Dr Patrick Greene, archaeologist, 30 November 2018
MAT TRINCA: Good afternoon. It's great to see you here. What a great crowd for this for this … lecture … this presentation. I can't tell you how pleased I am to be here, for as well, my great friend Patrick Green. And in a way that is slightly unexpected because we … this came out of a discussion that we had ... I don't know — when was it? A few months ago? And I was so delighted when he agreed to … to come to give this lecture, this presentation and … and then I promptly found out that was due to be somewhere else today, which was a bit embarrassing having extended the invitation and … and just this week I was able to duck the other things and make sure I could be here. So it's a particular pleasure for me. Can I begin as always at the National Museum by acknowledging that we meet on the lands of the Ngunnawal, Ngunawal, Ngambri peoples, the traditional owners of this country. I want to offer my respect, my thanks to the enduring welcome we enjoy from the people of this region and … and to say how fortunate we feel, really, to be a museum sitting in this place with the people of this country who afford us such a … a grace and continuing welcome and it … it strikes me ,and some people have heard me say something like this before I suppose, but it does strike me every time how fortunate I am to be living in a country with this long human history. And at some level it's apposite although wholly different from the fact that we're looking at an ancient civilisation, ancient culture today but with a history that reaches back into … the years … many years past thousands of years but not as far back as sixty five thousand years, which is of course the length of time that the human history that we know of at least, has … has been a feature of this continent. So I do think that the first peoples of this place.
This is the fourth and last sadly — I can’t quite believe that — the fourth and last … who's been at the other lunchtime? … very good, special stars for all of you … lectures that really give you an insight into one of the greatest empires of the ancient world and indeed the contemporary world of museums — contemporary work of museums. Dr Patrick Green OBE FSA is both a great friend but also a great museum leader and professional. He's here today, indeed, to say something about the life of museums perhaps, but really to share his experiences working on excavations at Fishbourne … Fishbourne Roman palace. Get that right — I always wonder about how to pronounce those words. We rehearsed this but just forgot to ask him about that one. The Roman baths at Bath and Portchester Castle. Greene is a British archaeologist and of course many of you would know him as the former CEO of Museums Victoria in Australia. He was appointed in 1971 — this is something you may not know so much — to conduct an exploratory excavation at Norton Priory near Runcorn in Cheshire in England and his findings were so important that Patrick was actually retained for twelve years, really to organise that excavation. He might say something as well; he's just recently returned to the site of the excavation that's now become a teaching site for the universities … Manchester University? The excavation forms the basis for his thesis for which he was awarded a PhD by Leeds University in 1986 and in 1983, Patrick was appointed director of the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester — had an illustrious career in the United Kingdom before coming here in 2002 as the CEO, as I said, of Museums Victoria. He is currently the chair of the National Cultural Heritage Committee — and we were discussing some of the business of the committee just a few moments ago — and indeed the chair of the Atlas of Living Australia, one of the premier entry points to the great fauna collections … the great natural science collections of the country. He's also the former chair of the UK expert panel of the Heritage Lottery Fund; former chair of the European museum forum; former president of the Museums Association the United Kingdom and a member of the English Heritage Industrial Archaeology panel. All of which is to say that there are … there is no one quite like Patrick Greene in the life of museums in this country. I'm so delighted that he's made time to be here with us today. Please welcome him to the podium
PATRICK GREENE: Well thank you very much Mat. That was a very generous introduction; as you got halfway through I thought ‘Am I applying for a job here?’ But yes — so it’s Roman discoveries. But like you, I'd like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners — the people of the Ngunnawal community and pay my respects to elders past and present, something I do with great passion. Well this is going to be about discoveries and really discoveries throughout my digging career which goes back beyond my museums career. It goes back to when I was still at school and started going on excavations. I think partly to get away from home — and partly to meet people and have fun. And I'm ashamed to say that when I went on an excavation at Lydford in Devon, which was a Saxon town, I remember asking one of the supervisors ‘Now tell me: did the Saxons come before or after the Romans?’ I now know the answer to that question and as I hope will become apparent to you.
But that going on excavations became … as I said it started during the time I was at school and it continued during the time I was at university. Every ... every opportunity I would go on an excavation. And every opportunity to go to the library of Leeds University I would end up in the archaeology books. Now that had its implications as you will hear a little later. But the question about discoveries is … often can be framed in … in this way. Who would have ever thought, and I'm going to start off with whoever would ever have thought, that outside Chichester, in Sussex, beneath the grass surface and fields and indeed beneath some houses and a road which covered the site, would be the largest Roman palace that's been found anywhere north of the Alps. And that is Fishbourne Roman palace.
