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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.


Cauldron showing scale pans [Photo copyright Portable Antiquities Scheme]

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. They


Some of the flower heads from the hoard [Photo Steven Baker at Historic England – their copyright]

believe 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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Anglo-Saxon cemetery teeming with ‘fascinating’ objects is unearthed near Stonehenge for the second time in a month.

  • The 1,300-year-old cemetery was found on land marked for development 
  • Cemetery of 55 graves dates to the late 7th and early 8th century AD
  • The majority of the items found in graves were small iron knives 
  • Combs, pins made of bone, beads and pierced coins were also found

Salisbury Plain may be best known for Stonehenge, but the chalk plateau has revealed other, more hidden secrets over the past month.

In April an Anglo Saxon cemetery of around 150 graves holding beautiful grave goods was unearthed in Bulford, Wiltshire.


The 1,300-year-old Anglo-Saxon cemetery was discovered on land marked for a £70 ($102) million housing development for army families. The cemetery of about 55 graves (one pictured) dates back to the late 7th and early 8th century AD

And now, another cemetery has been discovered with 55 graves, just 7 miles (11km) down the road in the village of Tidworth.

The 1,300-year-old Anglo-Saxon cemetery was discovered on land marked for a £70 ($102) million housing development for army families.

The cemetery of 55 graves dates back to the late 7th and early 8th century AD.

Most of the the burials contained personal effects or significant items.

The majority of the items were small iron knives, although other finds included combs, pins made of bone, beads and pierced coins thought to form necklaces. There were also several spearheads.

The land, in Tidworth, Wiltshire, is part of a new housing development to build 322 new homes for Army families.

Read the full story in the Daily Mail

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The Anglo Saxon cemetery near Stonehenge: Graves reveal a curious ‘work box’ and ‘fertility’ shells at a site that may have been used for 5,000 years

  • Around 150 Anglo Saxon graves found in the village of Bulford, Wiltshire
  • Grave goods include a ‘work box’, shells a spear tip and intricate comb
  • Nearby site is home to Neolithic chalk goods and carefully arranged bones
  • Army site may have been of spiritual significance 5,000 years ago

Salisbury Plain may be best known for Stonehenge, but the chalk plateau hides other secrets too.

Archaeologists have unearthed an Anglo Saxon cemetery of about 150 graves holding beautiful grave goods, including an intricate comb, jewellery, a ‘sewing box’ and intriguing shells in the village of Bulford, Wiltshire.


Archaeologists have unearthed an Anglo Saxon cemetery of about 150 graves holding beautiful grave goods, including an intricate comb, jewellery, a ‘sewing box’ and intriguing shells in the village of Bulford. This grave of a woman contains a shell and work box (just seen on the right of her spine and shoulder)

There are also indications the site has been of spiritual significance for 5,000 years with collections of Neolithic goods suggesting it may also have been an important burial site for Stone Age man.

Experts at Wessex Archaeology excavated the site, earmarked for 227 new Army family homes. It is around four miles from the famous Stonehenge circle.

Investigations revealed about 150 graves from the mid-Anglo-Saxon period in England, with one grave dated to between AD 660 and 780.

It held the remains of an Anglo Saxon woman who died in her mid to late 20s and was laid to rest with two boxes and a cowrie shell.

Simon Cleggett of Wessex Archaeology told MailOnline the grave contained a copper alloy ‘work box’ that may have been used as a little sewing box, because pins have been found in similar cylindrical boxes at other sites.

‘But they might be amuletic [served as a lucky charm] – on some occasions they might contain a piece of bone from a saint or a piece of cloth’ he explained, because at the time Christian influences were spreading across the largely pagan population.

The small cylindrical boxes have been found in tens of Anglo Saxon graves as far north as Northumberland and south as the Thames Valley, according to a study by Catherine Hills of the University of Cambridge.

‘Most have some indication that they could be suspended – they have attachment loops and/or chains,’ she wrote.

The work boxes may have been suspended from a woman’s girdle, but then again, they may have been too fragile and unwieldy and could have been carried in a bag, for example.

The box in the grave was found placed next to the woman’s head, which is relatively unusual as it was more normal for them to be buried by the wearer’s legs, based upon others unearthed.

The boxes have largely only been found in the graves of Anglo Saxon women, as have shells.

Two cowrie shells, possibly from as far away as the Red Sea or India, were also found at the site. Mr Cleggett said they may have come from Cyprus, Egypt, Syria or even India.

‘They are almost always buried with women and children,’ he said, explaining they may have symbolised fertility.

Because of the shells’ origins, they shed light on trade links at the time, stretching across the Mediterranean sea and beyond.

One large shell was found in the woman’s grave along with the work box, while another – buried with a child – has a hole in it, meaning it could have been used as a pendant.

Read the full story and see the image gallery on the Daily Mail website

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