Major archaological find in the Vale of Pewsey, Wiltshire: metal detectors’ Roman hoard gives up rare evidence about ancient plant life
Mick Rae, Rob Abbott and their friend Dave were detecting in a field in the Vale of Pewsey in October 2014 when they came across a hoard of eight metal vessels – including a cauldron and four small pans from weighing scales.The vessels were buried in a pit beneath about 350 millimetres of top-soil and, as one would expect, were in varying states of disrepair.
The find was quickly identified as Roman. The discovery was reported to Richard Henry who is Wiltshire’s Finds Liaison Officer. His role is to record archaeological finds made by members of the public – mostly metal detectorists, but also by people who are just walking in fields or digging in their back garden.
Most of the cauldron survives and a large copper-alloy vessel had been placed upside down into the cauldron – forming a sealed cavity. What was inside?
There were no gold necklaces or bronze coins in this hoard of Roman vessels. But what was found inside is worth its weight in gold to archaeologists – remains of plants preserved by the copper vessels’ own micro-environment.
Among the remains of the dried plants were heads of common knapweed and pieces of bracken. They also found seeds of cowslips or primrose, milkwort, lesser hawkbit, sedges, clovers, vetches and sweet violet, fat hen, knot grass, black bindweed, buttercup and corn spurrey. They may be what is left of some careful packing.
Remains of the flowers and bracken are now on display at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. Organic matter never survives if buried unprotected in the Pewsey Vale’s greensand – so to find dried plants and pollen this old provided the scientists with many opportunities for research.
The find did not count as ‘treasure’ so remains the property of the finder and the landowner. The detectorists donated the organic material to Wiltshire Museum – the scientific processes used to test it with would ultimately destroy it.
Richard Henry led the quest to discover more about the find. He brought in a team to excavate the site of the discovery, led by David Roberts of Historic England with the Assistant County Archaeologist, members of the Wiltshire Archaeology Field Group and the finders. They found shards of domestic and imported ceramics and ceramic building materials.
The project to analyse the plant remains has been led by the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme and supported by Historic England, Southampton University, the Association for Roman Archaeology and Wiltshire Museum.
The scientists discovered that the plants were dated between AD380 and AD550. Theybelieve the hoard was hidden sometime in the fifth and sixth centuries – during the early Anglo-Saxon period. And interestingly, the find was within striking distance of the major Anglo-Saxon cemetery discovered in Blacknall Field – finds from which can be seen in the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes.
But if the age in years is a little speculative, the state of the plants reveals pretty accurately that they were picked and packed away in late summer soon after the harvest – late August to early October.
When their own kind of Brexit happened, the Romans obviously left much more behind them than roads, mosaics, villas and hoards of coins.
Wiltshire Museum’s Director, David Dawson, is thrilled they can display this important material: “Richard Henry has led this remarkable partnership project, drawing specialists from across the country to piece together the fascinating story of the burial of Roman bronze cauldrons that took place on a summer’s day 1,500 years ago.”
Richard Henry said “Such discoveries should be left in situ to allow full archaeological study of the find and its context. The finders did not clean or disturb the vessels which has allowed us to undertake detailed further research. If the vessels had been cleaned none of this research would have been possible.”
It is very tempting to imagine how this hoard came to be made so long after the vessels were first used. It is as though someone today decided to bury the Victorian kitchen pots Aunt Bertha inherited – and packed them with plants.
Why they were buried remains a matter for speculation. Does the careful packing of the metal vessels mean they were the antiques of their day? Were they, so long after the Roman era, still valued as useful cooking pots? Or was this some kind of votive offering?
Marlborough.News understands that metal detector Dave aims to have the vessels professionally conserved.
Ruth Pelling and Stacey Adams will be talking about their research on the flowers and other recent Wiltshire discoveries at the Archaeology in Wiltshire Conference on April 1 in Devizes. Their talk is titled “Bake Off and Brewing in Roman and Early Saxon Wiltshire: recent archaeobotanical finds.”
Article written by Written by Tony Millett and published on the Marlborough News Online Website
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Here’s another great story from the new British Archaeology, which went live online today (February 8). Conservation of a hoard of late Roman bronze pots and pans found near Pewsey, Wiltshire, has revealed they were packed with plants, among which were bracken and knapweed flowers.
Eight mostly plain vessels had been carefully nested inside each other. There’s a bit of tinning on some of them, so I coloured the diagram silver rather than a reddish bronze.
The plants gave a rare radiocarbon date for a hoard, of AD380–550, placing its burial most probably in post-Roman (after AD410) or Anglo-Saxon times. It may be contemporary with a nearby early Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Blacknall Field.
Richard Henry, Wiltshire finds liaison officer, and Rachel Foster, assistant county archaeologist, excavating the hoard site in 2014. Photo Past Landscapes Project
Three men and a woman with metal detectors made the discovery in late 2014 (Tony…
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Sarsen boulders lie scattered in substantial “drifts” across the landscape of the Marlborough Downs near Avebury.
By contrast, close to Stonehenge there are almost none. This is one of the reasons why most archaeologists believe that the large sarsens for the monument were not locally sourced.
There are, however, a few examples of substantial sarsens dotted about Salisbury Plain within a couple of miles of Stonehenge. And there are tantalising hints that others used to exist.
The most obvious, and easily accessible, is the Cuckoo Stone. This stone is about 2m long by 1.5m wide by 1.5m thick and lies in the field immediately west of Woodhenge.
The Stonehenge Riverside Project excavated around the Cuckoo Stone in 2007 and discovered that the stone once had been set upright right next to the hollow in which it had originally formed.
Close by were two neolithic pits containing pottery worked…
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The 9th annual Current Archaeology Awards celebrate the projects and publications that made the pages of CA this year, and the people judged to have made outstanding contributions to archaeology. Research Project of the Year category includes;
Rethinking Durrington Walls: a long-lost monument revealed
(CA 320 – Stonehenge Riverside Project / Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project / National Trust)
Ongoing research at Durrington Walls has revealed a massive and previously unknown palisaded enclosure beneath the banks of the famous Neolithic henge. It is a discovery that is set to rewrite the site’s history.
Voting closes 6 February 2017
Durrington Walls, two miles from Stonehenge, is named after the Neolithic henge that calls the location home. But with ongoing research revealing a massive and previously unknown monument hidden beneath its banks, the site’s history is set to be rewritten. Carly Hilts spoke to Vince Gaffney, Mike Parker Pearson, and Nick Snashall to find out more.
Around 4,500 years ago, hundreds of people gathered two miles from Stonehenge to build another massive monument, at a location known to us as Durrington Walls. The spot they had selected lay within sight of the celebrated stones, and had previously been home to a village that may have housed the community that erected them (CA 208). But now the short-lived settlement lay abandoned, and – perhaps motivated by a desire to commemorate its presence – the new group of builders punched through the living surfaces and midden material of their predecessors to complete their work.
Their efforts were not focused on raising the imposing earthworks of the henge that gives the site its modern name, however. Instead, their labour created a previously unknown earlier phase whose full extent is only now being revealed by ongoing research: as many as 300 huge wooden posts, evenly spaced 5m apart in a ring almost 450m across. It would have been an arresting sight, yet within a maximum of 50 years the monument had been decommissioned once more, its posts removed and their sockets filled in, before being covered over by the henge that we see today. All trace of the post circle would lie hidden beneath the banks of its successor for millennia – until it was brought to light once more by a series of excavations and the largest geophysical survey of its kind. Why did the site undergo such a sudden change in design, and what can we learn about the rise and fall of a long-lost monument? As analysis continues, intriguing clues are beginning to emerge.~
Full story here
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