Archive for the ‘Treasures’ Category

Unique figurine wears ancient British hoodie

Thursday, March 3rd, 2022

A unique Roman-era copper alloy figurine of a man wearing the birrus Britannicus, the characteristic heavy wool caped hood worn of native Britons, that almost fell through the cracks in the Treasure Act was saved from exile and is now one of the gems of the collection of the Chelmsford City Museum.

The figurine was discovered near Chelmsford in 2015 by a metal detectorist. It is just two-and-a-half inches high and weighs 66 grams (2.3 oz). The arms below the elbows and legs below the knees broke off in antiquity, but the figure’s posture is still evident. The right arm is held out horizontally with the elbow bent so that the missing forearm pointed down. The left arm is bent upwards at the elbow. The left leg is straight; the right bent at the knee suggesting the contrapposto position.

It’s his fashion that makes him unique. He wears a tunic with a pleated skirt belted at the waist. His birrus Britannicus crosses his shoulders at the front and then drapes all the way down his back to his knees. The back of the cloak is incised with a double V from the top of the shoulders to the bottom, perhaps meant to represent a quiver. Small v-shapes in a horizontal orientation decorate the left and right edges of the cloak and the deep triangle of the V. The hood is up, coming to point over the center of forehead that then crests down to the nape of the neck.

Copper figurines from the Roman period are not in and of themselves exceptionally rare, but they usually depict deities and the ones that do feature people in hooded cloaks are not wearing the birrus, but rather the Gallic style cloak. There are no known parallels of the Chelmsford birrus Britannicus figurine on the archaeological record, even though we know from the Edict of Diocletian that they were exported throughout the empire. Diocletian’s Edict on Maximum Prices (301 A.D.) fixed the price of the British hooded cloak at 6,000 denarii, 2,000 more than the highest quality of military mantle and 4,000 more than the best Phrygian hooded cloak.

An almost identical hooded figure, with contrapposto legs and raised arms, the right hand pointed down, the left up, is depicted in a 4th A.D. mosaic in the dining room at Chedworth Roman Villa in Gloucestershire, southwest England. The floor mosaic features personifications of the four seasons, one in each corner. Winter is wearing a birrus Britannicus over a tunic and trousers. In his right hand he holds a hare from the hunt; in his left hand is a branch denuded of leaves, a symbol of the season. It is the only known Roman-era mosaic depicting of a native Briton.

The figurine was not declared treasure because it’s not made of precious metals, even though it is a one-of-a-kind depiction and was deemed of national importance by the Portable Antiquities Scheme. It was sold for a comparative pittance of £550 ($730), and thankfully when the UK Ministry of Culture deferred an export license to give a local museum a chance to keep this most British of Roman figurines in Britain, the Chelmsford City Museum was able to acquire it.


Galloway Hoard rock crystal and gold jar bears bishop’s name

Friday, December 17th, 2021

An extraordinary carved rock crystal jar from the Galloway Hoard has been cleaned and conserved by experts at the National Museums Scotland (NMS), revealing it to be a Roman crystal jar wrapped in elaborate layers of gold thread from the late 8th or early 9th century. The base is inscribed with the name of an Anglo-Saxon bishop, strong evidence that some of the treasures in the hoard were taken from a church in the early medieval Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria.

The richest Viking assemblage of high-status objects ever found in Britain or Ireland, the Galloway Hoard was discovered by a metal detectorist in a field near Castle Douglas in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland in September 2014. After a major fundraising campaign, National Museums Scotland was able to acquire the hoard for an ex gratia payment of £1.98 million ($2,550,000) in 2017. Years of complex examination, conservation and cleaning ensued, revealing an astonishing wealth of rare objects including a silver pectoral cross with niello enamel decoration that is unique on the archaeological record, a gold bird-shaped pin, also unique, and a silver-gilt pot of a type known to have been produced in the Carolingian Empire which is one of only three known from Britain and the only one of them found complete with its original lid.

The pot was wrapped in woven textiles. To preserve them and excavate the interior as cautiously as possible, conservators had the pot CT scanned, revealing the treasures packed inside, including a 9th century Anglo-Saxon brooch, an Irish penannular brooch, a gold reliquary pendant and a hinged silver strap. Each object was wrapped in a precious textile like silk samite or fine leather.

