Time Team expert called in as River Axe gives up latest secrets

Shifting sediments deep beneath the Mendip Hills have revealed a complete ceramic pot as well as the top of another and pottery sherds dating back to the Roman occupation.

The first pot – round with a narrow neck and small pouring handle – was discovered along with two sherds from a larger pot some four metres down in the underwater passages connecting chambers three and four at Wookey Hole Caves in Somerset.

The top section of a second pot, similar in style, turned up in the resurgence, or cave mouth, a few weeks after the first items were recovered.

Divers Michael Thomas and his son Robert were training when they made the original discovery.

The pot and sherds were taken to former Time Team regular and Roman specialist Mark Corney for identification.

Miranda Litchfield from Wookey Hole Caves said: “To find a complete pot is extremely rare. To find these items inside a cave system is rarer still. We are eagerly awaiting the results of the investigation to try and date and better identify the pot and shards found. It is very unusual to discover a pot in such excellent condition.”

Cave divers Michael and Robert Thomas had swum around a metre off the normal route and caught a glimpse of the pot in their torch beams.

Michael Thomas’ photograph is taken of the first pot in situ, covered in a layer of silt which up until 2019, had kept this treasure completely hidden.

“Vince Simmonds’ photograph shows the first pot after a professional cleaning. This photo was taken prior to it being sent to a specialist for investigation.

“It’s fantastic to think how the cave system keeps surprising us, revealing artefacts of this quality and obvious antiquity.

“The scope for further controlled underwater excavations is tantalising. Wookey Hole Caves is often regarded as the ‘Mecca’ of UK cave diving and what lies beyond the water’s edge, could be a treasure trove of ancient relics – just waiting to be discovered.”

Initial examination suggests all the items were late third-fourth century flasks or flagons from the Oxford or New Forest pottery industries – which were active during Roman rule.

Miranda Litchfield went on: “It is hoped to display the finds in the Cave Diving museum once identification work has been completed. With all new artefacts and discoveries, part of the professional process is to make them accessible to the public.

“This might turn out to be one of the greatest archaeological discoveries ever made at Wookey Hole Caves.”

Many items have been washed out of the caves over the years including skulls and bones from what is believed to be a burial chamber deep in the heart of the Mendips. These chambers have long since been flooded by the River Axe.

In June 1946 a skull, bones and a Romano-British pot were discovered just upstream of The Witch. Pottery is often identified as grave goods – containers for food for the journey to the after-life.