Discovery of Iron Age coin hoard worth millions

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Iron Age coin hoard
worth millions


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

There was much excitement in Jersey in the summer of 2012 over the discovery of a hoard containing tens of thousands of coins by two metal detecting enthusiasts

A strip of gold running across the block in the centre of this picture alerted conservators to the presence of gold torques among the coins

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.

A strip of gold running across the block in the centre of this picture alerted conservators to the presence of gold torques among the coins

Three updates from

2014 - Hoard contains gold torques

The massive hoard of Celtic coins that was raised in a single block from a field in the Channel Island of Jersey in 2012 is proving to be even more precious a treasure trove than was immediately obvious, and that’s saying a lot since the Le Catillon II treasure is the largest Celtic coin hoard ever discovered. The original estimate of the number of coins by volume was 30,000 to 50,000. As the Jersey Museum’s conservator Neil Mahrer has worked his way down the hoard, unsticking the corroded coin cluster, the estimated number has increased to 70,000.

Finders Richard Miles and Reg Mead first began to search for the hoard when a woman told them a story 30 years ago about a pot of silver coins found when her father uprooted a tree on their farm in Grouville parish. She didn’t know exactly where this fabled discovery had happened but she knew the general area and Miles and Mead secured permission from the current landowner to search the field with metal detectors during the brief window between harvest and planting. Over the decades they scanned the property with no success until in February of 2012 they found 60 Celtic coins. They dug a little deeper and encountered a large solid object. Mead grabbed a handful of the soil on top and found a few silver coins inside. Being extremely responsible and awesome people, they immediately filled in the hole and alerted Jersey Heritage to the find.

It’s because of their dogged determination spanning three decades, and their respect for the archaeological context, that the Le Catillon II hoard was archaeologically excavated from the site and is now being archaeologically excavated in an extremely cool glass-walled laboratory in public view at the Jersey Museum. Richard Miles and Reg Mead are part of the conservation team. They’ve been particularly helpful in coin identification, classification and cleaning, and of course they’re superstars to museum visitors.

The first gold peeked through the vertical face of the hoard in July of 2012. When the green corrosion from the silver and silver alloy coins was washed away, a thin sheet of flattened and twisted gold that had once been a torc was revealed. Later that month, conservators found another gold torc above and to the left of the first one. Only a couple of inches of it were visible at first, but the curve looked proper to the original curve around the neck and there was no evidence of twisting or flattening. This tendered the exciting prospect that there might be an intact gold torc amidst the layers of packed coins.

It has been two and a half years since the first glimpses of torc, and only now have conservators gotten down to the layers where they are nestled. It took close to two years to get all the permits and funding sorted. During that time, Mahrer and the conservation team removed 2,000 loose coins from the surface and cleaned them. This summer, they were finally able to start work on taking apart the coin block, laser scanning each coin in the mass and after its removal to ensure they have as detailed a record of the block and coins at every possible stage. The hoard is too big and dense for X-rays to give conservators an excavation road map, so they’re only discovering what’s in there as they go along.

Shining clean coins, seen in all their glory for the first time in over 2000 years

Shining clean coins, seen in all their glory for the first time in over 2000 yearsIn the beginning the finds were coins and organic material. To preserve the organic material (mainly peat and plant stalks), the team had to move very slowly during the unsticking process. They found that, as expected, most of the coins in the hoard were staters and quarter staters of the Coriosolitae tribe. Unexpectedly, they regularly encountered petit billons, a small denomination that is so rare a few tens of them were known before this hoard. They’re so rare that nobody knows what tribe made them or when. Other numismatic surprises are two coins from the Osismii tribe, the Coriosolitae’s western neighbors: one a five-sided stater that contains some gold, one is a solid gold quarter stater of the Bull Standard type.

In November, they reached the torc area. The solid gold torc was first revealed to have a join in the back, a hole through which a pin would be inserted to close the piece around the neck. Then they found another much larger torc.

At first it appeared to be a thick, tightly curved gold torc but when cleaned back a bit it was revealed as a pair of solid gold “wheels” at the end of a thick, curved, gold torc collar. The wheels are about 4cm accross and the collar part about 15mm thick. We’ve now cleaned back enough coins to see that the torc appears to be constructed from two semi circular parts which would have fitted together to be worn. We’ve think we’ve exposed about 90% of the first part with the wheels and about 50% of the second. We don’t know what the other ends of both are like yet. The sheer size of this piece is amazing in comparison to everything else we’ve seen yet and the torc surface appears to be in good condition and of a very pure gold.

And then they found even more:

In the same way that we found the large torc while clearing around another one, we have continued to find more new pieces as we cleared around it. We’ve found another of the sheet gold objects long visible on the hoard’s side. This new one seems very similar but is possibly in better condition. We have also partially uncovered two other smaller diameter possibly solid gold torc sections, one towards the rear of the hoard and another towards its centre. As such we just don’t know how far the rich area of jewellery extends throughout the hoard’s body, but it’s certainly further than we initially thought. What we are going to do over the next few months therefore is to extend the coin removal out from the torc area to a 5cm depth over the whole surface and see what we find.

