Archive for the ‘Treasures’ Category

Gold stater tossed in Salvation Army kettle

Saturday, December 7th, 2019

An anonymous donor dropped an ancient gold coin into a Salvation Army bucket in Florida on Friday morning. The gold stater from the 1st century B.C. was wrapped in one-dollar bill and dropped in the ubiquitous red kettle in front of a Publix grocery store in Tampa. A coin dealer estimated its market value at around $2,000.

The obverse of the coin depicts three togate men, a Roman consul flanked by two fasces-bearing lictors. They are walking facing left. The word “ΚΟΣΩΝ” inscribed under them. The reverse has the image of an eagle standing on a scepter clutching a wreath in one claw.

The Independent Coin Graders label says it’s a “Greek Thracian Kings” coin dating to 44-42 B.C. but that’s a disputed identification. The coin was not minted in Greece. This type of stater has only been found in Transylvania, often in large hoards. Koson is believed to be name of the Dacian king who minted the coin, but his name and reign are otherwise unrecorded. Some scholars think he might be the same person as a king Cotiso or Cotison mentioned by historians Appian and Suetonius as having rejected Octavian’s offer of a marriage alliance and sided with Antony in the civil war and by the poet Horace as having been defeated in battle by Octavian.

Those events took place at 35 B.C., however, and the design of the coin suggests a connection to the previous generation of Roman civil warriors. The consul flanked by lictors is very similar to the reverse of a coin minted by Marcus Junius Brutus in his role as moneyer a decade before he assassinated his way into history. It depicts his ancestor, Lucius Junius Brutus, revered for having overthrown the last Tarquin king of Rome and considered the founder of the Roman Republic, as the first ever consul of Rome in 509 B.C. It’s possible Koson modeled his stater after the 54 B.C. Brutus denarius as a tribute because he was a supporter of the latest Brutus to claim the status of liberator and tyrannicide. The 44-42 B.C. date would put it right in the middle of the wars after the assassination of Julius Caesar.

The Dacian kingdom had fallen apart in 44 B.C. and the territory was splintered into numerous conflicting tribal factions. If there was a Thracian king involved, he must have minted these coins specifically to pay Dacian tribesmen, perhaps for raids across the Danube.

The coin has been graded (MS-63), meaning it’s in mint, uncirculated condition with only minor deficiencies in the strike, not due to wear and tear. In this example you can see the obverse image is off-center, enough so that the beaded border is missing from the left side, as is the K in Koson. The Salvation Army is working with a dealer to arrange for the conversion of this coin into spendable cash for its charitable endeavors.

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Rare box-shaped Viking brooch found in Estonia

Wednesday, November 27th, 2019

A rare early Viking brooch has been found in the village of Varja, northeastern Estonia. The box-shaped brooch is one of only two of its kind ever discovered in Estonia, and the other one has not been handed in to heritage authorities yet. The other one is also of later date.

The Varja brooch was made of bronze cast in a single piece. It is in excellent condition, intact with only minor damage to the surface, likely from agricultural activity disturbing it when it was underground, and its steel pin missing.

The decoration is of the Broa or Oseberg style, characterized by sinuous animal figures and “gripping beast” motifs (creatures grasping the borders around them in their paws, usually their own serpentine bodies or another animal). The Boa style dates the brooch to between the late 8th century and the mid-9th.

The brooch was unearthed at the site of an ancient wetland which is believed to have had a single farm during the Viking era.

Kiudsoo explained that the village of Varja is situated in the northeastern part of the ancient parish of Askälä, and that this region on Estonia’s northern coast, between Purtse River and the present-day city of Kohtla-Järve, stands out for its exceptionally rich archaeological find material. The Eastern Route, an important Viking-era trade route, ran along Estonia’s northern coast.

The archaeologist said that he believes that the brooch found at Varja belonged to a woman born on the island of Gotland, who took up residence in the Viru region of Estonia later in her life. Supporting this hypothesis is the fact that similar decorative items were in widespread use in Gotland during the Viking era, but are not common elsewhere. Kiudsoo said that hundreds of box-shaped brooches like the one recently found in Estonia have been found in Gotland.

