22,000 Roman Coins discovered in Seaton Down Hoard
The hoard was declared Treasure at a Devon Coroner’s Inquest on 12th September 2014 which means it will be eligible for acquisition by a museum after valuation by the Treasure Valuation Committee, a group of independent experts who advise the Secretary of State. The Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, which already houses a large collection of local Romano-British objects, has launched a fund-raising campaign.
The discovery was made in November 2013 by East Devon builder and metal detector enthusiast Laurence Egerton who was operating under licence on private land near the previously excavated site of a Roman villa at Honeyditches in East Devon.
Mr Egerton, 51, immediately reported the find in accordance with the Treasure Act 1996 to the landowner Clinton Devon Estates, Devon County Council’s County Archaeologist and the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) who informed the Coroner. The hoard was then carefully removed in its entirety by a team of archaeologists and over the past 10 months the coins have been lightly cleaned and the process of identification and cataloguing has begun by experts at the British Museum, revealing an important part of Britain’s history.
According to County Archaeologist Bill Horner, the Roman copper-alloy coins date back to between AD 260 and AD 348 and bear the images of Emperor Constantine, his family, co-Emperors and immediate predecessors and successors. Mr Horner said: “Our archaeologists and the team at the British Museum have reported that the majority of the coins are so well preserved that they were able to date them very accurately. This is very unusual for Devon because the county, as a whole, has slightly acidic soil which leads to metals corroding. The soil in this area is chalky which is why they’ve survived so well.”
Buried together in an isolated pit, the lozenge shape of the hoard suggests the coins were in a fabric or leather bag which has not survived. Experts believe the coins could have been the savings of a private individual, a soldier’s wages or a commercial payment.
Despite the number of coins found, the financial value, however, would not have been great, amounting to four gold coins (solidi) which would have provided the ration of two soldiers for one year or a worker’s pay for two years.
Mr Horner explained: “There were no High Street banks, so a good, deep hole in the ground was as secure a place as any to hide your savings in times of trouble, or if you were going away on a long journey. But whoever made this particular deposit never came back to retrieve it.”
Laurence Egerton who lives at Colaton Raleigh in East Devon said: “Initially I found two small coins the size of a thumbnail sitting on top of the ground. I decided to dig the earth at that spot and immediately reached some iron ingots which were laid directly on top of the coins. The next shovel was full of coins – they just spilled out over the field. I had no idea how far down the coins went so I stopped immediately and phoned my wife to come to the site with a camera.
“Under the terms of my licence, I contacted Clinton Devon Estates and Danielle Wooton (PAS Finds Liaison Officer and archaeologist) and Bill Horner (County Archaeologist) and was instructed to take away what was loose and then fill in the hole. Between finding the hoard and the archaeologists excavating the site I slept alongside it in my car for three nights to guard it!
“It’s by far the biggest find I’ve ever had. It really doesn’t get any better than this! It is so important to record all of these finds properly because it’s so easy to lose important insights into our history,” added Mr Egerton.
Clare James, Estate Surveyor for Clinton Devon Estates said: “Only three people are licenced to use metal detectors on Clinton Devon Estates land to ensure that anything and everything that is discovered is properly reported and removed. The way in which the Seaton Down Hoard has been handled throughout has been textbook and it is really exciting to see how this has led to the piecing together of a whole story by experts over the past 10 months.”
University of Exeter archaeologist Danielle Wootton praised the actions of the finder. She said; “Having realised the significance of his discovery, Laurence acted responsibly in reporting the find to both the landowner and the Portable Antiquities Scheme. This ensured that the remainder of the coins were properly excavated by a team of archaeologists funded by Devon County Council. Thereby enabling the hoard of coins to be examined in detail by a team of conservators and Roman coin experts at the British Museum.”
Today (26th September 2014), the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) has announced that a single coin in the Seaton Down Hoard, dating to around AD332, was the one millionth find recorded since the PAS was founded in 1997.
Under the Treasure Act 1996, now that the hoard has been declared Treasure by a coroner, it has to be offered to an accredited museum to acquire. The finder and landowner are normally entitled to a reward equal to the market value of the hoard, as determined by the Treasure Valuation Committee.
Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) has said it would love to keep the hoard in Devon so that it can be seen by the public for the first time in over 1500 years. The museum hopes to be able to raise the necessary funds and is organising a fundraising campaign.
Exeter City Councillor Rosie Denham with responsibility for Culture Media and Sport said: “This extraordinary hoard will add greatly to our picture of life in Roman Devon. It would be a wonderful addition to RAMM’s collection of local Romano-British objects which includes finds from nearby Honeyditches. Adding it to RAMM’s world-class collections will let the people of Devon share in one of the most significant archaeological finds to have been made in Britain for many years.”