Skip to main content

"Just finding the history": digging for coins on a British archaeological site

A hoard of some 1400 Roman coins dating to the 4th century CE have been recovered from an archaeological site near Newport Pagnell (Laura Hannam, "Treasure hunters set to coin it with Roman haul", MK News). The recovery took place in the dark during a December evening: "It was about 5.30pm at this time of year so it was pitch black and we couldn't see a thing." And this was not a surface find: the hoard was about 1 metre (c. 3 feet) below the surface. The report adds, "it is believed the hoard was deposited on a Roman rubbish pit." Sadly this archaeological context is now disrupted.

Paul Barford has already commented on the story making the point that this find shows that Roman coins can be found in association with an archaeological site. Indeed the hoard contradicts the misinformation generated by Dave Welsh, one of the officers of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) (see also other comments).


Wayne G. Sayles said…
Get a life! It seems not to matter at all to you or Mr. Barford that the find was legal and was reported. What do you want? Never mind, we all know what you want.
David Gill said…
Dear Wayne
Thank you for your comment.
What do I want? (I cannot speak for others.) One thing would be to see our cosmopolitan world heritage protected from unnecessary damage and vandalism.
What do you think I want?
But I am sure that we could both agree that so much more could be understood about the coins from this Newport Pagnell hoard if the finds had been excavated in a scientific way.
With best wishes
Paul Barford said…
Well, not just the "coins" but the context they were taken from. The whole point of the current legislation in England and Wales (and that reward system) is to preserve archaeological information as much as the loose finds themselves. [The state could just buy them back off eBay at market value if it just wanted the shiny gee-gaws.] The point is that finders are being rewareded in the current system to report finds in a way that they and their findspots/ contexct of deposition can be recorded properly. That's what the Codes of Practice are written for, that's what the PAS is being funded for. That is part of the bargain Britain has with artefact hunters and collectors. So it is disturbing to see that the media (let alone messers Sayles and Tompa and all the rest over there the other side of the sea who think like them) do not seem to be able to judge whether what happened was good or bad practice. What kind of message ("outreach") does that send out to everyone? Where is the PAS commentary on these events?
gary.brun said…
Now does your post above fit with this??
It was excavated correctly. You need to get your facts correct before accusing people.

David Gill said…

Thank you for your comment and for sharing the images of the coins and the removal of the coin hoard. My posting drew attention to the fact that the coins were removed from a depth of 1 m - and that their removal continued well into the dark (which must have made any 'recording' difficult).

What was the relationship of this hoard to other archaeological features? I do not feel that my posting 'accused' those involved; my strongest comment was, 'Sadly this archaeological context is now disrupted.'

What I do not see in your photographs on the web are images of the coin hoard in the ground or of the container.

You say that the hoard was excavated 'correctly'. Are there plans of the find? The newspaper report suggested that this was a Roman rubbish dump. What is the evidence for this?

It would be helpful to have some more information about this find.

Best wishes
Paul Barford said…
David and Gary,
I got the same link sent as a comment to my blog too (three times). Its difficult to be sure, but I think this photo shows Julian Watters from Verulamium Museum (FLO for Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire) digging something, rather than the ywo pensioners depicted in the Milton Keynes News article we are discussing. Whether or not it is the hoard the discovery of which in Dec 2006 is reported in that newspaper article remains to be demonstrated. I too would like more information, including why a Norwegaian metal detectorist feels able to contradict a newspaper report of what was stated at a coroner's inquest in the United Kingdom a few days ago.

I tried to register on the Central Searchers website last night to follow up this lead Mr Brun gave, but the list moderators [Gill and Richard Evans] deleted my account before I could even use it. Its difficult not to get the feeling that somebody is trying to hide something here...
gary.brun said…

I can not comment on the archaeological context etc. but you can I'm sure you can contact Julian Walters the Beds FLO who was involved in the case.
What you must also take into consideration is that blogs such as your own do more to damaging the heritage by causing mistrust between archaeologists and metal detectorists.
Those of us who are "responsible" metal detectorists and encourage the recording of finds... now have to work a lot harder to to repair the mess because of disinformation.
While the heritage belongs to everyone and as a person who also has the right to it... I would kindly request you get your facts right before sticking the boot in.
In all honesty I think you saw a article that you could obtain another nail in the coffin of naughty detectorists.