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Roman silver coin hoard found in Switzerland

Monday, November 25th, 2019

A hoard of 293 silver denarii in excellent condition has been unearthed near Pratteln in northwestern Switzerland. There is no surviving container, but the coins were all found in a small hole together, so they had to have been buried in one event. The coins date from the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., mostly the latter. The oldest denarius in the hoard was minted under the reign of the Emperor Nero, the youngest in Rome under Commodus in 181/182 A.D. The dates of the most recent coins suggest the hoard was cached at the end of the second century.

The total value of the coins at that time would have been significant. Almost 300 silver denarii is the equivalent of half the annual salary of a legionary. It is the second largest assemblage of pure Roman silver ever found in Switzerland, after the treasure of Augusta Raurica (Kaiseraugst) which, while far richer in total weight (58 kilos vs. one kilo) and status pieces (tableware, candelabra, silver bars), its complement of coins was a mere 187. Hoards of thousands of Roman coins have been found, but they are a hundred years younger than the Pratteln coins and the currency was so debased their silver content was practically nil. The denarii of the 1st and 2nd century were 100% silver. The ones of the third century were less than 3% silver.

The hoard of silver denarii was discovered by Archäologie Baselland volunteer Sacha Schneider while on a metal detecting investigation of the slopes of Mount Adlerberg. It was in a wooded area with no conspicuous features that you might expect to mark the spot of buried treasure, but perhaps there was something notable there in the second century A.D. when the hoard was hidden. Archaeologists would never have found it on their own. They’re primarily engaged in salvage excavations in advance of construction or in exploring known sites, so for the past decade they have enlisted volunteers like Schneider to explore the wider landscape and report anything they find. She alerted archaeologists in the Canton capital of Liestal and they excavated the hoard.

Today a suburb of Basel, the whole village of Pratteln is on the Federal Inventory of Swiss Heritage Sites and is one of the earliest known areas in the country to have been settled. The oldest artifact ever discovered in Switzerland, a 100,000-year-old hand axe, was found there in 1974. While the village as it is today was built around a monastery and castle in the 11th or 12th century, archaeological remains from the Neolithic, Celtic Iron Age and Roman Empire are evidence of that the area was occupied for millennia.

One of Pratteln’s Roman villas, the rural estate of Kästeli, was one of the largest country homes in the vicinity of Augusta Raurica. The Church of Saint Leodegar at the epicenter of Pratteln’s old town was built in the 13th century over the remains of a Roman villa. That villa would have had a clear view of the Adlerberg slope were the treasure was buried.

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Gold jewelry recovered from Elgin’s shipwreck

Thursday, October 17th, 2019

When Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, tore half the sculpted marbles off the Parthenon starting in 1801, he also helped himself to tons of sculptures from other temples and a vast array of antiquities around Athens.

(He did not have permission of Ottoman authorities for this brutal act of pillage, just for the record. The so-called Ottoman firman he claimed had granted him permission does not exist even though all imperial firmans BY LAW were meticulously archived and can be accessed to this day, and the almost-certainly fictional “translation” that does exist does not authorize the removal of pediments, metopes, friezes, caryatids or anything else attached to the Parthenon, only to inscriptions and loose marbles from the area around it. In fact, a local Ottoman official went to stop him when word got out that Elgin was prizing marbles off the structure. Elgin simply bribed him to let him get away with it, just like looters do today.)

His loot was packed into 17 crates and loaded on to his ship, the Mentor, which set sail from Piraeus on September 15th, 1802. Two days later, the ship began to take on water and headed for the nearby Ionian island of Kythera. While attempting to drop anchor off the coast, the ship collided onto the rocks of Cape Avlemonas and sank.

The 12 people on board were rescued by a passing vessel. The 17 crates of priceless ancient treasures  took a little more effort to rescue. Elgin spent large sums organizing a salvage mission performed by local sponge divers that eventually succeeded in raising the Parthenon marbles. They weren’t able to recover all of Elgin’s loot, however, and Greek archaeologists have returned to the Mentor several times over the years to look for lost artifacts. Maritime archaeologists have found amphorae, stone vessels, Egyptian statuary, coins and a number of British objects including bullets, pistols, watches and a compass.