So that is the first discovery I'm going to talk about but I'm going to talk about other discoveries, a couple of which have been mentioned by Mat. But I'm going to range right up to experiences of the present day that I've had, where I've discovered something about Roman archaeology even if I'm not the person making the discovery — that … that should become apparent as we carry on. So what about Fishbourne? Well some guys were digging a trench to lay a water main and they came up with some tesserae — those little cubes which form the basis of mosaics in the Roman period. And luckily they reported it to somebody and whoever they reported it to made the great decision to draw it to the attention of somebody called Barry Cunliffe who was a lecturer in archaeology at Southampton University and he directed the excavation. By the time I joined it, which was a couple of years after it had started, he'd already made it to professor at the age of … age of something like 24 — the youngest professor in the country. And he has turned out to be one of the great figures in archaeology in Britain and indeed Europe.
The results of the excavation was this enormous palace of which this is a model and it's not what you would expect to find under a field in Sussex. What's more, it was not the first Roman building to go up on this site because at the time of the Claudian invasion, 43 AD, the first use of this site, which is next to Chichester harbour, was as an invasion base — somewhere for the army to be based as Vespasian, who at that time was a general, marched into the south-west of England, defeating Celtic tribes as he went and making part of that expansion of the Empire possible.
There was then what has been called a proto-palace. I won't go into all the details but this is … this is the one I'm going to really talk about because this is the palace that I was involved in as a volunteer, excavating. It's arranged around a courtyard, as you can see, and going up through the … the … through the middle you've got this processional way to an audience chamber that end. That audience chamber I did some work in and I also did some work on these garden beds either side.
One of the things which immediately became apparent about the palace was it was early — and these black and white mosaics are very early in the story of Roman mosaics in Britain and indeed Northern Europe. The closest parallels were Pompeii; Pompeii was destroyed in AD79, so you can date these to pre-AD79, after AD43, the date of the invasion. So the very fact that they were early was an important indicator: this is a pretty important site. Now this is not a very clear slide — I've had to copy this from not a very clear image in a … what is now quite an old book. And we're … we're talking by the way late 60s here. What are these slots? Well these are the bedding trenches which lined the processional way, up to the audience chamber. The site — it was a big site as you've seen from that model — was on clay land and it was cut and filled. In other words the high points were dug away and the clay that was there was … was dumped on the lower sides to make a more or less horizontal platform. But if you're going to put plants in, well you've got to do something more. And what the Romans had done here was actually dig trenches into the clay and ... into these trenches had planted plants. So, how did we find them? Well, because they'd been filled with garden soil and the rest was clay, it was a case of looking at those coloured … colour changes … colour differences and … and then excavating them. Ideally we would then have found pollen to tell us exactly what was grown in them. But unfortunately in these slightly alkaline conditions, pollen grains did not survive. However, by looking at some parallels in wall paintings in Italy, it is pretty conclusive that these would have been box hedges — box hedges of the sort that pretty well every new house in Melbourne has in its garden together with the white roses.
But also on this site there was a system of water pipes which fed fountains and other post holes which related to trellises under which … along which espaliered fruit trees had been grown, very much following the pattern of wealthy houses in Italy, of the elite. Who is it for? Well the most likely candidate is somebody called Cogidubnus. Now he was leader of a small Iron Age tribe in the south of England who was made a legate by the Romans. He was given actual official position. Why? Because he clearly was one of those who threw in their lot with the invaders and said ‘Right. Okay. Come here. Put your invasion base here’ and was then rewarded in the form of this amazing palace.
So ... so that was a likely scenario, as I say. But it led to this amazing site. Now … part of the site that I worked on was the audience chamber and I was … as I say I was just there as a volunteer although I was given positions of responsibility of … of being a supervisor of trenches and things like that, as the years went on. But what you see in the foreground there … oh dear … sorry … is … you will see a room wall coming round and you'll see a line of mortar following it inside. That would have been where a seat would have been for somebody who was waiting to go into the audience chamber. And alongside that you can see there is just a small patch of mosaic. I found that mosaic. It’s the only mosaic I've ever found in all my archaeological career. So, take a look at it.
Now, when you're digging, you look for clues — all the time you're looking for clues and you are progressing in this sort of context as carefully as you can. So working away with your trowel, came across … like little granules of sand. No, bigger than that — about, I suppose, two millimetres across … about and into … to a depth of about I’d say 25 millimetres. And they were on top of the mosaic and wherever mosaics were found on this site that was on top. Why on Earth should that be?
