Popular History Abhors a Vacuum, but Accurate Historians Can’t

Celtic head from Netherby, at Tullie House. Copyright D McIlmoyl

This is how I feel about this subject.

One of the things you have to deal with if you’re interested in early history, especially of a small part of Britain, is that Aristotle’s line about abhoring a vacuum applies. We find that in the absence of easily proven facts, stories flood in to fill said vacuum  – often in the Victorian period, but sometimes earlier  – and as a result an awful lot of people have had many years to write books, speculate on the internet and generally promulgate stuff which has remarkably little evidence to back it up.

There are some subjects where lack of hard facts remains so troublesome that Continue reading

The Crosby Garrett Helmet Comes Home!

Crosby Garrett helmet Photo copyright Daniel Pett

Crosby Garrett helmet Photo copyright Daniel Pett

I shouldn’t say this1, I really shouldn’t2, but when it comes to Romans I sometimes feel Cumbria was a bit short-changed. I mean, we have a whopping great wall3 (well, half of it), numerous forts4, Roman roads and so on – but where’s the fancy stuff? Where are the villas with mermaid mosaics and painted plaster? I know I should make a virtue out of misfortune and assert that we have Real Roman Life, not some over-fed Roman fat cats poncing about with amphorae of wine… but still. You need imagination and learning sometimes to make sense of Cumbria’s slightly-straighter-than-expected roads5 and bumpy fields6. I start to envy Northumberland’s piles of old Roman shoes7 and notes about Continue reading

Three Triskele Brooches

Today I present for your delectation three lovely ‘celtic’ bronze brooches, all of which were unearthed at Brough in eastern Cumbria. They are officially ‘romano-British’1   which means that they date to the four hundred years after the roman invasion, but archaeology suggests that they are the products of a bronze workshop on this site in the 2nd century CE2.

Triskele brooch from Brough. Copyright British Museum

Triskele brooch from Brough. Copyright British Museum

Brough is a signficant historical and archaeological site. When we look at a modern map, we assume that the main route into Cumbria has always been the M6 but this isn’t the case. The north-south route, despite its roman road (the A6, more or less), was not as significant as you might think. When the railway line was cut parallel to the A6 in the 1870s, engineers had to make 14 tunnels and 22 viaducts just to get the gradient under 1 in 100 and thereby traversable by the latest in high-powered travel at the time, the steam train. The more practical route for centuries –millennia, perhaps – was the Stainmore Pass, or, was we know it, the A66. Continue reading

Tourist trinkets, Roman-style

Copyright Dominic Coyne for Young Graduates for Museums and Galleries programme Aug 2007

Copyright Dominic Coyne (see details below)

See this lovely thing? It’s quite small – 47mm high and 94mm in diameter – but simply glorious. The colours are vivid shades of red, blue, turquoise and yellow, enamelled in a swirling native ‘celtic’ design of roundels, petals, and what the British Museum cutely call, ‘whirligigs’. The metal encasing the enamel is a copper alloy, so it would originally have been a lustrous reddish-gold shade. It’s actually more like a pan than a bowl as it would originally have had a dinky bow-shaped handle. And it’s about 1850 years old.

It was found by a metal detectorist in Staffordshire in 2003, but experts believe that it was made here in Cumbria as a very early visitor souvenir. The writing near the rim is in Latin and says, Continue reading

The genius cucullatus, or the Original Hoodie

Genius Cucullatus from Tullie House

Genius Cucullatus from Tullie House

Picture time! See this fella? He’s a genius cucullatus, to give him his Latin name, but whether he was a Roman import or a native, his original owner wouldn’t have called him that. Genius cucullatus just means, ‘spirit in a hood’. This one, which was found at Birdoswald on Hadrian’s Wall, is the only one in Britain which is a single standing statue. They’re usually carved in relief on a flat stone, and in Britain, they are often depicted in groups of three.I wish it was simple matter to tell you what he represents, but that’s not possible. He’s often linked with Continue reading

Here come the girls… a 3rdc ‘Celtic’ head

Pottery female head, Tullie House, Carlisle

Pottery female head, Tullie House, Carlisle

I’m sorry to say I really do only have time for the picture, not the story, this time but I wanted you all to know I’m still here! This female head is pottery and was probably on a jug handle. It dates to the 3rd century CE, and was found at Burgh-by-Sands. Good, eh?

She is on display at Carlisle’s Tullie House Museum alongside some other heads that are just as interesting but not as female. Go on, pay them a visit.

© Diane McIlmoyle

PS. I had permission to take this photo!

The Bewcastle Cauldron

Here’s a picture I thought you might be interested in. It’s the Bewcastle Cauldron, and it’s in Tullie House Museum in Carlisle.

Bewcastle Cauldron, Tullie House, Carlisle

Bewcastle Cauldron, Tullie House, Carlisle

I wish I’d had a ruler on me for scale when I took the picture – it’s enormous! – certainly big enough to hide a couple of six-year-olds. Continue reading