This year’s excavation of the site focused primarily on cleaning, documenting and conservation of the wreck itself. The team cleaned the surviving section of the ship’s hull and took high-resolution photographs of the entire wreck site that were then stitched together digitally to create a photomosaic that will aid in the long-term preservation of the ship’s remains.

The moveable objects recovered from the wreck include small parts of the ship — wooden pulleys complete with surviving sections of rope — and artifacts it carried like remarkably intact glazed kitchenware and a section of a wooden leg. The two stand-out artifacts are exquisitely crafted jewels: a gold granulation ring and a pair of gold filigree earrings.

Gold granulation ring. Photo by P. Vezyrtzis, courtesy the Greek Ministry of Culture. Gold filigree earrings. Photo by P. Vezyrtzis, courtesy the Greek Ministry of Culture.

Section of wooden leg. Photo by P. Vezyrtzis, courtesy the Greek Ministry of Culture. Wooden pulley with mooring rope remains. Photo by P. Vezyrtzis, courtesy the Greek Ministry of Culture.

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Unique Bronze Age gold ring found in Cumbria

Tuesday, October 8th, 2019

A metal detectorist has discovered a unique Bronze Age gold ring in West Cumbria. Billy Vaughan was scanning a field near his home of Whitehaven when he unearthed the ring. A novice metal detector who has only been at it for six months, Vaughan had already scanned this field dozens of times and only found a few silver coins, buttons and small odds-and-ends. This time the alert was strong, so he dug down five inches below the surface where he found the gold.

He had no idea it even was gold. At first he thought the circular piece with a slightly flattened side was a climber’s carabiner or maybe a tractor coupling. When he took a second look, he realized that was no carabiner. He sent a photo of his find to a metal detecting enthusiast friend with more experience and the response from “Spud” was apparently unprintable. Spud encouraged him to take it to a local jeweler who confirmed that it was indeed gold, 22-carat gold, in fact, and a solid 310 grams (11 ounces) of it.

The ring is tubular, intact and bent into a loop so its terminals overlap. It is covered in decorative dimples all over the surface with only a thin section along the inside of the ring left smooth. Vaughan reported his discovery to the local Finds Liason Officer Lydia Prosser.

“I personally haven’t seen anything like this in my years and I have worked across Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria.  At first, there didn’t seem to be any parallel with the unique decorations and it presented a lot of questions.

But experts have started looking into it and Neil Wilkins, who is the Curator of the Bronze Age artefacts at the British Museum, came across a similar arm ring of Irish origin.  So the latest thinking is it was brought over, or traded, in Ireland.  That may place it as late Bronze Age, around 1800BC.”

The only other Bronze Age gold ring discovered in Cumbria listed in the Portable Antiquities Scheme database is a broken pennanular ring with a smooth surface that was made by rolling a sheet of gold into a tube. It is .67 inches long and weighs just 1.8 grams. That’s less than a half a gram more than the weight of the 1/4 teaspoon of salt I put in a two-egg omelette, just to give you an idea. It was dated to the middle Bronze Age, about 1300-1150 B.C.

The only Bronze Age decorated gold object discovered in Cumbria recorded in the PAS database is the terminal of a lunula (a large collar necklace shaped like a crescent moon). It is decorated with engraved concentric rectangles. The outermost rectangle was enhanced with small square dents that were punched in along the incised line giving it a dashed and dotted effect. It dates to around 2200-1700 B.C. and is believed to have been made in Scotland or Northern England in imitation of Irish originals.

The ring will now be studied by a experts who will advise a coroner’s court whether it qualifies as treasure under the Treasure Act (it does twice over as it is more than 300 years old and is more than 10% precious metal content). A valuation committee will determine its market value — the jeweler assessed its value in gold weight alone at £11,000 ($13,500) — and a local museum will be offered the chance to acquire the artifact for the determined amount which will then be awarded 50/50 to the finder and landowner. Whitehaven’s Beacon Museum would love to have it if they can raise the funds.

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Anglo-Saxon name found on Galloway Hoard arm-ring

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019

The first round of research into the Galloway Hoard, the richest and most varied Viking hoard ever discovered in Britain or Ireland, has revealed a name and it’s an Anglo-Saxon name, not a Viking one.  Five of the silver armbands in the hoard have runes etched on them. Runic scripts are varied, complex and were used for several different languages so interpreting them can be challenging. Dr. David Parsons of the University of Wales was able to decipher the Old English runes inscribed on one of the silver arm-rings. They read “Ecgbeorht,” an ancient spelling of the name “Egbert.”

