Archive for the ‘Treasures’ Category

Rare 7th c. silver bowl found in western Netherlands

Saturday, July 5th, 2014

Leiden University archaeologists have unearthed a rare and beautiful silver bowl from the from the early 7th century in Oegstgeest, a town in the province of South Holland in the western Netherlands. It was discovered just over a year ago, on June 4th, 2013, during the excavation of village from the 6th and 7th century on the banks of the Rhine. The find wasn’t announced for a year to allow the team to complete the excavation without interference from treasure hunters and lookie-loos.

The silver bowl itself dates to late antiquity, probably around 300-500 A.D., and is decorated with plant and animal figures in gold leaf. On the inside, three large trees or plants go from the base of the bowl to a border frieze. The plants divide the frieze into three sections separated by rosettes. Each section features animal figures running, one set appears to be three deer, another is two bucks and a dog, the third is two mythological animals, one of which appears to be carrying a human leg in its mouth. These decorative motifs suggest the bowl was originally manufactured in the eastern Mediterranean or Middle East.

It’s the elaborate gold and garnet appliqués that date to the first half of the 7th century. The base of the bowl is inset with a central disc that has garnets inlaid in a cross pattern. Between the garnets are swirls made of knotted gold wire. Tiny versions of the swirls decorate the border of the disc. There are two mounts with suspension rings added to the outside of the bowl. They too are gold with garnet accents and swirls of knotted gold wire. The style of decoration is from the German Rhineland (except for the suspension rings which are more in keeping with English and Scandinavian styles), so someone took an expensive Eastern bowl and made it even more expensive by adding Germanic gold accents.

The rings are characteristic of hanging bowls and the handsome interior decoration would certainly be more effectively shown off if the bowl were suspended with the interior visible. However, in order to hang evenly the bowl would have needed a third ring and there’s no evidence of a third mount on the bowl, not even rivet holes. It’s possible the piece was in the process of being manufactured, which would make it a very rare artifact captured mid-production.

The bowl was presumably used as a drinking vessel or a wash basin initially, but at some point a small hole was made in the base of the bowl from the outside in. The hole would have made it impossible for the bowl to hold liquids without leaking and it seems to have been done on purpose.

The ancient village was criss-crossed by several small waterways leading to and from the Rhine. The bowl was found in one of those small waterways, and archaeologists believe it was deliberately deposited as a sacrifice.

Researchers are assuming that the bowl, which is 21 centimetres wide and 11 centimetres high, was buried as part of a ritual sacrifice. Such gilded discoveries are extremely rare. This one is exceptional because such bowls were usually made of bronze. In addition, they were not, as a rule, lavishly decorated with gold leaf. This means that we are dealing with an artefact that is unique, not only for the Netherlands, but for all of Western Europe. (Until the discovery of this bowl there were no indications of the presence of a local or regional elite on the Oegstgeest settlement. It may be that in this period some members of the elite lived on ‘simple’ farms.)

The was in pieces when it was first found. A full restoration funded by the Province of South Holland has returned it to its former glory. The bowl is now on display at the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities as part of the Golden Middle Ages exhibition that runs through October 26th. After that, it will be exhibited in the museum’s permanent collection on long-term loan from the Province of South Holland.

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Min Fanglei reunited with its lid in Hunan museum

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

A large bronze ritual wine vessel from the Late Shang dynasty (12th/11th century B.C.) that is the greatest example of its kind has been donated to the Hunan Provincial Museum where it was reunited with its lid after almost 100 years of separation. It was slated to be the star lot at a Christie’s Asian art auction on March 20th, but a group of Chinese collectors came together to buy the artifact for the museum. The private sale went through on March 19th, one day before the auction. The sum paid is undisclosed, but the scuttlebutt is that it was around $30 million.

At more than two feet high, the Min Fanglei (Min is the name of its maker inscribed inside the vessel’s neck, fanglei is the word for “wine vessel”) is the largest archaic bronze of its kind, taller even without its lid than any other known example with lids.

The vessel’s massive size distinguishes this extraordinary work as one of the foremost examples of its kind. The surface is intricately cast with stylized animals and mysterious monster masks that provide a fascinating insight into early Chinese culture and beliefs. The crisp, precise casting of this complex design vividly illustrates why bronze vessels created during the Shang and Zhou dynasties rank among the finest examples of bronze casting the world has ever seen.

