All Our Yesterdays – Anglo-Saxon Burial and Brooch

26th November 2015 — 17 Comments

I don’t actively metal detect any more, but I do have many happy and memorable occasions to look back upon. I unashamedly resurrect one of those now, which should provide a happy reminder for those who were there and interesting reading for others.

On the morning of Sunday 20th September 2009 I was attending the Weekend Wanderers rally at West Hanney in Oxfordshire, when detectorist Chris Bayston made a remarkable discovery. I was able to take a picture:

SaxonBrooch

Picture by John Winter

THE ANGLO-SAXON BURIAL and BROOCH

The last time I spoke to 56 year old Chris Bayston he had just returned from the Weekend Wanderer’s annual rally held at West Hanney in Oxfordshire. In his own words he was, “still buzzing”, the dog was going frantic and he had just poured himself a cool and welcome pint of Yorkshire ale in an effort to relax.

Chris and his partner Linda had expected that their long journey from Sherburn-in-Elmet to the Southern rally to last no more than three or four days, but there were special circumstances that meant it was going to be an extended visit…

Chris

Chris Bayston picture by John Winter

It had been a good rally for the pair so far. Chris had found ten Roman coins, an Anglo-Saxon strap end, two Roman brooches and an Elizabethan hammered coin. Late on the last day he made a find that surpassed all his dreams. At a depth of over a foot he lifted a shovel of muck and as he threw it down, saw what looked like a large brooch. He showed the find to Linda who initially dismissed it as a “tractor part”.

Chris knew different. Now quivering with excitement and anticipation, he investigated the hole further and saw bones. It was at this early stage he realised his discovery could be of national significance, so he called in the on-site archaeologists. He exclaimed, “I cannot get my head round it yet … it’s a dream come true … unbelievable!” Just shows all those deep signals are not beer cans!

Of course, news of the find created great excitement and people came from all parts to have a look. Rally organiser Peter Welch was already announcing the fact that it was the ‘biggest’ find he’d had in over 20 years of organising WW’s digs. (That changed in 2014 with the discovery of the Lenborough Hoard).

On a preliminary examination of the brooch – covered in gold gilt and studded with garnets and coral – Anni Byard, the Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) for Oxfordshire, said it probably belonged to royalty or somebody of considerable wealth. She went on to say, “It’s an important find with the burial site still intact. We’ll be able to get lots of important contextual information about the individual and learn more about the period. Finds like this don’t come along very often!”

skele photoshoped

Picture by Peter Welch

EXHUMATION

The area was cordoned off and, because of the human burial, the local police informed – all standard practice. The site was protected and a Home Office licence applied for so archaeologists could carry out further investigations, hopefully on the Monday. The brooch was taken off-site for safe keeping and Chris and Linda were invited to stay on to witness developments. The farmer said that he was, “over the moon” with the discovery, which would offer valuable information about the history of the area and he didn’t believe anything of that nature would be found in one of his fields.

It wasn’t until the Tuesday that the painstaking work began to uncover the skeleton. A spindle whorl found whilst exhuming the body suggested that it might be a female. The skeleton was complete and very much intact apart from the skull which had been damaged by the plough.

The Saxon grave excavation was nearing completion on Thursday. Below the skeleton and between the knees, two 8” diameter pots had been found. Being very fragile, they had to be lifted in blocks for subsequent X-ray examination so it may be some time before it is known what the pots contain. Work continued surveying the surrounding area.

FURTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The FLO, Anni Byard, informs me that the skeleton would be lifted and examined by an osteologist to determine the sex and age to see if there are any bone defects that may indicate the cause of death. They currently believe that the remains are female (because of the grave goods) and she was about 25 years of age.

Anni was able to confirm that the goods found in the grave consisted of two hand-made ceramic pots, an iron knife broken in two, a spindle whorl and two shards of blue glass. The pots were lifted complete with the soil remaining within them and will be sampled and analysed to see if there are any organic remains that may indicate foodstuffs buried with the body. Soil samples were also taken from the area which may yield more elements of the brooch like loose garnets etcetera.