“Five of the silver arm-rings have runic inscriptions scratched into them which may have functioned as labels identifying distinct portions of the hoard, perhaps recording the names of the people who owned and buried them. Arm-rings of this sort are most commonly associated with Viking discoveries around the Irish Sea coastlands. Yet these runes are not of the familiar Scandinavian variety common around this date on the nearby Isle of Man, but of a distinctively Anglo-Saxon type. And while several of the texts are abbreviated and uncertain, one is splendidly clear: it reads Ecgbeorht, Egbert, a common and thoroughly Anglo-Saxon man’s name.

There is some reason, therefore, to suspect that the Galloway ‘Viking’ Hoard may have been deposited by a people who, to judge by name and choice of script, may have considered themselves part of the English-speaking world. It is even possible that these were locals: Galloway had been part of Anglo-Saxon Northumbria since the early eighth century, and was referred to as the ‘Saxon coast’ in the Irish chronicles as late as the tenth century.”

The fact that a man’s name was etched into one of the 100 pieces in the hoard does not mean he’s the person who assembled it and/or buried it, notwithstanding the plethora of current headlines hyping Egbert as the hoard’s owner. The three abbreviated Anglo-Saxon runic inscriptions also seem to have been names, and the fourth one which has yet to be deciphered could be one too, so it’s not about the “owner of the Galloway Hoard found,” but rather evidence in favor of Anglo-Saxon speakers having had their hands on at least some elements of this hoard before it was buried in the early 10th century.

Dr Adrian Maldonado, Glenmorangie Research Fellow at National Museums Scotland, said:

“If the hoard belonged to a person or group of Anglo-Saxon speakers, does it mean they were out raiding with other Vikings? Or that these Viking hoards were not always the product of Scandinavian raiders? There are other explanations, but either way this transforms our thinking on the ‘Viking Age’ in Scotland.

“These inscriptions are evidence that identity was complex in the past, just as it can be today. In Early Medieval Scotland, we have inscriptions in five different scripts (Latin, ogham, Pictish symbols, Scandinavian and Anglian runes) making it a diverse and multilingual era. Place-names in British, Gaelic, Norse and Old English were being coined in South West Scotland around the time of the Galloway Hoard.  The sea was more like a motorway, allowing people to communicate across linguistic boundaries, exchanging ideas and objects. This is just a glimpse of how the Galloway Hoard will continue to challenge our thinking as conservation continues.”

The Hoard is not on display as conservators and researchers work on it. Next spring will kick off a new exhibition tour at four museums in Scotland beginning with the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh in May.

Meanwhile, the Galloway Hoard is at the center of a whole different kind of show right now, a courtroom drama, if you will. You might recall that back in 2017 when National Museums Scotland announced that it had raised the $2.5 million for the ex gratia payment to secure the hoard, the award was going to be split down the middle between the finder, metal detectorist Derek McLennan, and the owners of the field where the hoard was found, the Church of Scotland. Well two years have passed, and not only has the Church not received a penny of those millions, McLennan has full on ghosted them. They can’t even reach him on the phone.

It turns out that everywhere else in the UK, the Treasure Act stipulates that awards are to be split between finder and landowner, but in Scotland all payment divisions are solely at the discretion of the finders. The widely accepted practice among metal detectorists is the 50/50 split because it encourages landowners to grant them permission to search their land. No place to look, nothing to find. A partnership relationship benefits everyone.

According to the Church of Scotland, this agreement was formalized between both parties when the National Museums Scotland raised the funds. They would split the proceeds and the Church would use its share “for the good of the local parish.” A year later, the Church reached out to Reverend David Bartholomew, a metal detectorist friend of McLennan’s who had been with him the day of the find, asking him to find out what was up with the moneys because he wasn’t responding to their attempts to contact him. So then Bartholomew tried calling, emailing, writing letters and even showed up at his house, all to no avail.

The Church of Scotland has now filed suit. McLennan has not responded to any requests for comment from the media.