When it last passed through Christie’s hands in 2001, the vessel sold for $9,246,000, then a world auction record for any piece Asian art. It remains a record price for an archaic Chinese bronze sold at auction.

It was certain to blow right through that figure had it gone under the hammer in March. The Hunan Provincial Museum would have found it very expensive to go head-to-head against the deep-pocketed collectors that have driven prices for Asian art into the stratosphere over the past decade or so. It declared its intention to bid, but odds are slim it would have won. Wanting the masterpiece rejoined with its lid in the museum inspired Taiwan collector Robert Tsao to contact his fellow collectors abroad, in Taiwan and on the Chinese mainland and call for a united front: nobody bids to give the museum a chance to win. The private purchase ensured nobody else could kill the reunion plan.

The Min Fanglei was unearthed by peasants in Taoyuan County, Hunan province, in 1922. The son of the peasant brought the lid to his school in the hope that the schoolmaster could identify it. The schoolmaster immediately recognized what a treasure it was and bought the lid for 800 hundred silver dollars. Meanwhile, a businessman from Hubei province (Hunan’s neighbor to the north) got wind of the find and bought the body of the vessel for 400 silver dollars. That’s how the two parts got separated.

The lid was sold to a military officer who gave it to the Hunan government in 1952. In 1956 it became part of the permanent collection of the Hunan Provincial Museum. The body was sold to the city of Shanghai in 1924 and then purchased at auction by foreign collectors. While the lid stayed in China, the vessel traveled the world, jumping from collector to collector in the US, the UK, Japan and France. It was a French collector who bought it at the 2001 Christie’s auction. He died earlier this year, which is why the Min Fanglei was on the market again.

The Min Fanglei arrived in Changsha, Hunan’s capital on June 21st. On June 28th at a ceremony at the museum, officials placed the lid on the vessel for the first time in a century. It will go on permanent display at the Hunan Provincial Museum in 2015 when it reopens after a three-year renovation.

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Runes confirm Thor’s hammer amulet is a hammer

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

This spring, metal detectorist Torben Christjansen found a small amulet in Købelev on the Danish island of Lolland. Just one inch long and wide, the piece is in a shape known as Thor’s hammer, a design thought to invoke the protective power of Thor and his dwarf-forged hammer Mjolnir. About 1,000 of these Viking-era amulets have been discovered in Scandinavia, the UK, Russia and the Baltic countries, often unearthed in women’s graves. There has been some debate, however, on whether they were representations of Thor’s hammer, even stylized versions. Skeptics point out that the shaft is disproportionately short to be a hammer, and the head too symmetrical.

Christjansen reported the find as treasure trove to the local Museum Lolland-Falster where curators dated it to the 10th century. The amulet was cast in bronze and has traces of the silver or tin plating and gold plating that once adorned it. One side of the hammer’s head is decorated with interlacing pattern, the other side with a runic inscription seven characters long. This is the first Thor’s hammer amulet ever found inscribed with runes.

Because the runes were so small — three to seven millimeters high — and the surface corroded from the centuries it spent in the ground, the Museum Lolland-Falster curators sent the amulet to the National Museum of Denmark for their experts to decipher. Examining it under a microscope, museum runologist Lisbeth Imer was able to translate the inscription and it resolves the hammer question in the bluntest terms possible: the runes read “Hmar is x,” or in modern Danish “Hammer is” (the x isn’t a letter but a delimiter between two words). Translated into English the inscription simply says “This is a hammer.”

There are two mistakes in the runes. The author left out the first a in “hammer” and flipped the S-rune backwards à la Toys-R-Us. These could have been errors of literacy or a function of the tiny space the writer had to inscribe. Even if his or her spelling was spotty, the rune carver would have derived status and prestige from being literate in a society that prized writing.

The hammer wasn’t the only artifact Christjansen found on the site. He discovered pieces of silver needles and a matrix used to make brooches. These finds could indicate there was a jewelry-making workshop in the area. If so, the hammer could have been made locally. There are no plans currently for an archaeological investigation of the site. Christjansen will keep surveying the area with his metal detector, however, and Museum Lolland-Falster curators will be working with him going forward.

