By Dr Neil Faulkner
Last updated 2011-02-17
Iron Age coins
The Leicestershire hoards - Amateur archaeologist Ken Wallace recently discovered that a field near his Leicestershire home contained over 3,000 coins of the Iron Age (700 BC-AD 50) - the largest number ever recorded from a single site in Britain.
Other finds included a Roman cavalryman's gilded parade-helmet, and enormous quantities of pig bone, spread across the ground like a pavement. The coin pits were enclosed by a boundary ditch with an elaborate entrance. The site must have been a sanctuary dedicated to an unknown Celtic god.
Coins of the Corieltauvi - Silver tends to corrode, and these coins needed expert conservation work at the British Museum. They were then studied by the museum's expert 'numismatists' (coin specialists). The coins belonged to the Corieltauvi tribe, who controlled most of the East Midlands and the whole of Lincolnshire in the Late Iron Age (100 BC-AD 50).
The first coins used in Britain were 'Gallo-Belgic' types, imported from continental Europe from about 150 BC onwards. Then around 70 BC new home-produced 'British derivative' types appeared, and by about 30 BC many had inscriptions giving the name of a ruler and perhaps his title, lineage and capital.
The Corieltauvi began minting coins a few decades later than the south-eastern tribes. Their gold issues were decorated with stylised horses, the silver ones with realistic and finely engraved boars, and abbreviated names such as VEP, AVN AST and ESVP RASV were soon added.
How were the coins made? - Blanks were made from molten metal cast in clay moulds, with the bullion weight of each precisely controlled, and these were then hammered flat to form 'flans'. For most coins - which had images on both sides - there were then two dies, a lower one for the obverse image, which was slightly concave to hold the flan in place, and an upper one for the reverse, which was convex and placed over the top.
The coin was 'struck' when a single hammer blow impressed the images on the dies into the hot, softened metal of the flan.
What were the coins used for? - The mint-masters doubtless guarded the 'mysteries' of their trade, and were revered as 'magicians'. The patrons who commanded their services were men of power and ambition - men with political agendas and the bullion to back them. They used coins to reward followers, cement alliances through 'gift-exchange', and win divine favour with holy offerings.
Local markets still worked mainly on barter. Coins were high-value tokens of wealth, in a political power-game played out at the top of Late Iron Age society.
Found in a field in Leicestershire, by Ken Wallace while searching with a metal detector.
Discover more amazing finds at the Portable Antiquities Scheme database.
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