Archaeologists reveal "beautiful" bronze handle, Samian cup and ring of gods from 2nd century burial

By Ben Miller | 16 February 2015

Burial urn of high status adult could tell story of how Romans buried their wealthy

A photo of a woman wearing blue gloves looking at archaeological stones in a laboratory
Lab tests have suggested an urn found in a burial last October could have belonged to a high-status Roman male© Courtesy Oxford Archaeology
A striking bronze handle, Samian cup and red jasper intaglio ring, discovered during an extraordinary excavation in Buckinghamshire which revealed a cremation casket, shoe nails and food and drink remains from the 2nd century last October, have gone on public display for two months, with archaeologists planning a new fundraising campaign to conserve a range of metal artefacts from the burial.

An emergency fund for recording archaeological finds paid for the excavation after John Steele, a metal detectorist searching with the Hampshire-based group Weekend Wanderers, found some of the metal at a field in Whitchurch, north of Aylesbury.

Oxford Archaeology spent three days unearthing the full set with detectorists and landowners, who have donated the treasures to Buckinghamshire County Museum. “The significance of the find soon became apparent,” recalls Eliza Alqassar, the County Council’s Archaeological Officer.

“Bronze and iron objects, glassware and high-status Roman pottery all started to be uncovered together.

“It looked like a Roman burial assemblage so we had to make sure it was properly recorded and carefully excavated.”

A photo of a dark green and light brown bronze handle from a roman cup
The bronze jug handle could hold national significance© Courtesy Oxford Archaeology
Measuring 1.1 metres in length and 0.7 metres wide, the casket contained a pair of Samian ware cups and dishes, a pottery flagon or dish, two glass vessels, a bronze dish, an iron lamp, a cremation burial in an urn and two mystery lead objects.

Iron nails and organic deposits gave away the casket within a burial pit. Experts carrying out laboratory analysis of the urn remains believe it could have been an adult of high status, and say the intaglio ring depicts the Roman goddess, Minerva, and the god, Mercury.

The scarcity of multiple metal, glass and ceramic vessels in burials is intriguing researchers, who rarely see iron lamps or lamp holders from the period. They are comparing the casket to ones found in Wendover and Thornborough, and say the decorated cup and bronze handle are the most important items of the set, carrying wider significance.

“This really is a very significant find and the bronze handle is possibly of national importance,” says Alqassar.

“The beautiful bronze flagon handle with its decorated scene was one of the last items to be lifted – at that point we knew this was a special discovery.

“The discovery has improved our knowledge on how the Romans lived, what they believed and how they buried their wealthy.”

The museum hopes to raise £3,000 in order to conserve the metal artefacts, bringing them to display standard.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of a man in outdoor clothing and high visibility trousers excavating a brown pit
Archaeologists uncovering the casket on site© Courtesy Oxford Archaeology
A photo of a terracotta-coloured Roman bowl
The reconstructed Samian cup© Courtesy Oxford Archaeology
A photo of a terracotta-coloured Roman ring
The intaglio depicting the Roman goddess Minerva and the god Mercury© Courtesy Oxford Archaeology
A photo of three Roman pottery artefacts in a case in a museum
The three artefacts have gone on display for two months© BCC
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