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