In the sunny afternoon of Tuesday 29th April, during the latter half of the fourth hour of their latest round of ‘Dig-up-the-school-grounds-and-plant-things-athon’, the indomitable Mrs Cooper and her dedicated team of Ridgefield ‘Bulbsters’ very excitedly – with one lucky and well-timed thrust of a spade only partially blunted by enthusiasm and the dry Ridgefield soil - stumbled upon a magnificent hoard of ancient (and just slightly tarnished) Roman coins.
A small selection of the coins discovered by the Ridgefield Bulbsters.
It appears that the silver and gold bullion had lain wretched, in the unforgiving earth, for almost two millennia - lost and unloved, a mere nine inches below the turf, just in front of the much-admired (though utterly impassive and totally impenetrable) thorn hedge adjacent to the playing fields and only an elderly ostrich’s hop (this is actually an informal unit of measurement in some remote corners of the globe) to the left of the gates.
Amazingly, one hour earlier, they had also discovered a large and eclectic assortment of tennis and hockey balls (sadly bearing what looked like the scars of hedgehog teeth and in various states of disrepair) for which Mr Carnegie had been vainly searching following a particularly enthusiastic year 6 PE session one day in late 2010. So this was truly a memorable day, and certainly one of the Bulbsters’ very finest moments – perhaps even on a par with their incredible construction of a magnificent (though inherently unstable) replica of the <a href="http://www.ancient.eu/article/129/">Hanging Gardens of Babylon</a> outside Year 3 in early summer a few years back (which was subsequently and reluctantly demolished two days later on the advice of an eminent structural engineer).
Initial on-site advice from experts quickly invited to the school from the <a href="http://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/">Fitzwilliam Museum</a> suggested that the coins were probably struck during the consecutive reins of a number of Roman emperors ranging from the great Gallus (AD 251-3) to the valiant Victorinus (AD 269-271). More specifically, the newest coins identified within the treasure are of an age and type which indicate that the hoard may have been separated from its erstwhile and unlucky owner some time around AD 270!
The find is right now being compared favourably with that of the magnificent ‘<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Roman_hoards_in_Great_Britain">Hyderabad and Meeanee Barracks Hoard</a>’ that was discovered in Colchester in 2011 and which proved to be worth tens of thousands of pounds. Aside from its financial value, this collection is of huge academic interest and it can now be seen in <a href="http://www.cimuseums.org.uk/castle">Colchester Museum</a>.
A typical example of an archaeological trench.
Quickly on the scene, as the news spread like a Tasmanian bush fire, the bright-eyed arch-numismatist and reception teacher Mrs Barber explained to the rapidly growing crowds of delighted onlookers that, “As there were no bank vaults or safes in those times, it is highly likely that the coins were buried to keep them safely away from jealous eyes and hands, but that their unfortunate owner was either unable to recall where they had been hidden or died before revealing their location.”
Mrs Barber added more finely chopped leeks to her bubbling explanatory vegetarian broth by continuing, “Many historians agree that the burial of coins seems to have been more common in periods of unrest or uncertainty, and it is known that the 270s was a particularly difficult time in eastern England. This was due partly to the influence of civil war in the Roman Empire and also as a result of the threat of serious attacks along the coast by foreign raiders.” At this point, she lowered her eyes and whispered under her breath,” It is also a period when <a href="http://www.canaries.co.uk/">Norwich City</a> was in perpetual danger of relegation to the lowest tier of domestic football…”
A garden spade very like this one was used to unearth the fabulous treasure.
The indefatigable Miss Dakin appeared a few minutes later, as fresh as an alpine daisy (despite arriving directly from the much-anticipated all-night 'The Mamas & The Papas' tribute gig in <a href="http://www.visitsaffronwalden.gov.uk/">Saffron Walden)</a>. After tethering her vintage <a href="https://discovermore.harley-davidson.com/en_GB/">Harley-Davidson</a> to the bike racks, she was reportedly overheard recounting the words of her neighbour's great uncle Bertram: "Perhaps this find - and what might follow from it - can put Cambridge more firmly on the ancient historical map. After all, in terms of rich history, some people think that we’re a bit thin on the ground here, as our boasting rights are largely limited to a balding grassy pimple of a castle mound, a collection of intellectual vanity projects from the medieval ruling classes and the Viking fish ‘n’ chip shop on Milton Road. Compared with York (a historically vibrant place to live), Colchester (a town with real history), and Canterbury (the favourite haunt of one of our year 6 teaching assistants) we’re a few tiles short of a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zliten_mosaic">Zliten mosaic</a> and a few threads short of a replica <a href="http://www.bayeuxtapestry.org.uk/">Bayeux Tapestry</a> round here."
