Farmer’s field yields its 2,000-year-old secret

Close-up of the decorated bronze jug handle from the Whitchurch excavation, near Aylesbury PNL-151202-140412001
Close-up of the decorated bronze jug handle from the Whitchurch excavation, near Aylesbury PNL-151202-140412001

The remains of a 2,000-year-old Roman burial casket discovered near Whitchurch are now on display at Bucks County Museum after a metal detectorist made the chance find.

The discovery included the remains of a 2nd century cremation casket, bronze and glass ornaments, pottery and food and drink offerings.

Close-up of the intaglio from the Whitchurch excavation PNL-151202-140433001

Close-up of the intaglio from the Whitchurch excavation PNL-151202-140433001

The burial was found by John Steele during an event run by Weekend Wanderers, a Hampshire-based detecting group, in October last year, and passed onto the archaeological officer at Bucks County Council, Eliza Alqassar.

She said: “The significance of the find soon became apparent when bronze and iron objects, glassware and high-status Roman pottery all started to be uncovered together.

“It looked like a Roman burial assemblage so we had to make sure it was properly recorded and carefully excavated.

“The beautiful bronze flagon handle with its decorated scene was one of the last items to be lifted; at that point we knew this was a special discovery.”

Samian cup reconstructed from the Whitchurch excavation, near Aylesbury PNL-151202-140423001

Samian cup reconstructed from the Whitchurch excavation, near Aylesbury PNL-151202-140423001

The excavation revealed a Roman (late 2nd century AD) wooden casket burial, measuring 1.1m long and 0.7m wide, with a rich assemblage of grave goods including two Samian ware cups, two Samian ware dishes, a pottery flagon or dish, two glass vessels, a bronze jug with decorated handle, a bronze patera (dish), an iron lamp, two unidentified lead objects and an urned cremation burial.

The remains of the wooden casket were identified as an outline of iron nails and ‘organic deposits’ within the burial pit.

The urned cremation was excavated within a special laboratory in Oxford and the remains are still being analysed, but initial conclusions suggest it was an adult of high status.

A red jasper intaglio ring depicting the Roman goddess Minerva and the god Mercury was found among the remains, along with hobnails from shoes.

The burial is of particular interest and importance because it is rare to find one with multiple metal, glass and ceramic vessels.

Iron lamps, or open lamp holders, are particularly rare in late 2nd century AD burials.

Similarly, burials with bronze vessels of such quality are also scarce. Comparable casket burials include one from Wendover and another from Thornborough.

The finds have been cleaned and analysed by specialists at Oxford Archaeology, a report has been written about the discovery and the landowners and finder donated the finds to Buckinghamshire Museum.

The county museum will be fundraising later in the year to gather the £3,000 needed to get all the finds, especially the fragile bronze flagon, properly conserved to enable further study and display.

Lesley Clarke OBE, Bucks County Council’s cabinet member for planning and environment, said: “This is a fascinating discovery. It’s an excellent example of how our archeological team is carefully looking after the county’s heritage for the benefit of future generations.”

The Weekend Wanderers also recently uncovered a nationally-important of Roman coins in Lenborough.