While much of the Galloway Hoard outside of the pot has toured Scotland and is currently on display at  Kirkcudbright Galleries in the hoard’s home region of  Dumfries and Galloway, the vessel and its contents are undergoing a three-year project of meticulous conservation and research.

The project has already born extraordinary results. A 3D model created from X-ray imaging that captured the surface of the pot obscured beneath the fabric wrapping revealed it is not of Carolingian origin at all. The iconography of leopards, tigers and Zoroastrian symbols is typical of Sasanian Empire (224-651 A.D.) art, which means this vessel came from Persia, not continental Europe. Radiocarbon dating of textile samples from the three layers wrapped around the vessel found it was produced between 680 and 780 A.D., so it was 100-200 years old by the time the hoard was buried.

One of the objects inside the vessel was the rock crystal jar. When it was first removed, it was bundled in a textile wrapping that proved to be a silk-lined leather pouch. 3D X-ray imagining saw through the wrapping to the object within and revealed the Latin inscription on the base which read: “Bishop Hyguald had me made.”

Conservators painstakingly removed the pouch and cleaned the rock crystal. They found from the surface of the jar that it started out as the capital of Corinthian column made of rock crystal in the late Roman Empire. At some point over the next 500 years, the capital of the crystal column was converted into a jar and wrapped in gold thread.

There is the possibility that this jar still bears trace elements of the potion it once held and that its precise chemicals can be revealed.

[Dr. Martin Goldberg, NMS’s principal curator of early medieval and Viking collections] said: “The type of liquid that we would expect would be something very exotic, perhaps a perfume from the Orient, something’s that’s travelled in the same way that the silk has. There were certain types of exotic oil that were used in anointing kings and ecclesiastical ceremonies.”

Below are the 3D models of the rock crystal jar before and after conservation.


Largest hoard of Roman silver found in Augsburg

Thursday, November 11th, 2021

City archaeologists in Augsburg have unearthed the largest Roman silver hoard ever discovered in Bavaria. The hoard of approximately 5,600 silver denarii from the 1st and 2nd centuries was found in the Oberhausen district, the oldest part of the city, at the site of a planned residential development.

The coins in the hoard range in date from the reign of Nero in the mid-1st century to that of Septimius Severus shortly after 200 A.D. Emperors Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius are represented, as is a far less prominent emperor, Didius Julianus, who reigned for all of three months (March-June 193) after buying the purple when it was auctioned off by the Praetorian Guard. His coinage is much rarer, therefore, as his window to mint money was so short.

Augsburg was founded under Augustus between 8 and 5 B.C. as the Roman military camp on the banks of the Wertach river near its confluence with the Lech river. It was the earliest Roman fort established in the Alpine foothills, freshly conquered in 15 B.C. by Augustus’ stepson Tiberius. By around 10 A.D., the temporary camp had been transformed into a fort capable of housing 3,000 soldiers. A civilian settlement outside the camp quickly grew into the town of Augusta Vindelicorum which became the capital of the new Imperial province of Raetia in the reign of Tiberius. While there were no legions quartered there after 70 A.D., the city continued to grow and prosper

At the end of the 3rd century, the Emperor Diocletian reformed imperial administration and the province was governed by a dux, the top military authority in the region. Lesser government officials still administered the day-to-day civil affairs of the province from Augusta Vindelicorum.

The silver coins were discovered not far from the site of the earliest Roman base in Bavaria, also in the gravel of an old Wertach river bed. The area of ​​a future residential area had been archaeologically examined there. A container could no longer be identified. “We assume that the treasure was buried outside the city of Augusta Vindelicum near the Via Claudia running there in the early 3rd century and was never recovered. The hiding place was probably washed away many centuries later by floods in Wertach and the coins were thus scattered in the river gravel,” explains Sebastian Gairhos, head of Augsburg’s city archeology. “A simple soldier earned between 375 and 500 denarii in the early 3rd century. The treasure therefore has the equivalent of around 11 to 15 annual salaries.”

In addition to the coin hoard, archaeologists have discovered hundreds of Roman artifacts in the gravel from the former river bed (the Wertach’s path was straightened in 1900). They found weapons, tools, jewelry, dishes, vessels and much more sifting through 1000 cubic meters of river gravel, all of them believed to have come from the 1st century B.C. military base.

