Whilst the demolition and redevelopment of the Williams and Griffin Department Store in Colchester was undertaken by the John F Hunt Demolition team, access by Colchester’s Archaeological Trust was granted to part of the site due to its historical importance.
During the final day of the archaeological dig, a hoard of Roman jewellery, thought to be the finest of its kind to ever be found in Britain ,was discovered. The location of the find was originally thought to be in an area covering a house and ditch which had been an active part of the John F Hunt demolition zone.
This area had been continuously visited on a daily basis and yet no one knew what lay only inches below the surface. It was only by luck that this area was revisited by the archaeologists who decided to carry out a recheck of the area, scraping away the earth and uncovering this significant find.
Among the items found buried were three gold armlets, a silver chain necklace, two silver bracelets, a substantial silver armlet, a small bag of coins, a jewellery box containing two sets of gold earrings and four gold finger rings.
Having worked on site for six months, Colchester Archaeological Trust Director, Philip Crummy, said: “This discovery is of national importance” adding, “Our team removed the find undisturbed along with its surrounding soil, so that the individual items could be carefully uncovered and recorded under controlled conditions off-site.
The find will be transferred to a secure laboratory, where a conservator will clean and stabilise the items and deal with the fine traces of delicate organic remains that survive, such as leather and wood.” The find is particularly poignant due to its historical context, as it seems likely that the owner, or perhaps one of her slaves, buried the jewellery for safe-keeping during the early stages of Boudicca’s revolt, when prospects for this important Roman town looked bleak.
He explained: “Boudicca and her army destroyed London and St Albans, though many of their inhabitants had time to escape unlike the townsfolk of Colchester, who were not evacuated and endured a two-day siege before they were defeated.
They knew a large Roman army was coming to their aid, but they were practically defenceless, with only a small force of soldiers on hand and no town defences. Imagine their panic and desperation when they learnt of the massacre of a large part of the Ninth Legion on its way to relieve them.
It is recorded that the ‘noblest’ of Colchester’s Roman women were taken to sacred groves, where they were killed in a horrific way. The quality of the jewellery found buried at Williams & Griffin suggests that the owner would have been in this category, although there is no direct evidence to indicate she ended up in a sacred grove.” Philip Crummy adds: “We also discovered food that was never eaten on the floor of the room in which the jewellery was nearby, including dates, figs, wheat, peas and grain.
Others will almost certainly be identified when soil samples are examined by specialists.” …if only John F Hunt Demolition had dug down a few inches more!!