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Sapphire ring maybe worn by Caligula for sale

Monday, September 30th, 2019

An ancient Roman sapphire ring once believed to have belonged to the Emperor Caligula is being sold by royal jewelers Wartski, best known as the foremost dealers and experts in the Fabergé Imperial Eggs and jewels after the fall of the Romanovs. It is an engraved sapphire hololith, meaning a ring carved from a single stone, with a gold band mounted on the inside, likely during the Middle Ages. The engraving is a left-facing profile of a beautiful woman believed to represent Caligula’s wife Caesonia.

The ring was in the famed intaglio gemstone collection assembled by George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough, in the second half of the 18th century. Before that, it was part of a smaller but also renown group of engraved gems collected by Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, in the first half of the 17th century. Via marriage and descent, Lord Arundel’s gemstone collection was added to the extremely fine pieces the Duke of Marlborough had bought from dealers and private owners on the continent.

The Marlborough Gems, as the great collection became known, were sold by the 7th Duke, John Winston Spencer-Churchill, at auction in 1875 to raise money for the renovation of Blenheim Palace. Many of them were bought by David Bromilow, Esq, and then sold again by his daughter at an 1899 auction. The collection was thus broken up and dispersed — the Getty dropped major ducats on a dozen or so of them earlier this year — and there are Marlborough gems whose whereabouts are unknown today. This ring was one of them.

Sapphires, hyacinthus to the Romans, is a hard stone to carve and is very rarely seen in intaglios. Third century grammarian Gaius Julius Solinus describes it in his Polyhistor:

Among the things we have spoken of, the hyacinthus, which has a shining sky blue colour, is to be found. It is a valuable stone if discovered without blemish, for it is not a little subject to flaws. It is frequently either tempered with a violet colour, or covered with cloudiness, or softened to a white wateriness. The best type is not blunted by too solid a colour, nor over-clear with an eager transparency, but sweetly draws its bloom from both, dyed with the right proportions of light and purple. This stone perceives the winds and changes with the sky: it is not equally bright when the day is cloudy as when it is clear. In addition, the stone is colder when put into the mouth. It is certainly not suitable for carving, as it defies all grinding. Yet it is not utterly invincible; it can be scratched and inscribed by a diamond.

Nowadays the deeper the blue, the more desirable the sapphire, but Solinus’ description of the most prized sapphires as a delicate balance of transparent, sky blue and light purple matches the color of the ring exactly. His comment also indicates that the extremely fine carving of the female profile on the ring had to have been done with a diamond. That’s how valuable and rare it was: diamonds were the tools used to make it.

The hololith will be on display at Wartski in London from the 1st to the 7th of October, after which it will be available for sale. Wartski doesn’t do pre-sale estimates because they don’t want to scare off potential buyers, but it is in the neighborhood of £500,000 ($615,000).

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Hoard of Roman hacksilver found in Shropshire

Thursday, September 5th, 2019

A hoard of Roman-era hacksilver — coins and other silver objects cut to pieces for use in trade — has been unearthed near Wem in Shropshire. It is the sixth hoard of Roman hacksilver ever found in Britain.  The Wem Hoard was discovered by three metal detectorists at a rally last year. The first few coins were found on the surface. Then the metal detector alerted to something deeper under the ground and the finders began to dig. They came up with “handfuls of silver.”

The discovery was reported to the local finds liaison officer of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. A follow-up excavation last week unearthed additional silver pieces. Peter Reavill, finds liaison officer for Shropshire and Herefordshire, testified at this week’s treasure inquest that all the objects were part of the same hoard.

“That hoard is the largest hacksilver Roman hoard we have from the West Midlands. It contains both hacked-up vessels and brooches and buckles, but it also includes a number of Roman coins from the very end of the Roman Empire.

“Analysis which has been done at the British Museum suggests that it goes in the ground in the fifth century – 460 to 500AD.

“We know at that time that the monetary system in Britain has completely collapsed and we are based on a sort of bullion – the weight of the silver in the coins and the objects.

“That’s been hacked up and put into very small pieces so that it can be paid out to people like mercenaries to protect you, but also to traders.

