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These ancient flowers were used as Anglo Saxon bubble wrap

a photo of a old flower and plant fragments against a black background

Centuries old flower heads from a Roman vessel. Photo Steven Baker at Historic England.

Precious archaeobotanical finds preserved inside eight Roman pots

Surviving organic matter from the Anglo Saxon period is rare, but these fragile remains of flowers and heads of bracken are 1,500 years old.

They were discovered in 2014 inside a hoard of eight Roman bronze pots dating to the very earliest part of the post-Roman / early Anglo Saxon period, and whoever buried the hoard had done so carefully, either to keep the bronze bowls safe or perhaps as a votive offering.

For packing they used common knapweed, bracken and other plants as we might use bubble wrap to safeguard a parcel today.

Analysis of the condition of the flowers leads experts to believe the bronze cauldrons were buried in the late summer sometime in the fifth and sixth centuries.

The bowls were Found by metal detectorists in the Vale of Pewsey in Wiltshire and reported to the Wiltshire Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, who brought in a team to excavate the find site.

Although the bronze vessels had been removed from the ground by the detectorists, crucially they had not attempted to clean them and the delicate remains of the packing material, effectively sealed and preserved inside, were still in place.

a photograph of dried fragments of flowers

Bracken Pinnae Fragments. Photo Steven Baker at Historic England

a photo of an old vessel with fragments of organic matter within it

The flower fragments within the Roman vessel. Courtesy Portable Antiquities Scheme

A partnership project of experts from across the country then pieced together the fascinating story of the burial of Roman bronze cauldrons on a summer’s day 1,500 years ago

By combining the plant macro and pollen evidence the experts were able to identify the time of year the vessels were buried, the packing material used, the nature of the surrounding vegetation and the likely date of burial. The team also identified several seed remnants of flowers and plants including buttercup, clover, cowslip and black bindweed.

And although the bowls did not qualify as treasure and were kept by the finders, the precious archaeobotanical finds inside them were donated to Wiltshire Museum in Devizes, where a selection of the flowers are currently on display.

a photo of a vessel with coins and organic matter inside it

Courtesy Portable Antiquities Scheme.

a photo of old flower and plant fragments

Courtesy Portable Antiquities Scheme.

As well as having the best Bronze Age archaeology collection in Britain the museum is home to the locally discovered hoard of Roman coins known as the Stanchester Hoard.

It is also home to finds from the major Anglo-Saxon cemetery discovered in Blacknall Field – close to where the Roman bronze pots and their valuable organic treasures were found.

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Wiltshire Museum

Devizes, Wiltshire

The Wiltshire Museum has the best Bronze Age collections in Britain. The collections in the Museum, together with its Library and Archive, are Designated Collections of national significance. Founded over 150 years ago, it preserves the rich archaeological and historical treasures and records of Wiltshire, including the World Heritage Site…

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