Two small Teapots
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.