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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.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
Join us on a guided tour from Salisbury and explore hear more about the recent archaeological discoveries.
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Wiltshire’s Story in 100 Objects: Salisbury Museum 8th October – 7th January
The Salisbury museum is proud to take its turn as host for The Wiltshire’s Story in 100 Objects project, managed by the Wessex Museums Partnership and funded by Arts Council England. This project aims to shine a spotlight on the diverse and important collections
that Wiltshire’s museums collect, care for and interpret, using 100 carefully selected objects to celebrate the rich history of the county from 10,000 BC to the present day.
See hundred of carefully selected objects celebrating the rich history of the county from 10,000 BC to the present day.
Saturday, October 8, 2016 to Saturday, January 7, 2017
The Salisbury Museum
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Top ten things to do on a trip to Salisbury 2016
DISCOVER the magic of Stonehenge and the fun of an off-road safari on a trip to Salisbury Stonehenge attracts tourists from across the globe to Salisbury.
But the attractions of the city don’t start and end with the incredible prehistoric monument.
Go on safari across a chalk plain, watch polo and test your fitness on a climb up the tower of Britain’s tallest church spire.
There so much to discover on a trip to Salisbury in Wiltshire.
1. Look up to discover Salisbury Cathedral – it has the tallest spire in Britain at a whopping 123 metres tall. Inside you’ll find one of the most significant churches in the country as it houses one of the original copies of the Magna Carta. For great views, take the Tower Tour. It’s a 332 step trip to the top and the reward is stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
2. Find yourself steeped in legend on a visit to Stonehenge. It’s a magical place shrouded in history steeped in legend. If you stand on Salisbury Plain at sunrise or sunset it’s easy to understand why the ancient Britons believed Stonehenge was special. Its orientation on the rising and setting sun is one of its many outstanding features, but why it was built in this way remains a mystery. http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/stonehenge/
Join the local Stonehenge experts for a guided tour: http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/plan-your-visit/stonehenge-guided-tours-p1550943
3. Watch polo, or even sign up for a beginners’ lesson at Druids Lodge Polo, which is open all year round six days a week (closed on Mondays). From October to March polo takes place in the floodlit arena which is hidden away in a sheltered area near the main house and stables. Druids Lodge provides pony hire, polo livery and high quality tuition for all levels and is the home club for a number of school and university teams. http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/things-to-do/druids-lodge-polo-p1938583
4. Go for the ultimate race car experience – on a virtual car! Kids over 12 can have a ago and it’s a great experience to keep them happy during the half-term week. The Ultimate Race Car Experience (URCE) is an exciting brand new, purpose built facility, providing the very latest in full motion race car simulators. You’ll find it at Sarum Business Park,Lancaster Road, Old Sarum, in Salisbury. http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/things-to-do/ultimate-race-car-experience-p1827763
5. Get up close to aircraft and see restoration taking place at Boscombe Down Aviation Collection.. It’s a great thing to do when the weather’s bad as it’s mainly all indoors. The collection of aircraft, cockpits, replicas and models weapons and equipment show the story of flight and flight test in the UK. Many of the cockpits are open and you can sit in and use the controls. http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/things-to-do/boscombe-down-aviation-collection-p1416553
6. Explore the streets of Salisbury by following the Murder Mystery Walking Treasure Trail of the city. It’s a self-guided fun and imaginative way to explore the city. As you follow the route, there are clues to solve and spot on the buildings, statues and monuments you pass. A great way to keep the kids happy on a walk. http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/salisbury/things-to-do/treasure-trails-the-salisbury-murder-mystery-walking-treasure-trail-p1773823
7. Get on your bike! Cycling around is a great way to discover a new area. Hire yours at Hayball Bike Hire and peddle away. Flat, safe traffic-free trails, make Salisbury a cycle friendly city and you can even cycle all the way up to Stonehenge.http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/things-to-do/hayball-bike-hire-p1957623
8. Go carting! Take the kids and try your hand around the track at Wessex Raceway Indoor Carting centre. It’s got a unique a700-metre indoor asphalt track, free of pillars with no ramps or bridges – which allows ALL our adult karts to reach a maximum speed of over 50 miles per hour! http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/things-to-do/wessex-raceway-indoor-karting-p547143
9. Learn how to juggle at the Discovery Day Circus Workshop at Salisbury Museum over half-term on February 16. Experts will be on hand to teach this top skill at a drop-in session from 10am-1.30pm. http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/whats-on/discovery-day-circus-workshop-p1953053
10. Go off road and on safari with Salisbury Plain Safaris for an exciting trip to discover wildlife and local history. Go on tour in a luxury Land Rover Defender 110 that takes groups of up to six. Tours include a refreshment break and chances to get out and explore areas and tracks to parts of the Plain that are simply not accessible to cars and buses.
Spectacular views of Europe’s largest chalk downland and the UK’s largest military training area. http://www..visitwiltshire.co.uk/things-to-do/salisbury-plain-safaris-p1960783
By Anne Gorringe (Daily Express)
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