This week on Two Friends Talk History, I spoke with Dr Maxime Ratcliffe, hot off the press with his recently awarded doctorate, to discuss Romano-British well depositions, and the tantalising mysteries that were buried within them. We explore their persistence in the British landscape, and their possible uses in antiquity.
Dr Ratcliffe’s thesis analysed the social history and topographical significance of the locations where the lead tanks were discovered – and continue to be discovered! They are surprisingly prolific in Britain, and quite unique as a collective practice; only four decorated lead tanks of similar form have been found elsewhere within the region contained by the Roman Empire: three were found in Italy and one in Switzerland (Crerar 2012).
- Top left: Cavensham lead tank; bottom left: reconstruction; right: Mithraeum from Wallbrook – well in top left corner.
Scholarship in the 1970s suggested these lead tanks be considered as early Christian baptisms (Toynbee 1964). In Crerar’s 2012 article, she noted that they were commonly analysed as Romano-British art and religious practices, but “few scholars have recognised that their design and potential use make them worthy of separate and more detailed consideration”…which is where Dr Ratcliffe joined the investigation. The areas that had previously received little attention – how the tanks were used, how they were destroyed, what was found contextually with them and how they might have been viewed by Roman-British society- are all aspects of Maxime’s study into the elusive tanks.
2. List of locations where lead tanks were found as of 2012 (Crerar).
If you would like to learn more about the Ashton tank, which was featured for the podcast cover art, this article is free and accessible. Reading Museum’s online catalogue gives a nice reconstruction of the crushed lead tank from the well at Dean’s Farm in Caversham (1988): Click Here.
If you would like to get in touch with Dr Ratcliffe on the Durham University Archaeology department website here, or you can follow him on Academia.edu.
While we wait excitedly for Dr Ratcliffe’s work to be made public, a useful introduction to the lead tanks (baptismal fonts) of Romano-Britain can be found in Crerar, B. (2012). Her article, “Contextualising Romano-British Lead Tanks: A Study in Design, Destruction and Deposition” in Britannia, 43, 135-166 was an interesting read and had excellent visualisations.
Thank you for tuning in to Two Friends Talk History and checking out this blog!
You must be logged in to post a comment.