Skip to main content

The Roman Villa at Minster in Thanet. Part 10 The Bone Objects


The Roman Villa at Minster in Thanet.

Part 10: The Bone Objects

emma boast and lee cunningham

During the eight seasons of excavation carried out at the Abbey Farm villa site between 1996 and 2004 a total of 48 bone objects, comprising complete and incomplete bone needles and pins or styli, were recovered from the site in 35 separate contexts. Most of these bone objects were deposited in second-century contexts related to the main occupation of the villa although a small quantity came from contexts dating to the late first, third and/or fourth centuries. Many of the items, however, were recovered from redeposited material and their date of use is not necessarily reflected in the date of the context in which they were eventually found.

All of the bone objects have been characterised where possible according to the typologies established by Nina Crummy (Crummy 1983, 19) and are presented according to type in the Appendix below. Based on Crummy’s typology, pins of Types 1 and 2 and the bone needles have a manufacture date broadly spanning 50-200. Type 3 pins have a date range of c.200-410. The most frequently occurring items at Minster are Type 2 bone pins (Table 1). Missing significant diagnostic traits, just over a quarter (29%) of the total assemblage could not be readily assigned to any typological category. One complete object that could not be assigned a clear function may have been used either as a pin or a stylus.

The context of the items recovered is described in the following text according to which area they were found. The area descriptions adopted follow previous publications for the site (Fig. 1). Photographic illustrations of the bone objects are shown in Plates I-III, ordered by area. Original site reference codes have been retained. Those objects with no diagnostic elements have not been illustrated.

Fig. 1 General plan of the villa complex showing the areas of excavation referred to in the text.


Building 1: The Villa House: five pins and one needle were found within deposits in the main villa building (Plate I). The deposits were associated with the use of the hypocaust system in Room 10 (Context 053), raked out hearth debris from the furnace structure in Room 17 (Context 1007) and deposits associated with Room 17’s later infilling and levelling (Context 1022).

A deposit of ash and carbon (053), excavated within the stokehole of Room 10, contained a complete Type 1 pin (Plate I, 96-39) and an incomplete Type 3 pin (Plate I, 96-47). The construction and use of Rooms 10 and its stokehole (Room 11) are related to Phase 6 of the development of the main villa building with a probable date around the early third century.

A complete Type 2 pin (Plate I, 97-45) and a Type 1a needle (Plate I, 97-40), both stained green were recovered from deposit 1007, a rich ash layer located in the north-west corner of Room 17. The deposit consisted of raked out hearth debris derived from furnace structures 1041 and 1099. These may have served an industrial function possibly as a black smithing forge, but also incorporated earlier midden material including pottery mainly dating to ad 120-250 (Parfitt et al. 2008, 328). The pin and the needle seem to have originated from the midden material.

An incomplete pin of unknown type (97-36, not illustrated) and a complete possible bone stylus or pin with a spatulate head (Plate I, 97-41) were recovered from Context 1022 which overlay the furnace structures and was deposited after the room went out of use and was infilled during the later fourth century. The deposit also contained large quantities of building rubble as well as other domestic rubbish including pottery, window and vessel glass, animal bone and marine shell dating from the second to fourth centuries, most of which was residual (Parfitt et al. 2008, 329-330).

Building 2: an incomplete Type 1 pin, which may have been burnt and an incomplete Type 1a bone needle (Plate I, 01-37 and 01-38) were recovered from deposit 306, a fill of pit F. 313 which was located at the north-west corner of the boundary wall to the north of Building 2 (Parfitt et al. 2009, 344, fig. 6). The fills of the pit contained building rubble and other midden debris dating to the late first century possibly associated with remodelling of the main villa structure.

Building 3: The Bath House: a needle and two pins were recovered from the deposits associated with Building 3. Two of these were found in contexts associated with the use of the building as a bath house, while the third is residual in a robber pit cut after the building was abandoned.

The fill of a hollow (3121) in the base of the square stone-lined latrine pit (3151) located in the north-east corner of Room 23 contained an incomplete Type 2 pin in a poor state of preservation (Plate I, 98-35). The deposit, which dates to the second century is associated with the use of the latrine (Parfitt in Perkins 2004, 40).

A complete Type 1 pin (Plate I, 98-48) was found in the fill of a drainage ditch (234, F. 3109) located to the west of the boundary wall and bath house (Perkins 2004, fig. 5). The ditch silted up and was later recut (as F. 3108). Both ditches contained pottery dating to the second century, contemporary with the main use of the bath house building.