Well, that's just the size the little grains over the years … over nearly two millennia that worms … as they’ve done what worms do, going through the soil, these little grains drop to the bottom and they gradually build up on a hard surface. Very, very convenient if you're excavating mosaics to have this indicator before you get to it. So … digging at this amazing site was a fabulous experience but it gave me experiences which have lasted me well into my life, directing excavations and running museums, because being made a supervisor of trenches I was responsible for overseeing excavation of areas with volunteers. And I had to ... I had no sanction over them — they were all volunteers like myself and I had to learn how to do it. And … and the lesson I got was tell people as much as possible about the job they're doing as a way of getting an expectation that they will do it really well — that they'll be motivated. And it has never failed in my experience. And there are lots of other instances I could give you. But I had to learn it and I learned it on this site. Archaeology is something that has to be very disciplined because when you're excavating a site you have one opportunity. If you've removed something it's gone forever unlike, you know, the standard scientific experiments. So it's got to be done right first time. That's the role of the supervisor and the director and so on.
Anyway we'll move on to another site in which I worked with Barry Cunliffe and I became his … his deputy director on this site. Now this is Portchester Castle in Hampshire. Has anybody been to Fishbourne by the way, here? Yes? Good. And of course if I get anything wrong I'm expecting you to critique it at the end. Anybody here been to Portchester? Yes, some people have … a few. If you're ever in the south of England you must go to Portchester Castle. It is an amazing site because the walls you see, with these semi-circular bastions sticking out, all the way round this square fort —those are Roman and they're standing, to at least twice my height, probably more … and they're still there. What's more, this site, founded in the Roman period, has continued with various functions up to the present day. But it includes a medieval castle — that's in this corner. It includes, in that far quadrant, a medieval priory — an Augustinian priory. It also includes a cricket field.
Now I show you another picture which is … you can see what it is. It’s mortar and flint with some stone courses in it. The complete masonry structure is medieval and this is the water gate, the gate closest to the water. And that gives you a clue, because this site was part of the base of the Classis Britannica and the Classis Britannica was the … the Roman fleet — the military fleet — the navy. And a series of forts were built in the early … early third century up the east coast of England from which the Roman Navy could defend against Saxon pirates, so they're called the Saxon shore forts.
They were, we think, built by somebody called Carausius and Carausius was given the job of creating these forts in 285 AD. Now, things went to his head and he decided he would part from Europe, if that has any ... resonance for you. And things did not turn out too well. Because he declared … he declared himself Emperor of Britannica, or Britannia rather, until he was actually assassinated by his deputy, who was a man called Allectus. And then eventually Constantius Chlorus invaded to reclaim Britain and bring it back into Europe. But I’ll stop making any other comments about it, In case we get into some very deep water.
But I'll show you now … and that … that's an illustration of the sort of techniques used to build those walls. A lot of flints being gathered, as you can see. There is mortar being mixed up in the foreground which is lime of course — quick lime and sand and then it's being laid in courses, with the scaffolding and so on to build it all. And those … and it’s an impregnable fort. And it has those bastions and the bastions would have helped … would have supported Roman artillery. OK. Now, you might see something rather curious in this foreground, which is a parch mark. So in the hot summer sun this mark would appear each year until we eventually got round, because we were excavating in that quadrant, to see what it was and this is what it was. The foundations … foundations just below the turf of a storehouse that Henry the Eighth had used to provide for all the vitalling of Henry the Eighth’s navy. So, naval activity continues through this particular story, but there are other features. Those pits and post holes relate to a previous occupation which is Saxon — it became a Saxon settlement with a big aisled hall for some elite member of the Saxon gentry. And below that were the Roman remains which were quite slight— it looked as though the barracks consisted of … of timber buildings based on horizontal timbers. So they made comparatively little impact on the clay. But the ... but the rubbish pits and the filled-in well and so … and so on were absolutely rich in finds. So there you've got this history going from Roman through Saxon … yes I know which order they come … to medieval … castle and the priory to the Tudor period. And then beyond that, above all of that, parade ground for when this was a prisoner-of-war camp in the Napoleonic Wars. So, an extraordinary story.
Now to the Roman baths in Bath. Again, I worked there with Barry Cunliffe as … as a volunteer and one of the areas that we had to look at ... of course the Roman baths are famous for being the baths in the hot spring. And there had been … so the Roman baths were sort of rediscovered in the 17th century or reused from the 17th century and then into the Georgian period — Jane Austen Bath — and then into the Victorian period when the whole suite of bath treatments rooms were laid out and we actually had to do work underneath the floor of those Victorian buildings. And it was a case of crawling in and planning what was underneath, which was the forecourt of the temple. And so it was only possible to go in for 15 minutes at a time, because it was hot and steamy. And if it's really hot and steamy, you overheat. And so for health and safety reasons you could go for 15 minutes and you come out. Another team would go in and so on. And it was absolutely fascinating to be there, on the forecourt of a … of a temple next to the baths with interesting things — that's a hot spring by the way — like this statue base. And on that statue base it's dedicated to … by, or dedicated to the gods Sulis Minerva — and I'll talk about Sulis Minerva in a moment — by somebody whose title is haruspex. Now haruspex is … in the Roman period people were very keen on looking for auguries — some things which would predict what was a good day to do things, a bad day — how things will turn out and so on. And the haruspex would look at the guts of animals and others things that had been sacrificed and then be the authority to say ‘Right — this is a bad omen. This is a good omen. You should do this or do that.’ So it's dedicated to the god Sulis.
