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Identification of Roman leaf imprints

A rather unusual request for identification. I am an archaeologist and was in the middle of processing finds from a new Roman villa when I came across these imprints of leaves/grass on some ceramic roof tiles. Would anyone like to have a stab at identifying the species for me?

If it helps the site is in a river valley in West Berkshire and the villa is c. 3rd/4th century!!

Many thanks for looking.





  • pansyfacepansyface Posts: 22,693

    Gosh, what an unusual request! It's a bit difficult to do it from photos as you don't really get the sense of which swirl has anything to do with which stem. The bottom piece has what looks like a strand of couch grass rising up from its base. But it could be one of many kinds of rough grass really. It could even be ling - there's a funny little head of seeds or flower buds there too.

    There seem to be shapes resembling umbrella spokes attached to a central stem. They could be veins in a leaf or smaller stems splitting off a larger one. The Romans brought fennel to us didn't they? Could the umbrella shapes be fennel twigs?

    Do you know if the building had any special significance, such as a religious site?

    I studied archaeology for one year at university before moving on to moral philosophy. Give me a muddy hole over Adam Smith any day.image

    Apophthegm -  a big word for a small thought.
    If you live in Derbyshire, as I do.
  • Thank you Pansyface for your reply. At least you are still getting your boots muddy in the garden! The villa has no other function as far as we can tell at the moment, other than a rather swanky, very large house with a detached bath house. Very nice! There appear to be ancillary buildings around the immediate landscape which have yet to be investigated but nothing very religious looking yet.

  • Thank yo Aym280. I did wonder whether it could be a crop. From the surrounding Roman field boundaries and ditches it certainly looks like it was an agricultural landscape.

  • pansyfacepansyface Posts: 22,693


    Apophthegm -  a big word for a small thought.
    If you live in Derbyshire, as I do.
  • Pat EPat E Posts: 12,110

    Hi, I also have a degree in Prehistory And Anthropology, so I find your request interesting. I also have a horticulture qualification, so my interest was always based around pre historical uses of food.

    i think the top photo looks like the base of a grape vine leaf. It would make sense if they were trying to grow grapes for their wine. The lower photo is a bit difficult, but the other reply of possibly fennel, could fit as well.

    good luck with your dig.image

    S. E. NSW
  • Aster2Aster2 Posts: 629

    If you don't get identification here, I'd try the RHS, at the very least they'll be able to tell you whom to ask.

  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Posts: 86,913

    I would contact the science department at Kew

    Good luck - it would be good to know what you find out image

    Gardening in Central Norfolk on improved gritty moraine over chalk ... free-draining.

  • Thank you all for your responses. I will follow the leads you have given me and will report back if I get an answer. These little fragments of tiles certainly made processing half a tonne of roofing material much more interesting!

  • Hi Edd, I'm afraid the roofing material is not reusable (pretty fragmented after 1700 years underground). We try to re-bury what we don't want back on site in a recorded pit rather than spread here and there, so people in the future don't get all excited thinking they've found a new Roman building site!

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