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BES Practical Epigraphy Workshop 2011

From 28-30 June 2011 I was lucky enough to be able to participate in the fourth Practical Epigraphy Workshop, held in Corbridge Roman Town Museum. The workshop provided me, and a group of like-minded students, with a unique opportunity to study the more hands-on aspects of epigraphy. Epigraphy is used by many scholars as a ready source of information and, as such, it is easy to either forget or underestimate the skill it takes to perform the successful autopsy of a stone. None of the workshop participants will ever make this mistake again as we were excellently tutored in all practical aspects of the study of inscriptions by a group of enthusiastic instructors: Roger Tomlin (Oxford), Charlotte Tupman (KCL) and Charles Crowther (Oxford). Peter Haarer (Oxford) is also to be thanked for his organisation of the course. As well as providing us with superb tuition, the British Epigraphy Society was also kind enough to source and award generous bursaries to all participants to assist with the course and accommodation fees.

On the first day we started learning about two important aspects of the autopsy of inscriptions namely, squeeze-making and drawing. Our group of nine participants was divided into two and I first tried squeeze-making which was skilfully shown to us by Charlotte Tupman. After this fun session we were taught how to best draw an inscription by Roger Tomlin. At the end of the day we were treated to a lovely dinner at a local restaurant, giving us the chance to properly meet our course-mates and instructors.

The second day started with two highly informative sessions on the best way to photograph inscriptions, held by Glyn Goodrick and Charles Crowther respectively. After lunch we applied all the skills we had learned over the past day and a half to a stone assigned to us and providing a critical analysis thereof. Our tutors were on standby to help us with any issues or queries we had in this study. The autopsy allowed us not only to apply our learned skills but also showed us the reality of the study of inscriptions and the difficulties which can arise from this. As the workshop was held in such a wonderful location, a Roman garrison town near Hadrian’s wall, Roger Tomlin also took us round the museum and site. After the site tour, we were given a wonderful lecture by Richard Grasby on Roman Lettering in Stone. Mr Grasby provided a unique perspective on inscriptions and opened our eyes to even more ways of viewing and thinking about inscriptions. After his talk Mr Grasby also demonstrated the art of letter cutting and allowed all of us to try it as well. As with everything else on the course, this only added to our learning as it demonstrated to us how easy it is to underestimate and disparage inscriptions on their letter-quality but how hard it actually is to cut perfect letters. After the lecture, Roger Tomlin led us around Corbridge and showed us the various inscriptions incorporated into the town in various ways, revealing us how current epigraphy can still be.

The successful results of our autopsies were presented on the final day. As well as showing our drawings and photographs, we also provided a commentary on the inscription itself and our own insights into the reading of these stones.

I cannot stress how enjoyable and instructive I found the course to be. The tutors were highly skilled and the whole workshop greatly aided the research of all participants. It also provided us with the opportunities to undertake these practical research methods, such as squeeze-making, which most student will never have the chance to do. The staff at Corbridge Roman Town Museum is also to be warmly thanked for welcoming us and for hosting this hugely enjoyable workshop.

Ghislaine van der Ploeg