Sometimes even the ‘experts’ in the archeological world can be wrong in their assessment of metal objects. Such mis-identifications make one realise that often the person with the real edge on determining the past use of a find is the detectorist with years of experience. The moral of this tale is that we mustn’t take for granted that everyone in the archaeological world (or indeed the hobby) knows everything about everything. If in doubt, seek a second opinion.
I was reminded of this fact in a book read recently, A Personal Memoir of Aylesbury in the 1920’s by WR Mead, who had spent an idle day with friends during the summer holidays excavating in the garden for ‘likely treasure trove.’ The childhood incident had stuck in his mind but, in fairness, I think the details are of doubtful authenticity and may have been embellished in the retelling. Professor Mead says:
“Nothing materialised during the morning dig save for some inconsequential oyster shells (there were many others in our own New Street garden). However, during the lunchtime, absence of the principal digger enabled a broken spearhead from some nearby railings to be concealed the bottom at the bottom of the excavation.
Our companion rapidly discovered it when he returned to the dig. We immediately pronounced it to be a Roman relic and he was persuaded to take it to the museum. Appropriately wrapped, it was deposited on the museum steps, the bell was rung and the discoverer retracted.”
The following week, a short paragraph appeared in the Bucks Herald inviting the anonymous discoverer to report to the curator. He was congratulated on his find and the spearhead was dispatched to the British Museum for identification.
In due course, it was returned, and described as ‘the head of a Napoleonic cavalry lance’. Subsequently it was placed in a glass case complete with a descriptive card and the donor’s name.”
The reference to the bit about ‘inconsequential’ oyster shells is an illuminating fact – could the garden have been a Roman site anyway? I understand that the Romans were very fond of oysters and the discarded shells could indicate a site worth detecting. Famous Roman Colchester Oysters.
Professor William (Bill) Mead died in 2014, aged 98. He was a student at the Aylesbury Grammar School in the 1920’s. Here’s what the Headmaster had to say at the time of his death.