An incomplete Type 1a bone needle (Plate I, 98-42) with the tip missing, was found in soil over the infilled main drainage channel (Context 221; contained within F. 3071). The fill of the pit contained pottery sherds dateable to the second and third centuries with the latest sherds dating to the mid to late third century. The pit was cut to rob the walls of an extended drainage channel after the building was abandoned (Perkins 2004, 45).

Plate I

Bone objects recovered from Buildings 1, 2, 3 and 4. Scale as shown.

Building 4: The Corridor House: a total of six bone objects were found in deposits that filled a substantial boundary ditch extending from the north-east corner of Building 4. The earliest cut of the ditch (F. 5003) appears to have been contemporary with the boundary wall of the villa enclosure continuing its southern line and possibly defining a field or enclosure outside the walls (Parfitt 2006, 119, 129). The terminal of this ditch had been backfilled with clay to allow for the construction of a new eastern corridor wall to Building 4 sometime in the late second century and its upper fill (Context 5016) incorporated a complete Type 1 pin that may have been scorched (Plate I, 01-26).

The boundary ditch was recut along the same alignment, although slightly further toward the east after Building 4 was constructed (F. 5014) and may have served as both a drainage ditch for the corner of the building and a boundary ditch. The recut ditch was backfilled after the building was abandoned by the middle of the third century and its fills contained pottery of early second- to mid third-century date along with large quantities of tile and midden material (Parfitt 2006, fig. 3). Bone objects were: an incomplete Type 1 needle that had been stained green (Context 5020, Plate I, 01-08), two incomplete pins (Context 5008, Plate I, 01-24 and 001-30), an incomplete pin (Context 5006, 01-32, not illustrated) and an incomplete Type 2 pin (Context 5002, Plate I, 01-44).

North-east of Building 5: two bone objects were found in features located in the area to the north-east of Building 5, outside the villa boundary wall. An incomplete bone pin of unknown type (02-33, not illustrated) was recovered from deposit 813, the fill of an east-west aligned shallow ditch located to the north-east of Building 5 (F. 814). The fill of this ditch, which contained no datable finds, was cut by a large shaft, possibly a well (F. 821), indicating it had been infilled prior to the cutting of the shaft.

A deposit (837) used to level the surface of the shaft (F. 821) after it was infilled contained a complete Type 2 bone pin (Plate III, 02-43). The shaft itself contained pottery dating between ad 120 and 140 (Parfitt et al. 2009, 347).

Building 6A and 6B: a total of twenty-five bone objects were recovered from the deposits associated with these buildings. None of the objects were found in floor or occupation levels associated with the use of either phase of building but were found in redeposited material. Twenty-four of the items were found in either the backfills of robber trenches, the infill of open basements or the backfill of two adjacent well shafts associated with the demolition and levelling of Building 6A during the later second century, prior to the construction of Building 6B sometime around the beginning of the third century (Parfitt 2007, 294). A single bone object was recovered from the backfill of the recut ditch (F. 7233) which was associated with the use of building 6B and was probably deposited sometime later in the third century when the ditch silted up.

Plate II

Bone objects recovered from Buildings 4 and 6 and Well shafts 7128 and 7105. Scale as shown.

Deposits associated with demolition and levelling of Building 6A: a single complete Type 2 bone pin (Plate II, 03-9) was found in the upper backfill of the stoke pit (Context 7106, F. 7107) originally constructed as part of the Phase 2 conversion of Building 6A to a bath building (Parfitt 2007, 269-70).The pin was stained a dark grey colour and may have been scorched.

In the rubble backfill of Room 41 (Context 7252) an incomplete pin of unknown type with a missing head (04-25, not illustrated) was found. In the overlying backfill deposit (Context 7254) was a Type 2 pin with a broken tip (Plate II, 04-2). A complete Type 2 bone pin (Plate III, 04-6) and a Type 1c needle (Plate II, 04-1) were found in the upper clay backfill of Rooms 40, 41 and 42 (Context 7299/7251).

Three pins were recovered from the two uppermost deposits in the backfill of a large pit (F.7215) cut to rob useable building materials from Room 43. A Type 2 pin (Plate II, 03-28) and an incomplete one of unknown type with a missing head (03-34, not illustrated) were found in deposit 7209 and three joining pieces of a Type 2 pin was recovered from the deposit above (Context 7208, Plate III, 03-04).

An incomplete pin of unknown type (04-29, not illustrated) was recovered from the deposit filling the trench cut to rob the north-south wall between Rooms 39 and 40 (Context 7269, F. 7270) and a complete Type 2 pin (Plate II, 04-7) was recovered from the fill of the trench cut to rob the west wall of Room 40 (F. 7295). Two Type 2 pins, both incomplete with missing tips (Plate II, 03-3 and 03-18) were found in a deposit filling a large hollow (Context 7164, F.7253) which cut the robber trenches of the southern walls of Rooms 39 and 40 (Parfitt 2007, fig. 2).

