Organic / perishable materials from Roman Britain

Most organic substances, like wood, leather or cloth, rapidly perish once they are buried, leaving only metal, stone, clay and glass to represent evidence from the past. However, organic remains can survive in conditions such as desert and waterlogged environments and evidence from the latter in particular can reveal a more varied picture of the activities and industries during the Roman period in Britain.

Woodworking, for example, was well established in Britain before the Roman conquest and although wooden objects rarely survive we know from written evidence that the craft continued to flourish. Despite the surviving evidence of such things as carpenter's tools and metal fittings for furniture it is important to realize that the contemporary view of crafts in Roman Britain is slanted towards that left by the metal remains. Waterlogged conditions preserved wooden writing tablets in rubbish deposits at the military site of Vindolanda. Dating from AD 92-120 they give a remarkable insight into the working and private lives of those based on the edge of the Empire.

Leather, from the hides of cattle, was exported from Iron Age Britain and production increased under Roman authority. Many leather objects were found at Vindolanda. The army alone needed vast quantities for clothing, footwear, tents and equipment.

Most textiles were made from wool, though flax was also used to produce linen. Surviving fragments reveal that a variety of weaves were used and according to the price-fixing ruling of the Emperor Diocletian of AD 301, certain items made of British wool were known throughout the Empire for their high quality.

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