A ‘behind the scenes’ visit to Verulamium Museum for members of the St Michael's and Kingsbury Society - August 2014.
As the tour group of 15 assembled, our guide District Archeologist Simon West, reminded us that the famous archeologists Mortimer and Tessa Wheeler, were the driving force behind the early excavations at Verulamium. Apparently, the Wheelers were hoping to discover a British Pompeii; while our museum is a direct consequence of their hard work, the archeological excavation processes they employed are now considered inappropriate!
A highly engaging tour followed and just some of the highlights are outlined below.
· The large mosaics on display were mainly discovered by the Wheelers and the later archeologist Sheppard Frere; each used different methods to remove the mosaics following excavation. While the Wheelers lifted a mosaic in sections, which remain visible to this day, Sheppard Frere employed a ‘lift and roll’ mechanism which as we witnessed, was more likely to disrupt the mosaic.
· The Sea God and Shell mosaics are arguably the museum’s two most famous mosaics. While they are beautiful, we discovered that they were not perfectly made. Why might their owners have accepted this lack of perfection? Could it be they did not wish to challenge their gods by creating complete perfection?
· A mortar pointing trowel which had become buried in the very wall it was being used to construct; the lime mortar environment of the wall provided a favourable environment for its preservation.
· The local Turners Hall Farm burial excavations revealed a fascinating mix of fine products from Roman France, Germany and Italy. Interestingly though, the artefacts also include heirlooms up to 100 years older. Could this, as our guide suggested, indicate that the adoption of Roman ways had been little more than a veneer?
· The museum basement is packed full of walk-in storage cabinets. Here we examined different types of Roman pottery including: Verulamium White ware, grog-tempered pottery and ‘top of the range’ Samian Ware, the latter with its characteristic orange-brown glaze.
A fascinating tour finished with a discussion regarding the museum’s storage of many artefacts not deemed to be historically interesting: as DNA and Oxygen Isotope analysis techniques evolve, these artefacts could potentially be used for future research.