Under the terms of the Treasure Act, the brooch will be going to the British Museum for expert analysis. If it is confirmed as ‘treasure’ then the other grave goods (except the skeleton) will also be classed as ‘treasure’. Over the next few months the analysis of the soils, skeleton and other finds will take place and a report written for Oxfordshire County Council. A small grant made available by the PAS will pay for the bone and soil analysis to take place.

The brooch was found by metal detectorist, and once removed from the ground skeletal remains were revealed in the excavated hole. A full excavation took place and revealed the grave of a female between 20 and 25 years of age. The brooch would have been placed on her left shoulder. Other grave goods include two hand-made vessels, two shards of glass, a spindle whorl and a broken iron blade. Investigation and analysis of the skeleton and grave goods is ongoing. PAS

The Brooch was eventually bought for £2,750 with the assistance of the V&A Purchase Grant Fund, the Headley Trust, and the Friends of the Oxfordshire Museum.

hanney-brooch

A composite picture showing the brooch BEFORE and AFTER cleaning  – Courtesy PAS

Congratulations to detectorist Chris Bayston who was absolutely ecstatic with his discovery and never dreamt it would be something he might experience. Chris was using a recently re-furbished Minelab XS and started detecting about 14 years ago.

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Objects of historic and artistic importance are all very well, but skillful presentation is essential to boosting their appeal. Not every museum can afford to have specialists on their own staff, which is where the Oxfordshire Museums Service comes in. Click on: PRESERVING the PAST to learn more.

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The Earth is a Deep Red Womb – an Evocative Video-Poem by Giles Watson

I understand that the brooch went on a tour of museums in the area and ended up in the Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock. Sarah Morton – the lady involved with the conservation – has made a cupcake to celebrate the brooch going on display. Isn’t it super! Tastier than the real thing I reckon!

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John

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17 responses to All Our Yesterdays – Anglo-Saxon Burial and Brooch

  1. A truly fascinating story and an awesome find….enjoyed it very much…

  2. John that’s a nice brooch and I don’t know what to say about the skeleton, most unusual but very good for the archaeologist

  3. Did you ever hear what was in the pots?

  4. Thanks John. Great write up and a lovely brooch. Any news of the analysis on the contents of the pot?

  5. Great article John, it must have been a thrill to be there to take one of the first pictures and see the item as it was unearthed. A fantastic find for Chris which has enearthed a lot more than just the brooch.

  6. A well put together account and description of a wonderful Saxon find, just as well it was found when it was as it is showing signs of rapid decay. I bet it was magnificent in its original state.

  7. Hi John, this brings back nice memories thank you! In response to your email and a couple of comments above, one of the pots contained a small iron fragment, but what it was and whether it was actually a purposeful inclusion (which seems unlikely), we don’t know.

    The grave goods were purchased by the Oxfordshire Museums Service and have been touring the county’s museums. The Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock is where it’ll be on permanent display. The skeleton is also retained by the County but is not on display.

    An article detailing the comprehensive analysis of grave goods and skeleton, as well as discussion on the woman’s place in society with comparative analysis of two other local brooches has just been published in The Antiquaries Journal – it’s available online too but isn’t free I’m afraid. Google ‘A High Status Seventh-Century Female Burial, West Hanney, Oxfordshire, Hamerow et al’. Kind regards, Anni (Oxon FLO)

  8. Great article John! I’ve always wondered what it actually feels like to hit the jackpot, as it were, let alone find a burial. What an absolute thrill! For most of us that’ll be tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow… Cheers!

  9. A fabulous story John…Thanks for the share… I’m certain that it was a day, for those present, they’ll never forget…
    Great read!

  10. This was unbelievable Chris will never get over finding her. We called her I lean as she had one leg shorter than the other. Amazing to watch the whole excavation of her uncovered and good banter with the team. Linda

    • How pleased and delighted I was to receive this comment from Chris (and Jim’s) Lovely Linda. I hope that my blog brought back some happy memories for you both. I love the name Eileen (I Lean) you gave to the lady skeleton.Thank you for gracing my blog with your presence. I shall always remember that day that Chris found the brooch. Take care / John.

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