Evidence that Gloucestershire was involved in import and export - nearly 2,000 years ago
By James Young | 23rd July 2019
It appears that Gloucestershire was at the heart of commerce nearly 2,000 years ago, if an extraordinary item found at Chedworth Roman Villa near Cirencester is to be believed.
Found during excavations at the site in the summer of 2017, it took experts nearly two years to discover that the 1,800-year-old glass fish-shaped bottle originated in what is now Ukraine.
""The shard of blue-green glass with an unusual fish scale pattern has been identified as coming from a fish-shaped bottle imported from what is now Ukraine and may have been used to hold exotic perfume," said a spokeswoman for the National Trust, who run the Villa.
"Although found in the summer of 2017 it has taken until now to identify the type of bottle the fragment came from because of its exceptional rarity.
"The Trust sent it to leading Roman glass expert, the late Professor Jennifer Price, who in turn sought advice from other glass experts across the world before the mystery was solved.
"The glass was blown by hand with a distinctive profile showing that it came from a long bottle with an oval shape and a sharp taper at the end. It was likely a small flask with the fish's open mouth forming the aperture of the vessel.
"Professor Price eventually found it matched a fish-shaped bottle that had been restored from many pieces, at the Corning Museum of Glass in New York. By comparing the two examples, she concluded the Chedworth piece came from near the 'tail' of the fish bottle.
"The only other example of such a fish-shaped Roman bottle comes from a 2nd-century burial in Crimea.
"The technique used to make the Chedworth bottle was unusual, with decoration laid on top of the blue-green surface to create 'scales' in loops of white and yellow. It was more common to incorporate different colours into the body of the vessel itself."
Nancy Grace, the National Trust archaeologist who led the detective work to investigate the find, said it had puzzled many people.
"People have been enchanted by it, but it has also been a long and difficult journey. To have found that it is the only one of its type so far discovered in Roman Britain adds to our knowledge of the importance of Chedworth Roman Villa," she said.
"Other objects found at the villa show it was home to somebody of wealth and status. That such an exotic thing was brought from so far away underlines that the occupants were in touch with the furthest regions of the Roman Empire and wanted to show off that influence.
"It is amazing that a small fragment has told us so much."
The fragment from the bottle was found by Peter Moore, an archaeologist and Masters student at the University of York who was helping with a dig to understand more about the north wing of the villa.
He said: "When it appeared, the first wipe of the surface showed the colour and it quickly became apparent it was something special.
"Excavating anything at Chedworth and knowing that you are the first person to gaze upon it for at least 1,800 years is a feeling that never tires, the memory of recovering this piece of glass certainly will not
"Recovering this unique find is incredibly humbling, it will no doubt prove a talking point for years to come. I am delighted that it will be displayed at the villa, enabling visitors and future generations to marvel at its beauty."
Nancy Grace concluded: "This find shows there is still more for Chedworth to tell us about Roman life in this corner of Gloucestershire."
The fragment is going on display at the villa as part of the Festival of Archaeology (until 28 July) and will remain on display throughout summer.
For opening times and further information about Chedworth Roman Villa visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/chedworth
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