Horse’s head

A horse's skull under excavation at South Shields Roman Fort

A horse’s skull under excavation at South Shields Roman Fort

As part of the Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition here at Arbeia we have a display of photographs of items from our collection showing images of horses. The most intriguing shows a Roman horse skull under excavation. The skull was found a couple of years ago, in the ditch outside the fort. It is of a male horse which was over 30 years old when it died, so it must have been well-looked after to have lived so long. It had further life after death – there was no lower jaw present, which suggests it was probably put in the ditch as a skull without any flesh on it. The skull might have previously been on display somewhere, or it might have been important to have a skull rather than a horse’s head for whatever ritual required it to be carefully placed upright and across the base of the ditch. But what exactly was that ritual? No-one knows – and such is archaeology, no-one will ever know again.

 

Worshipping Mithras in the Roman Empire. A guest post by Flora M. Kirk

My name is Flora Kirk. I am an Ancient Studies undergraduate student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (USA). I have been on a Roman Society placement at the Great North Museum: Hancock for the past few weeks. I hope you enjoy my blog!

The Romans were not limited to the Greek pantheon in their worship, especially during the Empire. The imperial era saw an influx of eastern gods enter Roman daily life, including the Greco-Egyptian Serapis, and the introduction of the Syrian Sol Invictus under Elagabalus. However, while these deities had a fairly popular following, they do not compare to the cult that sprung up around the Persian creator god/sun-god, Mithras.

By the beginning of the 2nd century Mithras’ influence spread rapidly throughout the empire. Evidence of his following has been found from Dura Europa in the East, to Hadrian’s Wall in the West. His age is a matter of debate, though historians have identified gods as old as 1500 BC that could be early forms. Regardless, archaeological evidence tells us Mithraism began in Rome around AD 98-99 and stayed until the end of the fourth century. It was a male-only cult that particularly attracted the military. Mithras had all the qualities of a good soldier and his cult involved strict discipline. He was also popular among merchants, who worshipped him as a god of Contract and Truth. In fact, his followers were known as syndexioi, those “united by the handshake”; in the Persian tradition, an agreement sealed with shaking right hands was legally contractual.

Reconstructed Mithras Tauroctony scene.

Reconstructed Mithras Tauroctony scene.

Because Mithraism was a mystery religion, much of their rituals and beliefs have been lost in history. However, archaeological finds have been able to fill in some of the gaps. The most informative finds have usually been found in recovered temples to Mithras, known as Mithraea (singular mithraeum). Usually underground, they were either an adapted natural cavern, or a building imitating a cave; when possible, the Mithraeum was constructed within or below an existing building. The room was long and narrow with benches on either side. At the back was a recess, where a pedestal alter would be. This apse is where archaeologists have found several depictions of Mithras. He is usually shown wearing a red Phrygian cap and cape, sometimes with a halo of sun rays. He is most often depicted in the processes of sacrificing a bull, known as ‘tauroctony’. No one knows the true meaning of the tauroctony, except that it is usually accompanied with moon and stars, signalling an astrological connotation.

Reconstruction of the Mithraeum at Carrawburgh on Hadrian's Wall.

Reconstruction of the Mithraeum at Carrawburgh on Hadrian’s Wall.

Several mithraea have been found in forts along Hadrian’s Wall, including Rudchester, Housesteads, and Carrawburgh, demonstrating the importance of Mithras to the garrisons. These shrines have yielded artefacts revealing how Mithras was worshipped in the North, several of which are on display in the Great North Museum: Hancock today. Carrawburgh Mithraeum is a particularly bountiful site, as it was flooded by an encroaching bog. The oxygen-lacking environment preserved the organic remains left in the abandoned temple, including a bowl of Mediterranean pine-cones, and wattle-and-daub seats. The origin of the pine-cones indicates that they had been brought over specifically for rituals.

A selection of Carrawburgh finds are on display. These include a portion of the wattle and daub, made by a woven lattice of wooden strips being daubed with a sticky material (usually made of some combination of wet soil, clay, sand, animal dung and straw). Below is an iron shovel which would have been used by Lion-grade members to tend the sacred flame.

A selection of Carrawburgh finds are on display. These include a portion of the wattle and daub, made by a woven lattice of wooden strips being daubed with a sticky material (usually made of some combination of wet soil, clay, sand, animal dung and straw). Below is an iron shovel which would have been used by Lion-grade members to tend the sacred flame.

Also found in Carrawburgh, a Samian ware moratorium decorated with lions might tells us that the soldiers also followed the Mithraic degrees of initiation. The levels were as such, in ascending order: Raven, Bridegroom, Soldier, Lion, Persian, Sun-runner, and Father. As this was a mystery cult passed orally, not much is known of the degrees, except that they are mentioned on inscriptions outside mithraea and sometimes appear in decorations.

