Thousands of 4th c. coins found off Sardinia coast

An enormous deposit of tens of thousands of coins from the first half of the 4th century has been discovered on the seabed off the northeastern coast of Sardinia. They are in exceptional condition, with only four suffering conspicuous damage and even they are still legible enough to read their inscriptions and determine their age.

The first coins were discovered by a recreational diver who spotted the glint of metal in the shallow waters near the coast. He reported the find to the authorities, and the next day underwater archaeologists from the Superintendency of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape of Sassari and Nuoro and the Cultural Heritage Protection unit of the Carabinieri explored the seabed at the find site.

The divers recorded two main areas of coin dispersal in a large sandy area between the beach and the seagrass offshore. Archaeologists believe the topography of the seabed in that area suggests the remains of a shipwreck may be under the seagrass and sand. Fragments of amphorae manufactured in Africa and the Near East that likely came from a wrecked ship were also found among the coins.

The coins are follis (also known as nummi), bronze coins with a thin top layer of silver introduced by Diocletian in 294 A.D. By the time the coins in the Sardinian sea were produced, currency had been debased several times and the silver content was all but nil. They were widely used throughout the empire. In 2013, a massive hoard of 22,888 follis was discovered by a metal detectorist in Seaton Down, Devon, England. It was fifth largest coin hoard ever found in England. This find beats the Seaton Down hoard by at least 10,000. An initial estimate of the coin numbers based on the weight of the find places it at between 30,000 and 50,000.

So far, the coins excavated date to between 324 and 340 A.D., minted in the last year of the reign of Licinus and the ascension of Constantine the Great as sole emperor through Constantine’s death in 337 A.D. and the contentious co-rule of his three sons, Constantine II, Constantius II, Constans I. Coins from almost every mint active in the empire at that time are represented.

Conservators are still sorting through the huge numbers of coins. Cleaning and conservation of the coins and associated archaeological materials will allow archaeologists to learn more about the context of the finds. There are no current plans to excavate the find site for the remains of the possible shipwreck.

Long-rumored looted hoard recovered, transferred to museum

A precious hoard of silver jewelry from the second half of the 10th century has been transferred to the Podlaskie Museum in Białystok decades after it was looted near Brańsk, eastern Poland. The treasure was confiscated last year in a coordinated operation by police, tax and cultural heritage authorities. It was in limbo until prosecutors determined there would be no trial as the statute of limitations had run out. Now the hoard has been allocated to the museum for study, conservation and display.

The treasure consists of 45 pieces, including richly decorated silver half-moon pendants (lunulae), silver earrings with highly decorated semi-circular bottom half and long chain pendants, silver beads decorated with nodules and granulation, a bracelet, a ring, fragments of a bronze chain and several glass beads. The craftsmanship is of extremely high quality, and experts believe it may have been the work of Byzantine jewelers that reached Poland through Russia or of local jewelers influenced by Eastern techniques. The earrings and beads are similar to ones found in other jewelry finds from the period, most notably the treasure of Góra Strękowa.

The lunulae are particularly impressive. They were made by casting a bar of silver, placing it between sheets of leather and tapping it repeatedly with oval hammers. The sheet was trimmed to shape with scissors or saws. A template was likely used to ensure the shape was symmetrical. It was reinforced by soldering strips to the underside of the lunula and then the edges were smoothed. The maker would then decorate the lunula with filigree, granulation and nodules. These were extremely expensive prestige objects, worn as the central element of a necklace that had other pendants, beads and gems added to it.

The 45 objects in the hoard had all been placed together in a small decorated ceramic vessel. The vessel survived and is also part of the collection.

There had been rumors that a medieval treasure had been illegally excavated in the Brańsk area in the 1990s, but only in 2022 did conservation authorities get a tip about the treasure’s whereabouts. They alerted law enforcement and the subsequent investigation revealed the collection of thousand-year-old jewelry was in the hands of a Brańsk resident who claimed he had received them from his wife’s grandfather. The grandfather-in-law told him he had personally found the hoard in the ruins of a castle dating to the 11th-14th centuries.

