Roman gold coins link Vindelev to European elite

Newly published research into the Roman gold coins in the Vindelev treasure points to a strong local power in the small town in East Jutland with connections to a network of the European elite.

The hoard consists of 23 gold objects dating to the Migration Period (375-568 A.D.) unearthed at a farm in Vindelev outside of Jelling in South Jutland by a metal detectorist in December of 2020. There are 13 Nordic gold bracteates (thin, round gold sheets carved with figures from Norse mythology) from the 5th century A.D, including the largest bracteate in the world, and one with a runic inscription that is the earliest known mention of Odin. There is also granulated gold fitting from a sword or knife. There are four Roman gold medallions from the 4th century A.D. mounted as pendants. Four gold medallions together in a single hoard have never been found before in Denmark.

Senior researcher Helle Horsnæs, who is behind the research, has examined the four Roman medallions that are part of the treasure and can conclude that, by all accounts, the medallions were included as bride-payments or gifts in a European network of important women and men in the Roman part of Europe.

And someone from that network has therefore stayed on a farm in Vindelev, because the treasure was found there. This surprises Helle Horsnæs.

“There are other exciting gold finds in the East Jutland area, but Vindelev is just bigger on all parameters. We don’t have any signs that there was supposed to be a power base in Vindelev at this time, so it is surprising for us to find objects that not only show local power, but also European connections,” she says.

“This really puts Vindelev on the European map and places the owner at the highest European level.”

The four gold medallions were issued by four different emperors : Constantine the Great (306-337 A.D.), Constans (337-350 A.D.), Valentinian I (364-375 A.D.) and Gratian (367-383 A.D.). It is therefore extremely unlikely that they were awarded to the august personage in Vindelev. They also had loops mounted at the top by artisans outside of the Roman Empire so they could be worn as pendants, suggesting that the medallions changed hands several times before winding up at Vindelev.

One of the medallions has particularly attracted Helle Horsnæs’ attention. It turns out that it is stamped with exactly the same stamp as a medallion found in Zargozyn in Poland.

The two medallions have therefore been followed out of the Roman Empire, after which they have had rings attached in the same workshop and reworked into pendants. After that, one may have taken different detours to Zargorzyn in Poland and the other to Vindelev in Denmark.

“It shows that the European network at this time in the Iron Age was widely branched, and that the European elite were already connected to each other back then,” says Helle Horsnæs.

11-year-old walking the dog finds Roman gold bracelet

An 11-year-old boy discovered a rare gold Roman cuff bracelet in a field near Pagham in West Sussex, England. It is a decorated bracelet of the armilla type, awarded to Roman soldiers for valour, and dates to the 1st century A.D. As a gold object more than 300 years old, it has officially been declared treasure at a coroner’s inquest.

Rowan Brannan was walking the dog with his mother Amanda two years ago when he picked up a shiny yellow piece of metal. This is not unusual for Rowan. He likes to scout the ground for interesting things to pick up (don’t we all?), but his mother usually vetoes his pickups. This time he hung on to it, adamant that it was gold even when his mother told him it was probably just a gross old fragment of fence or something.

Once he got home, he researched how to determine if a metal is gold, and his find checked all the boxes. It probably wouldn’t have gone beyond the curiosity stage if a metal detecting friend of his mother’s hadn’t come over. She thought Rowan had something worth investigating and sent a picture to the leader of her metal detecting group. He suggested they report it to their local Finds Liaison Officer. Archaeologists examined the piece and confirmed it was real ancient Roman gold jewelry.

It is a large fragment of a bracelet 8.1 mm (.3 inches) wide and 71.3 mm (2.8 inches) long folded over. One of the folded sides is about 8 mm shorter than the other, so if it were unfolded it would be about 135 mm (5.3 inches) long. (There are some bends and waves so it’s not the straight measurement.) The total gold weight is 7.69 grams. It is decorated with five parallel bands, three plain ribs and two in rope style with the lines at opposite angles. One terminal end is pierced.

Several examples of copper-alloy Roman wide cuff bracelets have been found in Britain, but gold examples are far more rare. This is only the fourth recorded in the Portable Antiquities Scheme database. The gold ones are all slimmer than the base metal ones which are usually 12-22 mm, and with so few examples of them known, archaeologists are still not certain the gold ones actually were worn as cuff bracelets. Scholars believe the more valuable the metal, the higher the rank of the officer who was awarded it.