Samian ware moratorium decorated with a lion motif. Most likely used in ritual libations by members of the Lion class.

Samian ware moratorium decorated with a lion motif. Most likely used in ritual libations by members of the Lion class.

While Mithras is usually depicted in the tauroctony, Housesteads’ mithraeum displayed a more unusual image: Mithras being born out of the cosmic egg. It shows Mithras emerging from an egg, rising naked from the lower part of an eggshell while the upper half of the shell caps his head; surrounding him is an egg-shaped zodiac representing the cosmos. Several elements make the sculpture unique. First, in birth scenes, Mithras usually springs from a rock. The egg-birth and surrounding signs of the zodiac show that at Housesteads he has been fused with other gods: the Orphic Phanes, born from an egg as first ruler and creator of all, and Aion, god of time, usually depicted as a youth standing in a wheel bearing the signs of the zodiac. Secondly, the altars found in the temple were dedicated to Mithras Saecularis – ‘Mithras, Lord of this Age’. This combination of gods and concepts must have seemed particularly powerful. The fact that it is found nowhere else also shows that someone with extensive learning and advanced religious and philosophical ideas led the Mithraic cult at Housesteads.

Mithras being born from the Cosmic Egg.

Mithras being born from the Cosmic Egg.

Signs of Mithraism have also been found in Londinium, the city of modern day London. In 1954, a mithraeum was discovered under Walbrook street, revealing a collection of god statues, including Mithras, Minerva and Serapis. Despite the additional gods, the temple layout, along with the found food and materials, point to it being a mithraeum shared by a few other deities. It is suggested that the statue heads were buried reverently as the temple was turned to a temple to Bacchus in the 4th century. Until August 27 2017, the heads of Minerva, Serapis and Mithras can be seen at the Great North Museum: Hancock.

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Serapis from the Walbrook Mithraeum. © Museum of London.

Mithras from the Walbrook Mithraeum. Museum of London.

Mithras from the Walbrook Mithraeum. © Museum of London.

Rainbow Stories at Northern Pride 2017

TWAM have just completed a 1 year project with Historypin.org collecting life stories, photos and digital oral histories with older people. The project is called Historypin Connections and can be found here – www.historypin.org/en/connections-tyne-wear.

My colleague Clara had links with a few people in the LGBT+ community and we thought it would be a good idea to collect their stories. We felt it was incredibly important to collect these stories to ensure the Connections project was representative of all the residents of Tyne and Wear and the participants were delighted to be part of the process.

I realise I’m getting older and I hope I have helped the LGBT community a little, about my experiences of coming out in the 1980s’.  (Gary Short, Participant)

It was really rewarding and a privilege to record these stories,. We think it’s important for TWAM to collect these stories as they are an incredibly important part our contemporary social history collection.

The Rainbow stories collection on the Historypin website can be found here – www.historypin.org/en/rainbow-stories

We collected memories from Mark, Janet, Gary, Pat, Kate and Sue

We collected memories from Mark, Janet, Gary, Pat, Kate and Sue

Knight in Shining Armour by Kate Bromwish-Alexandra

‘I didn’t know where I belonged because boys were of no interest to me whatsoever. I had two brothers that I lived with and I thought they were pretty disgusting, so they were no mystery to me. Girls on the other hand, I didn’t understand them at all…they seemed utterly alien. Then I couldn’t figure out where I was supposed to fit, until considerably later. I did used to have fantasies about rescuing, if I had a crush on a certain girl I would have fantasies about rescuing her from certain dire occurrences and she would be so grateful she’d let me kiss her on the cheek or something. That seemed perfectly natural to me, it didn’t seem odd at the time because it was about me and clearly that was trying to tell me something. I’d never heard the word Lesbian mentioned, uttered in my house.’

A selection of Kate’s promotional flyers and badges

A selection of Kate’s promotional flyers and badges

 

Kate proudly showing her page in the Connections Celebration Book

Kate proudly showing her page in the Connections Celebration Book

This is just one example of the many stories we collected.

The organisers of the annual Northern Pride Festival, recognised that these stories were important and should be shared and wanted to show them on the huge screens on the stage at the event this year. Clara edited them into small sections of stories so they could be shown in between the acts on the main stage across both days of the festival in July 2017.

Rainbow stories on the big screen at Northern Pride 2017

Rainbow stories on the big screen at Northern Pride 2017

Rainbow stories on the big screen at Northern Pride 2017

Rainbow stories on the big screen at Northern Pride 2017

Rainbow stories on the big screen at Northern Pride 2017

Rainbow stories on the big screen at Northern Pride 2017

Rainbow stories on the big screen at Northern Pride 2017

Rainbow stories on the big screen at Northern Pride 2017

Thousands of people attended the festival over the weekend and hopefully enjoyed listening to our participants. The recordings and photos are now going to be archived into the museum’s collections.

