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Ancient Romans Dropped Their Bling Down the Drain, Too

British archaeologists recently discovered 36 expertly carved semi-precious stones in ancient baths in the ruins of a Roman fort near Hadrian’s Wall in Carlisle, England. Multicolored intaglios (carved gemstones) may have fallen from signet rings worn by wealthy third-century beachgoers and become trapped in stone drains.

Delicate intaglios made of amethyst, jasper and carnelian range from 5mm to 16mm in diameter, larger than an eraser and smaller than a dime. Some have images of Apollo, Mars, bonus his Eventus and other Roman gods symbolizing war and fortune. Others represent Ceres, the god of fertility, Sol (the sun), and Mercury (merchant). One amethyst represents Venus holding either a flower or a mirror. The auburn jasper features a satyr sitting on a rock by a pillar.

How and why these stones were lost is a subject of debate among classicists. His Frank Giecco, technical his director of the Carlisle project, six years of archaeological research work has given him a glimpse of the British Isles of Rome.

Historically, two types of carved gemstones were worn in rings. A cameo is a design that protrudes from the background to create a raised image.

The intaglio tradition dates back to the Sumerian period in Mesopotamia. There, figures were carved into soft stone by hand. Starting around 3400 BC, stamp seals and cylinder seals were compressed and imprinted in wet clay. These became popular and fashion objects in Minoan and Mycenaean Greece, Persia, Egypt and Rome. Politician Cicero observed people wearing portraits of their favorite philosophers on their rings, a tradition that has not survived on his QVC network today.

Excavations at the Carlisle Cricket Club began in 2017 and soon revealed baths of “really gigantic scale,” Giecco said.

The baths were built along the Eden River and near the Roman fort of Uxerodunum, also known as Petriana, which was located safely behind Hadrian’s Wall, the northern border of the empire. Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of a wall in 122 AD to drive out the Caledonian tribes. Uxelodunum (now a prosperous suburb) was garrisoned by the Ara Petriana, a large and elite cavalry regiment. A major civilian settlement, eventually Lugvalium, or Roman Carlyle, grew just south.

Built around 210 AD, the sento’s main building had sandstone walls 3.5 feet thick. The baths were rebuilt in his 4th century and were still in use in the 5th century. Some parts were later rebuilt in wood and may have still stood when the stone was quarried for building material in the 12th century. The area remained strategic. “In 1645 and he found evidence of the Siege of Carlisle during the English Civil War and the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745,” says Giecco. In the early 20th century, the site became a tennis court.

Entering a public bath in the 3rd century, our first stop was the apoditerium, or dressing room, where we stripped off all but the necessary bath sandals to protect our feet from the heated floors. Wealthy patrons had slaves guarding their belongings. Poor bathers paid the valet. Some may have had baubles in the pool to protect their valuables from being stolen. “Bathers knew the risk of falling jewels,” said Giecco. “But there were so many thefts from lockers that we kept our valuables.”

If a thief steals your jewels, you can use the Curse Tablet to seek justice from the gods. The priest scribbles a message, sometimes backwards or in code, on a lead or other metal plate and casts it. into mineral water. In 1979 and 1980, a large number of cursed lithographs were recovered from the hot springs of Souris (now Bath, England). Many of them listed cheating, suspected cheaters, and proposed punishments. A certain curse is written: “May he who took Bilvia from me be as liquid as water.”

Carlisle gems were found along with over 700 items, including 105 glass beads, pottery, weapons, coins, clay figures, animal bones, tiles engraved with imperial seals, and about 100 hairpins. Similar discoveries were made during the excavations of the Baths of Caesarea and Bath in Israel.

The presence of the hairpin suggests that the gem’s owner was probably female, Giecco said. Also, soaking in bathwater can loosen jewelry adhesives, such as birch bark resin, and cause metal fasteners to expand or contract. In the sultry environment, the Roman elite may have emerged naked from their relaxing baths. Stones may have flowed down the drain when you cleaned the pool and sauna.

“Bathers may not have noticed until they got home because the stones were actually falling out of the ring,” Giecco said.

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