News in brief: Dealing with dates

A Roman ring revisited

A Roman intaglio discovered in 1995 in Colchester, UK, pre-dates the Roman invasion of Britain, research for the new online database for Colchester + Ipswich Museums suggests.

image: © Colchester Museums/Douglas Atfield
image: © Colchester Museums/Douglas Atfield

Engraved with the image of Mars, the Roman god of war, the carnelian gem was once mounted in an iron ring. Based on the shape and style of the ring and the gem, Martin Henig has dated it to the 2nd century BC and no later than the 1st century BC. This makes it 150-250 years older than previously thought, pre-dating Emperor Claudius’ invasion in AD 43.

The ring may have been a family heirloom that reached Britain on the finger of a Roman soldier, suggests curator Glynn Davis. Alternatively, it may have belonged to a high-ranking figure in Iron Age Essex. Davis said, ‘The native god of war – Mars Camulos – would have been worshipped here long before the Roman conquest, and perhaps the figure on this ring was perceived as such. In either case, of the thousands of Roman rings discovered from Britain, this is one of relatively few dating back to the time of Rome’s Republic.’

Britain’s first 5th-century mosaic?

Dating evidence from the Romano-British Chedworth Villa in Gloucestershire may indicate a surprisingly late date for a mosaic in one of its rooms. The National Trust, which cares for the villa, announced that new radiocarbon dating of charcoal and bone sealed within a foundation trench shows a partition wall creating the room could not have been built before AD 424. This places the mosaic in the new room in the 5th century, and after the economic collapse at the end of the 4th century and the break with Rome.

National Trust archaeologist Martin Papworth said, ‘What is so exciting about the dating of this mosaic at Chedworth is that it is evidence for a more gradual decline. The creation of a new room and the laying of a new floor suggests wealth, and a mosaic industry continuing 50 years later than had been expected.’

While the mosaic has an intricate design, with a border featuring a series of circles filled with knots and flowers, it contains several mistakes and has been described as poorer quality than the villa’s late 4th-century mosaics.