Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's Good to Hoard...

Back in 1856 a hoard of three Bronze vessels dating to the Roman period was discovered by chance near to the town of Sandy. Roman and Anglo Saxon artefacts were almost constantly being recovered whilst workmen were digging the railway line between Potton and Sandy. Most of these items were found in burials and included many personal items such as jewellery, pottery, keys and toilet sets. So the discovery of this group of rather fine bronze bowls instantly stood out as something very different.

The bowls are roughly the same size; the largest has a rim diameter of 32 cm and the smallest a rim diameter of 22cm. The only decoration appears on the top of the rim as delicate fluting creating a sort of pie crust effect.
Bronze Bowls of this high quality are rare and unusual from any period but for them to have survived for so long since Roman times and to still be in such a complete state is really very special. The original owner of the bowls would have been an individual with serious high status and maybe even have been a Roman official involved with some aspect of commerce and trade in Sandy.

Though hoards of bronze bowls are not common they are not unique either. Very similar bowls have been recovered nearby at Irchester, Northamptonshire, and further away at Sturmere in Essex and Knaresborough in Yorkshire.

Research carried out by DH Kennett and published in 1969 clearly shows that these hoards found in Britain are not unique within the Roman Empire. Similar bronze bowls have been found in Germany, Holland and in northern France. Nearly all of these continental bronze bowls have been found in the graves of wealthy Romans and from the coin evidence have been firmly dated to the late fourth century.

It is very sad for us today that so little is known about the Sandy bowls other than that they were found together as a hoard during the construction of the railway line a little over one hundred and fifty years ago. This is so very different to modern day excavations which routinely accurately record the exact location and the context of where and how objects are found.

It is tantalising to wonder who these bowls belonged to, how they got to Sandy and why were they buried. It is possible that like the examples from the continent these bowls were buried with their owner for use in the next world and that this information was not recorded by the workmen. Or what seems more likely, given the probable late forth century date of the hoard, is that the owner of the bowls buried them at a time of stress for safe keeping hoping to retrieve them later. The late fourth and early fifth centuries saw the collapse of the Roman Empire and it may be that the disintegration of law and order in the community in and around Sandy provoked their owner into the desperate act of hiding them in the ground.

Liz Pieksma
Keeper of Archaeology
D H Kennett, “Late Roman Bronze Vessel Hoards in Britain, Jahrbuch des Romisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums Mainz 16, 1969, 123-148

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