Late Iron Age and Roman coins discovered in cave

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Latest update 09.07.2014 09:39

An excavation in Dovedale, Derbyshire has unearthed a hoard of Late Iron Age and Republican Roman coins, the first time coins of these two origins are thought to have been found buried together in a cave in Britain.

The discovery at Reynard’s Kitchen Cave is significant because not only is it unusual to find Late Iron Age gold coins, but to unearth them actually within a cave setting adds to the mystery surrounding them.

The initial discovery of four coins was made by a member of the public, which led the National Trust to carry out a full excavation of the cave.

A once in a lifetime find

National Trust in the Midlands' archaeologist, Rachael Hall, who led the project, said: “In total we found twenty six coins, including three Roman coins which pre-date the invasion of Britain in AD 43.

“Twenty other gold and silver coins are Late Iron Age and attributed to the Corieltavi tribe. The tribe is more usually associated with occupying areas further east during the Late Iron Age, where the tribal centres are thought to be Leicester, Sleaford and Lincoln. So, it is interesting that this find is where it is in Derbyshire. Could this area have been a previously unknown power base of the Corieltavi tribe?"

We also found a decorated Roman ‘Aesica’ type brooch.

Why were the coins in the cave?

Whilst coin hoards of this era in Britain have been found in fields and other locations before, the coins discovery in a cave throws up some interesting questions.

Rachael offered up some ideas as to why they may have been put here: "The coins would suggest a serious amount of wealth and ‘power’ of the individual who owned them. Coins were used more as a symbol of power and status during the Late Iron Age, rather than for buying and selling staple foods and supplies.

"Was an individual simply hiding his ‘best stuff’ for safe keeping? Or, perhaps speculating, in the hope that the value would increase in the future, like a modern-day ISA?"

A very special place

Where the cave is can’t be ignored either. It makes us ask, could it have been a sacred place to the people of the Late Iron Age that was taboo to enter in everyday life, making it a safe place that would ensure that person’s valuables were protected?.

Ian Leins from the British Museum explained: “Although this is a much smaller hoard than the similar finds made at Hallaton in 2000, this has been declared treasure and is an exciting discovery given the puzzling location in a cave and the fact that it lies beyond the main circulation area of the coinage.”

Calling in Operation Nightingale

To help us excavate the site we worked with the University of Leicester Archaeology Service and, for the first time, the Defence Archaeology Group’s Operation Nightingale -  a project that provides recuperation through field archaeology for service personnel injured in conflict in places like Afghanistan. Archaeology is a good fit with soldiers' skills of an appreciation of landscape, topography and deposits in the ground.

The first find

Joanne Richardson, who spent 10 years in the military, explains what happened on her first archaeological excavation.

“I was working at the back of the cave, in the dark, and I was the first person to find a coin – a silver coin. It was so exciting and really helped to lift spirits, after several fruitless days of hard graft. My first dig and this is what I found! The experience working alongside archaeologists and other veterans was inspiring. It has given me a new interest in life and helped me adapt to civilian environment.”

What next?

We may never know why the coins were buried here but this discovery places a dot on the map for Late Iron Age Derbyshire.

The coins have been cleaned by conservation specialists at the British Museum and University College London and you will be able to see them on permanent display at Buxton Museum later this year.

Follow the conversation and tell us what you think about the finds on Facebook and Twitter using #NTcoins.