Not surprisingly, the coins are in terrible condition. Most of them are so thoroughly clipped, worn and cut that it’s not possible to determine which type they are, never mind which mint issued them. Of the ones that can be identified, about half of them date to the reign of co-rulers Arcadius and Honorius (395-402 A.D.). Pieces of silver vessels, plates and buckles were also found in the hoard, as was an intact silver brooch which may have been used to pin together a cloth or bag that held the goods before it rotted away.

All but one of the coins, 66 of the 67 found, are siliquae, small, thin silver coins produced starting in the 4th century. They were flimsy and cranked out quickly in large numbers, making them prone to cracking and striking errors. They were also easy to clip because of how thin they were. Clipping — trimming the silver off the edges leaving only the imperial portrait on the obverse largely intact — was a common practice in late Roman Britain although siliquae from elsewhere in the empire are rarely clipped. They were clipped face-up to preserve the portrait while the borders, mintmarks, inscriptions and reverse designs were damaged or destroyed. Historians believe clipped siliquae were the first hard currency used by Saxons.

The one coin that is not a siliqua is a denarius from the 1st century A.D. It is heavily worn but unclipped, so it appears to have been pressed into action as bullion after 400 years or so in circulation. It’s extremely rare to find a single denarius in a hoard of siliquae. There is only one other marginally comparable example (the Patching Hoard) but it had a more varied composition overall.

The Wem Hoard siliquae are so end-stage clipped that even the imperial portraits are encroached upon, and the ones that were clipped were just cut up into halves and quarters. The coins illustrate the trend at that time and place for increasingly small pieces of hacksilver functioning as currency. Wem is far enough inland that it probably hadn’t seen new imports of coinage for years before Roman occupation ceased. By the time this hoard was buried, the area had almost entirely transitioned to a bullion economy.

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Prehistoric treasures found in Hungarian cave

Wednesday, July 17th, 2019

Precious artifacts and bones dating to the Bronze Age have been discovered in the Baradla dripstone cave in northeast Hungary. A team of archaeologists from Eötvös Loránd University has been excavating the cave for four years. Lajos Sándor, a metal detector hobbyist working with the team, was scanning part of the excavation path, an area he’d scanned many times before, when he unexpectedly got a strong signal from behind the rocks. The archaeologists excavated the spot with their special wooden tools and unearthed bronze artifacts, ceramics, human and animal bones from two periods: the Bükk culture from ca. 5000 B.C., and the Bronze Age Kyjatice culture from ca. 1200 B.C.

The Bükk culture artifacts are pottery fragments with ornate geometric decorations. They abstract patterns and yellow, red, white and black paint distinguish them from the kind of ceramics made by more local peoples. The Bükk were great travelers who came to the northeastern hills from the Hungarian Great Plains, bringing their crafts and well-developed agricultural knowledge.

From the latter period is a distinctive grouping is of 59 decorated bronze pieces, most of the disc-shaped, some sparrow-tail shaped. They were found in a hollow near an underground stream covered with a stack of rocks.  The way they were piled suggests they may have been mounted on a garment that was folded up and covered with the rock stack. If it existed, the garment has rotted to nothingness over the millennia; not even small traces of it were found.

The animal bones were found heaped up in piles indicating ritual feasting and/or sacrifices took place in the Baradla cave. The human remains are thought to date to the Neolithic era.

These all point to the Baradla cave having been a sacred place thousands of years ago. [Lead archaeologist Dr. Gábor] Szabó said:

“These days, the cave walls are covered in black soot, but back then they were glowing white, it had to be a beautiful space. Even today, smelling the air of the Baradla cave, you feel that it is a mystical place. It is an astounding interior.”

Szabó thinks that similarly to Stonehenge, the Baradla cave must have been an ancient holy place where communities arrived even from far-away lands to witness the rituals performed there.

“This place could have functioned as a destination for pilgrimages. Sacrifices were made, sacred places were established, there were initiation rituals – the quality ceramics, the piles of animal bones, remains of food materials serve as proof for that.”

The find is all the more remarkable because the cave has been picked over by looters since the 1700s and has been studied and excavated by researchers for 150 years.  Today Hungary’s most famous stalactite cave, thousands of tourists tramp through it every day. The treasure was secured by the cave’s mineral output, covered by 8-12 inches of limestone, and by its conversion into a tourist site as the thick limestone was paved with a layer of concrete. The two combined to keep the treasure out of view of looters for centuries.

