This morning was a little quieter than usual. Dave couldn’t make it until later as he was working and Katie was having a much needed day off as her partner’s children were going to be with them. So when I arrived it was just me and Alan. The morning light was beautifully clear and I had the perfect opportunity to take some shots of the site before we began working.
No sooner had we started when a couple from the village and their children came out to have a look. The kids were fascinated and it was easy to see why. Quite often it is difficult to interest younger children in archaeological excavations as the remains uncovered can be difficult to see, but there was no mistaking a big pot filled with coins sticking out of the ground!
The excavation was proceeding in much the same way as the day before. As we began to work out way further into the pot we noticed that the colour and condition of the coins was changing. Water began to fill the trench and we realised that it was leaking out from the hoard, the base of which had become permanently waterlogged. There was less mud in these lower levels, but the coins were more corroded and had turned an unusual orange colour; presumably the product of staining from the surrounding iron-rich clay.
Before too long more people began to arrive on site. The landowners continued to appear for regular updates. Their sister and brother-in-law, Mr and Mrs Blackman, had also visited periodically over the course of the excavation, but today Mrs Blackman, a local teacher, had a video camera and was keen to take some footage to show her pupils who were studying the Romans. What better way to get them interested we agreed than to show them evidence of Romans living on their doorstep! At midday Alan’s partner Jo, his son, and their two friends (also archaeologists) arrived with a picnic. They all stayed on into the afternoon and offered their help, adding to the growing crowd.
Excitement had been building as we neared the bottom of the vessel. The size of the hoard naturally depended on that of the pot and we had no way of knowing its shape until we had removed all the coins. Suddenly, however, the sides began to narrow rapidly and we realised that we had finally reached the bottom. I was so excited that I sent a picture to Katie, who I had been keeping updated all day. She promptly decided that she couldn’t miss out any longer and would come out with her partner and the kids. We were surprised at the small diameter of the vessel’s base and this added another piece to the puzzle - it was unlikely that it would have stood up unsupported when fully filled and so was probably buried to a certain point, before then being filled with coins.
Having everyone on site really added to the sense that an exciting event was occurring. It was very easy to imagine something rather similar happening long ago on the day that the hoard had been buried. The size of the hoard meant that it would have been difficult for one or two people to bury it alone. It also made it difficult to imagine anyone burying it in a rush or intending to come back at a later date to retrieve it. In fact the only way to get the coins back out would be to stick your arm into the narrow neck of the pot and scoop handfuls out; not exactly practical! So maybe it wasn’t a family’s savings buried quickly in troubled times, but instead it’s burial had been a ritual event with a community travelling to the spot together and sitting around joking, laughing and having picnics, with kids running around chasing each other, just as we had been doing today!
The final stage was the removal of the rest of the pot once we had cleaned and photographed the inside. It came away fairly easily, leaving a perfect imprint within the hole. The organic packing material was clearly visible around the edges of this and Alan decided to dig a little deeper just to confirm that it wasn’t in fact the remains of an ancient tree root that had grown around the pot. It didn’t appear to be so and we made sure we had plenty of samples that could be analysed at a later date to find out what kind of plant/s it was.
Filling in the hole felt like both a momentous event and a slight anticlimax. We had removed a hoard that had sat in the spot since the Roman period and which we already knew was going to add a huge amount to our understanding of this period. We had learnt an enormous ourselves amount along the way, both about this period in history and also about how to excavate such a hoard whilst preserving the evidence that it and its surrounding context contained. It had been an amazing three days of learning for everyone involved. And we were extremely pleased to have been able to share the experience with Dave and Mr and Mrs Sheppard and their family, who all contributed their considerable knowledge of the surrounding area. As the soil was shovelled back into the hole Dave threw in a couple of coins (foreign ones I think – just to confuse them!) – an instinctive reaction to mark the occasion, which we all understood and shared.
The coins and pottery were loaded into my tiny car, which almost collapsed under the sheer weight (the remainder of 67 bags of coins and several trays of pottery and organic samples)! I couldn’t tell everyone exactly what was going to happen next, but I promised to keep them all updated and thanked them all for their considerable contributions to a somewhat unexpected series of events and we all said goodbye for the time being.