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ID bracelet of World War I officer returned to son

Sunday, June 22nd, 2014

The silver ID bracelet of World War I Lieutenant Oscar L. Erickson was returned to his son Don almost a hundred years after it was lost on the Western Front. The bracelet, inscribed “Lt. O. L. Erickson, C of E, 78th Batt. Canadians,” was discovered by military historian Peter Czink who found it in a box of junk silver slated to be melted down. Czink put the bracelet aside and a few months later decided to research the bracelet’s owner. He discovered that Oscar Erickson was the father of famous Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson.

Arthur Erickson had died in 2009, but with such a prominent figure in the family, Czink realized that finding surviving relatives would be a relatively simple matter. Indeed, Arthur’s younger brother Don is still alive. He’s 85 years old now and was genuinely moved to have this precious memento of his father.

After the Battle of the Somme (July 1st – November 18th, 1916) claimed more than 24,000 Canadian casualties, Canada ramped up its recruiting program. It wasn’t terribly effective. The Military Service Act was passed at the end of August, 1917, to allow conscription. Oscar Erickson didn’t wait to be drafted. He enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force on January 8th, 1917, when he was two months shy of his 27th birthday.

Erickson was sent to the Western Front as a Lieutenant in the 78th Canadian Infantry Battalion (also known as the Winnipeg Grenadiers). As part of the 4th Canadian Division, the 78th Battalion fought in a crucial turning point of the war: the Battle of Amiens. Launched on August 8th, 1918, the offensive would finally see Allied forces actually advancing into enemy territory and end the stalemate of trench warfare. The CEF had a great first day of the battle, claiming 12 kilometers (7.5 miles), more than 5,000 prisoners of war and all but destroying two German divisions.

The next day, August 9th, the Germans reinforced their position with eight divisions. The CEF still advanced another five kilometers, but Lieutenant Oscar Erickson would pay a heavy price. He was wounded in both legs so severely that they had to be amputated. His actions on that day earned him the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry.

I doubt that was much consolation to him. He wrote to his fiancée Myrtle Chatterson that they could no longer get married upon his return. Don Erickson tells the story:

“He said, ‘We are engaged to be married but it’s impossible for us to go through with this, I’m only half a man’,” said Erickson.

“She wrote back and said, ‘You promised me you would marry me and you’re going to live up to it.’”

And he did. If he hadn’t, Don and his brother Arthur would never have been born. Oscar wore prosthetic metal legs the rest of his life. He remained involved in veterans’ affairs, writing a monograph in 1944 that doubtless drew from his own war experience: Rehabilitation of the Personnel of Canada’s Fighting Forces. I think he may have been awarded an OBE, an Officer of the Order of the British Empire medal, for his efforts in World War II, but I couldn’t confirm this is the same Oscar L. Erickson.

The sweet moment Czink gave the bracelet to Don is captured in this news story:

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Early medieval gold coin hoard found in Netherlands

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

47 gold solidi unearthed in Drenthe province, the NetherlandsTwo metal detector enthusiasts searching in the Netherlands’ northeastern Drenthe province have discovered 47 gold coins from late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. The treasure consists of gold solidi minted in Constantinople, Rome, Ravenna and Laon, in northern France. Most of the coins, 38 of them, are Byzantine and depict the emperor Justinian. The most recent coin dates to 541 A.D. It’s rare to find loose gold coins from this period in the northern Netherlands; a coin hoard is unique. The last time gold treasure was unearthed in Drenthe was 1955.

The gold solidi each weigh more than four grams for a total of more than 200 grams, making the find the greatest amount of 6th century currency by weight ever found in the Netherlands. One coin is the only example of its kind discovered on Dutch soil. It’s a Frankish coin minted by the Merovingian King Theudebert (534-548), the first king to issue characteristic Merovingian coinage bearing his own image rather than the Byzantine emperor’s.

To prevent treasure hunters flocking to the site, no information is being divulged about the exact find area. We thus don’t know much about the context, but whoever buried the coins is likely to have been a high ranking personage in the local ruling elite.

