- Alexandra Baldwin, conservator, metal and ceramic artefacts
- Jamie Hood, conservator, historic and archaeological metalwork
- Jody Joy, curator, British and European Iron Age Collections
- Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, Wessex Archaeology
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Discovery and excavation
The Chiseldon cauldrons were discovered in 2004 by Peter Hyams, a metal detectorist. Initially it wasn't clear what the objects were or how old they might be, so they were left in the ground until a local historical society could conduct a small excavation. This revealed a vessel made from copper-alloy and iron, as well as copper-alloy from a second vessel.
The vessels were too large to be easily removed and there was still insufficient evidence for experts to identify and date the cauldrons so the find remained a puzzle. Analysis of a fragment of the vessel at Oxford University demonstrated that the object was probably prehistoric. This discovery was unexpected and in 2005 a small ‘rescue excavation’ by a team of specialists from the British Museum, the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Wessex Archaeology was organised.
These excavations found a minimum of 12 fragmentary Iron Age metal cauldrons deliberately buried together in a pit with two cow skulls. The cauldrons were stacked or placed in the pit whole and roughly half were upside down. The others were either the right way up or on their sides.
A small quantity of pottery was also discovered and dated to the Early or Middle Iron Age (800-100 BC), further confirming the dating suggested by metal analysis.
To ensure the objects were disturbed as little as possible, the cauldrons were lifted complete in soil blocks by British Museum conservators.
The cauldrons were acquired by the British Museum in May 2007 and remain in their lifted state. They are globular in shape and vary in size between approximately 60 and 80 cm wide at the rim. They are made from bands of iron and sheet copper-alloy with iron handles.
In 2008 one of the cauldrons was micro-excavated from the block of soil in which it was encased in the conservation lab at the British Museum.
The bowl of the excavated cauldron is formed of a single sheet of copper-alloy, less than one millimetre thick, hammered to shape. The depth is estimated at 34 cm.
The joins between the bands are secured using rivets and residue found between these joins could be some kind of resin used to make the them watertight. Soot on the bottom of the cauldron indicates that it was used before being put in the ground but it is difficult to determine how long it was used for or the intensity of usage. Possible evidence for repair, particularly on the iron rim may indicate that it was used for a period of time before it was deposited and suggests it was not manufactured especially for burial.