June has been a busy month with not much time for mudlarking as I’ve been away on holiday in France and having a wonderful time in the Provençal sunshine with my family. This blog is going to be a bit of a mishmash but still finds-related because that’s what my passion is. The searching bug is always there, no matter where I am, so please welcome to the world of vinelarking.
I was recently talking to a mudlark who, on a walk through some fields near where he lives, found a small number of Mesolithic worked flints. Which just goes to show that you don’t have to be near the river to find artefacts, or even metal detecting on someone’s land (but please make sure you’ve asked permission first.) Beaches, gardens, even the humble pavement can be a source of something interesting if you keep your eyes peeled.
I’ve always spent a lot of time with my head bent down, staring at the ground, searching for bits and pieces. This has become my default position, even on holiday. So it was that on a walk a few weeks ago I found myself strolling through literally acres of vines owned by the famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape and even here I managed to find a few bits and pieces to keep me happy.
The vines in the area of Provence where we stayed are planted on top of land that was once part of the Roman Empire, and the Romans grew vines in this locality too. Sadly, no Roman pottery sherds to be found on my walks but I did spot a few interesting items, among them this fragment of local Provencal terracotta roof tile.
Made by the famous Monier company of Marseille who’ve been producing roof tiles since the 19th century, the tile is instantly recognisable by their symbol, the bee.
This particular tile fragment is likely to be 1950s/1960s.
The ground all around these vineyards is full of rocks, stones and broken sherds of pottery as well as tiles. I initially thought this was to keep moisture in the ground but later found out that it’s more to keep the soil around the vines warm and also to stop wild boar from digging holes and ruining the planting.
The forests round here are still full of boar, destructive creatures that would lay waste to every vineyard in the area if the vines weren’t protected.
In the autumn the boar are hunted to keep their numbers down otherwise the area would be overrun by them. And, as I was told many times, if they get into your garden you’ve had it.
So of course I’ve been knee-deep in books about Roman Provence since we got back and this is one of many tomes I’ve been engrossed in. Until I read this book I had no idea that there are more Roman monuments in Provence than anywhere else in the Roman occupied world, including Italy itself.
In Provence, the Romans have left behind bridges, aqueducts, amphitheatres, baths, temples, triumphal arches and roads that still bisect the countryside all around. I’m determined to return soon to visit areas such as Orange, Vienne, Arles, St Remy and Aix-en-Provence, just a few of the towns and cities here worth visiting that are full of Roman remains.
One of my favourite areas of Provence with a well-documented Roman history is Nîmes. I last visited here in the autumn of 2018 and was pleased to see the long awaited Musée de la Romanité was open. I thoroughly recommend it as it’s one of the best Roman museums I’ve ever seen, beautifully curated and with a stunning range of artefacts.
The Roman museum is also slap bang next door to the Arena de Nîmes, or old amphitheatre, so if you time your visit perfectly you can get to see two Roman attractions together.
In addition to books on Roman Provence, I really want to recommend a new mudlarking book that has just hit the shelves.
Written by fellow mudlark Malcolm Russell (please follow him on Instagram @mudhistorian) this beautifully written tome is called ‘Mudlark’d: Hidden Histories From The River Thames’, published by Thames and Hudson. I’ve blogged about mudlarking books before and this is the latest in what is promising to be a real golden age for new authors writing on this subject.
Malcolm’s book is perfect for anyone who loves the history of London and the Thames, telling vivid stories of forgotten people through objects found on the foreshore.
Each chapter introduced me to a great many facts that, even as a seasoned mudlark and historian, were completely new to me. Malcolm covers a comprehensive range of fascinating objects revealing the stories and voices of criminals, prisoners, enslaved peoples, immigrants, traders, queer folk, entertainers, smokers, gamblers, firefighters and many more. The book is a perfect people’s history, a welcome addition to what we tell ourselves about our past. I read Malcolm’s book in one weekend and can’t recommend it highly enough.
Last but not least, summer is definitely here and London is about to showcase a range of exhibitions and activities celebrating the Thames. Kicking off is a Mudlarking Day at Southwark Cathedral on Saturday 16th July, from 10.30am to 5pm, this being part of the National Festival of Archaeology 2022 and well worth supporting.
I’ll be at Southwark that day exhibiting some of my favourite finds along with other mudlarking friends, so do please pop along if you can and say hello. The event promises to be great fun and the Cathedral is a stunning venue.
There will also be a range of other activities at Southwark on that day including medieval tile making, foreshore walks, lectures, finds ID and an opportunity to see the casting of medieval pilgrim badges. Literally something for everyone so please put the date in your diaries.
4 thoughts on “Vinelarking in Provence”
It looks like you’ve had a great holiday! The book Mudlark’d is excellent really enjoyed it!
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Thank you, Anne. Holiday was marvellous. So glad you’ve read Malcolm’s book too and enjoyed it x
Thank you for your latest blog. We visited Nimes years ago viewing the old centre and the magnificent Colosseum so the new Roman museum you told about was of special interest to me.
Thank you also for the reminder of how divorced we are becoming from nature and other animals when we think of them destroying our livelihoods. We must remember they are only looking for food and we are the newcomers with our financial dreams of which they know nothing. We are losing the art of living with different neighbours!
Have an enjoyable summer Valerie
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Thank you, Valerie. So good to hear someone else has visited and loved Nimes. I hope you get to visit again one day and can check out the new Roman museum this time. Yes, always a difficult balance, man versus nature. I was quite conflicted writing about the wild boar (but wouldn’t want to meet a large one on a dark night…)