The photos constitute a different kind of problem. Some show well known pieces, such as finds from Sutton Hoo and the Staffordshire hoard (most have better published photos elsewhere). However, many of the illustrated objects are new. In the foreword (page 24), we read: “The plates present images of important artefacts which in some cases have never been published before. Most of the objects have been held in private collections for many years and were not published at the time of their discovery; other more recent finds have been reported (eg to the Portable Antiquities Scheme) but are unknown outside users of that service”.
The last remark is disingenuous: the PAS database is accessible to anyone with access to the internet (finds.org.uk). On 23 of the 62 colour plates, objects are shown which are not published elsewhere, are unknown to specialists, and had not been recorded on the PAS database by April 2011. Some are too large and complete to have come from ploughsoil (eg in plates 31, 32) and may have been recovered from unrecorded digging of Anglo-Saxon graves. Several are made of gold, and depending when they were found should have been reported under the Treasure Act or the earlier treasure trove law.
An assemblage of rare and interesting objects, including a Coptic bowl and a glass palm cup, described as a burial group from Cadbourne, Lincolnshire, has been reported to the PAS, but no more details of the findspot are recorded there. Some plate captions give locations, usually broad (eg “Cambridgeshire”), but there are no details of findspots, discovery contexts, ownership or present locations. This material can contribute little to early Anglo-Saxon archaeology, except for details relating to the design of specific artefacts.
The perception that information resides in objects divorced of context, rather than in those contexts, has been strengthened by the publicity surrounding the Staffordshire hoard, and will be further encouraged by the legitimation apparently afforded unprovenanced and unrecorded finds by their appearance in this book. It may succeed in its goal of engaging a wider public with early Anglo-Saxon artefacts, which is very welcome. But it may also encourage the acceptance of unprovenanced artefacts as unproblematic.
Sarah Scott is lecturer in archaeology at the University of Leicester, with special interests in archaeological approaches to ancient art, and Romano-British villas and their mosaics
Special offer Unless otherwise noted, titles can be ordered from Oxbow Books, at 10 Hythe Bridge St, Oxford ox1 2ew, or oxbow @oxbowbooks.com, or tel 01865 241249. Mention British Archaeology to receive a 10% discount on prices of books reviewed in this issue
Roman Mosaics of Britain, Volume IV: Western Britain by David S Neal & Stephen R Cosh Society of Antiquaries of London Dec 2010 £160 pp470 hb isbn 9780854312948 Reviewed by Sarah Scott
Over eight years David Neal and Stephen Cosh have produced four volumes which catalogue and illustrate every Romano-British mosaic found to date. This monumental project, which has been funded by grants and donations from many institutions, societies and individuals, has assembled more than 1,700 illustrations, many drawn and painted by the authors themselves, in addition to photographs and historical engravings.
All the books follow the same format, with the mosaics arranged alphabetically by county and site. In each case the catalogue is preceded by an introductory section which provides some background to the region’s Roman period, as well as a detailed overview of the architectural contexts of the mosaics and a review of scholarship relating to stylistic analysis and the organisation of mosaicists. For each county there is a list of all mosaics, a brief review of the evidence and a catalogue. Each mosaic is described and illustrated, particular attention being paid to the iconography and
56|British Archaeology|September October 2011
decorative schemes. Whenever possible, plans of the towns, houses and villas have been included, with the locations of the mosaics clearly marked. For each entry in the catalogue there is a list of references, although these are selective rather than comprehensive. Volume IV also incorporates appendices with information about new discoveries made since the publication of the first three books, as well as short biographies of the mosaic artists whose work features in all four.
This final volume of the corpus covers a region that by the fourth century was one of the most affluent in Britain. For example, Corinium (Cirencester) became an important local and provincial capital, and there was substantial investment in the city itself as well as huge growth in the surrounding countryside. This volume therefore includes some of the most impressive and opulent villas and houses in Britain, such as the richly appointed villa at Woodchester (Gloucestershire) with its famous Orpheus pavement, possibly the largest figured mosaic to be found north of the Alps. The plan and mosaics from Woodchester were published in sumptuous volumes by the antiquary Samuel Lysons 200 years ago, and many of his engravings are included here alongside photographs and paintings by the authors; a real highlight is the beautiful foldout painting of the
Orpheus mosaic, which took Neal 18 months to complete.
The integration of information and illustrations from a wide range of sources, including details of the history of excavation and the context of the mosaics, are real strengths of all the volumes, as are the carefully thought out format and high production quality. The meticulous approach to recording and presentation sets them apart from catalogues for other Roman provinces, such as Gaul, and they will serve as a model for catalogues produced elsewhere and for other forms of classical art. Just as the work of Lysons is still an important point of reference for the study of RomanoBritish art, there is no doubt that these volumes will stimulate further research and become a fundamental reference source for anyone with an interest in Romano-British villas and their mosaics.