The grandfather died in 2001, so whenever he looted the hoard and gave it to his daughter’s family, it had to have been before 22 years ago. The statute of limitations for the theft (grandpa’s original looting) and appropriation of stolen goods (grandson-in-law’s receipt of the illegally obtained objects) is ten years, so the Bielsko prosecutor’s office could no longer take either case to court.

The hoard was officially delivered to the Podlaskie Museum by the Podlasie Provincial Conservator of Monuments on Wednesday, October 18th.

“This is a unique set of monuments,” Aleksander Piasecki, an archaeologist from the Podlasie Museum, told PAP. He emphasized that he had not seen such a well-preserved set of monuments and – as he added – “it is a nicely preserved complex from the second half of the 10th century associated with contacts with Russia.”

The archaeologist noted that now this unique complex will be subjected to specialist research and conservation in order to determine the origin and chronology of the monuments. He added that the archeology department would then like to display the jewelry; is to be included in the permanent exhibition.

Bronze Age jewelry set found in Swiss carrot field

Archaeologists have uncovered a set of Bronze Age women’s jewelry in a freshly-plowed carrot field in Güttingen in northeastern Switzerland’s Thurgau canton. Dating to around 1,500 B.C., the set contains a necklace made of bronze spiked discs, two spiral finger rings, more than a hundred amber beads the size of pinheads and bronze and gold wire spirals. Found with these luxury items were more unusual (and less expensive) items including a rock crystal, a beaver tooth, a perforated bear tooth, a bronze arrowhead, a few lumps of polished iron ore, a small ammonite and a fossilized shark tooth.

The treasure was first spotted in August of this year by amateur archaeologist Franz Zahn. He was traipsing through the field after the carrots had been harvested and saw some bronze discs in the churned up soil. As an avid metal detectorist who has discovered several Iron and Bronze Age objects in the Güttingen area, Zahn immediately recognized the objects were of archaeological significance and notified the Thurgau Office of Archeology.

The spiked discs were of a type frequently found on necklaces in graves or in ritual deposits, so canton archaeologists were dispatched to the site pronto to investigate. The team arrived the next day to recover the discs and surrounding area in a single soil block. The excavation found no evidence of a burial. This was a deposit, buried directly at the find site in an organic container or bag that has long-since decomposed.

The soil block was transported to the conservation laboratory in Frauenfeld for excavation. Each discovery layer was carefully documented during the process. All told, 14 of the bronze discs were found. They are called spiked discs because of the round pointed nub in the center surrounded by three concentric circles. A string or a leather strap would have originally been threaded through a hole on each of the discs with spirals threaded between them as spacers. Eleven bronze and eight larger gold wire spirals were found at the site.

The objects are currently undergoing conservation. Some of them are very delicate and must be treated before they can be displayed. There also being subjected to a variety of scientific analyses. The plan is for the set to go on public display next year at the Museum of Archeology in Frauenfeld.

Water worker finds two 2,500-year-old gold torcs

A worker at a water company in Cavandi, Asturias, northwest Spain, uncovered two 2,500-year-old gold torcs while working on the municipal water pipes two weeks ago. They are of extraordinarily high quality and feature a striking diversity of goldsmithing techniques and decorative motifs, including casting, filigree, granulation, welding, and a variety of geometric designs. It is the most important torc find in Asturias, the only one made in situ and to be studied by archaeologists at the time of discovery.

Exceptional gold torc discovered by water worker Sergio Narciandi, ca. 2500 years old. Photo courtesy the Archaeological Museum of Asturias. Second torc found in six fragments temporarily puzzled back together. Photo courtesy the Archaeological Museum of Asturias.

While other gold necklaces from the Iron Age have been found, most were discovered in the 18th and 19th centuries, when limited archaeological techniques meant much of the information about their provenance was lost, [Pablo] Arias [,professor of prehistoric archeology at the University of Cantabria,] explained.

In this case, the site is intact, giving archaeologists a much better idea of their context, he added.

“We have very precise information about where they were found,” said Arias. “It’s quite exceptional.”

