Sunday, October 30, 2011

Roman coin hoards discovered in Shropshire and Worcestershire

Britain's Portable Antiquities Scheme announced this week details about two recent discoveries of Roman coin hoards. One involved the find of more than 9000 coins that was discovered in August 2009 by a novice metal detector user in the Shrewsbury area. This is one of the largest coin hoards ever discovered in Shropshire and recent work by the British Museum has revealed important new information about the find.

The finder, Mr. Nic. Davies, bought his first metal detector a month before making the find in August 2009. The hoard was discovered close to a public bridleway on land that Mr Davies did not have permission to detect on. The coins were placed in a very large storage jar which had been buried in the ground around 335 AD.
With the information provided by Mr Davies, an excavation was undertaken to learn how the coins were placed in the ground. This excavation showed that the pot was buried probably part full and topped up before being sealed with a large stone that acted as both a lid and marker.
Dr Eleanor Ghey, specialist in later Roman Coins at the British Museum, stated that in total 9,315 coins were collected from the pot and associated excavation. Further study has revealed that there are two distinct layers or phases within the pot: the coins at the top date from between 333- 335 AD, whereas the coins at the bottom were made at least 10 years earlier.
Dr Ghey said, "This is an exceptional find of late Roman coins from Shropshire. It challenges the view that the wealth circulating in the south of Britain at this time had little impact on the areas further north and west. Some of the coins in the hoard were produced in the eastern Mediterranean and travelled a long distance in the short time before they were buried. The fact that the coins were still in their pot when it was excavated has given us a fascinating snapshot of Roman life. Whoever buried these coins kept their location secret for a number of years before adding more to the hoard"
The lower phases of the pot also contain several fragments of preserved cloth and an iron nail. This is hugely significant, as organic remains normally rot in the ground. The presence of these materials could suggest a nailed up bag, deposited within the hoard. This practice, although rare, is possible evidence of a ritual offering. In the Roman world gifts were given to the gods in anticipation of future results (such as recovery of stolen property, improved health or a good harvest).


The majority of the coins are known as Nummi (which just means coin). These are made of bronze (copper alloy) and have small variable traces of silver within them. Nummi are one of the most commonly found coins in Roman Britain. Estimates as to their buying power vary. It is thought that each Nummus probably had a value broadly equivalent to that of our modern £1 coin. Thus the coins are likely to represent less than one year's pay for a Roman legionary soldier. The sheer number of coins, however, still represents considerable material wealth. This could be either that of an individual or of a community.
The Portable Antiquities Scheme also announced that metal detecting enthusiasts have uncovered Worcestershire's largest ever archaeological hoard. Thousands of Roman coins, unearthed near Evesham, represent the biggest hoard ever uncovered in the county. A selection from this find is now on display at the Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum.
The hoard was discovered in June this year by amateur enthusiasts Jethro Carpenter and Mark Gilmore with their metal detectors. Since the exciting discovery, experts from Worcestershire County Council Historic Environment and Archaeology Service (WHEAS) have undertaken an assessment of the site and uncovered evidence of a Roman settlement and found that the hoard was buried nearly a century after it was accumulated – the only known such British example – meaning the Worcestershire hoard is of national significance.
Richard Henry, Finds Liaison Officer, said "This discovery of this coin hoard is really exciting news for Worcestershire and of major significance not only for the county but also the country. The 3784 coins span 38 years and are a fascinating little piece of history dating from a turbulent time during which the Roman Empire saw revolts, rebellions, plague and invasions. This project is a fantastic example of the ways different professional groups and the finders can work together to help preserve our nation's heritage. We really hope people will take the time to come and visit our exhibition where they will get a chance to see some of the coins and have the opportunity to find out more about the treasure process, from discovery to identification."
The majority of the hoard (3,700 coins) depict a total of 16 different Roman Emperors and it is currently with the British Museum for conservation and research. This information, when complete, will enable the local Coroner to decide whether the hoard should be declared as Treasure. If this is the case, a valuation will be set by the independent Treasure Valuation Committee and Worcestershire County Museum will have four months to raise the funding if they decide to acquire the find for long-term exhibition in the county.
Jethro Carpenter, one of the hoard's discoverers, added, "As a child you watch pirate films and dream of finding buried treasure being uncovered in chests but the truth is that as a metal detector enthusiast you can hunt for months on end and find nothing so much as a dropped penny. On the day of the discovery, my detector was down for no more than five minutes when it started to make a high-pitched noise, indicating a lot of buried metal below foot. Even more excitingly, the screen flashed up 'overload'. Mark and I started digging and uncovered coin after coin. It was so exciting, my heart was racing as they just kept on appearing and I could see the head of an emperor visible indicating they were Roman. This find offers a window into a completely different world and it makes you wonder 'who buried these coins and why?' It's amazing that the Museums Service, archaeology experts and metal detectorists can work together to try and help us piece together this jigsaw."
Source: Portable Antiquities Scheme