Discovery of Iron Age coin hoard worth millions

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July 2012

Conservator Neil Mahrer separating coins from the giant mass unearthed in a Jersey field

There has been much excitement in Jersey this summer over the discovery of a hoard containing tens of thousands of coins by two metal detecting enthusiasts.

Celtic coins

The find has been widely reported as consisting of Roman coins, but although they date from the period when Rome was conquering the nearby French coast, the coins were minted by Celtic tribes who are believed to have fled from Julius Caesar's advancing army and buried their treasure in a Jersey field.

This is not the first hoard of coins of this nature to be discovered in Jersey (11,000 coins were unearthed at La Marquanderie in 1935) but it is by far the largest. If the upper end of the current estimate of between 30,000 and 60,000 coints proves correct, this will be the largest find yet in the whole of Europe. The value of the one-ton mass of coins, which appears to include items of gold and silver jewellery, has been provisionally estimated at £10 million.

This was no chance discovery. Reg Mead and Richard Miles have been searching for over 30 years in a field in the east of the island (the location is being kept secret to deter others from hunting there) after hearing rumours that a farmer had found some silver pieces on his land. After many fruitless searches they unearthed a stash of 120 coins in February.

Far from satisfying them, this encouraged a further search using a powerful metal detector known as a deepseeker, and in late June they struck lucky. Jersey Heritage and La Société Jersiaise were informed and a decision was taken to carry out a proper archaeological excavation of the location before news of the find could leak out.

Both Jersey Heritage and the Societe Jersiase have said "this is a significant find". Phillip De Jersey, a former Celtic coin expert from Oxford, who helped in the unearthing of the hoard, said: "It is extremely exciting and very significant. It will add a huge amount of new information, not just about the coins themselves but the people who were using them.

Neil Mahrer, conservator with Jersey Heritage, who is in charge of separating and conserving the coins said: 'As we unravel the story behind the hoard we are beginning to make some very exciting discoveries.'

These discoveries appear to include a silver ring and a flattened gold torque, which could add considerably to the value of the find.

Julius Caesar

The coins are thought to date from the year 50BC while the armies of Julius Caesar were advancing north-westwards through France, driving the tribal communities towards the coast. Some of them would have crossed the sea to Jersey, finding a safe place of refuge away from Caesar's campaigns. The only place to store their wealth was to bury it in a secret place, where it has lain hidden for over two millennia.

It is impossible to put a firm figure on the number of coins but the mass lifted from its burial place is estimated to contain between 30,000 and 60,000 coins. If the upper estimate is correct the find could push the Frome Hoard of 52,000 Roman coins into second place as the biggest coin hoard ever discovered. Weighing three-quarters of a tonne, the cache is the largest collection of Celtic coins found in Jersey, an island known for its Iron Age coin hoards.

Careful excavation and recording by Société Jersiaise archaeologist Robert Waterhouse and Philip de Jersey showed that the coins had been deposited at the bottom of a roughly dug pit, a metre below current ground surface (though the Iron Age ground surface has been lost to ploughing). The hoard formed a tear-drop shaped solid mass, measuring 143cm x 80cm x 20cm, and the coins which have been identified to date are all of Armorican origin (modern day Brittany and Normandy) from a tribe called the Coriosolitae, who were based around the Rance valley in the area of modern-day St Malo and Dinan. They appear to be of 'billon' – an alloy of copper and silver.

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