Sergio Narciandi was tracing the route of an outage when he saw a shiny object on a slope next to the road. At first he assumed it was a random piece of metal from a goat farm or agricultural equipment in the area, but the brightness of the metal gave him pause. When he took a closer look, he realized it looked a lot like a torc, and a gold one at that.

He knew it needed to be reported to authorities, but he had to hunt around for a while to identify the appropriate authority, so he dialed the mayor, whom he knows personally, and the mayor told him he could deposit at city hall until the cultural patrimony officials took over. Finally Narciandi called his uncle, an archaeologist, and the uncle connected him to the director of the Archaeological Museum of Asturias.

After this round-robin of calls, archaeologists made it to the find site that very afternoon. The confirmed the object was a gold torc, then found six fragments of a second torc on the same hillside. The fragments formed a complete second gold torc. Both torcs were then swiftly transported to the museum’s laboratory for conservation.

The torc discovered by Sergio Narciandi is a rigid, c-shaped necklace in the Astur-Norgalaico style of the Celtic tribes in what is now Asturias and Galicia. It is formed of a central rod with spirals of gold wound around it and has large double vasiform terminals. Because of its size, quality, finished and technical difficulty, the first torc is considered an exceptional example of goldsmithing from the northwest of the Iberian peninsula during the Iron Age. The second piece has a rectangular section with double vasiform terminals engraved with sunburst designs on the flat ends. Both of them have wear on areas that would have been in contact with the neck, so we know that they were actively used for some time.

The torcs are now undergoing non-invasive metallurgic analysis and surface examination. This will shed new light on the manufacturing technology of Iron Age Spain, the mining of metal, the use of silver, gilding techniques and more.

Celtic gold rainbow cup coin found in Bavaria

An exceptionally rare Celtic gold coin has been discovered by a metal detectorist in a corn field in Denklingen, Bavaria. The so-called “rainbow cup” coin is decorated with a cross design in the center of the bowl-shaped coin. Only four rainbow cups with these markings (including this one) are known to exist, and this example is the only one with a verified find location.

The coin dateS to the 2nd century B.C., a time when the Celtic monetary economy was still new. The gold examples were so rare because they were expensive to produce and were not in wide circulation. More common copper and silver versions have been found all over southern Germany.

They are called cups because they were struck in a rounded shape, unlike the more familiar flat circular coins of other ancient (and modern) cultures. They got the rainbow monicker because they were often discovered after rain washed away the soil leaving the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow glittering on the surface.

It’s unknown how the 0.07-ounce (1.9 grams) coin ended up there, but the spot isn’t far from a ancient road. This road went from what is now Trento in northern Italy and later became known as the Roman road Via Claudia Augusta that went across the Alps, Ziegaus said.

“Perhaps the coin was accidentally lost along the way,” he said.

The “heads” side of the 0.5-inch-wide (13 millimeters) coin “shows a stylized human head with a large eye,” with the nose and lips depicted as dots, Ziegaus said. A metal analysis revealed that the coin is 77% gold, 18% silver and 5% copper.

There are only three known rainbow cups with the star-and-arch motif. “The interpretation of the motive is difficult,” Ziegaus said. “The star is perhaps a symbol for the four cardinal points, the arches are to be understood as signs for the horizon and the rising and setting of the moon.

Until recently, even finds of archaeological significance like this coin were held to be shared property of the finder and landowner. A new cultural patrimony regulation just went into effect that requires archaeological finds be reported to the State Office for Monument Preservation. Bavaria is now the owner of the material. The landowner receives appropriate compensation and the finder receives a finder’s fee.

The finder, Michael Schwaiger, was offered 6,000 for both coins, but he refused, as well he should. The landowner signed his rights over to the finder and Schwaiger donated both coins to the State Archaeological Collection. The other three known rainbow bowls are in private hands, and state officials plan to exhibit the Denklingen coins in a new permanent exhibition at the State Archaeological Collection in Munich after renovation of the facility is complete in March 2024. They are unlikely to go on display at a local museum in Denklingen because the theft of the Celtic gold coin hoard from the museum at Manching has left officials very wary that they can be adequately secured.