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Piece of rare glass fish bottle found in British Roman villa dig

The piece found at the National Trust’s Chedworth Roman Villa is the only one of its kind ever discovered in Britain and took two years to identify.

Peter Moore holds the glass piece which he discovered at Chedworth Roman Villa (National Trust/Rod Kirkpatrick/F Stop Press/PA)
Peter Moore holds the glass piece which he discovered at Chedworth Roman Villa (National Trust/Rod Kirkpatrick/F Stop Press/PA)

A fragment of a 1,800-year-old glass fish has been discovered at a Roman villa site in Gloucestershire, experts have said.

The glass piece, found at the National Trust’s Chedworth Roman Villa, is the only one of its kind ever discovered in Britain and is so rare it took glass experts around the world two years to identify.

It has been identified as coming from a fish-shaped bottle imported from what is now Ukraine and may have been used to hold exotic perfume.

Experts at the National Trust said the discovery sheds new light on the wealth and influence of those who imported it from the Black Sea area centuries ago.

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The glass fish bottle fragment is the only one found in Britain (National Trust/Rod Kirkpatrick/F Stop Press/PA)

The glass piece was found in the summer of 2017 but had to be sent to a leading Roman glass expert, the late Professor Jennifer Price, who sought advice from other experts to solve the mystery of its origins.

It was eventually found to match a fish shaped bottle that had been restored from many pieces, which is housed in the Corning Museum of Glass, New York.

By comparing the two samples, Prof Price concluded the piece came from near the tail of the fish bottle.

The only other example of such a fish-shaped Roman bottle comes from a 2nd century burial in Crimea.

The Chedworth bottle has been made with an unusual technique, with the decoration laid on top of the blue-green surface to create scales in loops of white and yellow, and it is likely the fish’s open mouth formed the opening of the small flask.

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Artist’s impression of how the fish bottle would have looked (National Trust/Rod Kirkpatrick/F Stop Press/PA)

Nancy Grace, the National Trust archaeologist who led the work to investigate the find, said: “People have been enchanted by it, but it has also been a long and difficult journey.

“To have found that it is the only one of its type so far discovered in Roman Britain adds to our knowledge of the importance of Chedworth Roman Villa.

“Other objects found at the villa show it was home to somebody of wealth and status.

It is amazing that a small fragment has told us so much Nancy Grace, National Trust

“That such an exotic thing was brought from so far away underlines that the occupants were in touch with the furthest regions of the Roman Empire and wanted to show off that influence.

“It is amazing that a small fragment has told us so much.”

Peter Moore, an archaeologist and Masters student at the University of York who was helping with a dig to understand more about the north wing of the villa, made the discovery.

He said: “When it appeared, the first wipe of the surface showed the colour and it quickly became apparent it was something special.

“Excavating anything at Chedworth and knowing that you are the first person to gaze upon it for at least 1,800 years is a feeling that never tires, the memory of recovering this piece of glass certainly will not.”

PA

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