Well, Bath’s Roman name was Aquae Sulis and this is the temple pediment which was found in the 19th century and reassembled, and in the centre is this amazing gorgon's head which is believed to represent Sulis. Now what the Romans did was they never went into a place and just cleared out the existing gods — they adopted them. And in the case of Sulis soon this was identified with the qualities of Minerva. So ... so the temple was dedicated to Sulis Minerva and there is a head of Minerva found on that site in the 18th century.
Now while I was doing all this excavation I was supposed to be doing a degree in food science. I … in the library I never got as far as the food science because archaeology starts with an ‘a’ and I’ll start with there. And this had its repercussions because the end of the second year I got chucked out. I failed all but one of my exams. However, the professor was very understanding and said ‘Well if I’d realised you'd known you were so interested in archaeology we could have had such interesting conversations’ but he said ‘Go on, spend a year out — do some archaeology during that year.’ So I went to work for the ordnance survey archaeology division and I was given the responsibility of recording sites from documentary evidence onto maps which is obviously what the ordnance survey did. And it was Northamptonshire I was given the responsibility to record. And one of the sites was a place called Water Newton. And guess what's in the exhibition here?: a little triangular plaque with a Chi Rho Christian symbol on it from Water Newton and it's also … it's very significant in all sorts of ways. But anyway, I spent my year out — he said ‘Come back, pass your exams.’ He said ‘Do your final year — you’ll only get an ordinary degree, nobody will ever ask.’ Nobody ever has. You're the only people who know. And so ... as soon as I finished my degree I went into directing rescue excavations and some of these were in on rescue sites — sites which were going to be developed in Bath and that's me, in a photograph taken by the Bath Evening Chronicle with a cliché-ridden piece of text about it. For example you will see in that, if you can read it, that I was looking for treasure. This is … journalists always think archaeologists are looking for treasure but it’s treasure of quite a different kind to their preconceptions, just as … as it seems to be taught in journalist schools that if you have a story about something coming from a storehouse for a museum it's always got to be dusty. Never is. We don't have dusty storehouses — well at least we try not to.
Anyway … one of the things I discovered was … was in this work was hypocaust — heated floors — and another place in the furnace which would be used to provide the hot air for the hypocaust, lots of, I suppose, cone-shaped pieces of … of clay … of ceramics which I worked out was [inaudible] Now [inaudible]are the bits you have at the end of a bellows where you stick it into the charcoal — it would have been in this case — and you keep on that air coming through to raise the temperature. And this would have been used, because it was bits of dribbles of lead, by a plumber making lead pipes of this kind.
So, the Romans knew all about lead pipes and the way you make a lead pipe is you get … you get a play … you get a piece of lead ;… a rectangular piece of lead and then you roll it over and then you seal the joint. And you seal the joint by pouring molten lead along it. And then sweating and wiping is a technique and you wipe it down with wet leather and that forms a joint — works perfectly well.
OK. Now while I was spending my year out working with the ordnance survey a very lucky thing happened. I bought one raffle ticket to be polite when somebody came round selling them. And I won a holiday for two people, in Rome. I went there with my brother who was studying archaeology and we spent two whole weeks, everything paid for, three meals a day, which when you’re in your early 20s I tell you is something. Of course we explored the Roman Forum and we went everywhere. How many people have been to the Roman Forum? Nearly everyone. Well at least half the audience. The rest are hoping to win one of these prizes. And the thing about the Roman Forum is as you go up the Palatine Hill, you find less and less people up there because most of the tour groups just are down the bottom here. And it's fascinating up there. All the undercrofts for the palaces built on the hill by various emperors.
Anyway one of the best places to go outside Rome is Ostia Antica, the ancient port of Rome. And you can get on a train; you don’t get off at Ostia — that's the present-day town. You get off at Ostia Antica. And laid out before you is a town which rivals Pompeii and its survivals. Because what happened was — environmental change caused by humans — was the port gradually silted up because all the agriculture going on upstream of the Tiber. It's been excavated. There's at least a third more which hasn't been excavated. A big excavation was done by Mussolini in the 1930s ready for the Olympic Games which were going to be in Rome in 1940. But things intervened as you know. But this was where grain ships would come in from Egypt in particular … columns of marble, all sorts of things would come in. I'm sorry I’ve gone one too far [Dr Greene referring to a slide on the screen here]. But you can see that one of the branches of the Tiber coming around here.
