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Roman coin hoard valued at £320,250

The unique hoard of 52,503 Roman coins found last April stuffed into a giant pot bellied jar, buried in a field near Frome, the largest ever found in a single container in Britain, has been valued at £320,250 after hours of debate and conflicting opinions from three experts.

Two coins from the Roman coin hoard found at Frome which was valued at £320,250. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian A campaign will be launched this week by the Art Fund charity to help Somerset museum in Taunton acquire the coins, including five exceptionally rare silver coins minted for "the forgotten emperor" Carausius, who ruled Britain for seven years until he was murdered by his finance minister in 293 AD.

The fund will give an initial £40,250 to kick start the appeal, and will then match every pound given by the public up to a further £10,000. The British Museum will also give 50p from every copy of a new book about the find written by its experts.

Dave Crisp, a hospital chef who found the hoard using a metal detector, buried on the ridge of a Somerset field near a Roman road, and the landowners Geoff and Anne Sheppard, are elated. Crisp will work on until he reaches retirement next summer, but says a new car may come earlier than planned and his daughter and her family will share his good fortune. The Sheppards are planning a rare holiday - but all three remain more excited by the find itself than the reward.

Anne Sheppard said they were enthralled by the coins, which created such international interest that friends living in Australia read in their local paper of the treasure in their native village: "As a family, we have always loved history and  have hoped that something of interest would be discovered on our land as the Roman road is so close to the farm, but we could not have ever imagined that such a significant find would be found here."

Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund, said: "We're extremely excited to be part of Somerset's campaign to acquire this extraordinary treasure. To think that this pot packed full of coins lay buried beneath the soil for almost 2,000 years - it really is incredible."

Putting a price on the hoard was exceptionally difficult, because it is so odd.

The coins filled the jar to the brim so the archaeologists had to smash it to remove them. They must have represented every penny in cash of a whole community, but experts believe it was a single stupendous offering, rather than savings over decades, since the coins span just 40 years, with the most recent in the middle.

The buried pot was first lined carefully with vegetation. The people could never have carried the coins in the thin pot, or easily retrieved them if they ever needed their money back.

Unlike the beautiful Crosby Garrett Roman helmet found in Cumbria only a few weeks later, the hoard is officially treasure, protected by the Treasure Act - but the valuation committee which met at the British Museum had an exceptionally difficult challenge: three outside experts gave three widely differing estimates.

Most of the coins are comparatively low value, but include the largest collection ever found of Carausius coins, including some in fabulous condition - better than the British Museum's examples.

Then there are the mystery coins: more than 11,000 are too dirty or corroded to identify yet.

Moorhead loves the Carausius coins showing a bull necked man with an unfortunate beard. He badly needed good propaganda - born in Belgium, and sentenced to death by Rome for looting the Imperial grain barges he was supposed to be protecting. Instead his troops proclaimed him emperor, and the coins were his Facebook page. They were the best minted in decades, portraying him welcomed by Britannia, clasping hands with the army or - uniquely - quoting from Virgil.

Their weight is immense, as Moorhead found when his VW Polo was used to carry them from Frome to the British Museum: the 160 kilos almost wrecked his suspension.

He is convinced it was an offering never meant to be retrieved, not a giant piggy bank, and the the weight was the point: the gods liked metal and plenty of it. The people gave the greatest weight they could accumulate, and coins were the easiest source when they couldn't get their hands on the bronze axe heads or swords and shields their ancestors had buried or thrown into rivers.

Years of work remain on the coins but Steve Minnitt, of the Taunton museum, said: "We are determined to keep the hoard together and in Somerset". Some will be on display at Frome Library next Saturday morning, with Dave Crisp in attendance - a repeat event after more than 2,000 people queued for hours the first time.

Crisp, praised as "impeccable" by the archaeologists for stopping heroically and calling them in the moment he spotted the first coins, is still heading out into the chilly Autumn fields with his metal detector: "Not knowing what you might find next, that's what gets you."

Author: Maev Kennedy | Source: Guardian [October 17, 2010]


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