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Find of the week – Byzantine cross

How do personal things help us build a picture of Roman life?
HOLLY WALKER: There’s not much personal adornment stuff, apart from, is this? Is that because there weren’t many people living here? Or is that normal?
SIMON KEAY: That’s a very good question. I think that, so far, we’ve been digging, at least until you guys arrived and started finding all the personal things, we have been concentrating on buildings where you wouldn’t really expect to find lots of personal possessions. That doesn’t mean to say we haven’t found them because we’ve found a few things, like rings and that sort of thing. But we don’t have a lot of what we would call occupational deposits or the kinds of rooms where you would expect to find personal objects. However, as you know, this year, excavating in the Imperial Palace, we are coming into some really– they are luxurious rooms. But they are rooms that people lived in. They ate in.
They relaxed in. We’ve even found the toilets, as you know– quite a few of those. And we’re starting to find items of personal adornment. And one of the things that’s really lovely is this, which kind of speaks to you across the centuries. There’s this little crucifix, this little cross, which, again, is Byzantine in date. And you can see this is something that someone would have worn around their neck and, undoubtedly, would have been precious to them. But then they would have lost, and clearly, would have been upset at having lost it. So it’s kind of– just gives you a little human touch to all that trading and commercial life that one tends to see so much of at Portus.
The burials and the cross, and other objects likes rings together give much more of a sense of the people at the port. As Simon said, since we’ve been working in a more residential part of the site this year not only have we found these personal items but we also have a picture in our heads of what the places they lived in were like, with their richly decorated floors and walls, as well as their toilets!
We have very little information from Portus about the clothing and other aspects of dress of the people who lived, worked and died at the site. However, in the video below from the 2014 Portus Field School Diana Blumberg shows a small number of personal adornments: a bone hair pin and a glass melon bead from a necklace, and a carved intaglio chalcedony gemstone. Other pins, rings and metal adornments have been found at Portus. The RTI work described in the video shows the quality of the carving.
In the final week you will be able to bring this information together to help us to imagine the place where this beautiful object was lost.
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Archaeology of Portus: Exploring the Lost Harbour of Ancient Rome

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