Animal and human bones will be subjected to isotope analysis and radiocarbon dating. The cave’s constant temperature of 53.6ºF is cool enough for good preservation of bone, so there’s a chance researchers might be able to extract viable DNA as well. The bronze and pottery artifacts will be taken to the Hungarian National Museum for conservation and eventual display.

This season’s archaeological excavation will continue through August and the team will return for the last dig next year. After that, the cave will be developed into a treatment center for people with respiratory conditions. It’s not clear to me how this asthma cave scheme will be pulled off, as the cool temperatures and 100% humidity make it unlivable for people today just as it was for people 7,000 years ago, but that’s the plan.

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Unique Roman gold coin found in Lower Saxony

Sunday, June 23rd, 2019

A Roman gold coin that is unique in the archaeological record has been discovered by a metal detectorist in the Stade district of Lower Saxony, Germany. Matthias Glüsing was scanning a field near Fredenbeck in December of 2017 when he found the coin. The field is known for its prehistoric burial mounds, but it was significantly northeast of the boundaries of the Roman Empire. The coin was a most unexpected find.

It is a Multiplum of the Emperor Constans, youngest son of Constantine I, and was minted in 342/343 at Siscia in the Roman province of Pannonia Savia. The mint at Siscia, modern-day Sisak, Croatia, was opened by Gallienus in 262 A.D. and remained in use as imperial mint until the end of Gratian’s rule in 383 A.D. The coins struck there during the 4th century bear the mintmark SIS or SISC.

While their obverse and reverse images and inscriptions were derived from high-value circulation coins, multipla were not meant to spend. They were special issues created to commemorate the ascension of a new emperor, a great victory and jubilee years that would be given to a very select group of the emperor’s most loyal supporters in a special ceremony. Holes found in some of the survivors indicate they were worn as pendants by their honored recipients. Very few were made; even fewer survive. None of this type have been found before.

This one was modeled after a gold solidus Constans struck celebrating his victory over the Franks in 342. At nine grams, the Multiplum is twice the weight of the solidus. Its discovery so far north in such good condition may be an indication that it was gifted to a Saxon war leader who gave crucial aid to the Roman emperor.  If so, it would be the earliest archaeological evidence of a Saxon military elite in what is now Lower Saxony. While there are references to a tribe north of the Elbe that can be interpreted as “Saxones” in Claudius Ptolemy’s 2nd century Geographia, the earliest undisputed account naming the Saxons comes from a speech delivered by future emperor Julian in 356 A.D. He names them as military allies of the Gallic usurper Magnentius who was acclaimed the new emperor by his troops after they killed Constans. The Multiplum predates that speech (and that alliance).

In recent months, the sensational discovery was intensively researched: At the site an excavation was carried out and searched with metal detectors. In addition, the archaeologists have evaluated historical maps and aerial photographs. “So far, there is good evidence to suggest that the gold coin was sacrificed in a special location characterized by a small moorland, a distinctive burial mound group, an ancient path and an impressive hill,” says [Stade district archaeologist Daniel] Nösler.

Lower Saxony requires that any metal detectorists who wish to search for archaeological materials or who search sites where archaeological materials are likely to be found apply for a permit. All would-be metal detectorists must take a free course to qualify for a permit, and they must contact the archaeologist overseeing the area they plan to explore ahead of time. This system ensures metal detector hobbyists have a proper grounding in how to approach archaeological finds and builds collaborative relationships between the amateurs and the professionals. Indeed, the finder participated in the follow-up archaeological excavation, scanning the wider site for potential areas of interest while archaeologists excavated the find site. Also, he is wearing an excellent t-shirt and I want it.

Presenting the coin (from right): Daniel Nösler (district archaeologist), Matthias Glüsing (metal detectorist and finder of the coin), district administrator Michael Roesberg and Hans-Eckard Dannenberg (Stade History Club). Photo by Christian Schmidt courtesy the Landkreis Stade.

The coin has been acquired by the government and will go on display at the Stade Schwedenspeicher Museum. The museum has recently opened a new permanent exhibition on the pre-history of the Elbe-Weser-Triangle, and they are going to have to rewrite some of their information in the light of this discovery.

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