Bridge of troubled water: ritual and rubbish in Roman rivers (awarded 2020)

Funding from the Roman Research Trust/Roman Society enabled the publication of a fully Open Access book on Roman finds from rivers, using the important site of Piercebridge as a case study. Approximately 3,600 finds were recovered by two divers from the River Tees over many years, and the book examines these artefacts and their archaeological context. More broadly, it explores the symbolic and ritual significance of bridges, and the phenomenon of watery deposition. Previously, when Roman objects were discovered in rivers across the north-western provinces of the Roman Empire, they were often interpreted as the accidental losses of travellers or as rubbish deposits revealed by fluvial erosion; this is in contrast to prehistoric assemblages, which are usually seen as ritual offerings. Our project offers a new methodology, which analyses the whole assemblage (not just unusual objects or coins) and compares the riverine finds to those excavated on nearby sites in order to move the ‘ritual vs. rubbish’ debate forward. We show that some artefact groups such as the animal bone and pottery may well represent rubbish but also that the chronological and denominational profile of the coins, and the composition of the small finds point to deliberate deposition.