Now, because you've seen one parch mark you'll be capable of seeing other ones around here. You can see where there must be roads — there's all sorts of things. With the eye of faith you can see lots more that hasn't been excavated. And it is a town with grid layout and so on. And apartment blocks, because as the town stopped being a port, so it became a place where Romans — elite Romans — would go and spend some holidays and these would have … these apartment blocks would have had shops at the ground floor. And then you’ve got a balcony above and you've got rooms above that and a typical Roman road in the foreground and here. Amazing to see ... find these things. And the whole place is covered in all sorts of fascinating things like multi-seater latrines and which some people find interesting. Now this is a … this is a sixteenth century version of what was described by writers in the time of what this … this harbour was like, because the harbour had to be extend … extended. This is … this is a bit further down river — a place called Porters. And there was a hexagonal basin built — this is by Trajan — in this area here surrounded by huge warehouses and with a lighthouse here. Absolutely amazing.
If you fly out of Fiumincino airport and you're sitting on the appropriate side and you look down, you can actually see that hexagon, to this day which is still for the water. Another place that we visited — our Roman discoveries — was Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli. And there are some things including a bust of Hadrian in the exhibition here that was found at Tivoli. And he designed and built this amazing palace complex there, with the Canopus, this stretch of water to represent Canopus, which was on … the Mediterranean end of the Nile — on the Nile Delta.
He was a great enthusiast for Greek culture and imported all sorts of statuary and built himself a house. The house was in the middle … there … in the middle of this image here, surrounded by water in this circular basin. Fantastic. So Hadrian was a great builder. He built the Pantheon in Rome. He built Hadrian's Wall. He was a big traveller too, across all of the empire. And left his … his imprint on so much of it.
Now we're going to Pompeii. Now, I've had the great good fortune to visit Pompeii and visit so much of the site which is normally not available to the public. And the context for that … the context for that was the Pompeii exhibition that we did at Melbourne Museum and these are the three archaeologists that I and Julia, my wife who's here, were escorted around to all these amazing places. It was a nice ... we went twice. On both occasions it was nice clear weather where you could actually see Vesuvius. Often you can't because of the smog from Naples. But this is a forum. This is the harbour — we're back in a harbour again — which is now a long, long way from the sea as a result of the eruption. But you can see the … where the boats were tied up. We visited this baths, the maritime baths near the maritime port. A gate, with beautiful mosaics in. We also went to a house … one of the houses near the Street of Abundance, which shows the sequence ... the eruption sequence. There you have the lapilli, these little pieces of tephra, which rained down on the population, to a depth of four metres — something like that. Then, the real killer is represented by this ash, because the column of ash, which had gone so high into the air, collapsed and produced pyroclastic flows. So you see ash and you see burning. You see a lot more ash, a lot more burning. And it was that … those flows of hot gases at two hundred and fifty degrees Celsius coming in at 150 kilometres an hour. They killed everyone … and animals and anything living. And this bread oven shows repair work going on, because in AD62 there were serious earthquakes and repair work was still going on in AD79. Part of that repair work is new frescos. And here you can see one in the ‘House of the Painters’ as it's called, where the lining out for the painting has been done but had to be abandoned and this is some of the completed work.
And of course lead pipes and fountains — part of Roman design and life. The real elite lived in Herculaneum and Stabiae and some of the other places around the Bay of Naples. And this particular excavation that we were able to visit … more discoveries with discoveries in the ‘House of the Papyrus’. And the front here looked out onto the sea. Conservation work on these beautiful floors and frescoes was taking place when we were there. And we were given the privilege of actually going into one of the tunnels which was dug in the 18th century, which actually produced the layout of the ‘House of the Papyri’ that discovered the papyrus rolls, all of which had been incinerated, or carbonised at least … and which formed the basis of the Getty mansion in Malibu. And this is the sort of … what you get when you have pyroclastic flows and you have thunderstorms and you have mudslides and you have carbonisation. You get this sort of mixture of all sorts of materials in the archaeological layers.
Pompeii … now we're in Egypt and I had the opportunity to visit Karnak before we did the … the Tutankhamun exhibition. And this is the archaeologist who showed me round — Salah Al Mazek — doing a great … directing a great excavation which found … everywhere you go you find the Romans, everywhere you find the Romans you find baths. This is Ptolemaic baths; you can imagine everybody sitting around in the hot steam and so on. And this, right below the houses which had been removed to tidy up the forecourt of … of Karnak — Roman baths with exactly the same sort of layout that I'd been familiar with from digging in Bath. So we had some very interesting discussions.
