9th century coin hoard found in bog

Archaeologists have discovered an exceptional group of more than 250 9th century coins in a bog near Ribe, Denmark. A metal detector hobbyist found the first coin earlier this year, an extremely rare piece known as a face/deer coin after the stylized face design on the obverse and the deer going nose-to-nose with a snake on the reverse. Only 11 face/deer coins were known to exist before this summer. The Museum of Southwest Jutland got wind of it on August 14th and contacted the finder the next day. That’s when they discovered there wasn’t just one more face/deer coin, but a whole bunch more, likely deposited in the wetland as a ritual sacrifice.

Obverse of the face/deer coin with a stylized face in the center. Photo courtesy Southwest Jutland Museums.With the help of the finder, museum archaeologists surveyed the site using metal detectors and precision GPS to document every discovery. Over two days, they found 174 coins, 172 of them face/deer coins, the last two with Viking ships adorned with shields on the obverse and deer on the reverse. The coins were spread over an elongated oval about 165 by 50 feet in area, a distribution typical of coin deposits that have been scattered by repeated passes with plows. The way they were spread out suggests they were not buried in the bog, but rather placed on the ground in a single deposit, likely in a bag that was torn apart and destroyed over the centuries.

The team returned to the site in late October to excavate it. This time they found another 78 coins, 77 face/deer, 1 ship/deer. The condition of all of the coins is excellent. They were in such great shape that many of them shone like new through the clods of peat when they were recovered by the archaeologists.

“This is an exceptional find that means a quantum leap in our understanding of minting. They are Danish coins and clearly minted for the purpose of being implemented in Ribe,” [Museum of Southwest Jutland’s Claus] Feveile told DR Nyheder.

“This completely shifts our understanding of how we used to mint and the process of coin production.”

With no loops, perforations or clippings, it’s clear the coins were part of a money economy before their ritual deposition. The question of how much of a real monetary economy early Viking cities employed as opposed to a precious metal weight economy is a fraught one in the scholarship, and finding so many coins deposited in one place and preserved in perfect condition will give numismatic experts the unique opportunity to determine how many of these coins were minted and circulated. Initial examinations have already revealed that many different stamps were used to strike the coins, indicating a significant output that was in no way imaginable based solely on the two handfuls of coins known before this summer.

When these coins were struck in the first half of the 9th century, Gudfred and later his sons ruled as kings of the Danes. Gudfred is the first Danish king we have decently reliable evidence of in contemporary chronicles. He fought against Charlemagne and the Franks. His son Horik I (the only son whose name is recorded but not the only one to rule) carried on his father’s legacy by raiding the Carolingian Empire of Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious. We know little about Gudfred and his sons’ monetary policies or really much of anything about their reigns beyond their interactions with the Franks. The hoard may shed a whole new light on an obscure historical period.

The coins unearthed thus far were briefly on display at the Museum of Southwest Jutland for a week until November 4th before being removed for further study. The excavation at the find site continued through October 25th. Between August and now, a total of 252 coins have been recovered. Archaeologists don’t think there are many, or even any, left to find.

6 thoughts on “9th century coin hoard found in bog

  1. It sounds a bit haphazard just leaving a bag on the ground, as many of the coins would have remained there as well. Since it is a bog then the chances are that it was a lake at the time, which went the usual natural infilling process of bog lakes, leaving the coins underground and ready to be ploughed around a newly created field.

  2. In the ‘Capitulatio de partibus Saxoniae’ [for the ‘neighbouring Slav lands’] it reads :skull:

    “… VIII. Si quis deinceps in gente Saxonorum inter eos latens non baptizatus se abscondere voluerit et ad baptismum venire contempserit paganusque permanere voluerit, morte moriatur.” (If from now on any one from the Saxon people concealed among them choses to hide himself unbaptized, and should he haved contemned the step to baptism and wished to remain a pagan, he shall be punished by death). …

    Gudfred’s strikes against the Franks, therefore, might have been preemptive ones, as that coinage might have been ‘preemtive’. The flowerdiagram of Plantago major looks remarkably similar to what is there on the deer/snake coin flipside:

    Ond þu, wegbrade, wyrta modor,
    And you, Wegerich [Plantain], herbal mother,

    eastan openo, innan mihtigu;
    Open to the East, the Inner mighty;

    ofer ðe crætu curran, ofer ðe cwene reodan,
    over you carts drawn, over you queens rode,

    ofer ðe bryde bryodedon, ofer þe fearras fnærdon.
    over you brides trampled, over you bulls snorted.

    Eallum þu þon wiðstode and wiðstunedest;
    All of them you withstand and withstood;

    swa ðu wiðstonde attre and onflyge
    As you withstand poison and infection

    and þæm laðan þe geond lond fereð.
    and the loathed beyond the land farers.

    Wyrm com snican, toslāt he man,
    A worm came to snidle and killed a man,

    ða genam Wōden VIIII wuldortānas,
    There Odin took the VIIII glory twig/thanes,

    slōhða þa næddran, þæt heo on VIIII tofleah.
    slew the snake that it flew apart in VIII [bits].

    St. Rimbert notes with reference to his predecessor Ansgar in his ‘Vita Ansgari’ from around 875: “Meanwhile [I.e. in 854] it happened by divine judgment that King Horic was killed in war in a disturbance caused by pirates whilst his relations were attempting to invade his kingdom. Together with him all the chief men of that land, who had formerly been acquaintances and friends of the bishop, perished by the sword. [… For] they said that their gods were angry and that these great evils had come upon them because they had accepted the worship of another and an unknown god. Accordingly the chief of the village of Sliaswich, whose name was Hovi, who was specially opposed to this religion, urged the king to destroy the Christian faith, and he ordered the church that had been built there…” [Insuper et in alio portu regni sui apud Ripam [Ribe] exstrueret ecclesiam, in Dania secundam.]

    “[…] Nor did he fail to secure that for which he hoped, for the Lord strengthened him with spiritual consolation and he became assured that the religion which had begun to be established (in Sweden) would not perish, as the enemies of Christ were planning. By the help of the Lord matters turned out in the following way soon afterwards. […] the king showed his pleasure in receiving him by permitting him immediately to do everything connected with the Christian religion which his predecessor had formerly allowed to be done. Moreover, he agreed that there should be a bell in the church, the use of which the pagans regarded as unlawful. In another village called Ripa, situated within his kingdom, he likewise gave a site for the erection of a church and granted permission for a priest to be there…”

  3. “We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
    No matter how trifling the cost;
    For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
    And the nation that pays it is lost!”

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