Copper-Alloy Beads, Pendant and Club Moss String





Excavation within the scheduled monument at Bainesse revealed one of the largest known rural Roman cemeteries in Britain, uncovering c.255 inhumation and cremation burials. 

Several burials contained grave goods, such as complete ceramic vessels and objects of personal adornment. Examination of the artefacts with consideration to the burial practices has enabled us to create a detailed narrative of the cemetery population and the longevity of its use. Radiocarbon dating of the human remains suggests that the cemetery was in use over a long period between AD 43–410 and was re-used at least sporadically in the early post-Roman period.

One burial particularly caught our interest due to the assemblage of rare finds within the grave deposit. Although the burial lacked skeletal remains, its size suggested it was of a child, and the placement of the deposit containing the assemblage implied that the grave goods were a later addition.

The assemblage contained a copper-alloy object interpreted as a possible phallic pendant and three copper-alloy beads. Copper-alloy beads are generally rare finds on Roman sites in Britain, and there is a much speculation as to their popularity and function. The discovery of the possible pendant in association with the beads is also unusual, and the way pendants were worn or suspended is also subject to conjecture.

In addition, a piece of preserved string, formed of two z-twisted strands of organic material was found inside one of the beads. Although organic fibres are not commonly found in deposits that are not waterlogged, studies have shown that organic material can survive when buried in contact with metal objects, which can act as a biocide that prevents microbial decay. This may explain why the strands of string were preserved within a grave with poor skeletal preservation. Analysis of the morphological characteristics of a sub-sample of the string using a scanning electron microscope (SEM) at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge by Margarita Gleba suggests that the string is derived from a type of club moss or similar plant species. This is the first identification of this species of plant being used in the production of fibres in Roman Britain!


You can read more about this exciting discovery in:

Gleba, M., Foulds, E. M., Teasdale, A. and Russ, H. (2017) First identification of Club Moss use in Roman Britain. Archaeological Textiles Review 59, 17–23.

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