That there was such a huge amount of money in circulation, according to an archaeologist involved means that Drenthe was an important political factor. [...]

The money may have been a diplomatic payment, probably a pay-off to keep the Drenthe people away from the boundaries of the Merovingian kingdom. That kingdom then was from the South of France to the major rivers in the [central] Netherlands.

Gold coin of King Theudebert I from Drenthe hoardVery little is known about the Netherlands of the 6th century and few archaeological remains from the period have been unearthed, so this find would be nationally significant even if it weren’t a flashy stash of gold solidi.

The discovery was made this spring, and the finders reported it promptly to the province’s government archaeologists. The find was announced to the public on Friday. The treasure was acquired by the Drenthe Museum which put the coins on public display starting Saturday. The hoard now takes its place as one of the most important exhibitions in the museum. Museum director Annabelle Birnie, as quoted in the Drenthe province’s press release:

“We are very pleased with our newest addition. It’s a great addition, and of great importance to our archaeological collection. In addition to the gold treasure of Tomahawk from the 5th century and the coin treasure Nietap from the 7th century, we now have a masterpiece in the 6th century, a period about which relatively little is known. This acquisition, combined with further research can give us new insights into this period of the Early Middle Ages.”

 

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Volunteer finds first gold coin at Vindolanda

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Vindolanda, a Roman auxiliary fort in Northumberland just south of Hadrian’s Wall, is a huge motherlode of archaeological discoveries, with its nine rebuilds, related civilian communities and near continuous use from 85 A.D. until the 9th century. Most famously, the anoxic waterlogged ground has preserved an unprecedented collection of correspondence written in ink on thin postcard-sized pieces of wood in a cursive Latin. More than 700 have been recovered and transcribed (see the full collection including high resolution pictures on the Vindolanda Tablets Online database). The Vindolanda tablets are the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain and a remarkable primary source of information about life at the northern border Roman Britain before and after the construction of Hadrian’s Wall.

The site has been excavated regularly since 1970. The first tablets were found in 1973 and every year new discoveries are made. The Vindolanda fort has produced the greatest collection of Roman footwear anywhere in the Roman Empire, delicate textiles, altars, brooches, rings, gaming pieces, extensive structures including two bathhouses, one before Hadrian, one after, temples, a granary, officer’s houses and soldier barracks. Thousands of coins have been unearthed by professional archaeologists and by the more than 6,400 volunteers who have dug alongside them since 1970. None of them, however, have been gold.

Until now. On June 3rd, 2014, the first gold coin at Vindolanda was found by a French volunteer.

Volunteer Marcel Albert, from Nantes, France, who has been taking part at the Vindolanda dig since 2008, described his discovery simply as “magnifique,” and with the knowledge that although 1000’s of coins had already been discovered at Vindolanda but none of them were gold he said “I thought it can’t be true, it was just sitting there as I scrapped back the soil, shining, as if someone had just dropped it.”

The well worn coin was soon confirmed by the archaeologists as an aureus (gold coin) which although found in the late 4th century level at Vindolanda bears the image of the Emperor Nero which dates the coin to AD 64-65. This precious currency, equating to over half a years’ salary for a serving soldier, had been in circulation for more than 300 years before being lost on this most northern outpost of the Roman Empire.

The coin features the laureate head of Nero in right profile with the inscription “NERO CAESAR” on the obverse. On the reverse is an image of Nero standing radiate, holding a branch and a globe on which stands a small figure of Victory. It bears the legend “AVGVSTVS GERMANICVS.” Nero had these aurei issued in the wake of his monetary reform of 64 A.D. To make a dollar out of fifteen cents, Nero reduced the weight of the gold in the coins so he could mint more with less. Silver coins fared worse, being not just shortweighted but also less pure. Bronze, copper and brass coins he cranked out in vast quantities. Nero was the first emperor to debase the coinage, but he wouldn’t be the last.

You can tell from its condition that the aureus went through a great many hands in its long life as legal tender. It was unearthed at the fort itself, not in the village that grew next to it. Gold coins are very rare in Roman military sites. They were just far beyond the level of currency exchanged in military outposts. Chances are, this is the only aureus that will ever be found at Vindolanda.

