Guest Post: I Just Know There’s Something in that Field – Part 1

Fragments Found whilst Detecting An account of Julian Evan-Hart’s determination to prove the existence of a Roman burial site.

The following account is one that I am delighted to share with everyone, as I feel it neatly sums up the art of metal detecting. About five years ago now my friend Steve was detecting a remote field in Hertfordshire when he came across several small pieces of Roman mirror. The reflective surfaces of these artefacts are normally made of polished, silvered high tin content alloy and so are extremely brittle. The fragments in this case resembled glass more than metal in the way that they had fractured, with sharp pointed shards. Whilst searching in the vicinity Steve had also picked up several fragments of Nene Valley style pottery shards and later showed these to me. Over the last five years he has returned to this field on many occasions, usually finding at least one fragment of mirror amongst other finds each time. As a result the site is now known as ‘The Mirror Field’ as other finds are on the whole quite sparse there. Steve’s persistence with the site resulted in many “Oh no not another trip to mirror field” type comments, but he never gave up.

Anyway, you have to admire his dedication as by about year three he was suggesting that there might be a small Roman cemetery in the area. No Roman coins were found, only the occasional shard of pottery and, of course, the now famous mirror sections. Over the years Steve built up about a third of the mirror with random fragments and he discovered it was of the square shaped variety. Most of us had found fragments of Roman mirrors before, sometimes with curved edges and simple linear decoration. However, those that Steve found were all flat edged. Some also bore the characteristic scab like deposits known as ‘Oyster Shell’ corrosion. This variety of corrosion is particularly prevalent on Roman mirrors with a very high tin content in the alloy.

Mirror Fragments

After five years, in September 2013, the story finally reached its conclusion. The catalyst for this was the actions of the farmer, who for the first time in a long while, ploughed the site much deeper than usual. As a result, Steve was back on it, using not only his Minelab Safari but on occasion also using my CTX 3030. Arriving at the site he immediately noticed a small fragment of mirror on top of a furrow. Carefully digging down he came across further numerous sections of the shattered mirror and began placing them all carefully into a seal top bag. Whilst extracting these he also found a large number of pieces of smashed thin green glass, a small piece of which he had found before. Further examination to one side revealed the top and base of a glass jar stuck in the side of a deep furrow.

The most likely explanation was that compression from agricultural machinery had compacted the jar and literally crushed the middle section. In the neck and broken rim section of the jar was a plug of compacted soil, which clearly contained cremated bone fragments. There were several large sections of cracked and heat distorted bone, as well as part of a ball joint from a femur. Everything was badly smashed, mixed up and spread over several feet, but despite this several large sections of pottery were found. So, Steve had been correct all these years, as he had just found a plough damaged single cremation burial site.Roman Pottery Fragments

Although the deep ploughing had contributed to extensively damaging the findings it had in fact also led to the greatest amount of it being recovered. Fragments collected over previous years indicated that there were only ever two ceramic vessels in this spot – a dark grey silvered blob decorated vessel accompanied by a buff coloured fabric pot. Assessing the situation – with the field due to be sown the very next day – it was then decided the best way to ‘capture’ as much as possible was to excavate a sondage down to the chalk layer and sieve everything. This laborious procedure recovered a small iron nail, a fragment of thin bronze sheeting and a typically Roman-style split pin. In the mixed up fragments there were also some avian bones, which were most likely to be some species of domesticated chicken. At the base of the estimated area of the cremation that Steve excavated he found what had once been a molten lump of blue glass and a small broken lachrymal vessel in the same colour.

If you want to find out how this adventure ended then see the next blog post…

About Julian Evan-Hart
Julian is from Hertfordshire, England and has always been interested in fossils and antiquities. Julian has written a number of books on metal detecting, and is an avid user of Minelab products.

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