The recovered objects, many of which are heavily corroded and thick with concretions from centuries spent on a riverbed, will be analyzed and conserved. The city hopes to find a permanent home for them in a new museum dedicated to Augsburg’s Roman history, but that’s a bit of a pipe dream at the moment since there are no plans for its construction. Meanwhile, a selection of the coins from the hoard and other artifacts found in the excavation will go briefly on display at the Armory House of Augsburg from December 17, 2021 to January 9, 2022.


French manor reno coins sell for $1.2 million

Thursday, September 30th, 2021

The stash of 17th century gold coins found during the renovation of a mansion in Plozévet, Brittany, has sold at auction for a collective €1 million ($1.2 million), far exceeding the pre-sale estimate of  €250,000-300,000 ($296,000-$355,000).

The coins were discovered by stonemasons in 2019. They were in two separate stashes, one set in a metal box in one wall, the other in a bag in another wall. The grand total was 239 coins, all gold, 23 of them minted under Louis XIII, 216 during the reign of Louis XIV. Property owners Véronique and François Mion kept four as souvenirs and put the rest up for auction. There were so many interested buyers at the September 23rd auction and bidding was so intense that it took five hours to get through all the coins.

Bidding opened at 8,000 euros for a very rare double Louis d’Or [with a long lock] , depicting Louis XIV and dating back to 1646. It went for 46,000 euros, the same price as a Louis d’Or from Paris dated 1640 and stamped with the Templar’s Cross.

“Bids were flying from everywhere – in the room, on internet and on the telephone,” said auctioneer Florian D’Oysonville.

France passed a treasure law in 2016 that claims all archaeological materials found as property of the state, but it was not retroactive. Because the owners bought the property in 2012, they were able to sell the coins at auction and split the proceeds of the sale 50/50 with the stonemasons who actually found the treasure.

Museums do get one other bite at the apple, however. French institutions have the right of preemption, meaning they can claim any lot offered at auction for the final price after the hammer falls. The Monnaie de Paris, France’s national mint which has been in continuous operation since 864 A.D., made liberal use of their statutory rights in the sale of the Plozevet Treasure. They preempted 19 of the 235 coins sold. I’d bet a Louis d’Or that the long lock and templar coins were among them. (Spoiler: I do not have a Louis d’Or.)


Roman gold coins found off coast of Spain

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021

A group of 53 Roman gold coins have been discovered on the seabed off the coast of Xàbia in Alicante, southeastern Spain. They are gold solidi ranging in date from the late 4th to the early 5th century, and are in such excellent condition that all the coins but one could be identified. There are three solidi from the reign of Emperor Valentinian I, seven from  Valentinian II, 15 from Theodosius I, 17 from Arcadius and 10 from Honorius.

The coins were discovered on the sea bottom next to Portitxol island, a popular destination for sport divers because of the rich marine life that inhabits its seaweed meadows of its rocky bed. Even so, it managed to hide dozens of Roman gold coins for 1,500 years until freedivers Luis Lens and César Gimeno spotted eight flashes of light on the seafloor. At first they thought they were modern ten cent pieces, or maybe mother-of-pearl shells gleaming in the water. They picked up two of them.

When they returned to the boat, they saw that they were ancient gold coins bearing identical profiles of a Roman emperor. They immediately alerted city officials to their discovery and led marine archaeologists to the find site. Over several dives, the team of archaeologists recovered the 53 gold coins, three copper nails and fragments of lead that may have been fittings on a chest.

This is one of the largest sets of Roman gold coins found in Spain and Europe, as stated by  Professor in Ancient History Jaime Molina and University of Alicante team leader of the underwater archaeologists working on the wreck. He also reported that this is an exceptional archaeological and historical find, since it can offer a multitude of new information to understand the final phase of the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The historians point to the possibility that the coins may have been intentionally hidden, in a context of looting such as those perpetrated by the Alans in the area at that time.

Therefore, the find would serve to illustrate a historical moment of extreme insecurity with the violent arrival of the barbarian peoples (Suevi, Vandals and Alans) in Hispania and the final end of the Roman Empire in the Iberian Peninsula from 409 A.D.

