It is but rarely that we light upon any trace of those articles of furniture which must have been in daily use in every Romano-British home. The purpose of this article is to call attention to a series of objects which contribute something to our scanty knowledge of this subject, namely the carved fragments of Kimmeridge shale occasionally found during the excavation of Romano-British sites. Of these no less than seven are on view in the Dorchester Museum. All were found at or near Dorchester, and there seems no reason to doubt that they were made locally, as a shale industry is known to have existed in Dorset since Neolithic times.
The best known piece is probably the one discovered at Colliton Park, Dorchester, in a rubbish pit 16 feet deep, lying beneath the hypocaust of one of the houses of the Roman town of Durnovaria (PLATE I, I) . It consists of the leg of a piece of furniture with a tenon top made to fit into a mortise in some flat surface. The upper part of the leg is carved to represent an animal’s head with an open mouth and a lolling tongue, the latter being extended in an unrealistic manner to join the leg, which swells out to meet it. Below the animal’s head the leg is cut away in a semi-circle at the back and shows in front a fluted band which may perhaps be a reminiscence of some form of foliate ornamentation. Behind the animal’s head is a small notch. The leg itself terminates in a claw foot. Part of another leg of this type, a little smaller in size, was found on the villa site at Frampton near Dorchester (PLATE I, 2). This is carved with a head resembling that on the Colliton Park leg, but here a space has been hollowed out between the elongated tongue and the animal’s neck, and the band of fluted ornamentation is missing. A third example was discovered during the excavation of the villa at Preston, near Weymouth (PLATE 1, 3) . Of this fragment only the left-hand side is intact, the right-hand side having split away in an almost straight line. The head survives, but the tenon has been broken off, and most of the animal’s tongue has disappeared. On the fragment of a fourth leg which comes from South Street, Dorchester, the extended tongue survives, although the carved head itself has unfortunately been destroyed. The lower parts of two legs ending in claw feet were also found in South Street, and another foot of the same type was recovered from the Roman level at Maiden Castle .