Guest Post: I Just Know There’s Something in that Field – Part 2

Roman PotteryIn the first of this series of two blog posts I recounted how my friend Steve had found items that indicated a Roman single cremation burial site. If you want to know what happened next then read on…

When Steve returned home with his finds he assembled all the pieces of mirror together and found that it was almost complete, just missing a corner, (this missing piece was later discovered using my CTX 3030). Steve finally gathered all the artifacts up and brought them over to my house where we carefully cleaned them. From all the evidence so far it seemed that the cremation burial was quite a simple affair – a small greenish glass jar in which the single cremated human remains were placed, accompanied by two ceramic vessels, one of which possibly contained the chicken bones. The split pin he found may indicate that originally the green glass jar was interred in a small wooden casket. A solitary thin piece of bronze sheeting was recovered that may have been some sort of binding for such a burial casket, but nothing more. The field was extensively searched in the 1970`s and was even the site of an ‘early days rally,’ so it’s unknown what may have been found here previously.

It is quite surprising that no one found this little burial site back when the mirror was far more whole (making it a much larger target). Although if the mirror had lain on its side that would probably account for it offering a small area to a detector but a large area to an oncoming destructive plough. However, they didn’t and it took another forty or so years for the site to be uncovered – that’s the thing with metal detecting, it’s very unpredictable.

It’s also surprising that this small burial site wasn’t totally destroyed, but despite being broken up badly, survived albeit in very scattered pieces. The site of the mirror fragments sits on a very slight hillock at the base of a very steep sloped hill. When the earth is ploughed the chalk base is extremely close to the surface here, so in some years even with shallow ploughing, the soil has lighter sometimes cream white scalp.

I must admit that originally I thought Steve’s finds were probably random fragments and didn’t really believe there was anything much to be found there. Obviously I was proven totally wrong on that account and I would add that this is definitely a case where Steve’s gut feeling of “I’m sure there is something in that field” was spot on.

Since we discovered the site, it has been hard not to think about who this person once was, what they looked like and what the scenery was like around the plot back in those days. The presence of a mirror doesn’t necessarily indicate the burial was related to a woman, as men have also been found buried with them. However we feel for some unknown reason – maybe that gut instinct again – that the person here was a woman. Like many other cases, we don’t know her name, age, where she lived, or much about her at all. Well apart from one fact and that’s where her remains were finally buried.

Steve with the detectorsRegarding the mirror, we are undecided as to whether it ever had a handle and frame, as absolutely no additional metal items were located. Perhaps it had a wooden surround and handle, which has of course long since decayed. The small lachrymal bottle is rather touching and sad, as they are tangible evidence of the sadness related to personal loss. However, whoever this person was, they are no longer forgotten and will provide evidence and enable research that may just help us to locate a possible nearby settlement or maybe even a villa etc. In the light of this find, I can’t help thinking about how many single cremation burials, or indeed small cemeteries, suffer the plough each year, spread over the field surface until little is left to recover at all.

The rather pitiful grave goods will be cleaned further and recorded. It was felt that due to the lengthy period of recovery, and the obvious totally destroyed stratification, combined with the displacement of objects, that no archaeological presence was required at the site. An opinion shared by the landowner too in this case. Although all such details will of course be made available to such professional bodies. Anyway I think that experience was worth sharing – and if it triggers just a few more people to pay attention to the so called ‘X Factor’ of detecting, or just that nagging feeling that there’s something in that field – and uncovers more of our heritage as a result then that’s pretty darned cool in my book.

Finally, as I put the finishing touches to this account I think we should all remember one thing: it’s obvious from this experience that not all broken mirrors equate to having seven years bad luck!

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