On the morning of Sunday September 20th 2009 at the Weekend Wanderers Summer rally at West Hanney in Oxfordshire, Chris Bayston from Sherburn in Elmet made this superb discovery using his Minelab Explorer.

Chris Bayston

Paula spotted this tiny fragment that at the time looked like a missing part of the brooch so it was bagged up just in case.

Saxon Grave

Two hours into day two of the West Hanney rally and Chris Bayston had reached a remote part of the rally site. He had headed for rising ground and found his instincts proved to be correct as his Minelab Explorer indicated a good target at a depth of about 14 inches. Even though excavating the large target in the loose plough soil would be easy, Chris as an experienced detectorist took the usual care by placing his spade back from the target to avoid damaging the unknown object.

Unearthing the strange mud encased object, Chris was not quite sure at first what it he had discovered. This became apparent with a closer look and I am sure he must have been quite astounded when he recognized red gems gleaming through the earthy disc. Realizing that this could be something special, he careful examined the find spot again.

Fragments of red/brown material in the side of the hole looked like pottery but amazingly a closer inspection indicated molars and part of the lower jaw. Full credit must go to Chris who on realizing that he had unearthed a skull immediately stopped digging and contacted the rally organizers. 

Peter Welch was in the marquee looking at the finds in the display cases when he got the call that a skull and brooch had been dug up. Luckily, FLO for Oxfordshire & Berkshire Anni Byard was close at hand who hurriedly crammed her excavating & recording tools into the WW truck and without delay headed up the long dusty track looking out for a distant gathering of people.

Anni and Paula who were recording finds earlier were now on site and on seeing the garnet & gold encrusted brooch easily surmised that this was not a modern grave. The local police had to be informed who cordoned off an area around the grave site. At this point it was not known if this was a treasure case and further finds relating to the grave had to be protected so excavating the grave would now begin on Monday.


From the left, Paula, Anni & John enthusiastically shoveling loose soil away from the grave.

 Tiny dislodged garnets & gold inlay must still remain in the topsoil nearest to the find spot so this was bagged up for washing and sieving.

Perhaps these lumps of soil contain beads or parts of the brooch but each has been placed on a numbered bag relating where they originated.

 A rare sight, Chris without his hat! Digging is hard work but worth it as more parts of the brooch are recovered from the spoil heap.

 BBC Oxford filming whilst decisions are made on how to proceed. An exhumation license has to be applied for before any deeper excavation work on the grave can take place.

Paula studies the fragments of skull and plans how the next stage of the excavation will commence. Anni has gone off to Oxford to try and obtain an exhumation license but as it turns out, this will take some time.

The dig is now on hold until Anni return from Oxford with an exhumation license and equipment for lifting the skeleton. There is not much that can be done until Monday meanwhile we had a visit from the landowners..

Landowners Alan and David Cottrell with their father Jim aged 82 come to see what all the fuss is about. Earlier that day, Jim had been sitting in his tractor rolling the field and was amazed that the land he had been farming all his life had a skeleton hidden away just below the surface.


The hole has been lightly filled in with soil which John and Paula are now clearing away in preparation for the dig.

‘When I think of how many times I've been up and down this field subsoiling & ploughing, it's a miracle that only the front of the skull has been lost’ remarked Alan Cottrell who was delighted by the find.

This piece of skull fragment had been dragged by the plough away from the grave.

Paula examines a fragment spotted by Chris.

Meanwhile, Malcolm Jubb lends his handy gazebo keeping off the cold morning breeze. Anni is now back on site and the dig is about to commence.

Paula, Anni & John have volunteered their time  to excavation the Saxon skeleton.

Jaw bone

Part of the left arm has been partially revealed. It is likely that the brooch was worn on the left shoulder.

TOP LEFT: The rib cage looks slightly damaged by the weight of tractors. BOTTOM LEFT: Part of the backbone is revealed

Large non ferrous object.

You can now see most of the skeleton and it was now time for Chris to check for further metallic finds.  The search head of his Minelab Explorer has pinpointed a large non ferrous object reading a depth of two inches between the shin bones.

Time for a nap! John at 5ft 8 inches, indicates how tall the person in the grave was.

 Got him! Patience has finally paid off so with John perfectly placed, Anni  wildly celebrates in a particularly sinister fashion and cries out for her shovel.

 The subsoil fill on the left may have been backfilled at the time of burial. The grave cut on the right of the grave is proving difficult to locate and is being extended.

Everyone watching the excavation were watching with great anticipation as Anni picks around the mystery non ferrous object that was placed between the leg.

Something has caught her interest and closer examination shows something unexpected...

... meanwhile this fragment of bone looks like it is not part of this skeleton. At first it seemed there is a real possibility that a second grave is close by but it was just the missing left patella or knee cap that had slid away from the knee joint.

The face of the skull has only just been touched by a plough share. It is amazing that the rest of the skeleton remained intact as the grave was so shallow.

The lower left eye socket.

The grave seems too wide for a single person. It seems there is more to this grave than meets the eye.

Returning to the mystery object that Anni had spotted earlier, a small rim of a glass vessel.


The weather had been ideal for the excavation which was now on day three. Apart from the hands and feet, most of  the skeleton had been unearthed but there were still questions to be resolved. What was the metal object between the leg bones that Chris had located? Why was the grave cut so wide on the right and are there more graves nearby?

An early start on Wednesday morning partly answered one of these questions. Finds Liaison officer Anni Byard trowels off the sticky soil from the extended trench. People watching her dig gasped as what appeared to be the top of a second smaller skull down by the right leg.

With the possibility of a second burial, perhaps that of a child, digging carefully continued..

...and revealed this. The supposed child's skull was in fact the side of a medium sized earthenware pot. This picture below is of a rim of a second earthenware pot.

Anni and Paula taking a closer look at the grave goods. Both earthenware pots were carefully placed by on the outside of the right lower leg. The larger of the two is leaning away slightly whilst the smaller is on its side presumably displaced at the time of burial during backfilling.

It appears that the iron item may be two knives or daggers crossed over. The pot had been positioned on top of the flat blades which seem to continue under the leg bone.

The skeleton was lifted on Thursday and removed for further work and the grave has now been filled in. During the following Saturday a geophysical survey of that part of the field was undertaken to see if other graves were could be identified and we are waiting to hear the results.

The non ferrous metal object or objects hidden between the legs is gradually emerging. Although giving a good non ferrous reading on different detectors, what is being revealed looks made of iron.

This latest update was received in an e-mail from Anni Byard on 29 October 2009

‘We didn't find any other grave goods and the iron blades may be one long blade that has been snapped in two. It is going to be looked at by an expert here at MRC and hopefully X- rayed. The contents of the pots will be sampled and hopefully analyzed to see if there are any organic residues remaining and Paula will produce a report on the skeleton. The BM has kindly donated £500 towards costs but it is an expensive process. The brooch is making its way to the BM for consideration under the Treasure Act while the other grave goods (which would also be Treasure if the brooch is) are remaining at MRC. Hopefully the skeleton will be re-interred close to where she originally lay, with the consent of the landowner and relevant statuary bodies. The Ministry of Justice license requests that this be done within 2 years. It will probably be at least another 6 months until I can start writing the report once all the analysis has been done on the skeleton and grave goods / soils etc so it will be a while yet. Obviously I'll provide you with a copy of the report!

Anni Byard is the Finds Liaison Officer for Berkshire & Oxfordshire

This object turned out to be a loom weight however on further examination this proved to be made of either stone or baked clay.