Now, Vindolanda. This is in the north-east of England where waterlogged deposits have been crucial to discovering all sorts of fascinating things … including … tablets — writing tablets, of wood, which have been dumped into a ditch and partly burned. And which have been translated and which have, for example, invite from one wife of a commander of one fort inviting another one to lunch, or dinner, to another one pleading ‘Please send some nice warm underpants — it's bloody cold here.’ And that's the sort of writing tablet. And in the excavation here … sorry, in the exhibition here … you’ll see some beautiful samian ware. Well this is high class dining ware that the commanding officers’ wives would have dined off.
We're getting very close to the end of this … presentation, just to say this is a site called Binchester, also in the north-east of England. And neither of these sites are on Hadrian's Wall — they both predate it and then post-date it — with the archaeologist David Petts who showed us round — showing excavation, again with volunteers, taking place and a bathhouse — this case not an official bathhouse but a commercial bathhouse in the … in the area outside the fort where civilians would have lived and traded with the soldiers.
So I'm going to finish with this slide which is the ... we started at Fishbourne. This is the very first trench that was dug at Fishbourne after those guys found the mosaic pieces, and you can see what an exciting prospect that was. So I will finish it there ... congratulate the Museum on presenting this marvelous exhibition. You've persuaded the British Museum into lending some of the highest quality material and I'm sure everybody's enjoying it and learning a lot about the Romans from it. That’s it.
MAT TRINCA: How fantastic was that?. I'm sure there's questions and Patrick's kindly agreed to answer a few at least before we let him go off to lunch, hopefully. I’ve got one to start. Patrick I have to ask you about the part of that story that ends with you completing a degree in … was it in food science?
PATRICK GREENE: Yes.
MAT TRINCA: And … and then becoming an archaeologist with a PhD. How did … how did that go? When did you decide ... how did that workover the 12 years? Did you suddenly think ‘Oh God I'm doing all this work now — I really should do a PhD.’? Or were you so struck at what you were finding you thought ‘I've got to try and record this because it's important research.’?
PATRICK GREENE: Well, I've got it.
MAT TRINCA: You’ve got a mic.
PATRICK GREENE: Doing the rescue excavations which I did for two years, was living out of a suitcase basically and moving from site to site. I worked in Dorchester in Dorset as well and found a building with metalworking furnaces and things — fascinating stuff. But it was living out of a suitcase. And then I was approached, to say … ‘There’s a site in the north-west of England in Cheshire where a new town development corporation is building a new town and there's a site of a medieval monastery there. Would you be interested in doing a six month excavation?’ I said ‘Oh yes.’ So I went and I did that excavation — again, worked with volunteers. Well … volunteers? Prisoners from an open prison.
And one … and one of the things we found … I said we didn't ... I hadn't found any other mosaics. Well I hadn't found any more Roman mosaics but I found a medieval mosaic floor in the church — absolutely amazing. And found the kiln in which the tiles had been fired and found a pit in which the bells are being cast for the tower of the church. Fascinating stuff. And that … and so the development corporation kept on giving me new contracts. And then at the end of those twelve years, as you say, another job came up and I … and I went into industrial … industrial archaeology. But I'd done all this research on the monastery and a good framework for actually writing it up was to do a PhD. Because I didn't have an archaeology degree, first of all I had to write … I had to enlist for MPhil; I produced one chapter of that and then that could be submitted to the university … submitted ... the university said ‘Yes you can’ … ‘You can turn it into a PhD’ which is what I did. Now that's a quick story; the long story is this: I thought when I signed on for the PhD I’d get it done in three years; the maximum amount of time is eight years — I got it on the last day. So ...
MAT TRINCA: I think that shows we should not worry overly about our children when they … they go into the university and they're doing a form of study that might lead them rather circuitously to something else entirely. Questions please. Looks like Dominic.
PATRICK GREENE: It does like Dominic. You're going to have a microphone, Dominic.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Which was strong … this is going to sound a bit weird … which was stronger: the Egyptians or the Romans?
PATRICK GREENE: Who were stronger: the Egyptians or the Romans?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes.
PATRICK GREENE: Well at the time of Cleopatra, who was an Egyptian, there was an almighty battle between two Roman armies which Julius Caesar won, and Antony didn't, because that's one of the things that happened. The Romans weren't always one army. Often somebody would say ‘Well I see that … that person is an emperor but I'd like to be emperor.’ and so they'd get their legions to fight the emperor’s legions and if they won. So it was a difficult thing. So at that time, yes, the Romans had the strongest armies. But before that, there are plenty of times when there were Egyptian empires which covered loads of areas that eventually became part of the Roman Empire. So it depended on the time, but it was a good question.