Amanda said the piece has been analyzed at the British Museum and has gone through the Coroner’s Court in a ‘fascinating’ process where they have been learning more and more about the bracelet.

She said: “It’s very exciting whenever we read an email and we have been kept up to date throughout the whole process.

“The Coroner’s Court emailed us and said ‘it’s been so lovely to deal with Rowan’s treasure’.”

Rare Merovingian gold ring found in Jutland

A metal detectorist has discovered a rare Merovingian gold ring dating to 500-600 A.D. in Emmerlev, Southwest Jutland, Denmark. The ring is made of 22-carat gold and is set with an oval cabochon almandine garnet, a red semi-precious stone prized among Germanic peoples as a symbol of power. The mount has four spirals on the underside and trefoil knobs where the band meets the bezel. The spirals and knobs are characteristic of the highest quality of Frankish manufacture, and rings of this type were worn by the elite of the Merovingian dynasty.

National Museum of Denmark curator Kirstine Pommergaard believes the quality and construction of the ring suggests there may have been an unknown noble family in the Emmerlev area with close connections to Merovingian royalty.

“The gold ring not only reveals a possible new princely family in Emmerlev, but also connects the area with one of Europe’s largest centers of power in the Iron Age. The gold ring is probably a woman’s ring and may have belonged to a prince’s daughter who was married to a prince in Emmerlev. Gold was typically reserved for diplomatic gifts, and we know that people married into alliances, just it probably happened with Thyra and Gorm the Old and in more recent times when Christian IX became known as ‘Europe’s father-in-law’ for marrying his daughters into other royal houses, ” she says.

Archaeologists do not think the ring was at that location because it was lost on the way to somewhere else. Almost a thousand ancient and medieval artifacts (gold and silver trade coins, textiles, pottery) have been found at Emmerlev, evidence that busy international trade was taking place there for centuries. The trading post of Ribe was just 30 miles north of Emmerlev, an important stop in the lucrative trade network of the Wadden Sea region.

Gold and silver coins in the Emmerlev area confirm Merovingian contact, and the Merovingian kings and merchants did trade through the Wadden Sea network to Ribe. Making a marriage alliance with a Southern Jutland potentate would therefore have been highly advantageous to provide them with safe harbor and local influence.

The find was actually made in 2020, but the discovery of the ring has been kept under wraps until now to allow metal detectorists and archaeologists to explore the site without unwanted attention.The finder, Lars Nielsen, turned the ring in to the Museum Sønderjylland when he found it, and the local museum has now transferred it to the National Museum in Copenhagen.

”We’ve never seen anything like it out here. Many discoveries have been made over time that point to global trade connections at the Wadden Sea. The gold ring substantiates that there has also been an elite who have had something to do with music. Not everyone has had contact with the Merovingians, ” says Anders Hartvig, museum curator at Museum Sønderjylland.

Kirstine Pommergaard adds:

“The Merovingians were interested in entering into a network with families and individuals who could control trade and resources in an area. “Perhaps the princely family in Emmerlev had control over an area between Ribe and Hedeby and thus secured trade in the area,” she says.

Meteorite iron identified in Bronze Age gold hoard

Analysis of two iron objects in the Treasure of Villena, the Bronze Age gold hoard discovered in southeastern Spain in 1963, have identified the metal as meteorite iron. The treasure is the largest and most important Bronze Age hoard ever found in the Iberian Peninsula, and the second largest set of prehistoric goldsmithing in Europe after the riches found in the Royal Tombs of Mycenae, Greece. Now we know it is also the only hoard on the Iberian Peninsula to contain objects made from meteoric iron.

The first pieces of the treasure were found loose in a gravel pit on December 1, 1963. Workers found a gold bracelet and took it to a jewelry store where they were informed it was enormously valuable by weight alone, never mind its historic significance. Archaeologist José María Soler heard about the find and quickly followed up with an excavation of the pit. Soler and local volunteers unearthed the rest of the treasure grouped together in a large ceramic vessel.

The hoard consists of 66 pieces, most of them gold, nine of them 23.5 carat gold. The 11 bowls, 28 bracelets, three bottles and miscellaneous fragments of decorative elements made of gold all together weigh 9.75 kilos (21.5 lb). There are also three bottles made of silver (600 grams, 1.3 lb, total weight), a gold and amber button and the two iron pieces that were the subject of the recent study.