The Well Shafts: six bone objects; one needle and five pins were recovered from the back fill deposits of well shaft F. 7128. Four of the pins (Context 7127, Plate II, 03-14; 7130, 03-11; 7131, 03-15; 7165, 03-19) were of Type 2. A single incomplete pin of unknown type was found in deposit 7131 (03-13, not illustrated) and a Type 1 needle (Plate II, 03-12) was found in deposit 7130.

The backfill deposits filling well shaft F.7105 contained six bone pins and one bone needle. An incomplete pin of unknown type was found in the lowest excavated fill of the shaft (Context 7198, 03-5, not illustrated), two incomplete Type 2 pins with missing tips (Plate II, 03-21 and 03-22) along with an incomplete pin of unknown type with both the head and tip missing (03-23, not illustrated) were recovered from deposit 7178. A complete Type 2 pin that had been stained green (Plate II, 03-16) and an incomplete Type 1 bone needle with the head and tip missing (Plate II, 03-17) were found in deposit 7143. In deposit 7129, one of the upper fills of the shaft, was an incomplete pin of unknown type in two pieces with the head missing (03-10, not illustrated).

Building 6B: an incomplete Type 2 pin (Plate III, 04-27) with the tip missing was recovered from the back fill of a recut drainage ditch F. 7233 (Context 7234) located to the south-west of, and associated with the use of, building 6B.

Bone objects recovered from Buildings 5 and 6 and modern soils. Scale as shown.

Plate III

Modern Ploughsoil and Subsoil layers overlying the site: an incomplete Type 3 bone pin, apparently broken during the process of manufacture was recovered from the modern plough soil during the 1999 season of excavation (Plate III, 99-46,). Also, an incomplete Type 2 pin with a missing tip (Plate III, 04-31) and an incomplete bone pin (Context 7232, 04-20, not illustrated), missing both head and tip were recovered from the modern plough and subsoil overlying Building 6.


The number of bone objects recovered from the excavations at Abbey Farm represents a relatively large assemblage compared to other published Roman villa sites in Kent (Birbeck 1995, Houliston 1999, Kelly 1992, Philp 1989; 1996; Philp et al. 1991; 1999). The reasons behind this are unclear but is most likely to be due to the quality of the survival of the other villa sites, the sampling and recovery techniques employed and the ‘worthiness’ of material published (Cunningham 2005, 8-9).

Only four of the bone objects, all pins, were recovered from stratified deposits associated directly with the use and occupation of the villa buildings (053, 3121, 234). The broad date of manufacture assigned to the pins found in these contexts tallies well with the dates assigned to the phases of occupation they represent. The Type 2 pin found in the base of the stone-lined latrine pit in the bath house (Building 3, 3121, 98-35) and the Type 2 pin found in the fills of the silted drainage ditch located to the west of Building 3 (234, 98-48) fall within the second-century use of the bath house building; and the Type 1 and Type 3 bone pins recovered from the stoke hole of Room 11 (053, 96-39 and 96-47) fall within the early third-century dating for development of this area of the main villa structure.

The remainder of the bone objects found on the site were residual within deposits used to deliberately infill robber trenches and pits, well shafts and ditches. The deposits generally comprised a mixture of midden material and demolition rubble, the majority of which was second century in date. Amongst the bone items, exceptions included a Type 1 pin from the late first century (Building 2, 306, 01-37), two bone needles and five pins deposited in third-century contexts (Building 3, 221, Building 4, F. 5104 and Building 6B, 7234) and an incomplete pin or stylus deposited in a later fourth-century context (Building 1, 1022).

The general lack of late Roman pins of Type 3, dated c.200-410, is readily apparent. To a large extent this seems to be consistent with the proposed abandonment of the villa site between the late third century and the early fourth century (Holman and Parfitt 2005, 210). The absence of such items in the later fourth-century deposits identified could suggest that the subsequent re-occupation of the site, from about ad 300, was not wholly domestic in character and consequently did not lead to the loss and discard of significant numbers of pins.

