Monthly Archives: March 2014

Mortarium mystery revealed – #MuseumWeek #AskThe Curator

Mortaria Mixup
Mortaria Mixup

Tuesday’s curatorial conundrum from the Virtual Museum of Thanet’s Archaeology is finally answered.

The two questions we asked were; What on earth is it? and Who made it?, the answers to both can be found by looking at the pictures.

The pictures we posted were of a type of Roman mixing bowl, called a Mortarium. The example we have in our collection was found in the excavation of the Roman Villa at Abbey Farm, Minster in Thanet. Two of the sections of the image show the stamps on the rim that allow us to identify the manufacturer, although part of the stamp is damaged and part of the name is unreadable.

The mortarium was made in the factory of MATUGENUS, the name shown in two parts in the first stamp. The second stamp reads FECIT, that is ‘he made it’ in Latin.

Manufactururs stamp on Roman Mortarium
The stamp reads MATUG ENUS in two parts

Matugenus is a well known manufacturer, working near Verulamium, the Roman town near St.Albans in Hertfordshire between 80 and 125AD. Stamps tell us that Matugenus was the son of an earlier maker of mortaria, Albinus.

These heavy clay mixing bowls with their distinctive thick lipped pouring spouts were covered on their inner surface with find grits, embedded in the dense yellowish brown fabrics of the clays they were made from.

In the case of the vessel from Minster, the grits had been worn down so far the surface was nearly flat, and it is very likely the base of the vessel had been almost rubbed through, allowing it to break and leaving a large hole in base before it was finally smashed and cast with other rubbish into the outer boundary ditch to the north of the villa. The sherds of the vessel had not moved far and were found in a tight group that allowed the vessel to be nearly completely reconstructed after the dig.

Matugenus made this Mortarium - it says so on the tin
Matugenus made this Mortarium – it says so on the tin

The story of our Museum


Our Virtual Museum has no buildings, although the image we use on the website is borrowed from elements of real buildings. We had hoped to add to our building as time went on, but it remains small.

Without the resources to create a dedicated archaeological Museum in Thanet, an area which richly deserves one, the idea of the Virtual Museum of Thanet’s Archaeology was created in 2005 over a stimulating fry up in the Beano Café in Broadstairs (the digital hub of the Isle of Thanet heritage community in that year!).

With limited resources and equally limited, but increasing understanding of the technology, the idea of the Museum developed into a statement of intent and then into a functioning website, which we have since then used as tool to communicate with our community. With no bells and whistles, our little Museum does what it can to hold up the remains of Thanet’s archaeological past to view by the public. We share three aspirations that Museums all around the country will understand:

Done: We built the Virtual Museum of Thanet’s Archaeology from the resources that were available at the time.

Dedicated: We still feel the need for the museum almost a decade after we started our project.

Donate: We could do so much more to reveal the hidden discoveries of Thanet’s past if we had more resources. Find out how you can contribute.

The idea of a virtual Museum is nearly as old as the World Wide Web; a virtual Museum was one of the first sites to work with the early Mosaic Browser around 1992-93 shortly after Tim Berners-Lee created the Web as we know it. There’s an interesting academic article on the origin and function of Virtual Museums here:

Ramsgate’s Roman Past – Museum Memories

This Roman Beaker features in the group of Roman pots that currently forms the mastheads of our social media pages.

Roman colour coated Beaker, decorated with white painted lattice pattern. Possibly manufactured in Gaul, 3rd or 4th century, found in Ramsgate 2007.

Found in a grave excavated in Ramsgate, it is one of a group of finds with great significance to understanding the Roman occupation of Thanet and Ramsgate’s ancient role as a sea port. Located at the eastern limit of an ancient track that followed the Isle’s central chalk ridge, this is the easternmost of a series of small Roman cemeteries that once lined the road.

More remarkable was the survival of the intact vessels on the small archaeological site, despite the demolition of the buildings above and the use of a large toothed mechanical excavator bucket to grub out the foundations of the building that stood above it.

Despite the discoveries made on large scale excavations that have been carried out more recently, this small excavation was located in a perfect place to fill in the physical details of several antiquarian references and observations in the area which can not now be verified as the finds and records have been dispersed or lost.

Perhaps the story of greater human interest held by this vessel are the impressions of the fingers of someone who grasped the body of the vessel before the clay had dried and left a lasting memorial of their otherwise unrecorded existence on this beautiful vessel.

The vessels and the other finds from this site form a key part of the collection of artefacts the Trust holds and uses as part of the teaching material of the Virtual Museum. The excavation remains a milestone in our history of archaeological discoveries which have added to our knowledge of Thanet’s distant past.