Saturday, December 31, 2005

Piltdown Man

What has Piltdown Man got to do with tiles? Well, Charles Dawson concocted the Piltdown hoax, and he is also connected with a Roman tile stamp fraud! He presented a tile stamped with HON AVG ANDRIA, and said he had found it a Pevensey Saxon Shore fort, otherwise known as Anderida. Was this actual evidence for the 5th century occupation of the fort? The full story of the tile stamp can be found in:

Piltdown Man: the secret life of Charles Dawson & the world's greatest archaeological hoax
Miles Russell
Tempus, 2003, pp97-107

My copy cost £3.99 from Spelman's in York, but the normal price is £14.99 (or £5.00 on the web, direct from Tempus)

Meanwhile, an outline of the reasons why the tile is a hoax can be found at this website, showing DPS Peacock's piece in Antiquity 1973:

Forged Brick-Stamps from Pevensey

The picture of the tile doesn't show as the link hasn't been done properly, but click here and you'll see it.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Old Cinemas

For Christmas I was given Old Cinemas by Allen Eyles, 2005, Shire Books 357. The author also wrote Odeon Cinemas: Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation, 2001, BFI, which I also have. In York, we still have an Odeon Cinema on Blossom Street, and I'm particularly enamoured of it as it's brick. Fortunately, it's listed, and is still functioning as a cinema, but is becoming rather rundown. I don't know what will happen to this lovely brick building, so typical of its time, but since it's Grade II listed, I presume and hope it won't be knocked down. Lucky me, it's on the side of town where I live, and everytime I want to walk into the centre via Micklegate or catch a bus, I have to pass it.

Not long back, there was a campaign to ensure that the cinema would be kept open. I think I would be content that the building remain, but the building would obviously need to be used in some capacity. Much of the interior does not survive, though some of the doors are definitely 1930s.

Quite a few of the brick buildings I like best in York are actually from the 1930s, including a couple of brick built churches. One of them is English Martyr's Church on Dalton Terrace. Again, quite close to me, and beautifully Romanesque.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Ceramic Petrology paper in Medieval Archaeology

To quote the full title of the paper:

Ceramic Petrology and the Study of Anglo-Saxon and Later Medieval Ceramics by Alan Vince in Medieval Archaeology Volume XLIX 2005, pp219-245

Well worth a look for those of the tile inclination, as for once 'ceramic' really does include ceramic building materials! And not just floor tiles either.

The author refers to the possibly early but unpublished roof tiles from Coppergate York. It was good of him to say that, as he's bringing welcome attention to the fact that important material is still not in the public domain. Unfortunately, I was only paid to do what amounted to a part-assessment on the Coppergate material (i.e all the recording, but no cigar - or should I say analysis!), so it's not even in prep :-( It's way too complex a sample for me to attempt to do off my own bat (i.e. for free), and I would also need significant input from the site side of things. Ah well, come my big lottery win ...

But there's a glimmer of hope: I'm currently working on a super (and again probably early) collection of curved and flanged tile. The site side of things will confirm this, and I won't get round to checking this out till March now. If the cbm from this site (Spurriergate) is not published in five years, I will put it on the web anyway.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Domes and Vaults

In a recent book about Roman York there is this statement:

There is no evidence for the domes or vaults made of concrete which can still be seen in Mediterranean lands ... (Roman York, P Ottaway, page 66)

But there is some evidence - in the form of tile. There is an armchair voussoir. It's a complicated thing, requiring another covering of flat tile. Unfortunately, I can't find a picture on the Web at present; looks like I might have to put one on myself. There are some examples in York: Yorkshire Museum, with a 9th Legion Hispana stamp, and one from the Blake St excavations. I've also come across the occasional fragment from York excavations where I though it might be piece of armchair voussoir (though in fragmentary form, it's difficult to identify them). But they are used to support vaulted roofs. There are also vaulting tubes, found on the Swinegate Excavations in the 1990. These small, coil built/wheel-finished tubes with nozzles at one end, and open at the other, slotted into one another to form the ribs of perhaps a barrel vault or dome. The whole would have been covered over by concrete.

Even then it's not certain they were used like this as there's no Roman vaulted roof extant, but it's certainly a possibility.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

York Brick and Tile: archaeology & history

Went to the University of York's Centre for Lifelong Learning's Christmas lunch today. They invited the tutors along, which was great. I met my friend Marjorie Harrison, who is running a course called Country Life. btw, you can find her local history books on Amazon UK, or better still drop me a line and I'll tell you how to contact her direct. And also chatted with others, such as geologist Tony Benfield and historian Ivison Wheatley.

It looks like my course will be going ahead. Eight brave students have signed up so far, which makes the course viable! So after lunch, I photocopied the course programme and a York brick and tile identificaiton booklet, sorted out the course web, and hit the library for a couple of articles I've been after. Phew!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Ancient Roman brickworks, Emilia Romagna

Reported in David Meadows' Explorator 8.33: The factory is so well preserved it could work again - Cesena, December 5 - An Ancient Roman brickworks in near perfect condition has been discovered in Emilia Romagna

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Ryedale Vernacular Building Materials Group

The Ryedale Vernacular Building Materials Group is a multi-disciplinary group, including geologists, historians and archaeologists from various institutions. So far, it looks like they've mostly explored stone, and the results are wonderfully available on the website. I can certainly think of one or two interesting brick sites in the area, that might warrant some exploration!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Historical tiles: Pyrrhic victory?