Iron was extremely rare in Bronze Age Spain, and therefore considered a precious metal like gold and silver. The iron in the Villena hoard is the oldest in Spain. The objects are an open bracelet with rounded ends and a hollow hemisphere of iron covered with thin bands of gold incised with decorated lines that may have been a sword pommel. The corrosion of the iron over the centuries has broken and deformed some of the gold strips.

The discovery of the treasure caused a sensation at the time, and garnered enormous scholarly attention. Experts have long debated its date range. The metal analysis that revealed the meteorite iron also conclusively answered the dating question: the Villena Treasure dates to the Late Bronze Age (1,400-1,200 B.C.)

Their analysis has been able to determine that these are not pieces made with terrestrial iron produced by the reduction of minerals existing in the mantle of planet Earth. Instead, they are “extraterrestrial and [were] made during the Late Bronze Age.” To obtain this data, two tiny extractions were made, under the supervision of the technical staff of the Alicante museum. The samples were then taken to Madrid for analysis at the laboratory of the National Archaeological Museum.

“Meteorite iron is found in certain types of aerolites that, since they come from outer space, are composed of an iron-nickel alloy with a variable nickel composition greater than 5% by weight. They also contain other minor and trace chemical elements, cobalt being one of the most significant. However, the levels of nickel in terrestrial iron are generally low or very low and frequently not detectable in analysis,” the study explains.

The study has been published in the journal Trabajos de Prehistoria and can be read here. The treasure, which has been on display at the Villena Museum since its discovery, will soon move to a new state-of-the-art facility. The new Villena Museum (MUVI), located in a restored 1909 flour mill, opens on May 17th with the Treasure front and center in a spacious 800-square-foot room.

Treasure update: flint nodule coin hoard

The British Museum has released the latest annual report of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) which marks that 2022 had the highest number of Treasure cases (1,378) ever reported in a single year. The report highlights some of the most stand-out Treasure finds in 2022, including an intriguing Iron Age hoard of gold coins found inside a hollow flint globule.

The hoard was discovered on New Year’s Day 2023 in East Garston, West Berkshire. It consists of 26 Iron Age gold staters found inside a naturally-occurring hollow flint ball. The staters are of the “Savernake Wreaths” type, produced in East Wiltshire in the late Iron Age (50-20 B.C.). They feature a stylized design of crossed wreaths on one side and a horse at gallop facing right with a spiral above it and a wheel below.

Hollow nodules of flint are commonly found in the upper strata of the Chalk, a limestone geological layer in southern and eastern England formed between 90 million and 66 million years ago. Before it hardened, the Chalk was mud on the sea floor. Dissolved silica filled gaps in the compacting mud, forming nodules sometimes around sea creatures like urchins and cockles that left hollows inside the nodules once they decayed.

This is not the first coin hoard found in a flint nodule. Iron Age coins cached inside nodules have been found in Kent, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire. Using hollow flint balls as containers for gold coins appears to have been an established practice in Iron Age England. The nodules often have natural holes and openings making them handy piggy banks even unmodified. Sometimes a hole would be enlarged to fit the coins more easily. The East Garston flint nodule had no natural hole; a piece deliberately broken to create the opening.

The staters and flint ball were declared Treasure, as all coins hoards have been since the Treasure Act was passed in 1996. Under the terms of that legislation, the definition of Treasure in the UK has been two or more prehistoric objects made of metal, any metallic object composed of at least 10% silver or gold by weight that is at least 300 years old and coins in hoard 300 years or older. Once an object is determined by a coroner’s court to be Treasure, it becomes property of the crown and is offered to a local museum for the amount of its assessed value. The money is then split between the finder and landowner.

This definition has allowed exceptionally unique and important archaeological artifacts like the Ryedale Hoard, the Crosby Garret helmet, the Roman licking dog and the Allectus aureus to fall through the cracks. Despite being undisputed and irreplaceable archaeological treasures, they were not Treasure according to the short-sighted legal definition and were therefore returned to the finders who then sold them to the highest bidder.

In 2019, the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced a plan to revise the Treasure Act to plug the loophole. The updated language would define Treasure as any object that is at least partially metal, at least 200 years old and is deemed to provide “exceptional insight” into British or regional history because of its rarity, location or connection to a historical personage or event. After five long years, the revision is finally about to take effect. The new criteria will apply to all objects found after July 30th, 2023.