The temporary laboratory in Jersey museum, where visitors could see the coins being individually extracted

2017 - last coins extracted

Excavation of the enormous hoard of Celtic coins discovered by metal detectorists in the Channel Island of Jersey in 2012 is finally complete. Comprised of almost 70,000 coins, multiple gold torcs, glass beads and organic materials including plant fibers, a leather bag and a bag woven with silver and gold thread, the Le Catillon II treasure is the largest Celtic coin hoard ever discovered, six times larger than the runner-up.

When Reg Mead and Richard Miles found the hoard after 30 years of searching the same field because of a story they’d heard from the previous landowners daughter, they only dug down to the surface of the mass of coins before alerting Jersey Heritage so the professionals could take over the excavation. With such a great quantity of coins corroded together, archaeologists dug the entire hoard out of the ground in a single soil block measuring 4.5 x 2.6 feet and weighing three quarters of a ton.

The block was transported to the Jersey Museum where it was painstakingly excavated in the glass-walled laboratory in full public view. The museum’s conservator Neil Mahrer worked with a team of experts and volunteers to document, recover, identify and clean every single speck of archaeological material. For the first two years, they focused on removing and cleaning 2,000 loose coins on the surface of the block. In 2014 excavation of the coin mass began. The overwhelming majority of the coins were found to date to 30-50 BC and were made by the Coriosolite tribe of what is now Brittany.

Before a coin was removed from the block it was laser scanned so its exact position was recorded, and then once it was removed it was laser scanned on its own. One small subblock of coins was not excavated. Instead, it was snugly plastic wrapped and removed whole so that future conservators armed with new technologies have a clean, original section to study.

The scanning and removal of all the rest of the hoard took a lot of time. Four years after the find and almost three years after the excavation of the soil block began, Neil Mahrer scanned and removed the last ten coins of 70,000.

Neil Mahrer, who has led the conservation project from the beginning, said: “This is a significant milestone for the team. It has been painstaking but thoroughly intriguing work, which has delivered some very unexpected and amazing finds along the way.

“There is still plenty to do and I am sure the hoard will continue to surprise us as we clean and record the material.”

Some of the most important coins go on show in 2023

2021 - States of Jersey acquire hoard

The world’s largest Iron Age coin hoard, discovered in Jersey nine years ago, has been acquired by the Government of Jersey for £4.25 million. The Council of Ministers dipped into the civil asset recovery fund (moneys confiscated from criminal activities) to pay Her Majesty’s Receiver General, administrator of the Crown estate in Jersey, for the right to keep their own patrimony.

The Le Catillon II hoard was discovered by a pair of metal detectorists in February 2012. They had been searching that field for 30 years, looking for a coin treasure based on a tale they’d heard from the previous landowner’s daughter that she and her father had found coins in a jar buried in the field when she was a little girl. After three decades of fruitless searching, Reg Mead and Richard Miles found 60 coins of the Coriosolite tribe in what is now Brittany in one location. They dug down and encountered the top of what would prove to be a massive group of Celtic coins.

The find site was then thoroughly excavated by archaeologists who wrapped the mass of coins, hardened by corrosion into a half-ton block, and raised it in one giant chunk for excavation at the Jersey Museum in view of the public. Initial estimates of how many coins were crammed in there ranged from 30,000 to 50,000. As excavation continued, the estimate increased to 70,000; this turned out to be the accurate figure. Conservators then encountered a surprise: a section about the size of a shoebox containing six gold torcs. They also found other pieces of jewelry, glass beads, a leather purse and a woven bag containing silver and gold jewelry. It took five years to fully excavate the block. The last coin was removed in 2017.

Treasure finds in Jersey are legally complicated because of its status as a self-governing Crown Dependency. The finders wanted the Le Catillon II hoard declared treasure under the UK’s legislation or, if the French law was applied, that it belonged to the finders and landowner. They tried to make a case of it, to loosen up the Crown Dependency chains a little bit, but nothing came of it, and a decade later it came down to a buyout. The hoard’s value was initially estimated at £10 million, so at least they got charged the 'friends' price.

The historic collection of coins will now remain in Jersey Heritage’s care.

Part of the financial settlement included a £250,000 payment to Jersey Heritage for their work towards dismantling the coins, and an additional £250,000 which will be used to establish a trust.

The Crown will now undertake the work to establish an independent trust to promote scientific and educational research into the historic discovery.

Chief Minister John Le Fondre said the purchase was made “in the interest of the island”.

He said: “This is an outcome which will ensure that this unique part of Jersey’s history remains in the island for this and future generations.”


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