Use of pins and needles

Archaeological and pictorial evidence suggests that the primary use of bone pins and needles was to secure and complement female hair decoration and in fashioning elaborate hairstyles (Cool 1992, 150). The hair pins would be used as a support for a tightly compressed hairstyle such as a bun or chignon and the pins would be visible in the arrangement. Often, it would have been necessary to use more than one pin to fasten a hair style in place (Stephens 2008, 115-116). The bone needles, however, were used in more elaborate hairstyles such as complicated arrangements of plaits or braids, where the hair could not be supported by pins. In these cases the needle would have been used to sew the plaits or braids in place using conventional thread which required more than one person to dress the hair. It also, in many cases, allowed the hairstyle to last longer enabling the wearer to sleep with the hair in place (ibid., 121-132).

There were no examples of bone pins with elaborately carved heads that could be classed as hair jewellery, nor are there any pins made of metal although there is one example of a long, thin bronze needle that could have been used to laterally stitch hair braids but could equally have been used to sew textiles. All the bone pins recovered from Abbey Farm are plain or simply carved but even so can still be considered decorative as well as practical and everyday objects (Johns 1996, 139).

The most common suggested use of the pins and needles does not preclude the possibility that they could also have been used for securing clothing, although their thick diameter in comparison to metal brooch pins would have made them inappropriate for gathering and holding together fabrics with all but the coarsest of weaves (Cool 1992, 150, Crummy 1983, 19). It is unlikely that the needles used in hairstyling would have been used for sewing textiles due to their large diameters. Stephens (2008, 117) suggests that the hair pins could also be used as head scratchers, writing styli, for extracting perfumed lotions from thin necked bottles and in more extreme cases as a convenient weapon.

The simple form that characterises the majority of the bone pins and needles and their relative ease and low cost in manufacture suggest that they could have been made both on a large scale in workshops, but also locally by individuals copying the forms of more expensive metal and jet pins manufactured in specialist workshops (Crummy 1983, 19-20). An unfinished example (4001, 99-46, Plate III) recovered from the modern topsoil seems to indicate that bone pins were being made in small quantities on the Abbey Farm site or nearby. The possibility of manufacture being carried out on or near the site could also account for the higher occurrence of these objects in comparison to other similar published sites. Examples of bone pins and needles stained green perhaps to imitate the more expensive cast copper alloy examples are well known in the archaeological record and three bone pins (7143, 03-16; 1007, 97-45 and 5008, 01-24) and one bone needle (1007 97-40) with similar staining have been recovered from the Abbey Farm site.

The presence of hairpins and needles gives a broad indication that people associated with the site were dressing their hair in conventional styles which utilised these objects. It is suggested by Stephens (2008, 124) that in Roman antiquity all but the poorest would have had access to someone to assist with their hair so the presence of needles that indicate the need for more than one individual to sew hair together into a complex style cannot be used to indicate the specific social status of individuals occupying the site. Even those who were very poor and those who were slaves may have dressed each other’s hair enabling most in society to approximate the fashionable hairstyles of the day. There are no specific groups of bone objects in this assemblage that can be used to indicate the status of any particular individual who may have used the site.

More than half of the bone objects came from contexts associated with Building 6, mainly associated with the demolition, robbing and infilling of the area, including the two well shafts, to create a level platform in preparation of the construction of Building 6B. Although redeposited, the contexts associated with this phase of activity are interpreted as being generally derived from material associated with the occupation of Building 6A (Parfitt 2007, 265, 284) including its use as a bath house. Therefore it would not be unexpected to find a high concentration of objects such as these lost or discarded in this area of the site. Conversely, it is perhaps surprising in comparison that so few bone pins or needles were recovered from contexts associated with the Building 3 bath house.


The bone objects were initially researched and catalogued by Lee Cunningham with additional context detail and research contributed by Emma Boast. The plates were produced by Emma Boast based on original images supplied by Lee Cunningham.

The authors are grateful for comments on the text by Ges Moody and Keith Parfitt.


Allason-Jones, L., 2011, Artefacts in Roman Britain: Their Purpose and Use, CUP.

Birbeck, V., 1995, ‘Excavations on a Romano-British villa at Churchfields, Snodland, 1992-94’, Archaeologia Cantiana, 115, 71-120.

Cool, H.E.M., 1992, ‘Roman metal hairpins from Southern Britain’, The Archaeological Journal, 147, 148-82.

Crummy, N., 1983, Colchester Excavation Report 2: the Roman Small Finds from excavations in Colchester, 1971-9, Colchester Archaeological Trust Ltd.

Cunningham, L., 2005, ‘Abbey Farm at Minster, Kent. Small Finds Report. Bone Pins and Needles’, unpubl. report.

de la Bédoyère, G., 1989, The Finds of Roman Britain, B.T. Batsford Ltd, London.

Holman, D.J. and Parfitt, K., 2005, ‘The Roman Villa at Minster in Thanet. Part 2: the Iron Age, Roman and Later Coinage’, Archaeologia Cantiana, 125, 203-228.

