I was up bright and early to drive to the site this morning. We were off to a good start already – the sun was shining – meaning no worries about digging holes in the rain!
When I finally reached the field, Dave the finder introduced himself and his grandson Aaron, before describing his finds to me while we waited for Katie Hinds (the Wiltshire FLO) and Alan Graham (an independent archaeologist employed to excavate whatever we found) to arrive. He showed me the dispersed hoard of fourth century siliquae that he had found at the entrance to the field and then the pieces of pottery and loose coins that he had taken from the site of other potential hoard some distance away. The bits of pottery were odd because they seemed to be from the base of a vessel. What was going on? Were they from a pot that had been buried upside down? Or maybe there was a smaller pot upturned in the mouth of a lager one? When everyone was there we walked over to the site further inside the field to investigate further.
Dave began by revealing the carefully disguised (and amazingly small) hole that he had initially dug. We couldn’t help commending him once again for his restraint. It must have been so difficult to resist digging a deeper hole to investigate further! Luckily Alan immediately formulated a plan… he would dig a 1.5m trench around Dave’s original hole, lifting off the topsoil to begin with and take things from there depending on what we found.
The turf and some of the topsoil had been removed and we stool around the trench gawping at something sticking out in the middle. Katie and I had immediately recognised it as a Roman Black Burnished Ware dish turned upside down, as this is a type of pottery that we often record. Its centre was cracked and had caved in – just inside a few tantalising bronze coins could be spotted. In a rough circle around the dish was the outline of the top of a small pit, dug by whoever buried it originally.
Was that it? Dave would still have done the right thing asking for us to excavate the site to be on the safe side, but it would have been such as shame if this was all that had turned up as a result. However, Alan began to inspect the dish more closely and called us to have a look. It appeared that the dish was sitting within something wider – the rim of a much bigger vessel.
Alan got back to work immediately, following the line of the original pit, whilst the rest of us stood around speculating about what we might be dealing with (and wishing we could help more, if only the trench wasn’t so small…!). Did this mean that we might be dealing with a pot filled with coins, or maybe with coins only on the top? Perhaps the pot had something else inside and the coins had been placed above it as an offering before slipping inside when the top was cracked? The possibilities were endless.
Soon the shoulders of the pot began to emerge and for the first time we had some idea of what we were dealing with. The pot was getting bigger by the second as we dug further. In fact it was even bigger than we had initially guessed, as the neck was fairly narrow. If it was filled with coins then it could potentially be an enormous hoard.
With this thought in my mind I rang Bob Croft, the County Archaeologist, and Stephen Minnitt, the Head of Museums (who had dealt with coin hoards from the county before) to ask for advice, while Katie rang the head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, Roger Bland, and our Roman Coins Advisor, Sam Moorhead. Everyone reacted with a mixture of shock and excitement and the views on what we should do were varied. Should we try to block lift the whole thing? A risky and expensive operation. Or should we excavate the coins in the ground?
Bob soon turned up on site after driving over specially and after lots of discussions and advice from Sam, Roger and Steve over the phone, we decided that excavation in situ would be preferable as we needed to get it out asap (to avoid leaving the site at risk). The main benefit of block lifting would have been the opportunity to carefully excavate the hoard in a lab to see if the coins we put in the pot in one go or in phases. Baring this in mind, we decided to half-section the pot and take the coins out in layers, to see if we could still achieve this.
Meanwhile, the landowner, Geoff, had arrived on site and we were able to explain why there was a big hole in the middle of his field! He was extremely interested and more than happy for us to continue with our plans. So with everyone on board we decided to begin this process the following day. Dave and Aaron kindly volunteered to camp out and protect the site overnight. A huge help as it meant we didn’t need to worry about security! And the rest of us went home to get some rest before another early start the next day…