University of Leicester Archaeologists Investigate Treasure Trove
Largest hoard of Iron Age gold and silver coins ever found in Britain
Amateur archaeologists have discovered the site of the largest hoard of Iron Age gold and silver coins ever found in Britain, along with a unique Roman gilded silver helmet. The local group who work with the Leicestershire County Council’s Community Archaeology Project discovered the site while fieldwalking in east Leicestershire in 2000. A group member, Ken Wallace, returned with a metal detector and found hundreds of Iron Age coins dating back 2000 years.
Mr Wallace’s discoveries led to excavations in 2001 and 2003 carried out by University of Leicester Archaeological Services, directed by Vicki Priest with assistance from members of the local archaeological group and funded by English Heritage, BBC Television and the British Museum.
In excess of 3000 silver and gold coins have been found, mostly made by the local Iron Age tribe - the Corieltauvi. This is almost the first time Iron Age coin hoards have been excavated. Evidence for feasting at the site suggests that the coins were probably offerings at an important open air religious centre, possibly associated with the Druids. The silver decorated Roman cavalry helmet is the only one ever found in England. Such helmets were worn by high-ranking officers on parade and evidence indicates that it might have been buried before the Roman Conquest. This raises the intriguing possibility that a Leicestershire man may have travelled to the Roman Empire and served in the Roman cavalry before Britain was conquered by Rome.
Peter Liddle, Leicestershire County Council’s Senior Archaeologist, said
“This is by far the most dramatic archaeological find ever made in Leicestershire, but across the County members of our local community archaeology groups are finding sites week in and week out. Our training courses give people the confidence to undertake their own research and we are reaping the benefits in terms of new information about our past”.
Dr Patrick Clay, Director of University of Leicester Archaeological Services who undertook the excavation, added: “The discovery was not by chance but the result of the ongoing fieldwalking programme by community archaeology groups working in Leicestershire. The excellent rapport between the community group and the professional archaeologists has meant that a detailed excavation has been possible revealing this unique religious site. The excavation, directed by Vicki Priest, located eighteen groups of coins many of which still retained the shape of the bags which held them”.
Dr J D Hill of the British Museum commented: “This is a discovery of international significance, and one that has surprised us at every turn. Hardly any Iron Age coin hoards have ever been scientifically excavated before. Then to discover the silver helmet and then the bones from feasting was even more of a shock. Together they can tell us a story about the ritual that happened here 2000 years ago, and force us to rethink just how important Leicestershire was before the Romans”.
Jon Humble, the regional English Heritage Inspector of Ancient Monuments, said “We were delighted to fund the investigation of this tantalising site. It was hugely important that the discoveries were recorded very carefully in the field, and then examined in further detail in the laboratory. This has enabled the chapters that survive of a 2000 year old human tale to be put together and read. The work was very timely indeed, as within another year or two the evidence of how the objects were put in the ground - their ‘context’ - would have been lost to the plough. This project has been a great success story for archaeology”.
The discovery will be the subject of a coroner’s inquiry on 8 April to decide if it qualifies as Treasure under the Treasure Act (1996). Depending on the outcome of the inquest it is hoped that a local Museum or the British Museum will acquire the discoveries. Even if they are acquired by the national museum, it is hoped they can be displayed in Leicestershire as often as possible.
The discovery is being filmed by BBC television for a programme to be shown in the autumn.
DR PATRICK CLAY can be contacted by telephone on 0116 252 2848.
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