Stefanos, HOPLITE14GR on Roman Army Talk, mentioned that tiles were used to good effect by women in Ancient Greece:

An Argive lady seeing king Pyrros of Ipiros about to skewer her son with his lance during a streetfight in hellenistic Argos whacked him with an accuratly thrown rooftile.

This is mentioned in Plutarch:

Pyrrhus By Plutarch (Translated by John Dryden )
Pyrrhus, seeing this storm and confusion of things, took off the crown he wore upon his helmet, by which he was distinguished, and gave it to one nearest his person, and trusting to the goodness of his horse, rode in among the thickest of the enemy, and being wounded with a lance through his breastplate, but not dangerously, nor indeed very much, he turned about upon the man who struck him, who was an Argive, not of any illustrious birth, but the son of a poor old woman; she was looking upon the fight among other women from the top of a house, and perceiving her son engaged with Pyrrhus, and affrighted at the danger he was in, took up a tile with both hands and threw it at Pyrrhus. This falling on his head below the helmet, and bruising the vertebrae of the lower part of the neck, stunned and blinded him; his hands let go the reins, and sinking down from his horse he fell just by the tomb of Licymnius.

More on Greek women and tiles later ...

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Fictional tile: A Hollow Crown by Helen Hollick

An interesting case this one. Helen Hollick mentions tiles or brick at least five times in her 11th century set novel A Hollow Crown. Is she wrong? Evidence from some of the excavations I've reported on support her. So when she mentions red tile roof (page 269 and 497, Arrow paperback edition) she could arguably be referring to curved and flanged tile. The colours I've seen have are generally a light buff sort of brown, but never mind. The conventional dating for these tiles is 12th to early 13th century, but I have seen them from contexts dating as early as the 11th century. One day this may be published, but I'm not holding my breath!

More main-stream medieval sounding are green and red chequered tiles mentioned on page 224. This type didn't appear in England until something like the 14th century, and tended to be green and brown. There are specialised glazed mosaic tiles in the late 12th century, but not 11th century. The only colourfully glazed floor (and wall?) tiles which could be dates as early as the 11th (and sometimes the 10th) are the much-vaunted polychrome relief tiles, of which I have had recent experience. These are confined to a few select ecclesiastical sites in England, including York, Lincoln and London. Perhaps though, the ones mentioned in Hollick's novel are some sort of stone tiles ...?

Also mentioned are hearth bricks (pages 173 and 627). Bricks are currently a no-no until about the 12th century. I have heard some mutterings about Saxon bricks, but at present they haven't been substantiated by publication (much like my unconventionally early dating of the curved and flanged tiles). However, Roman bricks were reused in the Saxon era, so perhaps the author was thinking of these? They tended to be used in walls and around windows, but I'm not aware of use in hearths.

Tiles being mentioned at all verdict: arguably some correct usage

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Fictional tiles: Boudica III Dreaming the Hound by Manda Scott

Boudica III: Dreaming the Hound by Manda Scott is set in 1st century Britannia. Golden or gilded tiles are mentioned as being on the roof of Claudius' Temple in Camulodunum. I haven't got the page reference - I passed the book on. However, shining tiles stuck in my tile-brain. Are they glazed, or painted, or supposed to be actual metal? Or are bronze or what? I am not aware of any gilded tiles found in Britain, though perhaps gilding may not survive deposition. That said, mica-dusted pottery does survive and that metallic-sheen coating is very fragile. The occasional tile with slip on has been found too, but it doesn't shine.

Judging by the rest of her descriptions of material culture, the author needs to hit the archaeological books so that she knows exactly what she's writing about. However, the emphasis here was showing how decadent the Romans were in contrast to the Britons. In general, it was overdone at the expense of archaeological rigour.

Tiles being mentioned at all verdict: wish she hadn't!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Fictional tiles: Clothar the Frank by Jack Whyte

The first in another series! I'm calling these fictional tiles, rather than literary, as there is often something wrong with the way they are portrayed. Perhaps I should call them imaginative tiles! Disclaimer: not all novelists get their material culture wrong ...

First off is Jack Whyte. He mentioned tiles being imported from Gaul in an earlier book, but they've been mentioned again in Clothar the Frank (sometimes known as The Lance Thrower). No, no and thrice no! Well, very unlikely, particularly as Britannia could produce tiles - in stone and ceramic - with no problem at all. Why bother importing at this period, when importing was so expensive? Admittedly, in the medieval period tiles and brick were imported to this country, but there is little, or no evidence for this in the Late Roman period so far. Never say never, but on the other hand novelists assuming isn't a good idea either. I only have to point to Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code to exemplify how influential novels (aka works of fiction) are.

A time when tiles were imported to Britannia was the earlier, conquest period (1st century), where there is some evidence for movement of tiles from Gaul to the south coast. But Clothar the Frank is set in the 5th century, and sometimes referring back to 4th, blithely mentions tiles imported from Gaul (page 526, Viking Canada edition, 2003). What with all sorts of other assumptions the author makes, the tiles business in an assumption too far for me :-)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Literary brick: Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell has one scene set in a brick-field. In Chapter 20, the horses are required to draw a heavily-laden brick cart. Needless to say, the horses are being brutally treated. Once again,. there is an online, searchable source.