Houliston, M., 1999, ‘Excavations at the Mount Roman villa, Maidstone, 1994’, Archaeologia Cantiana, 119, 71-172.

Johns, C., 1996, The Jewellery of Roman Britain: Celtic and Classical Traditions, Routledge, London.

Kelly, D.B., 1992, ‘The Mount Roman villa, Maidstone’, Archaeologia Cantiana, 110, 177-235.

Lyne, M., 2011, ‘The Roman Villa at Minster in Thanet. Part 8: The Pottery’, Archaeologia Cantiana, 131, 231- 275.

Moody, G.A., 2010, ‘The Roman Villa complex at Abbey Farm, Minster in Thanet. Part 7: Building 7, a Late Roman Kiln and Post-Built Structures’, Archaeologia Cantiana, 130, 315-332.

Parfitt, K., 2006, ‘The Roman Villa at Minster in Thanet. Part 3: the Corridor House, Building 4’, Archaeologia Cantiana, 126, 115-133.

Parfitt, K., 2007, ‘The Roman Villa at Minster in Thanet. Part 4: the South West Buildings 6A and 6B’, Archaeologia Cantiana, 127, 261-296.

Parfitt, K., Perkins, D., Boast, E. and Moody, G., 2008, ‘The Roman Villa at Minster in Thanet. Part 5: the Main House, Building 1’, Archaeologia Cantiana, 128, 309-334.

Parfitt, K., Boast, E. and Moody, G., 2009. ‘The Roman Villa at Minster-in-Thanet. Part 6: the Villa enclosure; Buildings 2 and 5’, Archaeologia Cantiana, 129, 333-357.

Perkins, D.R.J., 2004, ‘The Roman Villa at Minster in Thanet. Part 1: Introduction and Report on the Bath House’, Archaeologia Cantiana, 124, 25-49.

Philp, B., 1989, The House with Bacchic Murals at Dover, KARU, Dover.

Philp, B., 1996, The Roman villa site at Orpington, Kent, KARU, Dover.

Philp, B. et al, 1991, The Roman villa site at Keston, Kent. First Report (excavations 1968-78), KARU, Dover.

Philp, B. et al., 1999, The Roman villa site at Keston, Kent. Second Report (excavations 1967-90), KARU, Dover.

Stephens, J., 2008, ‘Ancient Roman Hairdressing: on (hair)pins and needles’, Journal of Roman Archaeology, 21, pp. 111-132.

Swift, E., 2003, Roman Dress Accessories, Shire Publications Ltd, Princes Risborough.


Catalogue of the Bone Objects found at Abbey Farm, Minster in Thanet

The bone objects are presented in typological order followed by context number. The context number is followed by the artefact number, e.g. 134, 98-48.

Type 1 Pins (see Crummy, 1983, 20, fig. 17)

053, 96-39: complete bone pin 114.0mm long, max. width 7.0mm. Large conical head tapers to sharply formed tip. Although several areas on the pin’s surface are pitted and badly worn, much of the texture is smooth and polished in appearance.

234, 98-48: complete bone pin 76.0mm long, max. diameter 4.0mm. Simple conical head. The surface of the pin is heavily pitted and has a fairly rough texture.

306, 01-37: incomplete pin with missing tip. 66.0mm long, max. diameter of 5mm tapering to point of fracture. Small conical head. Break displays a clear difference in colour between the exterior and interior of the pin. The exterior has an orange-brown colour whereas the interior is cream-white. Very coarse surface texture, very poor state of preservation, particularly round the blackened tip (? burnt).

5016, 01-26: complete pin 104.0mm long, maximum diameter 5mm at the head, tapering to badly preserved tip. Simple pin, with small conical head. Several areas of red and dark greyish discolouration on the pin’s surface. The surface is in very bad condition in the dark grey areas, possibly partly burnt.

Type 2 Pins (see Crummy 1983, 21, fig. 18)

837, 02-43: complete bone pin, pronounced curve along length. 130.0mm long, including the profile of the bend, max. diameter 3.5mm. Tip is damaged on one side. Small conical head crudely carved and uneven. Two U-shaped grooves. Surface is smooth with longitudinal manufacturing marks. One of the longest bone pins within the collection.

1007, 97-45: complete bone pin. 87.0mm long, max. diameter 4.0mm. Crummy Type 2 (Crummy 1983, 21, fig. 18). Width and depth of the two grooves relatively equal. A second deeper cut within the lower groove may have been an accident during manufacture. Tip has an uneven profile and may have been reworked. Pin has been stained green possibly to imitate copper-alloy objects of a similar function (Crummy 1983, 20). Surface is grainy but smooth.

