Dea Senuna: Treasure, Cult and Ritual at Ashwell, Hertfordshire

Dea Senuna: Treasure, Cult and Ritual at Ashwell, Hertfordshire” by Ralph Jackson and Gilbert Burleigh was published by The British Museum on Monday 19th March 2018, here are some of the points made in Ralph Jackson’s and my text:

“The Ashwell Hoard is an unprecedented find both in Britain and in the wider Roman world. In Britain there has been no equivalent discovery of ‘temple treasure’ within living memory. It is paralleled only by the 18th-century finds from Barkway, Hertfordshire (1743) and Stony Stratford, Buckinghamshire (1789) and, less directly, by that said to be from Backworth, Tyne and Wear, found around the year 1811. In contrast to the Ashwell Hoard those three finds preserve almost no information concerning their discovery or archaeological context. In terms of its finding circumstances, then, the Ashwell Hoard is exceptional even amongst the small number of precious metal votive hoards from Roman Britain. But it is exceptional in other ways, too, most notably in the inclusion of a silver figurine, unique gold jewellery and votive plaques of gold and by the proportionately large number of plaques with votive inscriptions and with die-stamped figural decoration. The silver figurine of Senuna, a hitherto unknown native British goddess, is unparalleled in Roman Britain………If the dedication of a large, high-quality, silver-gilt figurine is evidence of a votary of some means amongst the followers of Senuna so, too, and even more so, is the gold jewellery, which may be interpreted as a suite. It is a very rare survival outside Rome itself. Numerically, the greater part of the Ashwell Hoard is the collection of 20 gold and silver votive leaf plaques, which, in form and number, are a unique survival. The importance of the hoard, whose ‘new’ goddess caught the imagination of the public as well as the academic world, was such that it demanded an archaeological investigation of the find-spot. Its discovery triggered the fieldwork that illuminated the immediate setting of the hoard and then expanded that setting into the wider landscape. The progressive results of fieldwalking, geophysical surveys and excavations led to a fuller understanding of the circumstances surrounding the choice of site for the burial of the hoard, of the nature and use of the site itself and of its relationship to surrounding structures, settlements and natural landscape features. Almost the first find from the excavations was the missing silver pedestal from the silver-gilt figurine, a key find, and, better still, inscribed. In reconnecting the image of the female deity to the dedicatory vow, inscribed for the votary Flavia Cunoris, it instantly multiplied the meanings and hugely enhanced the significance of an already important object. That discovery set the tone for the excavations, which went on to reveal not a formal temple building, as initially suspected, but a unique and fascinating open-air ritual site, where feasting, religious activity and ritual deposition took place over a long period of time, seemingly extending as far back as the Bronze Age.”

Dea Senuna: Treasure, Cult and Ritual at Ashwell, Hertfordshire” is now officially published and copies are available for sale at the British Museum

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