The coin will be studied in greater detail, along with the panoply of other artifacts discovered during this season’s dig (April 7th – September 19th). Once it has been researched and documented, the aureus will likely go on display at the site’s Roman Army Museum.

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Gilded female figurine illuminates Viking garb

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

Revninge Woman figurine, ca. 800 A.D.A metal detectorist scanning a field near Revninge in eastern Denmark discovered a rare gilded figurine of a woman. Experts from the Østfyns Museums confirmed that the figurine is of Viking manufacture and dates to around 800 A.D. She is a petite 4.6 centimeters (1.8 inches) high and made of solid silver under a top layer of gold. Her hair is pulled back in a tight bun around a three-dimensional head. The body, on the other hand, is two dimensional. This is a very rare combination, as most figures from this period are flattened 2D in their entirety.

It’s the clothing and jewelry on the body that is of particular interest to archaeologists. She wears an ankle-length gown with long sleeves and elaborate decoration. Each part of the dress has a different pattern illustrating different textile-making approaches: nesting V-shapes at the neck, radiating lines or furrows on the torso, horizontal cuts on the sleeves, lines of raised squares on the left and right of the skirt, stamped circles in between them. Around her neck hangs a necklace made out of circles that could represent pearls or a gold chain. Two long strands that may be pearl ribbons fall down the skirt from a three-lobed jewel in the center of the waist.

Trefoil brooch carved with geometric shapes, late 8th/early 9th century A.D.Trefoil shaped brooches have been found before in Viking burials and settlements (see this example from a slightly later period unearthed in Zealand), but they’re usually placed on the chest. The figurine testifies to the fact that these artifacts were worn at the waist during life, or at least worn there on occasion. She holds her hands on her abdomen, thumbs out on either side of the trefoil.

Revninge Woman, side viewSilver valkyrie found in central Denmark in 2013There’s a hole between the ear and the bun which indicates the figurine was worn as a pendant. Her facial features and the piercing underneath her bun are strongly reminiscent of the gilded silver 3D valkyrie found in central Denmark last year. Both figurines date to the same period and feature prominent women, but unlike the valkyrie, Revninge Woman is not carrying any weapons or a shield. It’s possible she’s a representation of Freya, the fertility goddess. The position of her hands at her abdomen and the lobed brooch/buckle may be references to pregnancy or fertility.

Revninge Woman went on display at the Viking Museum of Ladby on May 28th. She will remain on display at least through the end of the summer.

 

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Half of Saddle Ridge Hoard coins sold in 72 hours

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

Saddle Ridge Hoard coins for saleThe first round of coins from the Saddle Ridge Hoard, the 1,427 gold coins discovered in Northern California in February of 2013 by a couple walking their dog, has gone up for sale and is being snapped up by collectors. Since sales began on Tuesday, more than half of the coins have sold.

The festivities began at 7:30 PM on Tuesday at the Old Mint in San Francisco, the very same building where many of the Saddle Ridge Hoard coins were first struck. Sixty of them were put on display, including the most important and valuable single coin in the collection: an 1866 $20 Double Eagle that is missing the motto “In God We Trust” on the back. 1886 coin from Saddle Ridge HoardIt’s an extremely rare piece, as Congress had passed a law in March of 1865 authorizing the placement of the motto on all gold coins that “shall admit the inscription thereon.” The San Francisco mint apparently lacked the proper equipment to include the motto at that time. That little oversight makes the coin valued at $1.2 million.

An hour after the exhibition, one coin went up for auction at the Old Mint: an 1874 $20 Double Eagle. It sold for $15,000, with all the proceeds going to restore the National Historic Landmark and converting it into the San Francisco Museum at the Mint. The buyer was Ray Lent with Placer Partners, which is heavily involved in the cause. The mint museum will be the first museum dedicated to the history of the city, believe it or not. You’d think a place like San Francisco would be lousy with them. Here’s a video of the culmination of the auction and an interview with Ray Lent explaining why they secured the coin for the museum. There are some great shots of the space and the exhibition.

With the non-profit part done, commerce began. Coin dealer Kagin’s Inc. put up hundreds of coins for sale Tuesday night. By midnight, 225 coins offered for sale on the website were bought for a total of $2.4 million. Even more coins were listed on Amazon Tuesday night. Within an hour, 346 of them had sold for more than $1 million. At this rate, the initial estimate of the hoard’s value at $10 million will be surpassed by at least a million.