MAT TRINCA: Another question – this one here, Luke.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi there. I was just wondering of all the sites and digs and things you've discovered, which is the one that's touched you the most?
PATRICK GREENE: In terms of touched, I would say the medieval monastery that I excavated. Not least because the people who are buried in it — who we excavated — were mainly people who had actually supported the monastery by giving lands, by giving mills — things which would produce an income — and would end up buried there. Now the reason it's quite moving is because my friends who run the museum now and they're excavating on the site … how … involved in an extraordinary piece of research into something called Paget’s disease. Now Paget’s disease is a disease ... it's a cancer which affects the bones. If you excavated, you know, among any … any sort of cemetery, you might find one percent, at the most, of people suffering from it. Norton Priory is 18 per cent. And so work is taking place with the Paget’s disease society, who are trying to find a way of countering this … this very, very unpleasant cancer and they're using as a control, as a comparison, the skeletons that we excavated on the site. And it … so for me, I think it says an awful lot about archaeology, about museums — about the fact that we in museums, in all sorts of ways, contribute to what's happening around us now and our understanding of what is happening. So that would be my pick.
MAT TRINCA: Other questions? One there at the back.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you. I really enjoyed that talk. I’d like to ask you, in your ecological experience, what would you identify as sort of the most extensive and varied and admirable sort of, from an aesthetic point of view, range of mosaic art. I'm thinking comparing to say Villa Romana in Piazza Armerina in Sicily as an example of a Roman villa with marvelous mosaics, which I've been to, but I haven't been to the … the British example that you have presented. Thank you.
PATRICK GREENE: I think this was about … about the richest sites in terms of art — is that right?
MAT TRINCA: In terms of the mosaics, particularly ...
PATRICK GREENE: In terms of mosaics. Right. I would … the richest site I've been to is … is what was Carthage. And in the Tunisian museum … the National Museum of Tunisia are the most fantastic mosaics which have been found. Tunisia was one of those areas in the Roman Empire where a lot of people got very wealthy, because it was, and still is, a great producer of olive oil. And olive oil, really, oiled the wheels of the empire. And there are most amazing mosaics of hunting scenes, beautiful reproductions of … of … of animals and trees and foliage. So that's the one I would go for and that's the museum that … that there was an attack outside? I met … you've probably met the director, have you, when he was over here?
MAT TRINCA: When was that? Some many years ago?
PATRICK GREENE: Yes. And … and ... and we were hoping to bring an exhibition from Tunisia to Melbourne Museum. But unfortunately, you know, the tumult which has taken place in North Africa … the Arab Spring onwards, has not made that possible. But he's still there and he's still doing great work. So yes I would choose that exhibition — that museum.
MAT TRINCA: One question there, and then here. So perhaps just over there first. And of course there’s a couple of examples of mosaics in the … in the exhibition. And I must say I look at them and feel sort of very seduced by them. I think ‘I'd love to have this at home.’
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi. As someone who was a volunteer and then has supervised volunteers and I know industries change very much across time as well. But how is there value in someone going and volunteering and doing just two or three weeks on a dig, once off, as opposed to the serial lifelong volunteer or the student doing it as their study requirement for their archaeology degree.
PATRICK GREENE: Oh absolutely. And that's absolutely how I started. Funny enough, last weekend I was in Lancefield which is in country Victoria, where in the Lancefield swamp, megafauna bones have been found. Now that excavation has been carried out by palaeontologists, but with great support from volunteers — the people who live in Lancefield with people from further afield. And that … that is palaeontology. But it's palaeontology meets archaeology because in that area there are lots of Indigenous artefacts found as well. Now one of the big questions in archaeology and palaeontology in Australia is the interrelation between Indigenous people and the megafauna. So that's an example, you know, almost on our doorstep. But Vindolanda, which I showed you briefly, has a yearly excavation that people can put their names down for. They can go into a ballot — it's quite competitive in that case. And you have to contribute — it's, you know, it's not funded by the state or anything like that but it's a marvelous, marvelous project. You'd get … over three weeks you'd get a fantastic experience. I'd encourage you.
MAT TRINCA: It was just here. You’ve got one.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I want to go back to the start of these buildings, because the building in some way, like Portchester or Fishbourne, must've been extremely labour-intensive. And I'm just wondering it all done by the soldiers; was the local population enslaved or did they contribute voluntarily or as willing employees?
PATRICK GREENE: OK. Are you referring to Portchester in particular?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Even Fishbourne is ...
PATRICK GREENE: Right. OK.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: They’re very big establishments. They don’t tend to get knocked up overnight.
