Archaeological Marvel Unearthed: 2,000-Year-Old Ancient Roman Jewelry Trove Found Beneath Colchester Department Store Flooring

A stash of Roman jewellery, hastily buried in the earth to hide it from Queen Boudicca’s army, has gone on display for the first time.

Known as the ‘Fenwick treasure’, the hoard of gold and silver valuables is believed to have been stashed in the ground by a Roman woman in Colchester as the Iceni hoards advanced in 61AD.

But now, almost 2,000 years later, the public can see the bling that escaped the queen’s clutches on display at Colchester Castle in Essex.

Known as the ‘Fenwick treasure’, the hoard of gold (pictured) and silver valuables is believed to have been stashed in the ground in Colchester as the Iceni hoards advanced in 61AD. But now, almost 2,000 years later, the public can see the bling that escaped the queen’s clutches on display at Colchester Castle in Essex

Archaeologists unearthed the jewellery in 2014 under a department store in what is now the Essex town’s High Street.

The hoard included gold armlets, earrings and rings as well as silver chains, rings and coins, and was buried in bags and a wooden box under the floor of a house.

The identity of jewellery’s owner remains a mystery, but she may have been killed in a ‘sacred grove’ – a fate which befell wealthy Roman women captured by the Iceni army.

Describing the find, Colchester conservator Emma Hogarth, who worked on the restoration project, said the owners were of ‘considerable wealth’  and were likely to be important.

Archaeologists unearthed the jewellery in 2014 (pictured) under a department store in what is now the Essex town’s High Street. The hoard included gold armlets, earrings and rings as well as silver chains, rings and coins, and was buried in bags and a wooden box under the floor of a house

Experts believe the jewellery was hastily buried by a terrified Roman woman as warrior Queen Boudicca (pictured as a statue) and her Iceni army advanced on the town of Colchester, almost 2,000 years ago

Ms Hogarth said: ‘Some of the jewellery is similar to very high status finds from Pompeii, and the presence of gold, pearls and precious stones suggests that the owners must have been of considerable wealth and importance, just as Colchester itself was the most significant town in early Roman Britain.’

Much of the silver was reported to be corroded and unstable, but the pieces have been painstakingly cleaned and restored, and the Roman treasures are now on display at the castle.

Dr Philip Crummy, director of the Colchester Archaeological Trust had previously described the find as ‘of national importance and one of the finest ever uncovered in Britain.’

Following the 2014 find, he said: ‘We had almost finished our six-month study of the site when we came upon a small tangled ball of metal that turned out to be jewellery that had lain there undisturbed since 61AD.’

Boudicca was Queen of the Iceni people, a British tribe who lived in what is today Norfolk and parts of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. Her name is an early for of the more commonly known name ‘Victoria’.

The Boudiccan Revolt saw British tribes, under Boudicca of the Iceni, unsuccessfully try to defeat the Roman army.

The revolt resulted in Camulodunum, now Colchester, London, and Verulamium, now St Albans, being burnt to the ground while thousands of people on both sides lost their lives.

Colchester conservator Emma Hogarth (pictured), who worked on the restoration project , said the jewellery’s owners were of ‘considerable wealth’ and were likely to have been important people

Dr Crummy previously said: ‘It is a particularly poignant find because of its historical context – Boudicca and her army destroyed London and St Albans but many of the inhabitants had time to escape however the people of Colchester were not so fortunate.

‘They knew a large Roman army was coming to their aid but they were practically defenceless, with only a small force of soldiers 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 and after a two-day siege they were over-run.’

The revolt resulted in Camulodunum, now Colchester, London, and Verulamium, now St Albans, being burnt to the ground while thousands of people on both sides lost their lives. The jewellery (pictured left and right) was removed from a block of soil. Much of the silver was reported to be corroded and unstable

This map shows the location of the excavation site in the English town. Experts think that there could have been resistance from the beleaguered garrison at the site

 

The excavations in Colchester were in a distinctive layer of red and black debris (pictured left) up to half a metre thick, the result of the Iceni sacking of the town, which remains across the centre of much of modern-day town. The treasures were discovered on the site of the Williams & Griffin department store (right)

He explained that they would have tried desperately to bury and hide valuables like jewellery for safe-keeping.

‘We know that the ‘noblest’ of Colchester’s Roman women were taken to sacred groves, where they were killed in a horrific way and the quality of the jewellery we have found suggests that the owner would have been in this category but there is no direct evidence to indicate she ended up in a sacred grove.’

The Boudiccan sacking and burning of Colchester left in its wake a distinctive red and black layer of debris up to half a metre thick across the centre of much of modern-day Colchester.

This layer – made up for burned clay walls – is still being examined by archaeologists on the site, which is part of the Williams & Griffin department store.

They explained that human remains are rarely found among such debris, but the latest excavation has already yielded part of a jaw and shin bone, which appear to have been cut by a heavy, sharp implement such as a sword.

Experts think that there could have been resistance from the beleaguered garrison at the site.

Dr Crummy said: ‘We also discovered food on the floor of the room in which the jewellery was found, including dates, figs, wheat, peas and grain.’

He thinks it may have been stored on a wooden shelf, which had collapsed on to the floor.

The Boudiccan Revolt saw British tribes, under Boudicca of the Iceni, unsuccessfully try to defeat the Roman army. Colchester (starred) was the first target of the Boudiccan army and many of the townspeople were rounded up and sacrificed. The route the army traced is pictured

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