brooch is in the form of a six-point star. At present, it is without parallel, but this is not unusual in the case of plate brooches. Found in the Roman fortress at Caerleon, the pattern is likely to represent a fusion of native and foreign designs combining Celtic and Roman influences. This suggests the craftsman who made itthis brooch was familiar with the traditions of both the local civilian and soldier populations.

The brooch probably dates from the 2nd century AD, making it around 1,800 years old.

For more information about MORTARIA, Cadw’s community archaeology projects, visiting Caerleon Roman Fortress, and Welsh History Month go to cadw.wales.gov.uk.

To read the full article go to the Wales Online website.

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