First hoard of Iron Age gold coins found in Wales

A group of 15 Iron Age gold coins discovered by metal detectorists on the Isle of Anglesey is the first Iron Age gold coin hoard ever found in Wales.

The coins were found scattered in a field in Llangoed between July 2021 and March 2022 by metal detectorists Lloyd Roberts, Peter Cockton and Tim Watson. Roberts found the first one which he immediately recognized as one of his bucket list dream coins, an Iron Age gold stater. He also found the second one. His friend Peter Watson found the next three. The coins were in such condition they still shone even fresh out of the earth. Tim Watson found the remaining 10 coins scanning the same field.

All 15 staters were struck between 60 and 20 B.C. at three mints in Lincolnshire by the Corieltavi, a Celtic tribe who inhabited the East Midlands area. They were mostly farmers and had no single ruler. They began producing coins in the beginning of the 1st century, and the names of multiple people — believed to have been rulers and subordinate rulers — are inscribed on them.

The design of each of the coins is very stylised, derived from Macedonian gold coins of Phillip II, which show the bust of Apollo on the obverse (heads side) and a two-horsed chariot and charioteer on the reverse (tails side).

The obverse of the staters shows Apollo’s wreath and hair, while the reverse shows a stylised triangular-headed horse with various symbols surrounding it. The symbols are the key distinguishing features for separating the coins into their different types.

The Iron Age tribes inhabiting modern Wales did not make their own coins and rarely used other tribes’ coins, so coin finds are rare in Wales from this period. Iron Age coins are rarely found on pre-Roman settlement sites in Britain.

The coins were probably not used for everyday transactions in the way that we use coins today. Instead, they are thought to have been used as gifts between elites to secure alliances or loyalty or as offerings to the gods, although in some cases they may have been used for high value purchases.

Commerce, politics and religion were inextricably linked. This hoard may therefore have been buried for one or multiple reasons. Pagan priests known as druids feature in Roman sources referring to Anglesey, and archaeological finds, such as the votive deposit at Llyn Cerrig Bach, indicate that the island was an important religious centre during the 1st centuries BC and AD. The apparent holy nature of the island is likely to have played a role in the deposition. Additionally, Parys Mountain on Anglesey and the nearby Great Orme were sources of copper, so these coins may have formed part of an exchange of by the Corieltavi in exchange for copper.

The finds were reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. With such a notable discovery of gold staters at one location, the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust surveyed the find site, guided by Peter Watson and landowner Gwyn Jones, in September 2021. The field had been long dedicated to pasture, and was last ploughed 15 years ago. The investigation of the find site did not reveal any information about the hoard, where it was originally buried, in what container, etc.

The 15 coins have now been officially declared treasure at a coroner’s inquest. The Oriel Môn museum on Anglesey hopes to acquire them for public display.