Selected Article from the BHAS Bi-Annual magazine "Flint"
In Search of Graffiti
Last summer I had the huge
treat of handling thousands of Ro-man-era pottery fragments, many of
which were samian-ware, while volunteering on the LatinNow
sub-research project di-rected by Dr Morgane Andrieu in Lyon
(https://latinnow.eu/). This was advertised on the Lewes Archaeology
Group site, so a big thank you to them!
LatinNow is funded by the
European Research Council, hosted by Nottingham University, and
studies the spread of Latin in the north-western Roman provinces.
Morganes specific area of study is graffiti on pottery, and
what it shows about the use of Latin (or Greek, or Gaulish words
written in the Latin alphabet) and its development and spread over
time. Last year her focus was on Lyon, in collaboration with the
Lugdunum museum (https://lugdunum.grandlyon.com/fr/) and Lyons
Laboratory of Archaeology and Archaeometry (ArAr, UMR 5138, https://www.arar.mom.fr/).
Lyon, Roman Lugdunum, was an
important centre in ancient times, and has been subject to many
archaeological excava-tions over the years, resulting in tonnes of
finds, many of which are stored in archives below the museum and in
an enormous warehouse in the suburb of Villeurbanne.
Walking into the warehouse
you are greeted with impressive statues, great inscribed stone
blocks, and hundreds, maybe thousands, of large stacked boxes full of
all the bits of bone, pottery and glass etc produced by each excavation.
Thankfully most boxes were
clearly labelled, as we were only interested in the pottery.
Opening one to find a full
human skeleton was a bit of a sur-prise however!
We were pleased that most of
the contents had been washed, mud totally obscuring any possible
graffiti of course. Even clean, it was sometimes difficult to tell if
a mark was a graffito, or just a scratch, but once confirmed, it was
hugely exciting! A box full of samian was prized, as you could be
pretty sure it would contain at least one incised piece. But not
always.... And sometimes it was the more ordinary-looking fragments
that sported graffiti, often inscribed pre-firing.
The earliest boxes dated to
excavations of many decades ago, and the shelves have been filling up
ever since. There is an on-going agreement with the grave-diggers at
the Loyasse ceme-tery, which overlays part of the Roman town, to hand
in any-thing of interest. Maybe that explains the mystery skeleton!
In all, over four months,
Morgane and her team found over 1000 graffiti, all but 60 never
before recorded (those 60 were published in 1892, but nothing since):
many single letters, nu-merals, words, names, symbols and squiggles,
and some drawings (of gods and gladiators for example).
I worked on the project for
just a week, with about ten other volunteers who came from many
different backgrounds and places in France, and I had a really fun
and fascinating time.This research, in studying cultural spread and
co-existence, is providing an additional window on the Roman Empire,
and is only possible because all those boxes of sherds have been
preserved in the archives!