PATRICK GREENE: There is absolutely no question that in the case of Fishbourne, a lot of skilled craftsmen were brought in from Italy because there was no tradition of mosaics, plaster work or buildings of that kind. There must have been an architect who would have been, you know, a Roman architect and doubtless there would have been slave labour employed — probably people who'd been captured in the invasion and turned into slaves — it was the usual pattern. In the case of Portchester, we don't know. But I mean the Roman soldiers when they were on … when they were marching across the country, they were the ones that dug the ditches; they were the ones that put the palisades up; they were the ones that built the barracks and so on. But in the case of Portchester — big, big structural project — that would have required slaves … but it would also have required people with a lot of skill … a lot of knowledge, to get it right.
MAT TRINCA: Conscious of time but perhaps one more question. Just here. Thank you.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you very much. It's been a very interesting talk. Coming to the present, when that guy was digging the ditch and found the mosaics, what are the logistical issues that arise when an archaeologist is called in and realises there's something big? I mean if somebody is building a … I don't know another version of the M1 or something. Are there laws in place that protect these findings or how does it work?
PATRICK GREENE: Well, legislation has changed considerably since the time that Fishbourne was … was … was dug and discovered. And now there is ... the law says that before any construction takes place, there has to be an archaeological appraisal. That's similar here — indeed in many cases in Australia but certainly in England. The largest excavation project ever undertaken in Britain is just getting up and going. And this is the line of the high-speed rail that will go from London to Birmingham. And it is a transect really, across the country and is requiring large numbers of archaeologists. And you might get a job as a volunteer there by the way, especially as … you know, archaeology is very international. And there've been a lot of archaeologists from the European Union working in Britain and vice versa of course. And unfortunately that is … a lot of them are going home. So there is actually a dearth of archaeologists. But anyway, the planning regime is … is absolutely right. So for example in the Bloomberg headquarters which have just been built in the City of London, a full archaeological excavation took place beforehand. Even though the previous building had … had destroyed a lot, they found there some more of these writing tablets in a wooden room which … like an office. And surprise, surprise: most of them were about money and law — City of London, you know, today — Bloomberg today. And Bloomberg has done a great job in re-displaying Mithraeum. You've got Mithras here, of course? Mithraeum, which was found in the 1950s and now has been re-displayed in a very, very atmospheric way as a prize thing in their headquarters. So it’s really great … often because archaeology is done very professionally. You don't hold up development if you can help it but you work with developers and developers on your side … it’s really great when they take pride in what being found even if their structure is eventually going to destroy it. But that's what rescue excavation is all about.
MAT TRINCA: Well I think you'll agree that it's been a marvellous … presentation of really the delight in archaeological discovery. I've also been delighted to learn more about Patrick, who I’ve known for a long time, and entranced by the story of his … his own career and his passage through that. Could you please join me in thanking Dr Patrick Greene? And thanks to you all for coming along today. Rome: City and Empire is open till the third of February. Get in and have a look if you haven't done so already. In fact, one of the things in hearing about Roman Britain, through the course of Patrick's presentation today, is also to note there's some hoards … the proceeds of some of the hoards that have been found in Britain that I find very sort of eloquent and quite sad, given that they were generally secreted at a time of uncertainty and unrest, and then people never obviously got back to be able to recover their goods. But that from Hoxne and elsewhere are in the show as well.
Coming up on the 5th of December which is only next week, I realise, is Rome in conversation with ABC … in partnership with ABC RN. Richard Fidler leads a conversation about our ongoing fascination with ancient Rome with an expert panel including Dr Rhiannon Evans, who’s a lecturer at La Trobe University and co-host of the podcast Emperors of Rome; British Museum curator Richard Hobbs; and the Honourable Bob Carr, a great lover of ancient Rome himself. On the same night is ‘Rome up late: experience Ancient Rome after dark in an adults-only night of events’. It will be safe, I can tell you, and quite fascinating — I promise you. That's December 5 and the tickets are through Eventbrite. Thanks again for your presence here today; I hope you enjoy the exhibition. Yes, sorry — a last word from Patrick.
PATRICK GREENE: Something else for your diary or your evening viewing is go on to SBS, put in … on demand … put in Pompeii and you'll find three excellent programs about Pompeii. I expect some people have seen them — really fantastic taking you behind the scenes in the way that Julia and I were able to.
Disclaimer and Copyright notice
This is an edited transcript typed from an audio recording.
The National Museum of Australia cannot guarantee its complete accuracy.
© National Museum of Australia 2007-19. This transcript is copyright and is intended for your general use and information. You may download, display, print and reproduce it in unaltered form only for your personal, non-commercial use or for use within your organisation. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) all other rights are reserved.
Date published: 12 March 2019