The Frome Hoard, the second largest coin hoard ever found in Britain and the largest ever found in a single container, has gone on display for the first time at the newly refurbished Museum of Somerset in Taunton.
The hoard was discovered last April by hospital chef and metal detector enthusiast Dave Crisp in a field near Frome in Somerset. He found twenty or so copper coins just 14 inches under the surface but when he realized that beneath the loose coins was a large pot-bellied vessel packed to the brim with thousands more, he reported the find to the authorities. His conscientiousness ensured that this extraordinary find could be excavated properly by professionals, saving the two-foot-tall clay vase and the order in which the coins were added to it. Archaeologists were therefore able to determine that this was not savings hastily buried during troubled times with the expectation that the owners would return. The vessel’s base is too small to have supported the weight of all the coins. It was in all likelihood buried first, and then filled with coins gradually, probably as an offering to the gods.
The vase and coins went to the British Museum where they were examined in detail. There were 52,503 coins dating to the 3rd century, almost all of them made from copper alloy. Almost 800 of the coins were minted by quasi-emperor Carausius who revolted against Rome and declared him emperor of Britain and Gaul in the late 3rd century A.D. Five of them are silver, extremely rare Carausius silver denarii minted by the usurper. Carausius’ coins were the first Roman coins struck in London, and the coinage he issued is our primary source of information about his reign. Such a large group of Carausius coins found in one place may increase our understanding of the emperor and of the early London mint.
The museum has chosen to clean some of the coins thoroughly to show them as they would have looked when first placed in the vessel, but left most of the copper ones close to the condition in which they were found. The five silver denarii are in a separate display on their own.
The Museum of Somerset has spent three years and approximately $11 million on the renovation. In addition to the Frome Hoard, exhibits include dinosaur fossils, Stone Age artifacts, another immense hoard — the Shapwick Hoard of 9,238 silver coins, the largest hoard of Roman silver coins found in Britain — the bronze age South Cadbury Shield and the Low Ham mosaic, a mid-4th century mosaic floor from the baths of a Roman villa that is a 14 foot square representation of the story of Aeneas and Dido in five panels. It’s the earliest narrative art ever found in England.
The Museum of Somerset’s YouTube channel has a great introductory video about the Low Ham mosaic’s discovery and removal:
Here’s a neat time-lapse of the excavation of the Frome Hoard: