A Charred Seed…

Chiseldon Cauldron series

Alexandra Baldwin, Conservator: Ceramics, Glass and Metals

The two Chiseldon cauldrons we chose to work on first were found next to each other in the pit and had corroded together.

My colleague Jamie Hood has been given the first cauldron to be removed from the ground during excavation to work on. Although it appeared to be in one piece in the ground, it was heavily corroded with large cracks hidden by the mud and soil. It was impossible to lift whole, so was removed in four large chunks surrounded by soil. The fact that it is in pieces actually makes it better for Jamie to work on as it is easier to move, handle, and support, and also fits under a microscope.

Jamie examining the cauldron under the microscope.

When he first started work within a few minutes I heard: ‘WOW, look at this, a charred seed!’ from the other side of the room. We are hoping that by examining the organics found in the cauldrons, we can get more information about how the cauldrons were being used perhaps in relation to feasting activities or even ritual deposition.

My cauldron was probably the last one to be placed in the pit thousands of years ago. This meant that it was resting on top of the others and was therefore the one first discovered by the metal detectorist in 2004. Of all the cauldrons, it is in the worst condition – a chunk lifted in plaster bandages and a lot of small pieces of corroded metal – but it might also be the most interesting.

Some small fragments of the copper alloy already cleaned have decorative scalloped edges, or apparently, as decorative as it gets for cauldrons in the late Iron Age.

Decorative detail from the cauldron.

As yet we don’t know much more about this cauldron, though we will learn a lot more when I excavate it from its soil block. However, due to its highly fragmentary condition it will not be possible to physically reconstruct it. Instead, I will try and concentrate on a virtual, or at least an intellectual reconstruction, in order to gain as much information as possible from the fragments.

The most important areas are the rim, handles and decorative patches, and if we can relocate these and examine how they were constructed, they will tell us a great deal about the cauldron.

To make things more complicated some of Jamie’s cauldron was corroded to and lifted with mine. Trying to decide which fragments of 0.5mm metal belong to which cauldron will be very difficult and the whole process will need very careful excavation and detailed recording.

The Chiseldon Cauldrons Research Project is supported by the Leverhulme Trust