A RARE Roman artefact, described by a metal detectorist as the 'find of his life', was initially mistaken for a tent peg.

Tim Moody, from Charney Basset, near Wantage, discovered the ancient measuring instrument – similar to a pair of compasses – about 10 inches beneath the surface of an undisclosed farmer's field, somewhere in the county.

The 18cm bronze 'dividers' feature an eagle's head and decorative scrolls, and would have been used for drawing maps or illustrating manuscripts at the end of the Roman period in Britain.

It only caught Mr Moody's attention when he examined his day's findings.

He said: "When I first pulled it out of the ground I thought it was an old tent peg.

"I put it in my finds bag and thought no more about it until I washed it in the sink later on. I could see the detail – the eagle’s head and the scrolls – was unlike anything I’d ever seen and I realised immediately it must be something of importance."

Mr Moody, an electrical consultant who began metal detecting as a teenager, said he then got in contact with Oxfordshire Museum Service.

He said: "The academics were thrilled and the museums service asked if they could put it on display.

"I was more than happy to donate the artefact, which is probably one of my best finds. I have found a lot of silver coins and once found a gold coin dating to the time of Edward III, but never anything like this before."

The find has caught the attention of local academics as it is a rare example of its kind, dating to the fifth or sixth century – a crucial historical period marking the transition from Roman Britain to the early Anglo-Saxon era.

The dividers are set to go on display at the Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock as part of a new exhibition celebrating archaeological objects discovered by the general public, which will open on September 23.

Finds Liaison Officer for Oxfordshire Museum Service, Anni Byard, said: "Roman dividers are uncommon objects and, of those known, the vast majority are plain, undecorated utilitarian objects of early Roman date.

"The running ring-and-dot decoration on these dividers does suggest a late Roman or even early Saxon date so they are a really important discovery.”

Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet member for Cultural Services, Lorraine Lindsay-Gale, said: "It is fantastic that Mr Moody has generously donated his find to The Oxfordshire Museum, where it will go on display and remain accessible in a public collection."

More information on the dividers can be found by visiting finds.org.uk/database using the reference code BERK-8A377C.