3121, 98-35: incomplete pin, missing tip. 39.0mm long, max. diameter 2.5mm. Head crudely carved with irregular profile. The two grooves are poorly cut. Surface is very pitted and in poor state of preservation.

5002, 01-44: incomplete bone pin, tip missing. 102.0mm long, max. diameter 4.0mm at head tapering to 2.5mm at the break. This pin is similar to Crummy’s Type 6 bone pins, with its flattened ‘reel-like’ head, and would therefore provide a starting date of c.200 (Crummy 1983, 25, fig. 22). However, the profile of the pin’s head is closer in comparison to a Type 2 bone pin, due to the ‘reel’ and diameter of the shaft being the same size with no ‘stepping in’ to facilitate a true reel motif. Therefore allocated to Crummy Type 2. Lower groove is shallow and does not extend around full circumference of the shaft. Upper groove is wider and deeper than any of other the other bone pins within the collection. Surface has a mottled appearance with a smooth texture.

7106, 03-9: complete bone pin, 103.0mm long, max. diameter 3.0mm at head, tapering to sharply formed point. Conical head crudely carved with a single U-shaped groove of uneven depth. Surface of pin poorly preserved, dark grey discolouration and pitting in numerous places.

7127, 03-14: complete bone pin. 104.0mm long, max. diameter 3.5mm. Small, conical head with two U-shaped grooves. Grooves are irregular and vary in depth and width. Surface of the pin exhibits numerous marks and indentations and is in a poor state of preservation.

7130, 03-11: incomplete bone pin, missing tip. 57.5mm long, 3.0mm diameter. Pin does not taper and has consistent cylindrical form along its length. Head has two crudely cut grooves of uneven width and depth and an irregularly carved conical head. Surface of pin discoloured and pitted in several areas. Lower groove irregularly carved.

7131, 03-15: incomplete pin, tip missing. 55.0mm long, max. diameter 3.5mm. Small conical head with three shallow U-shaped grooves. Surface of the pin is pitted, discoloured and crudely finished.

7143, 03-16: complete bone pin, 61.0mm long, max. diameter 3.0mm. Small conical head with two deep U-shaped grooves. Pin is stained green, possibly to imitate copper/alloy metal objects of the same type (Crummy 1983, 20). Tip exhibits damage and is crudely carved; possibly reworked after breakage. Surface has a smooth texture and polished appearance.

7164, 03-3: incomplete bone pin, tip missing. 89.0mm long, diameter varies from 3.0mm to 2.5mm along the roughly cylindrical shaft. Two grooves carved under the sharply pointed conical head. Upper groove is deep with V-shaped profile, lower groove shallow and U-shaped. Lower portion of pin has rough, pitted surface and does not appear to have been subjected to the same finishing techniques evident on the upper half. However, this may simply be the result of prolonged use, poor choice of material or workmanship, quality of material, or post-depositional effects.

7164, 03-18: incomplete pin with missing tip. 51.5mm long, max. diameter 3.5mm. The small conical head is flattened at the tip. The pin has two grooves, both shallow with a U-shaped profile. Uppermost groove is not carved round the compete circumference. Surface of the pin is pitted.

7165, 03-19: complete pin. 80.0mm long, max. diameter 4.0mm. Conical head flattened at top and sides. The two grooves are very shallow and vary in depth and width. Two grooves irregularly spaced, neither fully carved round the circumference. Tip of pin has been reworked and is slightly discoloured. Surface is fairly smooth and appears polished.

7178, 03-21: incomplete bone pin, missing tip. 46.0mm long, max. diameter 4.0mm. Top of head is flattened and damaged on one side. Three U-shaped grooves, of consistent widths but varying depths. Surface of pin has grainy texture and is of a darker colour than the majority of pins excavated from Abbey Farm.

7178, 03-22: incomplete bone pin, tip missing. 60.5mm long, max. diameter 4.0mm. Conical head with two crudely carved grooves. Slight taper to shaft, surface is badly damaged in places.

7208, 03-4: broken in three joining pieces, tip missing. Pin tapers gently to missing tip. 128.0mm long. Small conical head. Two U-shaped grooves extend round complete circumference, with two possible ‘marking out’ scratches visible. Evidence for a possible third groove that was marked out but never carved. Possible wear marks visible on surface at approximately 45 degrees to the pin’s centre line. Evidence of manufacture visible on the surface of pin as a series of longitudinally flat profiles suggesting it was carved along its length, while rotating the blank, to create the desired form. Pitting and 45 degree angled marks on upper part of pin may be impressions left by clamping pin whilst carving.

