Last week’s Sunday Telegraph had a short article about the reappraisal of a discovery at the Fishbourne Roman Villa. Some discs in the villa’s collection previously thought to be gaming counters have now been identified as a kind of Roman toilet paper (the mind boggles!).
I am not sure how they worked and perhaps it’s indelicate to go into in any great detail in this instance…. but it reminds me of the time a few years ago when someone brought a mystery object into the Manchester Museum to be identified. I inspected it with great interest. It was clearly made of a hard modern ceramic material but I couldn’t tell what it was.
It was rather like a chicken drumstick being wide and rounded at one end and gradually tapering to a narrow circular pad. In the tapering section I could see what looked like criss-crosses and the so-called drumstick was divided by a narrow channel on either side. I stared at the mystery object for some time. I decided it was a tobacco tamper for tamping down tobacco in the bowl of a pipe. In fact the object looked as though it had got scorched in a fire.
It was only belatedly that I realised what I was looking at. It was a ‘sexy lady’ tobacco tamper and the drumstick was in fact the long stocking-clad legs and bottom of a woman! Well, when you see the photograph it’s obvious isn’t it?
Which all goes to show that sometimes it takes a little time to get your eye in and so the archaeologists at the Fishbourne Roman Villa shouldn’t be too hard on themselves.
I’m grateful to Stephen Devine, New Media Officer for the Manchester Museum and Galleries Partnership, for taking the photograph.