Well, it’s Easter, and I have the chocolate to prove it. And as a nice eastery extra, this week’s hot online topic is Roman bunnies (I feel a ‘hot cross bunny’ joke coming on…).
The press has been reporting that the earliest known bunny remains in Britain have been found, at Fishbourne Roman Palace, and dated to the first century AD. I’m afraid I’ve been rather disappointed in the bunny-based headlines. The Guardian went with ‘Ben-Fur’, which got a round of applause from me, and several news outlets opted for the inevitable and wildly anachronistic ‘Easter Bunny’ references; but beyond that the coverage has been distinctly bland. I suppose they just don’t think it’s bunny. I mean funny. Or do I mean punny? Oh yes, I could run with this for days…
The discovery in itself is not revolutionary. The evidence we’ve had for a long time suggests that rabbits were introduced to Britain by the Normans, not before, and this newly analysed bunny bone doesn’t actually change that, since it seems like this particular rogue bunny may have been an exotic pet rather than the start of a Bunny Invasion of Britain. It’s a nice new piece of information about Roman pets, but it doesn’t do anything dramatic to rewrite the textbooks.
The problem is that the textbooks already told us that the Romans brought rabbits to Britain: and that’s why there’s been lots of confusion online this week.
As Neville Morley explains in his blog post, people simply tended to assume that the Romans brought rabbits, in one of those ‘What did the Romans do for us?’ assumptions, and rabbits became part of the standard list of things that the Romans introduced to Britain, along with under-floor heating and fish sauce. I remember mention of rabbits from the textbooks on Roman Britain that I studied at school. At some point, however, scholars realised that there wasn’t any actual evidence for Roman bunnies in Britain, and came to attribute the introduction of rabbits to the Normans. But the message never really got through to the wider world, which has been blithely assuming the existence of Romano-British bunnies all this time.
Consequently, for many people this is a non-story; but it’s exposed yet another one of those ‘How do we know what we know?’ issues, which always makes me happy. It also highlights the gulf between scholarship and popular ‘knowledge’, making a strong case for the value of outreach and better communication. But most importantly, it’s a story that combines Romans and bunnies at Easter. Life doesn’t get much better than that.
Hope you all have a lovely Easter weekend. Don’t eat too much chocolate – it’s not good for you. Send it to me and I’ll dispose of it for you… 😉
This week’s online news and views from the Classics world
Simon Cowell haunted by Antinous – The Sun
Archaeology and #MeToo controversy – The Scientist
Beyonce and the misuse of the Greek alphabet – Antiquipop
Orestes in Mosul – The New York Times
Revamping Euripides – City Pulse
Socrates predicting Trump – Newsweek
Making ‘Life of Brian’ – The Guardian
Comment and opinion
What’s the point of studying Classics? – Sententiae Antiquae
Classics and Biblical Studies – Society for Classical Studies
Roman shoes – Histecho
A classical advice column – Eidolon
Thucydides and Greek cremation – Cosmos
Names in early Rome – The Historian’s Hut
Hermes and Odysseus – Kosmos Society
Homer and modern technology – National Review
Ancient Greece for kids – Michael Scott
New OU ‘schools and outreach’ page – OU FASS
See ‘Brick to the Past’ in Newcastle – Brick to the Past
Podcasts, video and other media
Rome’s lost epics – Ancient Greece Declassified
Caesar in Britannia and Germania – Kings and Generals