The coins are now being conserved and studied before going on display at the Soler Blasco Archaeological and Ethnographic Museum in Xàbia, conditioned on the acquisition of an armored glass case equipped with sensors to secure the valuable (and easily meltable) artifacts. Funding has already been secured to return to the find site for a more thorough excavation.


A kilo of 6th century gold found in Jelling

Sunday, September 5th, 2021

A hoard of gold objects from the 6th century has been discovered in a farmed field outside the town of Jelling, South Jutland, Denmark. The 22 objects have a total combined weight of 945 grams, so just under a kilo.

They were discovered in December by metal detectorist Ole Schytz who was new at the hobby and hadn’t even been out with his machine 10 times when he stumbled on one of the largest and most significant gold hoards ever found in Denmark. He alerted authorities and archaeologists from the Vejle Museums excavated the find site, keeping the massive find secret until now to deter looters.

The hoard contains two Roman gold coins that have been converted into pendants — including a gold solidus of Constantine the Great (285-337 AD) — and one piece of jewelry with gold granulation in an elaborate pattern, but most of the pieces in the hoard are bracteates. Bracteates were round medallions worn as pendants that were made in Northern Europe during the Migration Period. Typically bracteates are penny-sized with rudimentary engravings of figures from Nordic mythology. These are unusually large, the size of small saucers, and the quality of decoration is exceptionally high. They are also unusually varied. Often bracteates found in hoards are very similar in design, but every one of these is different, and there are runs and motifs never seen before on other bracteates.

The excavation revealed that the hoard was buried under the floor of a longhouse, and only a very powerful, very wealthy individual could have collected a treasure this vast. Archaeologists know there was a small town here during the Migration Period, but there was no previous indication that it was sufficiently important to attract a resident who was so massively wealthy and powerful that he could acquire so much gold and attract  artisans of such high caliber.

Many of the large gold hoards discovered in Scandinavia from this period are believed to have been buried as desperate offerings to appease the gods after a volcanic eruption in 535/536 A.D. generated an ash cloud that blocked the sun and caused widespread crop failure and famine. If it was not an offering, the hoard may have been buried to protect it from being stolen during this turbulent time.

One of the bracteates features the profile of a male head with a braid of hair. A bird is in front of him — they appear to be conversing — and under him is a horse. Between the horse’s head and front legs is a runic inscription that a preliminary translation interprets as “houaʀ” meaning “the High.” This may be a reference to the leader who buried the hoard, or the god Odin.

The gold objects are currently being conserved. The folded and bent pieces will be straightened out as much as prudence allows. In February, they will go on display at the Vejle Art Museum.


17th c. gold coin treasure found during manor home reno

Thursday, September 2nd, 2021

A treasure of 17th century gold coins has been discovered during renovation of a mansion in Plozévet, Brittany, northwestern France. The coins were found in 2019 when the mansion’s owners, Véronique and François Mion, decided to connect two buildings (a barn and a plant nursery). Three stonemasons working on an interior wall came across a metal box filled with gold coins embedded in the wall. Three days later, they found a fabric bag of coins stashed over a beam on another wall.

All told, they recovered 239 gold coins, 23 minted under Louis XIII, 216 under Louis XIV. The coins were minted between 1638 and 1692. There are two stand-out pieces: a Louis d’or with the Templar Cross, struck by the Dijon mint and issued by King Louis XIII in 1640, and a Double Louis d’or with a long lock (referring to the tendril of hair curling down Louis’ neck) minted in Paris and issued by King Louis XIV in 1646 when he was all of eight years old. There are only 120 known examples of the Double Louis with long lock known to exist.

The earliest parts of the manor date to the 13th century. The estate is believed to have belonged to a family of wealthy merchants. The last known residents (before the current owners) lived there in the mid-18th century. The area was lively with trade in the 17th century, a stop on the network transporting Bordeaux wines to England and grains to northern Europe. The growth of ports in Normandy poached a lot of that business and the area suffered a steep economic decline between 1750 and 1850. Because the coins were minted in 19 different cities, archaeologists believe they were collected by a single individual, likely a merchant, who traveled for business.

