In 2009, a Roman cremation burial was discovered by Martin Parker on a club dig. The club had returned to Wellwick Farm near Wendover as several past digs saw many Roman coins, brooches and rings recovered from this field.
A WEAK SIGNAL
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. Digging 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 field had been well detected on many occasions by club members giving low returns. We very nearly dropped this farm so it shows you can never give up land!
A ROMAN GRAVE
A grey metallic item was something that caught Martin's eye but it was the profile of a shape just visible in the dark soil at the side of the hole that got him excited. Carefully 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.
An excavation was called for so a few weeks later work commenced on the dig.
The archaeological investigation begins and the base of the pit shows 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. 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.
A carpenter from Roman times
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 but the lamp also has remnants of a handle.
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.