The crowd watching the stories at Northern Pride

The crowd watching the stories at Northern Pride

 

 

The Tank and the Officer in the Tower

This blog has been written by Colin Boyd, a volunteer (and good friend) who has been helping to catalogue the plans in our remarkable Vickers Armstrong collection.

Whilst working on the Vickers Armstrongs archive I came across a very good General Arrangement drawing of the Vickers Independent Tank of 1926. I decided to carry out some research on this relatively poorly documented tank little knowing that it would lead to a tangled tale of espionage and a very unprofessional spy.

General arrangement plan of the Independent Tank, c1926 (TWAM ref. DS.VA/6/PL/15/85875)

General arrangement plan of the Independent Tank, c1926 (TWAM ref. DS.VA/6/PL/15/85875)

Ordered by the General Staff in 1924 the Independent was the last British example of the ‘Land Ship’ type of tank developed during the First World War for breaking through trench systems. The analogy with a warship was further enhanced by its multi turreted design with a heavy central armament surrounded by the secondary armament in smaller turrets. The large tank that was delivered to the War Office in 1926 created a stir in military circles and influenced heavy tank design in several countries. The Independent was 24ft. 11in. (7.59 mt.) long x 8ft. 9in. (2.67 mt.) wide x 8ft. 11in. (2.72 mt.) high and weighed 34 tons. Powered by an Armstrong Siddeley V12 petrol engine developing 370 h.p. it was capable of 32 k.p.h. on level ground and carried a crew of 8 (at a time when most tanks carried a crew of 2 or 3). The tank was armed with a QF 3 pounder gun in the central turret and 4 Vickers 0.303” machine guns in individual turrets at the ‘corners’. The left rear turret was larger than the others allowing increased elevation of the machine gun to provide some anti-aircraft capability. The arrival of this very large and advanced tank caused a flurry of industrial and military spying and the plans of the tank soon arrived in Moscow via an unknown route and in Berlin courtesy of Norman Baillie Stewart.

Detail of Independent Tank turrets, c1926 (TWAM ref. DS.VA/6/PL/15/85875)

Detail of Independent Tank turrets, c1926 (TWAM ref. DS.VA/6/PL/15/85875)

Baillie Stewart was born as Norman Baillie Hamilton in 1909 to a family with a long tradition of military service. After changing his name in 1929 he saw active service on the North West Frontier of India with the Seaforth Highlanders. He then transferred to the Royal Army Service Corps and returned to the UK in 1931. He was disillusioned with military life and was developing pro-German sympathies to the extent that he wrote to the German Consul in London offering his services. Having received no reply he travelled to Berlin, without permission, met German officials and agreed to become a spy. He forwarded details of an experimental automatic rifle, the A1E1 tank and organisational details of the army for which he received the princely sum of £90! When Baillie Stewart was arrested shortly afterwards it soon became apparent that he was a very poor spy. He had borrowed the information from a military library in Aldershot so it was easily traceable and in his pockets were scraps of paper with notes on routes to Holland to meet his handlers and telephone numbers.

When the Court Martial opened on 20th March 1933 he was charged with 10 counts of violating the Official Secrets Act. The newspapers had a field day and Baillie Stewart was dubbed ‘The Officer in the Tower’ as he was held in the Tower of London. In fact he made history as the last British subject to serve all or part of their sentence in the Tower as opposed to later prisoners who were either held awaiting trial or in transit. He was sentenced to 5 years penal servitude and on his release in 1937 he travelled to Austria and applied for citizenship. The Austrian government suspected him of being a Nazi and he was ‘asked to leave the country’. He returned to Vienna following the creation of Greater Germany in 1938 and ran a small trading company. He reappeared in the public eye at the end of August 1939 broadcasting propaganda in English from Berlin. Baillie Stewart continued with this until December 1939 when he was replaced by his deputy William Joyce (the infamous Lord Haw Haw). For the rest of the Second World War he worked as a translator for the German Foreign Ministry, lectured in English at Berlin University and broadcast occasionally. He was granted German citizenship in 1940. At the end of the war he was arrested in Vienna and returned to Britain to face trial.

The Security Services wanted Baillie Stewart to be charged with high treason but the Attorney-General only charged him with ‘committing an act likely to assist an enemy’. He thus escaped the fate of his successor William Joyce who was executed in Wandsworth Prison on 3rd January 1946. The Security Services then lobbied unsuccessfully for him to be sent to the Russian occupied zone of Germany where they knew he would receive short shrift. When the trial opened on 9th January 1946 the newspapers resurrected the ‘Officer in the Tower’ nickname from 13 years previously and it was used extensively in the associated headlines. At the end of the two day trial Baillie Stewart was sentenced to another 5 years penal servitude. This time, on his release, he moved to Ireland under an assumed name, married, raised a family and finally succumbed to a heart attack in a Dublin Street in June 1966.