7209, 03-28: complete bone pin. 91.0mm long, max. diameter 3.0mm. Small conical head is crudely carved and flat in places. Two grooves are cut at an angle to the longitudinal centre line of the pin. Top groove does not extend around complete circumference. Approx. 30.0mm from the head profile becomes wider and flatter, slightly elliptical. This corresponds with a patch of dark discolouration. Surface is relatively smooth, although there are areas of indentation and possible manufacturing marks.

7234, 04-27: incomplete bone pin, tip missing. 31.5mm long, max. width 3.0mm. Conical head and two shallow grooves. Reddish discolouration on one side of head. Surface of pin is relatively smooth with only a few indentations.

7254, 04-2: bone pin with broken tip. 49.0mm long, 3.0mm diameter. Two shallow grooves run roughly parallel round the circumference of the shaft. The head forms a simple conical shape and the shaft is cylindrical without exhibiting any evidence of a taper. The pin shows no signs of any attempt to rework the tip.

7268, 04-7: complete bone pin. 72.0mm long, max. diameter 4.0mm tapering down to 2.5mm before ending in a sharply angled point. Head incomplete. Surface of the pin has series of longitudinal, flat profiles extending round the circumference. Possibly as a result of manufacturing method employed during roughing out. Lower portion of pin has more cylindrical profile and is of slightly better finish.

7299, 04-6: complete pin. 128.0mm long. Conical head is slightly rounded with single fine groove. Crummy Type 2 (Crummy 1983, 21, fig. 18). It is possible to recognise where the carving of the groove on the head began and ended. Groove carved with a very fine tool and was drawn round the circumference of the pin in one motion. However, this action resulted in the groove being slightly higher, and at a slight angle, at the finish and does not completely match with the starting position. Surface of pin is poor and does not appear to have undergone any, but the most rudimentary, finishing processes.

Modern plough soil, 04-31: incomplete bone pin in two pieces, tip missing. Total length 51.0mm, max. width 3.0mm. Conical head is poorly preserved. A single crude incised line below the tiny conical head. Surface is in a poor condition and the material is fragile.

Type 3 Pins (see Crummy 1983, 22, fig. 19)

053, 96-47: incomplete bone pin. 64.0mm long, diameter of globular head 5.0mm-6.0mm with uneven profile. Head crudely carved. Pronounced shoulder where the head forms into the shaft with diameter of 2.5mm, increasing to a 4.5mm at the swelling on the shaft, before tapering to 3.0mm at the point of fracture. Surface is pitted although smooth and does not exhibit any obvious manufacturing marks.

4001, 99-46: incomplete bone pin, tip missing. 39.0mm long, max. diameter 6.0mm. The pin would appear to have been discarded in the process of manufacture. The head is fully formed. Heavy pitting on the remainder of the pin may be due to the clamping method employed. Shaft apparently in the process of being shaped when it broke. The faceted profile round the area of the break may be the result of the pin being reduced in diameter and carved into shape.

Bone Needles

221, 98-42: incomplete bone needle, tip missing. 92.0mm long, 4.0mm diameter. Small conical head and rectangular eye. Crummy Type 1a (Crummy 1983, 65-6, fig. 70). Eye is 12.0mm on one side, and 13.0mm on the other and 2.0mm wide. The eye is bevelled inwards with internal length of 6.5mm. The area around the eye is pitted and damaged on one side. The surface of the pin, although pitted and discoloured in places, has a smooth texture. The needle is bent slightly and tapers inwards, on one side, below the eye.

306, 01-38: incomplete needle with the tip and most of head missing. Approx. 80.0mm long, max. diameter 4.0mm. Most of the head missing, part of eye survives. Rectangular profile. Crummy Type 1a needle. Longitudinal manufacturing marks where a tool was drawn up and down the length of the pin to reduce the diameter and create the circular profile.

1007, 97-40: incomplete needle, missing tip. 33.0mm long, max. diameter 4.5mm. Rectangular eye 11.0mm long and 1.5mm wide. The ends of the eye are bevelled inwards on both sides giving an internal length of 7.5mm. Crummy Type 1a bone needle (Crummy 1983, 65-6, fig. 70). Stained green which may have been an attempt to imitate copper-alloy needles (Crummy 1983, 20).

5020, 01-8: incomplete needle, missing tip. 85.0mm long, max. diameter 5.5mm at head, tapering to 2.5mm. Much of the head is missing although part of the lower half of an eye remains. Crummy Type 1 bone needle category (Crummy 1983, 65, fig. 70).

