British Collection Highlights:

Roman Pewter from Bossens, Cornwall

These two pieces of Roman pewter are part of the collection of artefacts from Cornwall given to the museum by Rev. William Borlase in the eighteenth century. The jug is made of a copper-tin pewter with a small amount of lead and a relatively high level of iron impurity. The inscribed bowl is a more common type of Roman pewter being of tin and lead with only small traces of copper.

In 1756, a farmer in Bossens, near St. Erth in Cornwall, saw the foot of one of his oxen sink a bit deeper into the ground. Upon further exploration, he discovered a deep pit with the two pewter pieces, a two-handled patera, two stone weights and a small millstone all of Cornish granite, and a quantity of leather and animal remains.

Placed within the context of more recent research, the pit clearly follows a recognised pattern associated with native ritual practices. The composition of the deposit and its placement are similar to a later find from Appleford, Oxfordshire also housed in the Ashmolean, but the bowl from Bossens gives an extra clue about the nature of this particular deposit. Around the inside of the base of the bowl is scratched a shallow inscription: AELIVS MODESTUS DEO MARTI (Aelius Modestus, to the god Mars), giving both the name of the dedicant and the god being honoured, indicating even more clearly the religious nature of the deposit.

When Rev. Borlase visited the site in 1758, he noticed the remains of a small Roman fort, with just the outline of the rampart discernable. His plan of the site published in his Antiquities, historical and monumental, of the county of Cornwall (1769) places the pit in one of the rounded corners near the rampart, and it would have been interesting to know whether it was in fact in the tail of the rampart, the location of other ritual deposits such as the 1962 ironwork hoard from Dorchester-on-Thames.

The bowl is currently on display in the 'Ark to Ashmolean' gallery with other antiquities from Cornwall donated by Rev. Borlase.

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Pewter bowl and jug from Bossens (Click to enlarge)

Roman pewter jug, bowl and stone weight from Bossens in Cornwall

Bossens Roman Fort

Plan of Roman Fort at Bossens in Cornwall made by Rev. Borlase during his visit in 1758

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Kristina Glicksman
January 2012