The coins will be going under the hammer on September 23 in Angers. The pre-sale estimates for most of the coins range from €600 to €1200 . The Cross of the Templar coins is estimated to sell for €7,000-8,000. The estimate for the final take of all 239 coins is €250,000-300,000 ($296,000-$355,000).

By the terms of the 2016 Treasure law, all archaeological materials recovered in the country, including on private property, belong to the state. Because the Mions bought the mansion in 2012, the finds made within its walls are grandfathered in under the previous law, thus the proceeds of the auction will be split in half, with one share divided equally between the three stonemasons who found the coins and the other half going to the property owners. The Mions plan to use their windfall to pay down the ungodly sums this restoration is costing them.


It’s a Bronze Age hoard bonanza!

Monday, August 23rd, 2021

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s pair of hoards comes news that four Late Bronze Age metal hoards have been unearthed near Gannat in central France. There are hundreds of bronze artifacts in these hoards, so many that the site contains by far the largest grouping of Bronze Age metal objects ever discovered in France. In fact, it is one of the richest Bronze Age metal deposit sites ever discovered in Europe.

The first known hoard at the site was plundered in 2017 by looters so unfortunately the precise location of the find is unknown and cannot be archaeologically investigated. It is now in the collection of the Anne de Beaujeu Museum in Moulins. To prevent the site’s utter despoliation by treasure hunters, an official archaeological excavation began in 2019 and has been ongoing since then.

The team discovered the remains of an unusually large fortified settlement dating to around 800 B.C., the end of the Bronze Age. The 30-hectare settlement was defended by a double row of ramparts, probably a wooden palisade with earthenware ditch, and dry stone walls estimated to have been 20 feet high.

Archaeologists found the first legally excavated hoards in 2020. The two large metal deposits were perfectly intact, which is extremely rare with hoards from this time period. They were still contained inside decorated pottery vessels. To preserve the contents and pots, the hoards were removed en bloc, CT scanned and then excavated in laboratory conditions.

Each vessel held dozens of bronze pieces, almost all of them whole and unbroken. There are weapons — axes, knives, daggers, spear tips — jewelry — bracelets, pendants, belt buckles — and fittings from chariots and horse harnesses. The objects were carefully arranged in the same way in both hoards. The jewelry was together at the bottom of the vase. A layer of sharp objects (sickles and gouges in one, swords/knives/spears in the other) was placed on top of the jewelry. The axe blades were placed above them head down. One intriguing element has never been found before in a Bronze Age hoard context: river pebbles, specifically chosen for their color. One of the hoards contained white pebbles, the other red.

Just this month, the team unearthed two more intact metal hoards. One was inside a ceramic pot topped with a plate. The other has no container. It is a deposit of ax blades in a pit, but they are placed in the exact same way as the axes were in the 2020 finds, head down, tail up.

Although fragile after 2,800 years, the bronze objects are in an exceptional state of preservation. “The axes, in particular, were little or not used,” underlines Pierre-Yves Milcent, which illustrates the paleomonetary role which they played, since, as in the Gallic time, elaborate systems of exchange of values ​​already existed in the Bronze Age. Ax blades were used as units of exchange. This point clearly illustrates that the intention of those who buried these precious objects was to sacrifice value to gods, in order to obtain their help during personal or collective crises, but also during social rites. For example inaugurating a building, a site, etc., adds Pierre-Yves Milcent, who remarks: “Sacrificing values ​​in the earth is a European habit, which continued during the Iron Age – the Gallic period – but which has in fact existed since the Campaniforme at least.”

The discovery of such a rich vein of Bronze Age metal deposits still in situ and intact gives archaeologists a unique opportunity to study Bronze Age Europe’s practice of voluntary, organized burial of metal valuables in places where there are neither graves nor temples to explain the offerings.


Two medieval jewelry hoards found in Russia

Sunday, August 15th, 2021

Two unique medieval hoards have been discovered in Russia this summer: a set of Volga-Finnish jewelry from the 6th century and a group jewelry and a bowl from the late 11th century or first half of the 12th. The former is the first hoard of Volga-Finnish women’s jewelry from the Migration Period ever discovered in the Suzdal district of western Russia. The latter is a hoard of 32 silver jewels including neck torques, bracelets and rings that predates the known settlements in the area.