At this point, Mrs Pietersen (who had by this time turned her library into a makeshift but humming archaeology lab and café) couldn’t help but interject with a delighted squeal, “Ooh mosaics! I love mosaics - especially ones with baskets of grapes, self-satisfied mythological creatures and ungainly sea fish with gormless expressions. Have they found a mosaic too? Please tell me they've found a mosaic!”
A fine example of one of Mrs Pietersen's favourite Roman fish mosaics.
Later in the day, Mrs Morten explained at an impromptu meeting of concerned parents that due to the potentially international importance of the discovery, archaeologists would soon arrive to begin digging a number of exploratory trenches across the playground and the school field, and that the work is expected to last for several months, if not years. She consoled them by revealing that, "During this exciting but confusing time, a restricted area of playground between the nursery classroom and the archaeologists’ portable latrines will be permanently available for children to exercise at break time, although since it will be large enough to accommodate only thirteen children (under ten years old or fifteen stone) at one time, alternative arrangements will have to be made for many of the students."
Mrs Neal continued to placate the anxious gathering by suggesting that the remaining children (on a rota system, of course, to ensure equality of opportunity) could be invited to help the scientists by removing the inevitable copious quantities of waste soil and rock from the trenches – a plan perhaps drawing inspiration from the highly popular book 'Holes' by <a href="http://www.louissachar.com/">Louis Sachar</a>. “Alternatively,” she conceded, “hole digging could form an integral part of a newly revised behaviour policy - though whether this would be a carrot or a stick is currently unclear and the proposal would need to be subject to the proper nine months of rigorous debate and scrutiny before implementation could be considered.”
Modern and hygienic portable toilets of a sympathetic design can vastly enhance the quality of life of today's field archaeologist.
From his mysterious holiday yacht – the ‘Mrs Tiggywinkle’ - moored somewhere in the Mediterranean, Mr Pillin expressed (via the internet and between delicate sips from a tall exotic glass sporting a sophisticated umbrella and a twist of lime) his deep reservations about the health and safety issues of having a network of archaeological trenches criss-crossing the school grounds. As he gently and absent-mindedly caressed the lower jaw of his fifteen-foot pet tree python, Iggy, he explained his plan to erect a series of large fences (like the ones segregating the aquatic reptiles from the paying public at <a href="http://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/crocodilian">San Diego Zoo</a>) or failing that to borrow an enormous marquee from the <a href="http://www.circus.by/en/historyen/">Belarusian State Circus</a> with which to cover the whole lot under sail cloth and canvas. He added that, “The latter would of course afford the added benefit of permanent rain cover for the archaeologists, but may involve a certain extra degree of bureaucracy at Shire Hall as it would likely impinge on the protected skyline of the city and probably even impact on the view from the upper floors of the newly built budget hotel on Newmarket Road.”
The precise appearance of the 'Mrs Tiggywinkle' is a closely guarded secret, but persistent speculation suggests that it may be similar to this fine vessel.
Mr Claughton was approached for comment, but according to unreliable eye-witnesses, he was last seen making rapid progress along Radegund Road in the direction of the railway station, clutching a one-way ticket to Canterbury, a half-eaten packet of M&S reduced egg mayonnaise sandwiches and an A5-sized pamphlet from the Church of England entitled ‘How to claim Sanctuary in the Great Cathedrals of England’.
Mrs Cooper was last seen sitting on a large upturned earthenware plant pot, addressing every passer-by in a beautifully plaintive, wistful and other-worldly voice: “But what about my lovely daffodils?” It almost goes without saying that if you should spot Mrs Cooper in this delicate state over the next few difficult days, please approach her sensitively (but encouragingly) and offer her a slice of warm fudge cake and a large hot chocolate with extra whipped cream and sprinkles.
A fine, consoling hot chocolate of this quality may just be what Mrs Cooper needs right now.
<em>(Although every effort has been made to check for the suitability of each link from this page, neither the author nor the school can be held accountable for the content of any external website - particularly if it involves football or alligators. No opinion contained within this page can be attributed to any person - living or otherwise - and especially not Miss Dakin. The author wishes to thank all his wonderful colleagues for having a well-developed sense of humour, which he hopes he has not just extinguished...)</em>