Independent at The Dominion Premiers’ demonstration at Camberley, November 1926, courtesy of the Tank Museum Ltd (image 0939-C2).

Independent at The Dominion Premiers’ demonstration at Camberley, November 1926, courtesy of the Tank Museum Ltd (image 0939-C2).

The A1E1 Independent tank was unfortunately not adopted by the War Office and all development and production orders were cancelled. This was purely on budgetary grounds as the tank itself had no major technical problems and was the largest and  most advanced armoured fighting vehicle of its time. Other countries which obtained details of the tank, by fair means or foul, used it as a basis for their own heavy tank development. In Russia this led to the T28 and T35 series of tanks, in France the FCM2C type was built and in Germany the Neubaufahrzeug was designed. The sole A1E1 built was used extensively for experimental research and development until 1935 when it was donated to the Tank Museum at Bovington where it remains on exhibition to this day towering over the other displayed tanks from the same era.

View of Independent Tank A1E1 on display at the Tank Museum, Bovington. Courtesy of The Tank Museum Ltd.

View of Independent Tank A1E1 on display at the Tank Museum, Bovington. Courtesy of The Tank Museum Ltd.

A Waggonway Adventure

Early one morning in July, my colleague Kev and I set off to collect the majority of the waggonway timbers from York Archaeological Trust where they have been undergoing preservation treatment for the last 3 years.

Or, as we like to say, we set off on a waggonway adventure!

The preservation treatment is a lengthy process which involves submerging the timbers in vats filled with two different grades of Polyethylene-glycol wax, in total 6000 litres of the solution. PEG 400 wax is liquid and penetrates into the wood as a cryo-protectant: under freezing it reduces the expansion of liquid water to ice; the solid PEG 3350 acts as a scaffold to support the wood cell structure during drying. The PEG 400 solution is increased in 5% increments over 6 months, then the PEG 3350 is increased in 5% increments until the required final concentration is reached. The timbers are then left to soak for as long as necessary (usually 2-3 years). Once this process is complete they are put into a freeze-drier at -20 – -30 degrees Celsius and the remaining water is removed under vacuum which converts the solid water into a vapour.

Interestingly, it is easier to treat wood that has a high level of decay than wood with low decay levels as the former will take in more wax for preservation than the latter.

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Vats of PEG wax at York Archaeological Trust

As you can imagine, York Archaeological Trust’s conservation laboratory was a fascinating place to visit with multiple bright yellow tanks being used to preserve other artefacts and large freeze driers droning away in the background.

5m Freeze Drier at York Archaeological Trust

Freeze drier capable of taking objects up to 5 metres in length at York Archaeological Trust

After checking our list and the timbers we loaded everything onto the van. Even though we knew we were collecting timbers up to 5m in length, we were still surprised by the sheer scale of them. Once everything was safely on board we were back on the road to the Regional Museum Store (RMS), the timbers’ new home.

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Left: Timbers up to 5m in length are loaded onto the van protected by blankets. Top Right: Kev gets ready to unload the van at the RMS. Bottom Right: Dominique placing timbers onto trolleys.

The RMS is a Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM) maintained store located at Beamish Museum. The store environment is monitored 24 hours a day using the Eltek Telemetric Environmental Monitoring system which can be accessed remotely by the TWAM conservation team.

With the timbers now safely in the store, it was time to start documenting them as well as the stone components so that the information could be entered into TWAM’s collection management system.

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Top: Dominique documenting the stone paving from the wash hole. Bottom: Trolley of accessioned stone paving from the wash hole.

Over the coming weeks, archaeologists will study the timbers to determine the techniques used to fasten timbers together, evidence of previous use, methods of working and evidence of maintenance. Construction techniques used for laying the stone paving and the origin of that stone will also be investigated. Dendrochronology and species analysis will determine the age and species of the timbers and petrographic analysis of the stone paving will be commissioned.

Keep an eye out on this blog and our social media pages as we uncover the secrets of the Willington Waggonway! There will also be an event on 28th July (11am – 3pm) for the Festival of Archaeology at Stephenson Railway Museum. The timbers which still require preservation treatment will be on display as well as some of the preserved timbers which are part of a temporary exhibition.

The Willington Waggonway Appeal
Many of the excavated timbers still remain untreated and risk being lost forever. Without further financial support, we will be unable to fund the preservation of these important industrial artefacts. If you would like to find out more and make a donation to this appeal, please click here

The Willington Waggonway Research Programme is funded by the Designation Development Fund, Arts Council England

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