This is the third year of UCLan’s dig in the north-west corner of the Roman fort of Ribchester. On a glorious sunny afternoon, some thirty of us were privileged to visit the excavations and hear first hand from Duncan Grant (standing, centre) about this season’s discoveries. After describing the guard house set into the turf ramp that backed up the fort wall, Duncan moved a little further into the interior to show us what appears to be a fabrica or workshop, occupying one of the former barrack/stable blocks.
Even our untrained eyes could easily detect the difference between the red burned clay of the work-shop floor from the surrounding black earth. But there was surprising news. Recent chemical analysis showed traces of mercury and gold together in one part of the workshop, and silver in another. The former suggests that gilding was taking place, whereby small pieces of gold were dissolved in mercury, and the resultant paste applied to copper or other metal vessels or objects, then heated to boil off the mercury leaving the object looking like pure gold. The second stage was highly dangerous, and would have been performed in the open area to the right of the photo. The date of this metal workshop seems to be late fourth century, and nearby finds of beads and part of a shale bracelet suggested that at this late date there were women living in the fort as well as the soldiers. We hope to learn a lot more about the latest developments when Jim Morris comes to talk to the society on 20 October
Text and photo by Bill Shannon