Monday, 16 September 2019

Winterbourne Gunner Deposit Excavated by Archaeologists

Worn antoninianus of Valerian
A hoard of 1820 Roman base silver coins was found during a metal detecting rally on arable land in Bourne Valley near Salisbury, despite the fact that it was found at a discrete place, it has officially been called the "Bourne Valley Hoard" (William Rimell, 'Coin hoard, more than 1,700 years old, which was found near Salisbury, is treasure, says coroner'. Salisbury Journal 16th September)
Found perfectly preserved by metal detectorists on arable land in Winterbourne Gunner, the coins have been dated back to as early as 253 AD, when Valerian I and Gallienus ruled the empire. But, as soon as the detectorists – Tony and Paul Hunt – realised the significance of the find on August 19 last year, they called the British Museum to carry out the excavation. The next day a crack team of archaeologists had descended on the site. The excavation revealed a 15cm-tall grey jar, buried upright within a pit that had been cut into the natural chalk. A spokesperson for the museum said: "The finders acted very properly in not digging up the hoard themselves, but rather enabling a professional excavation. They should be acknowledged for this, as too often it does not happen, and we lose important information." [...] The find was judged to be "treasure" by Salisbury senior coroner David Ridley at a special treasure inquest on September 11. This means, under law, that "the Crown" is formally regarded as the owner of the items, and not those that discovered it. However, under discretion of the museum, compensation may be paid to those who found it, as well as the landowner.
It is good to see a newspaper (a) making special note of the fact that the artefact hunters did not hoik the stuff out themselves (as at Wem and the "Chew Valley" fiasco being discussed recently) and even summarising the archaeological information that was thus obtained, (b) that the Treasure ransom, paid to ensure obedience of the clear stipulates of the law, is discretionary ("may be paid") and (c) does not mention "how much" that payment might eventually be, (d) discretely avoids highlighting that the discovery was during a commercial metal detecting rally in August 2018.

. This "perfectly preserved" though in an arable field means that this (isolated?) find was made well below plough level, in the undisturbed archaeological deposits under the ploughsoil ('Code of Best Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales' anyone?) . Now this "crack team" of archies, what kind of an excavation did they do at such short notice, and what is the site and landscape context of this deposit? Why was the pit dug precisely where it was, and why was it filled burying a pot containing a load of mid-third century coins in it?

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