Fishbourne Roman Palace - Museums Association

Fishbourne Roman Palace

A case study on the reburial of archaeological material from Fishbourne Roman Palace, Sussex Archaeological Society

The Fishbourne Roman Palace reserve collections included approximately 120 boxes of stratified, but unpublished, Roman brick and tile that was occupying a significant amount of storage space.

The material was excavated in 1992, but much of it failed to meet the site’s newly developed “Selective Retention and Disposal Policy” and so would not have been accepted as a deposition had it been offered today. There seemed little likelihood that funding would be available to publish the material in the future.

The decision to dispose was made, but it was clear from the outset that there would be few organisations who wished to take on the material as a transfer. The museum were therefore aware that much of the material would have to be disposed through destruction by reburial and so wanted to ensure that the material was thoroughly assessed first.

Part of the Palace reserve collection which contained the brick and tile disposed during this project
Part of the Palace reserve collection which contained the brick and tile disposed during this project With permission of Sussex Archaeological Society

A PhD student specializing in Roman brick and tile provided the necessary expertise to undertake this work and produced a full report on the entire assemblage. This report highlighted material suitable for retention, including a possible section of collapsed roof that would not have otherwise been identified.

It was important that material not required by other museums was destroyed in such a way that it would not contaminate the archaeological record. It was necessary to remove any possibility that any brick and tile would not at some point in the future be recovered archaeologically and misinterpreted.

This was achieved by reburying the brick and tile in extant spoil heaps at the Palace site. This reburial location made it clear that it did not represent any in situ Roman archaeology.

As well as freeing space in the artefact store, the process provided confidence that material retained was useful and met current collecting guidelines, and that material disposed was of limited use. Valuable information about the assemblage was provided by the report and this information was incorporated into a new public display on Roman brick and tile at the site.

Image: The disposal process made it possible to identify items that should be retained and were also worthy of public display. With permission of Sussex Archaeological Society