The Suzdal hoard was unearthed on the right bank of the Nerl-Klyazminskaya river. It is a set of jewelry from a traditional Volga Finn woman’s costume. The non-ferrous metal objects include fragments of a headdress, three bracelets, an open-work brooch, more than 300 beads and a remarkable group of six hollow duck-shaped pendants that were once threaded on a leather cord decorated with metal beads. Waterfowl had religious significance to the Volga Finns and other Finno-Ugric cultures, as they were associated with their creation myths. There was also a metal bowl with a looping handle that is an extremely rare import from the Middle East and is older than the jewelry. It may have had ritual use.

According to manager Nikolai Makarov of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Archaeology, “These are not just collected items: they are elements of a woman’s costume. The find lifts the veil over the ‘Finnish prehistory’ of the Suzdal Opolye, which is known today to historians and archaeologists mainly as one of the centers of ancient Russian culture. Further research of the objects of the treasure and the settlement will make it possible to understand how Opolye was developed in the period preceding the Slavic colonization.”

Archaeologists believe the ornaments were hidden in a box made of birch bark near the settlement’s center, but the motive for hiding the treasure remains unknown.

The silver hoard was found on a forested slope near the village of Isady is northwestern Russia. The area has produced many a hoard — at least 17 documented ones — cached in the 13th century when the town of Ryazan became the first Russian city besieged by the Golden Horde forces of Batu Khan, Genghis’ grandson, in 1237. This one is earlier, however, and contains jewelry that is simpler in design and manufacture than the Ryazan treasures.

It is not a single set like the Suzdal jewelry, but rather wealth accumulated over time and buried, likely for safety. The jewels had been buried in a small container, now decayed. They include eight torques, 14 bracelets, 5 seven-rayed rings and several grivnas of the Novgorod type (triangular silver ingots). There are a variety of torque types, including twisted and braided ones, ones with hollow terminals and ones decorated with wolf’s tooth patterns. The bracelets are also varied in type (braided, knotted, smooth, rhomic ) and ornamented with varied motifs (crosses, palmettes).

The hoard has been dated by style, with comparable jewelry being widely found in hoards from the 11th and early 12th centuries. That not only predates the Ryazan siege and all its associated buried treasure, but also many of the settlements in the Staraya Ryazan area which date to the late 12th century.


Gold, garnet Anglos-Saxon pyramidal mount found

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2021

An Early Anglo-Saxon pyramidal mount with cloisonné inlay garnets has been discovered in the Breckland area of Norfolk by a metal detectorist. The rare object dates to between about 560 and 630 A.D., when the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk formed the independent Kingdom of East Anglia in the aftermath of the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain.

A petite piece at 12mm x 11.9mm (0.4in x 0.4in), the gold pyramid has a square base and is inlaid on all four sides with three cloisonné garnets in two different styles on opposite sides: a stepped t-shape and a diagonal t with a wavy crossbar. The pyramid has a flat square top with a single cloisonné garnet. The borders between the pyramid’s facets are much thicker than the slim lines that divide the cells on the sides. The garnets have waffle-pattern foil backing, a technique often seen in Anglo-Saxon jewelry (e.g., the Staffordshire Hoard). One of the garnets on the side is missing and some of the others have suffered cracking and chipping. They are all of either Indian or Sri Lankan origin. Under the base of the pyramid is a slightly convex crossing the middle. The inside of the pyramid is hollow and currently full of soil.

[Finds liaison officer Helen] Geake said: “It would have been owned by somebody in the entourage of a great lord or Anglo-Saxon king, and he would have been a lord or king who might have found his way into the history books.

“They or their lord had access to gold and garnets and to high craftsmanship.”

While Anglo-Saxon pyramidal mounts have been found before — primarily as one-off finds rather than in a funerary context — it’s not entirely clear what their function was or where exactly they were mounted. The bar crossing the underside suggests it may have been a scabbard mount, used to secure the sword into the scabbard by threading the strap through the bar on the base of the pyramid

Pyramidal mounts were created and used from the late 6th century until the early 8th. They went from short, squat pyramids on square bases to taller, slimmer versions with a variety of shapes including circular, hexagonal and octagonal. The recently-discovered example is from the early period.





May 2022


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