Two of the 14 finest offered for sale in one lot on AmazonOriginal can, part of the 14-coin lotThe 14 finest coins are being sold in a single lot along with the original can that was their home for near a century and a half. They’re available on Amazon for a cool $2,750,000 and yes, you can buy them with 1-Click. As of this writing, 572 coins from the hoard are for sale individually on Amazon, priced between $2,975 and $17,500. Kagin’s has 55 coins for sale on its website and numbers are diminishing rapidly.

Saddle Ridge Hoard coins, cans and lidsIt’s the condition of the coins and their Robert Louis Stevenson-like story that underpins their commercial success. The gold coins are nearly all in mint condition, with coins struck between 1847 and 1894 and barely circulated. They were buried in eight metal cans in the Gold Country of the Sierra Nevada mountain until their rediscovery by the property owners last year.

Eventually almost all of the coins will be sold. The owners, known only as John and Mary, will keep a few coins for sentimental reasons.

 

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Continental Currency coin sold for $1,410,000

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

When it was minted in 1776, the Continental Currency coin didn’t have a denomination. There were silver, brass and pewter versions and numismatists still aren’t sure how they were used because there is no value notation on the coins themselves and no historical records authorizing the coins have survived. There are about 60 of these coins extant, most of them pewter. Only four of the silver Continental Currency coins are known and one of them has just sold at auction for $1,410,000. An impressive result for a coin whose original value is unknown.

On February 10th, 1776, the Continental Congress authorized the creation of the first national currency, paper notes in denominations from 1/6th of a dollar to 80 dollars. The name came from the Spanish dollars, whose reliable silver weight and purity had made them a global currency since they were first minted in 1497, used to back the notes. The design of the Continentals, as the notes became known, was the work of Benjamin Franklin, a long-time advocate for paper money who as early as 1736 had printed paper currency for New Jersey. The obverse of the Continental fractional dollars has the Latin “FUGIO” (I fly) written over a sundial and the charmingly Old Richard-esque legend “MIND YOUR BUSINESS” written underneath it. (It’s not really sure what he meant by that legend, but it probably wasn’t “mind your own business” in the way we think of it today. It’s more likely to have been a literal meaning of business as in see to your money-making. It could have been a rebus with the sundial and FUGIO legend, meaning something like time flies so take care of your business.) The reverse has 13 linked rings, each labeled with the name of one of the colonies, surrounding a sun containing the legends “AMERICAN CONGRESS” and “WE ARE ONE.”

The borders and devices for the Continentals were the work of engraver and artist Elisha Gallaudet who had engraved New York State notes in 1771 and New York City notes, the first currency issued by an American city, in 1774. Elisha Gallaudet also engraved the dies of the Continental Currency coin that just sold. He left his mark — EG FECIT (EG made it) — on the silver coin making it one of very few coins from the colonial period to bear its maker’s signature. Experts believe that the Continental Congress intended the coins to replace the one dollar paper note.

The four resolutions from May 10, 1775 to May 9, 1776 provided for the issue of paper money in various denominations, including the one dollar bill. The six resolutions of July 22, 1776 through September 26, 1778 omitted the one dollar denomination. Thus, it is logical to conclude the pewter pieces were intended as a substitute for the paper dollars in those issues. The coins had minimal intrinsic value, and like the paper bills they replaced, were valued according to the public’s confidence in Congress, who guaranteed their value at one dollar each.

The mintage figures are unknown, but the pewter coins appear with enough frequency to suggest they were produced in substantial numbers. Many of the coins were undoubtedly melted during this period, because Benjamin Franklin observed that pewter was sorely needed for the canteens used by soldiers in the Continental Army. The most reasonable explanation for the brass examples is that they represent dies trials. The silver coins are of full weight and value, suggesting that a precious-metal coinage was contemplated, but the Continental Congress was chronically short of funds and had no reliable supply of silver, so this idea must have been abandoned quickly.

