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“Hugely important find”: 1,400 year old gold coin hoard discovered in England

A find of 131 gold coins along with four other gold objects dating to 1,400 years ago stands to be the largest find to date of gold coins from the early medieval period in England.  

Buried shortly after the year AD 600, the West Norfolk hoard contains a total of 131 gold coins, most of which are Frankish tremisses, as there coins were not yet produced in East Anglia at this date. The hoard contains nine gold solidi, a larger coin from the Byzantine empire worth three tremisses. The hoard also contains four other gold objects, including a gold bracteate (a type of stamped pendant), a small gold bar, and two other pieces of gold which were probably parts of larger items of jewellery.

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Comparisons are already being made to the famous discovery of ship burial from Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, which dates somewhere between the years 610 and 640. The Sutton Hoo burial included a purse of 37 gold coins, three blank gold discs of the same size as the coins and two small gold ingots, as well as many other gold items.

“This is a hugely important find,” says Gareth Williams, Curator of Early Medieval Coins at the British Museum. “It is close in date to the famous ship burial from Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, and although it doesn’t contain as much gold as the whole of the Sutton Hoo burial, it contains many more coins. In fact, it is the largest coin hoard of the period known to date. It must be seen alongside other recent finds from East Anglia and elsewhere, and will help to transform our understanding of the economy of early Anglo-Saxon England.”

Image courtesy Norfolk Castle Museum

At the point when the hoard was buried, England was not yet unified, but was divided into several smaller kingdoms. Of these, the kingdom of the East Angles, including modern Norfolk and Suffolk, was one of the most important. This region is also one of the most productive in terms of finds of archaeological material through metal detecting, so it is perhaps unsurprising that the largest find to date of gold coins from the Anglo-Saxon period was discovered in Norfolk by metal detectorists.

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Most Treasure cases are relatively straightforward, but this is an unusual case in a number of ways. The majority of the objects were found between 2014 and 2020 by a single detectorist, who prefers to remain anonymous. The landowner has also requested anonymity, and for this reason the find is currently described only as coming from ‘West Norfolk’. This finder has reported all of his finds to the appropriate authorities. However, ten of the coins were found by a second detectorist, David Cockle, who had permission from the landowner to detect in the same field. Mr Cockle, who at the time was a serving policeman, failed to report his discovery and instead attempted to sell his coins, pretending that they were single finds from a number of different sites. Mr Cockle’s deception was uncovered, and in 2017 he was found guilty of theft and sentenced to 16 months in prison, as well as being dismissed from the police.

“The West Norfolk hoard is a really remarkable find, which will provide a fascinating counterpart to Sutton Hoo at the other end of the kingdom of East Anglia,” explains Helen Geake, Finds Liaison Officer for Norfolk. “It underlines the value of metal-detected evidence in helping reconstruct the earliest history of England, but also shows how vulnerable these objects are to irresponsible collectors and the antiquities trade.”

Image courtesy Norfolk Castle Museum

Currently, the Coroner for Norfolk is holding an inquest to determine whether an important find of gold coins and other objects from West Norfolk constitutes Treasure under the terms of the Treasure Act (1996). Norwich Castle Museum hopes to acquire the hoard, with the support of the British Museum.

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The previous largest hoard of coins of this period was a purse containing 101 coins discovered at Crondall in Hampshire in 1828. It had been disturbed before discovery and may originally have included more coins. Buried around AD 640, the hoard contained a mixture of Anglo-Saxon, Frankish and Frisian coins, along with a single coin of the Byzantine Empire, minted in Constantinople.

The decades on either side of AD 600 were quite literally a golden age for early medieval England. The largest find of gold metalwork from the period was the Staffordshire hoard, discovered in 2009 by Terry Herbert, and dating from the mid-seventh century This contained over 5.1kg of gold and 1.4kg of silver. Though the Staffordshire hoard is currently the largest find of precious metal from the period, it contained no coins.

“This internationally-significant find reflects the wealth and Continental connections enjoyed by the early Kingdom of East Anglia,” adds Tim Pestell, Senior curator of Archaeology at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. “Study of the hoard and its findspot has the potential to unlock our understanding of early trade and exchange systems and the importance of west Norfolk to East Anglia’s ruling kings in the seventh century.”

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Image courtesy Norfolk Castle Museum

Top Image: Image courtesy Norfolk Castle Museum

 

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