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Last week a small group of  Friends visited the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham, ideally placed about 5 minutes from the railway station. The last time we visited the history centre was back in February 2012 for a guided tour of the building, and to briefly glimpse the Highworth Pot from outside the laboratory. (Here’s the link to that trip in 2012).
This time we were going to look at the Roman Wine Strainer, currently being conserved by Beth Baker, Senior Conservator at the History Centre, funded by money raised by an appeal to Friends’ membership.

We met Beth in the reception, and then were taken up to the laboratory, where there were 3 people working. The other two are working on cleaning up coins. The work requires such intense concentration that they have 45 minute timers reminding them to stop working and stretch their hands. Beth remarked that it’s easier to work on the strainer in the morning because of the intense concentration and care required when handling the wine strainer.
Beth, seen below, explained the process she’s using to stabilise and try and strengthen the wine strainer which is made of very thin copper alloy.

 Here she is pointing out some of the more difficult parts of the process…

And here she’s showing us a stand that has been specially made for the wine strainer. When in the stand, a lot of pressure is taken off it, and people will be able to see it very clearly…

Here Beth is putting the strainer into the stand to show us how it works, it seemed like a tight fit, and I was worried that it might get crushed when being put in or taken out.

…making further adjustments to the stand…

Here’s a close up of it…

This photo below shows how good it looks when fitted into the stand. The delicate pattern of holes is beautiful.

Mike McQueen above came to meet us; he was working in another lab…

Kathy having a good look…

Why was wine strained? Apparently herbs were added during the process, and had to be removed, and if the wine was made from fruit, presumably that had to be strained. I wondered where the wine strainer was found, and how on earth is was so relatively well preserved. Beth didn’t know of the provenance of the strainer, but there was a suggestion that it came from the old Purton Hospital site. Thamesdown Archaeological Unit undertook an excavation there ahead of the development of the site with new housing.  They found a small high status Roman cemetery.  The wine strainer was placed with one of the burials.  Another grave contained a stone sarcophagus in which there was a lead liner .
A few years ago Foundation Archaeology undertook an excavation on another part of the site.  They did not find any sign of further burials which suggests the cemetery was probably a small family graveyard.  They did find evidence of a post framed Roman building and finds of decorated wall plaster and a possible under floor heating system suggested this was also high status.
A reader of the blog has refuted the theory that the wine strainer was found in Purton and says this:
‘The wine strainer came from the outskirts of the Roman Town at Lower Wanborough. It was found by a metal detectorist, he contacted me upon its discovery and I went out and helped him remove it from the ground. He subsequently donated it to the museum.’
That sounds quite a definite account doesn’t it?
There’s a really good blog on the History Centre’s website with a piece on another Roman wine strainer, worth looking at that. All being well, we’ll get our wine strainer back in the Museum in a few weeks time.

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