An amateur treasure hunter has unearthed one of the largest and best preserved collections of Roman coins ever found in Britain. The hoard of 22,000 copper-alloy coins, which date back around 1700 years, was found on land near Seaton in East Devon, England. They are believed to have been intentionally buried for safe keeping, but were never recovered.
According to a report in the Western Gazette, the discovery was made by Laurence Egerton, a builder and metal detector enthusiast, who was operating under license on private land near the previously excavated site of a Roman villa.
“I had a signal on the metal detector which means that there is probably iron involved,” said Mr Egerton. “Most detectors are set up to ignore iron but I decided to dig the earth at that spot and immediately reached some iron ingots which were laid directly on top of the coins. The next shovel was full of coins – they just spilled out over the field,” he added.
Archaeologists were called in and began carefully extracting the coins, eventually pulling out more than 22,000 coins, which are believed to have originally been held in a fabric or leather bag which has not survived.
According to Devon County Archaeologist Bill Horner, the Roman copper-alloy coins date back to between AD 260 and AD 348 and bear the images of Emperor Constantine, his family, co-Emperors and immediate predecessors and successors. Experts estimate that the quantity of coins, would amount of a two-year salary of a soldier at the time.
The story behind how the coins came to be buried in a pit in Devon is a mystery, but Mr Horner suspects they were buried by an individual for safe-keeping, perhaps during a time of instability.
“There were no banks, so a good, deep hole in the ground was as secure a place as any to hide your savings in times of trouble, or if you were going away on a long journey,” said Mr Horner. “But whoever made this particular deposit never came back to retrieve it.”
Although other larger hoards have been found – 22,703 coins in Nether Crompton (1989) and 52,503 coins in Frome (2010) – the latest discovery, which has been named the “Seaton Down Hoard”, is considered the best preserved 4th century collections to have ever been found in Britain.
The hoard has been declared a Treasure under the Treasure’s Act, meaning that it is now eligible for acquisition by a museum, and the finder and landowner will be entitled to a reward equal to the market value of the hoard. The Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) in Exeter, is hoping to acquire the collections and has already launched a fund-raising campaign to raise the necessary funds.
Exeter City Councillor Rosie Denham said: “This extraordinary hoard will add greatly to our picture of life in Roman Devon. It would be a wonderful addition to RAMM’s collection of local Romano-British objects… Adding it to RAMM’s world-class collections will let the people of Devon share in one of the most significant archaeological finds to have been made in Britain for many years.”