Two small Teapots

These words, in a phone call from a foreman working on the Cillefwr Council depot site in November 2002, galvanised Carmarthenshire Museum curator Gavin Evans into action. He recalled the incident during his lecture to the Friends of the Museum after their annual general meeting in May. A JCB driver, with his last shovelful, had clipped the top of a pottery vessel and seen a large amount of white fragments fly out, together with the "two small teapots". Realising that these were Roman oil lamps, Gavin rushed to the muddy site and soon John Purdue, an archaeologist working at the museum, was conducting a rescue excavation, paid for by the County Council. Had the pot not been broken and the driver not spotted it, all the evidence would have disappeared in soil onto the back of a lorry.

The discovery was of great historical importance. It was well known that Carmarthen was a Roman settlement in the first century A.D. , part of their take-over of North West Europe. Gavin showed the glass and jewellery found in the area, luxurious items, the pottery used to import wine and evidence of literacy in enamelled seals. The Romans had won over the hearts and minds of local rulers by appealing to their cupidity! Imported items mixed with local culture - the Carmarthen brooch of 150 A.D. is of a Roman type but decorated with native patterns and wheel brooches, such as the one found at Dolaucothi, may symbolise the thunder wheel of the Celtic thunder god, Taranis, as well as beng a Roman sun symbol.

For the Romans, to be civilised meant living in cities or towns such as Carmarthen. But in the countryside were small farmsteads, some of whose native round huts gradually became rectangular as Roman influence trickled down. Possibly it was stronger on the coast; debate about this is jst starting. The strength of their influence in West Wales is still unknown.

Burials supply a lot of information on diet, diseases and burial rites. In the first and second centuries cremation was the most common manner of burial, with the remains often being placed in pots or other containers. In the third and fourth centuries, inhumations become the dominant rite. Carved tombstones and inscriptions were often erected above graves, and are often associated with the army and government. Burials were forbidden in towns, so cemeteries developed alongside the roads immediately outside. However, little is known about Carmarthen's cemeteries. Discoveries were reported in Pensarn and Llangunnor in the 18th century and a fragment of a tomb was found near the Old Oak. A cremation was excavated two years ago close to the amphitheatre.

The burial is very important because it raises all the questions about how strong the Roman impact in west Wales was. The cremation and its accompanying grave goods are distinctively Roman. One of the wonderful oil lamps would have been made in northern Italy or France. The cremation vessel is of a kind manufactured near the Roman legionary fortress at Caerleon. 2193 fragments of cremated human bone were recovered. Examination suggests that the body had been that of a young adult; most likely a woman, perhaps a young man. Amongst the cremated bone were tiny glass fragments, iron nails and a bone pin. Who this person was we can only guess; perhaps a Roman, someone from elsewhere in the Empire, or a member of a well-off native family who had quickly adopted Roman customs.