The world of "Dark Age" archeology was intrigued and excited last week at news that the archeological dig taking place on a brownfield site near to the former Curry's warehouse at Stour Provost had uncovered an object of considerable age and extraordinary complexity which appeared to have been carefully buried "in ritual fashion" about a foot under the current surface level.
Excavation leader Professor Arthur Trench from the Department of Archeology, University of Witchampton described the find "as perhaps the most significant early Saxon religious artefact yet uncovered in the county of Dorset". Consisting of a cylindrical "container", an elaborately pierced and sculpted "head" with several connecting tubes and a long-necked "handle", the team believe it to be an object of ceremonial significance, associated perhaps with ritual cleansing amongst a priestly or even a royal elite.
"Nothing like it has been found as far as we are aware and if our theories are right, it could radically change our view about the level of technological sophistication achieved by our Dark Age ancestors", Professor Trench said. Striking a note of caution, he added "Until we fully excavate it we are speculating of course, but there are good reasons to believe from the geo-physics and ground penetrating radar findings that it will add immeasurably to our knowledge of ecclesiastical practice in the 8th and 9th centuries and may even prove conclusively that pre-medieval craftsmen understood the basic principles of suction and developed an early form of proto-plastics designed to put their knowledge of it to practical use".
"Picture the scene" adds archeological performance artist and historical re-enactment freak Fluella Loos-Ende "the sun is setting in the west. A few orphan rays of light pierce the cleft of the valley and strike the object as it is held aloft by a brightly clad priesthood. It shimmers and vibrates in the still air radiating an aura of unimaginable intensity. Incantations can be heard as it is passed reverently towards the stone high altar where it comes to rest in splendid majesty. Imagine now the awe amongst the ordinary folk as first a droning and then a rushing sound emerges from within its complex structures literally sucking the air from around them. It must have been awesome, magical, frightening even."
The team's educational advisor and Anglo-Saxon expert Beryl Hengist-Horsa believes that this "other worldly" aspect of the object's nature probably explains why knowledge of its workings would have been confined to an elite male few and may have quickly become associated with both mystical and metaphysical concepts of death and disappearance. An almost indecipherable inscription on the main body of the cylinder appears to support this theory: looking something like DY SO N, Ms Hengist-Horsa believes it is a shortened form of the old English DYE SOONE: a none too subtle warning to those outside the favoured circle who sought to penetrate its secrets. "This makes it at once an object both of terror and of veneration."
Once fully excavated Professor Trench's team will attempt careful restoration of the object - for which there is yet no name - prior to its display in the University of Witchampton's Amanda J Threadbone Museum of Archeology and Ethnography. A spokesperson for Curry's confirmed that the Witchampton team were digging "very close" to the area where "we tipped our old trade ins" but declined to say whether the presumed Saxon find could in fact be part of that "later" cache.
The team from the Department of Archeology University of Witchampton at work. MAIN PICTURE: The significant but as yet un-excavated find which Professor Trench believes to be of Saxon origin but others suspect "may be of much later date";
INSERTS [TOP] Professor Trench at work in 1997 on a project during which he excavated the foundations of Compton Abbas District Council's old public toilets uncovering what turned out to be a 1950s drainpipe. It now housed in The Museum of Public Detritus, Toller Fratrum. [BOTTOM] Great care is required if the precious artefacts are not to be damaged. Here a student patiently brushes a fragment of tile (bearing the
mystic inscription "Armitage Shanks") and teases it gently from the soil before tossing it into a nearby waste bucket.