Instead they stuck with the paper notes which were cheap to produce but depreciated at an alarming rate. There were too many of them in circulation, and the British took advantage of their weakness to distribute huge amounts of counterfeit notes, devaluing them even further. Within three years of the first issue Continentals had dropped to 1/5th of their face value. A year later they had plummeted to 1/40th of their face value. A year after that they were no longer being used as currency at all. It wasn’t until the Constitution was ratified that Continentals finally scraped up a little bit of worth: 1% of face value to be exchanged for treasury bonds.

Franklin’s fabulous design got another bite at the currency apple in 1787 when it graced the first official penny of the United States of America, today known as the Fugio Cent after the Latin “I fly” legend.

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Artifacts found under London Bridge rail station

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

As part of an extensive redevelopment of London Bridge Station, the city’s oldest rail station (opened in 1836), archaeologists have had the unique opportunity to excavate underneath the station and its viaduct. The station has a vast footprint and since it was constructed long before archaeological surveys were invented, this is the first chance archaeologists have had to explore the site. Other excavations in the London Bridge area have revealed a great deal about the growth and development of the city from the Roman era on, but the station site was thought to have been either very marshy or fully underwater for much of its history that archaeologists weren’t sure what they’d find.

They found that although the area was certainly marshy and waterlogged it may have been, but it was still extensively developed. Excavations have gone as deep as 20 feet below street level in the massive arches of the station foundations. The earliest finds were traces of the Roman military occupation followed by evidence of the Boudican rebellion and the Roman civilian settlement. The remains of three previously unknown Roman structures were found: a bathhouse, a large waterfront building and what may have been a boat landing platform. Thanks to the preserving power of the waterlogged ground along the Thames, rare organic elements have survived, like 17 timbers piles from trees felled between 59 and 83 A.D. which were part of the foundations of the large waterfront building. The landing platform consists of a timber baulk packed with rocks and wood.

Later discoveries include the remains of Saxon defenses and the floors and walls of large townhouses on Tooley Street which the historical record identifies as the abodes of important medieval clerics like the Prior of Lewes. (The remains of other such homes owned by non-London religious orders can be found today at Winchester and Lambeth Palace.) From the late Middle Ages on, the marshy land was extensively reclaimed for industrial and residential purposes. The remains of floors, walls and cellars testify to dense, closely-built buildings packed along a network of small streets.

Hundreds of artifacts were also found mirroring the changing phases of the London Bridge station area. A Penn Tile, made in Penn, Buckinghamshire, between 1330 and 1390, was used as flooring in an expensive building. These glazed patterned tiles became popular in London after the Black Death obliterated local tile producers. Also from the 14th century is a rare white clay flagon, probably made in Cheam, that archaeologists believe was used to serve ale in the townhouse of the Abbot of Waverley. Now it’s on display at the Wheatsheaf Pub in Stoney Street.

Starting in the 16th century in the wake of the introduction of tobacco from the New World there was a bustling business of clay pipe manufacturers in the neighborhood. These were mainly small backyard workshops. Archaeologists found the remains of a pope kiln that had been demolished centuries ago which proved fortuitous from an archaeological perspective because it allowed the excavators to find pieces of the superstructure. They also found many pipes, some whole, some discarded and broken after a failed firing. One pipe is marked with wording that identifies its maker. “JOINER STREET” is written on one side of the stem and “TOOLEY STREET BORO” on the other, indicating it was made by James Minto between 1809 and 1811. That means the clay pipe industry was still producing a couple of decades before the construction of the station.

In the fun category, archaeologists found a rare cribbage board made out of animal bone in the 17th or 18th century. The game was invented in the 17th century, so this piece could be a very early example. I love those concentric circles down the middle. They look just like the marks on much earlier dice, like this one from 13th or 14th century Ireland.

My favorite find is a set of three pewter tankards from the 18th century. They were discovered in a cess pit, possibly because the bends and twists around the lip made them hard to drink from, but they still look great. Two of them are inscribed with the names of the hostelries where they were once used to quaff lukewarm brews. One says “Mary Jackson, Kings head, Tooley Strt,” the other “J main, St Johns Coffee house, Bermondsey Strt”. The best part: the The Old Kings Head is still open for business today, not on Tooley Street but very close by on Borough High Street.

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