The club had a return to Wellwick Farm near Wendover in the summer of 2000 as many Roman coins, rings and brooches had been unearthed on previous years by the club.
The practice of minimum tillage saw diminishing returns so the question was should we keep going back to the same old farm? Martin and his son Adam Parker thought it worth another try and turned up to the dig but as the day progressed, signals proved to be rather sparse except for one or two Roman coins kept them going.
It was one of those 'iffy' deep signals that caught Martin's attention. Not convinced that the deep signal was anything much, he wearily walked away from it in search of a more positive target.
Wisely though, he turned back as after all, he reasoned, not much digging was done so he might just as well investigate this spurious signal further. Hefting out more soil, the bleep from his detector strengthened and before long Martin was up to his elbow pulling out an odd metal object.
This grey metallic lump was clearly something but the thing that caught his eye was the profile of a shape just visible in the dark soil in the beside of his hole. Prudently clearing away the soil he could now see the partly exposed curve of what must surely be a pot. Martin seeing that this had to be of archaeological importance called Pete over for his opinion. The decision was made to hold up on digging further and to call in the archaeologists immediately so digging stopped. We didn't really know at the time but this was going to be the first grave discovered by the Weekend Wanderers Detecting Club!
At the time of the discovery though, the grey metal object was identified by the County Archaeologist as a Roman lamp holder. The vessel that Martin had seen turned out to be a cremation vessel that would need careful extraction as the pot was intact and in context.
As the day was closing to an end, the find had to be protected that is until the organized dig could take place. Happy to assist us, the farmer willingly drove his heavy mechanical excavator over the top of the grave hopefully giving it the securest protection we could manage at the time.
Weeks went by then we finally heard the date for the dig had been set. Returning to the site was not a happy one however. The site had been raided. The cremation urn had been removed with much effort by burrowing in sideways beneath the trailer; it was never to be seen again. We benefited from this hard earned lesson and swore that under no circumstances would we leave a find such as this in the ground unguarded. (The Lenborough hoard was not left for that very reason!) It was agreed by all parties that it would have been better to have removed the find that day and gained knowledge from it rather than leave it in the ground and lose everything. Somewhat disappointed, the team of archaeologists carried on regardless by plotted out the site in preparation for their excavation.
The dimensions of the pit became clear on removal of the plough soil and one could see that the grave cut had not been compromised. The burial had been placed in a hole in the ground more or less aligned north, south, east & west.
Unwittingly, the thieves had missed the best finds in their greedy haste to plunder, so more fool them! Cremation vessels missed were high class objects that had been carefully interred within a wooden box to take the deceased into the afterlife.
The base of the pit had traces of a friable, dark brown organic deposit which was probably decayed wood. Iron nails were found in the corners of the pit, both at the base and at a higher level. This was enough to strongly suggests that the burial had been placed in a casket about 2ft square and 18 inches deep. There was also a strip of iron that may have been some kind of fitting related to the box such as a catch.
Thankfully Weekend Wanderers marshal Paul Egan had taken a photo of the grave before the theft (See top of page) and clearly to be seen is a handled vessel along with the lead lamp holder that Martin had placed the loose pottery sherd on for safe keeping. Within the casket, the components of the burial amounted to: the main cremation vessel, a two-handled flagon, two large samian bowls and two samian cups. In another corner was a small grey ware platter and adjacent to it was a second bowl. Towards the side but between the other vessels was a third bowl and a large samian cup. Interestingly, between these two vessels and other side of the box was the well-preserved head of a wood working adze.
Within some bowls were small quantities of chicken bone that most likely as was the tradition, were food offerings, placed in the burial to sustain the deceased in the journey to the underworld. None of the bones had been burnt, indicating that they were not
placed on the pyre with the body suggesting that the food was for the deceased to take with him to the afterlife. The beakers had no bones in them so may have been full of wine too consume on the other side.
With the exception of two vessels, all the pottery vessels in the burial were to some degree broken either by the collapse of the box but probably by modern agricultural practice. Within the grave, the pottery had a rough date of 135-155 AD but showed signs of use. The Samian ware dishes recovered from the burial comprised of four vessels originating in central Gaul. Two dishes had unrecorded potters' marks stamped: IVLLIX with a phallus and palm branch.
Further examination of the fill of the burial pit revealed a number of small iron nails, studs and fragments of two glass vessels. One blue-green storage bottle was probably mould blown storage bottle, the other probably a bowl of very fine clear glass. Complicating the excavation were sixteen fragments from the body of another vessel and eighty fragments of clear glass from the base and body of a vessel of perhaps a convex form.
A notable find of interest was an iron woodworkers adze. These have been recorded from Silchester, London and as far away as Pompeii. It is likely that the deceased owner may have been a carpenter or wheelwright.
The deceased needed a lamp to light his way through the underworld hence the lead lamp which is almost circular with a flat base with a projection to hold the wick (left) but the lamp also has remnants of a handle, (right)
Martin Parker was interviewed by a television company on site who were intrigued by his discovery. After filming, Martin asked if he could have another shot at searching the area of the grave.
No other metal objects were recovered from the grave area but moving about 30 feet away, Martin hit a positive target and dug down. He recovered a beautiful Roman wine strainer, now restored, which could be potentially from a second grave.
Many thanks to Paul Egan for assisting with the excavation process and for providing the photo of the grave with the cremation vessel in situ before it went missing.