Best wishes
David Gill said…
Thank you for these comments. I have already contacted Julian Watters of the Verulamium Museum about this find.
A key point that I was making on my posting was that Roman coins can be found on archaeological sites (the mention of a Roman dump is perhaps suggestive and significant).
Drawing attention to the story was hardly 'sticking the boot in'. But the find was relevant to the wider discussion relating to the collecting of ancient material (including coins).
Best wishes
Dear David,

I found myself wanting to say more than I could here and have made some additional observations
on Numismatics and Archaeology.
BAJR said…
Just a quick post to point out where misunderstanding and misquotes can cause trouble.

The name of the blog is looting matters (which it does) and therefore any story within this blog will be seen as a looting related story. second, making statements such as
"Sadly this archaeological context is now disrupted." - this is a statement based on assumption.. you do not know this as a fact... neither do I know it is not true. Talking with Julian is best.
I have to say, that the images don't show a 3 ft hole... and this may (or may not) be exaggeration.

Having an opinion is one thing, but making statements of facts, based on assumptions or 'what I read in a newspaper" can be misleading, causing misinformation to spread.

I would not agree with the excavation beneath the plough soil - I would agre with responsible action of getting archaeologists involved.. which is the case here. IF I don't know... i tend to keep quiet.. lest I say something I can't back up.


David Gill said…
We need clarification from the finds officer. There does seem to be a discrepancy between the report in the newspaper (following the Coroner's hearing in Milton Keynes) and the published photographs. After all, the digging does not appear to be taking place in the dark. But I am sure there is some explanation.
Best wishes
BAJR said…
I do agree that we all need clarification from the finds officer before getting to carried away. Perhaps it would have been better to get that first.

I suspect the 'truth' will be somewhere in the middle (who knows), but until then, do you not agree that statements about;
"the archaeological context being now disrupted"
and the mention that the finds were;
"recovered from an archaeological site" where perhaps premature as neither you (or I or anyone looking at this blog) know if either of these statements is true (or not).

Who knows, the photos may not be of the site, but then they might be? the hole may have been 1 metre deep or it may not have been... its all supposition just now, based on a report in a newspaper. (I was once quoted in a newspaper as saying the Emperor Agricola conquered Scotland with 500 German cavalry from his capital of Dalkeith - trust me... I was misquoted! )

many thanks
David Gill said…
For comments from the Finds Officer see here.

Popular posts from this blog

Marble bull's head from the temple of Eshmun

Excavations at the temple of Eshmun in Lebanon recovered a marble bull's head. It is now suggested that it was this head, apparently first published in 1967, that was placed on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tom Mashberg, "Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors", New York Times August 1, 2017 ). The head is reported to have been handed over to the Manhattan district attorney after a request was received from the Lebanese authorities.

It is suggested that the head may have been looted from an archaeological storage area at Byblos in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war. Mashberg has rehearsed the recent collecting history:
The owners of the bull’s head, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title to the item and have sued Manhattan prosecutors for its return.  The Beierwaltes bought the head from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector, Michael …

Sardinian warrior from "old Swiss collection"

One of the Sardinian bronzes of a warrior was seized from an as yet unnamed Manahattan gallery. It appears to be the one that passed through the Royal-Athena Gallery: Art of the Ancient World 23 (2012) no. 71. The collecting history for that warrior suggests that it was acquired in 1990 from a private collection in Geneva.

Other clues suggested that the warrior has resided in a New York private collection.

The identity of the private collection in Geneva will no doubt be telling.

The warrior also features in this news story: Jennifer Peltz, "Looted statues, pottery returned to Italy after probe in NYC", ABC News May 25 2017.

Attic amphora handed back to Italians

The research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has led to the return of an Attic red-figured amphora, attributed to the Harrow painter, to Italy (Tom Mashberg, "Stolen Etruscan Vessel to Be Returned to Italy", New York Times March 16, 2017).

The amphora is known to have passed through the hands of Swiss-based dealer Gianfranco Becchina in 1993, and then through a New York gallery around 2000 (although its movements between those dates are as yet undisclosed).

During the ceremony, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the District Attorney stated:
“When looters overrun historic sites, mine sacred spaces for prized relics, and peddle stolen property for top dollar, they do so with the implicit endorsement of all those who knowingly trade in stolen antiquities” More research clearly needs to be conducted on how material handled by Becchina passed into the North American market and into the hands of private and public collectors.