7130, 03-12: incomplete bone needle, 53.0mm long. The top of head and tip missing. Lower part of eye present. Crummy Type 1 (Crummy 1983, 66-7, fig. 70).

7143, 03-17: incomplete bone needle, head and tip missing. 72.0mm long with slight bend in the shaft. Possible evidence of an eye. Crummy Type 1 (Crummy 1983, 65-6, fig. 70). The outside edge of the bend in the needle is cracked and splintered.

7299, 04-1: bone needle, 89.0mm long, max. diameter 5.0mm at the head, tapering to 3.0mm before finishing in a point. Figure-of-eight eye. The eye has been made by drilling two holes 2.0mm in diameter and opening them into a crude slot. The length of the eye is 4.0mm and 2.0mm-2.5mm wide. Crummy Type 1c needle (Crummy 1983, 65-6, fig. 70). The shaft swells slightly below the eye and bends approximately 50.0mm from the end of the head. Evidence of tool working around the vicinity of the eye and on the conically shaped head. Overall finish is fairly smooth and appears to be polished through wear-use.

Unknown Type

813, 02-33: incomplete bone pin, missing head. Length is 26.0mm with max. diameter of 3.0mm. Although the surface is pitted, it is fairly smooth and does not exhibit any manufacturing marks.

1022, 97-36: incomplete bone pin, missing head. 34.0mm long, 3.0mm diameter. Elliptical profile at the point of breakage. This area also displays a high degree of indentation and wear. The tip has been crudely fashioned into a point and is flat on one side.

1022, 97-41: complete bone artefact of uncertain function. 94.0mm long. The spatulate head is 5.0mm wide and slightly rounded. Dating of this artefact, on the presumption that it is a bone pin, would place this object within the first to second centuries ad. It is probable that the pitted surface on the spatulate head is the result of repeated hammering in order to produce a flattened profile. The surface nearer the tip has a smoother texture and is more polished.

5006, 01-32: incomplete bone pin, missing head. 51.5mm long, max. diameter 4.0mm. The surface is heavily scored with indentations and scratches.

5008, 01-24: incomplete pin, head missing, two joining pieces. Total length of 90.5mm, max. diameter 4.5mm. Stained green and so is likely to be early in date (Crummy 1983, 20). Rough, grainy surface texture and is poorly finished. There are also a number of indentations on the pin’s surface, although these may be due to post-depositional effects. Broken pieces show the deep penetration of the stain due to the porous quality of the bone.

5008, 01-30: incomplete pin, head missing. 72.0mm long, max. diameter 3.0mm.The surface is grainy.

7129, 03-10: incomplete pin in two pieces, head missing. 95.0mm long with slight bend. Tip is rounded and crudely formed. Surface is fairly smooth but appears grainy and displays a porous interior in cross-section.

7131, 03-13: incomplete pin, missing head. 61.0mm long, tapering gradually to a distinctive tip. There is dark greyish discolouration on the surface where the pin was broken which extends into the interior. The remaining surface is poorly finished and has a rough texture with numerous indentations.

7178, 03-23: incomplete pin, head and tip missing. 33.0mm long, 2.5mm diameter. The surface is pitted with a rough texture.

7198, 03-5: incomplete pin with head missing, tip intact. 63.0mm long. Relatively cylindrical profile, smooth and well finished surface. Faint, longitudinal marks on surface could be attributed to the method of manufacture.

7209, 03-34: incomplete bone pin, missing head. 45.0mm long, max. diameter 3.0mm. Shaft tapers gently to rounded tip. The surface is smooth and polished with no evidence of any manufacturing marks. There is a reddish discolouration on the tip.

7232, 04-20: incomplete bone pin, missing head and tip. Length is 32.0mm with a maximum diameter of 2.5mm.

7252, 04-25: incomplete pin, head missing. 44.0mm long, max. diameter 3.0mm. Surface is smooth and polished with no tooling marks or blemishes.

7269, 04-29: incomplete pin, head and tip missing. Length of fragment 25.0mm, max. diameter 2.5mm. Surface has a faceted profile, which is likely to be due to the manufacturing techniques employed, pitted in places.

TABLE 1. percentage of bone objects assigned to Crummy’s Type 1, 2, 3 PIN and Bone needle categories

Type 1 pins ( 50-200)


Type 2 pins (c.50-200)


Type 3 pins (c.200-410)


Needles (c.50-200)


The excavation of the Romano-British site at Minster-in-Thanet produced a substantial number of small finds. This article describes and discusses the bone small finds in particular bone needles and pins
Subject area