POLICE have recovered two Roman lead coffins stolen from Colchester by tomb raiders.
Officers have been investigating after the Gazette revealed in September how one decorative coffin had appeared for auction after being taken from an excavation in the town in 2004.
It was first thought this was the only stolen coffin, and it had been taken from a building site off Napier Road.
However, following extensive investigations, PC Andy Long, heritage crime officer at Essex Police, discovered there were two and it appeared both had been taken from the St Mary’s area.
Last week he recovered one from an auction house in Cirencester and another from a house near Melton Mowbray.
Both belonged to the same man, with the second discovered in his house. He was completely unaware they had been stolen.
Eventually, the first buyer was tracked down. PC Long said: “He bought them from a digger driver who was working on a building site in Colchester in 2004. He was told they had been offered to the museum and they didn’t want them.”
In fact, Colchester Museums knew nothing about the coffin lids.
Although it has not been proven they are from St Mary’s, it is beyond reasonable doubt they were taken from Colchester because of the detailed decoration on the lids.
They match those of others found in Colchester and are almost certainly the work of the same coffin maker, who would have used a bracelet to make the decorations.
PC Long has spoken to the developer of the St Mary’s site and the construction company, who know nothing about the thefts.
Although the company said they remembered two coffins, they were also unaware they had been stolen.
Unfortunately, the original owner who first bought the coffins also has extensive dementia and cannot give any further information.
However, a report is being carried out by Colchester Archaeological Trust on the coffin lids to prove they are stolen.
Once it is complete, PC Long will ask the coffins’ owner to sign them over to Essex Police, which will then hand them to Colchester Museums.
PC Long said: “The person who originally sold them on, and his friends, knows what happened.
“I’m hoping someone may come forward and say ‘I remember and this is the person who sold them on’.
“In the end, we have got the coffin lids back. I’m hoping once we prove they have been stolen they will end up in Colchester Museum. Although their monetary value isn’t great, their historic value is immense. Having these things in private hands is terrible. You can learn so much about them and it’s very important they are in public hands.”
The coffin lids, which were made for a six-year-old child and a teenager, are being looked after by the Colchester Archaeological Trust. If you have any information call PC Long on 101.