Metal Detectorist Finds Rare Lost Roman Lead Ingot in Wales
A metal detectorist in Wales, Great Britain, has made an important discovery. He unearthed a large lead ingot, inscribed and dated to the time of Roman rule. This find is providing experts more evidence regarding the history of mining in Britain which was essential for the economy and society of the Roman Empire.
This important discovery was made by Rob Jones, with the help of a metal detector in a field near Wrexham in North Wales. The detectorist unearthed the ingot and he immediately realized that it was of possible historical significance. He alerted the local finds officer, from Wrexham Museum, as is required by law. Then a team of local experts investigated the lead ingot.
Mining in Britannia for the Growing Roman Empire
The object is about 18 inches long (0.45 meters) and weighs a hefty 63 kilograms (139 lbs). The ingot is of a type known as a ‘pig’ according to the Shropshire Star. On the ingot they found an inscription that was written in Latin and, assuming it is genuine, this definitively dated the object to the time of the Roman Empire. The find is exceedingly rare, only 100 similar objects have been found in Britain.
The mines of the Roman province of Britannia (Roman Britain) were crucial to the Roman Empire. One of the reasons why Emperor Claudius invaded the island was because of its mines, which were famous in the Classical World. They produced gold, silver, iron and above all lead. This metal was used in the aqueducts and plumbing that allowed Rome to grow its cities and to develop its agriculture. These mines would have been worked by a mixture of slave and skilled labor.
Roman industrial mining sites in Britannia (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Lead Ingots from Wales Destined for Rome?
Wales was particularly important in the lead mining industry, according to documentary sources, however, little archaeological evidence about these mines has been unearthed. There is evidence, based on earlier ingots, that local Celtic tribes processed the metal. Under Roman rule, Britain rivalled Spain as a production center for the precious metal. It is known that lead ore was extracted and smelted in several areas of Wales, especially in Flint. The latest find may show that lead smelting existed in north-east Wales, specifically near modern-day Wrexham.
Susie White, the local Finds Officer, is quoted by the Shropshire Star as saying that, ‘the object could tell us a great deal about this important period of our past, a period which is still poorly understood in this area of the country.’
Where the lead object originated and its planned destination are still unknown, but it was most likely produced for export. Archaeology.org reports White as stating ‘it may have been destined for continental Europe, perhaps even Rome itself.’ One theory being considered is that the ingot may have been produced nearby, at some unknown location, but was somehow lost.
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Roman Governor of Britannia AD 63-69 Oversaw Mining Development
Experts were particularly interested in the inscription on the ingot. It turned out ‘to be a cast Latin inscription mentioning Marcus Trebellius Maximus, governor of the province of Britannia from A.D. 63 to 69’ reports Archaeology. org. He was governor of Britain in 63 AD, right after the defeat of the Queen Boudicca rebellion. This bloody revolt was the most serious challenge to Rome during their nearly four centuries of rule over Britannia.
Trebellius was a skilled administrator and he continued the policy of Romanization, which was designed to reconcile the local Celtic leaders to Imperial rule. He also rebuilt Camulodunum (modern Colchester) which had been destroyed by Boudicca. Perhaps his most important contribution to history was the role he played in turning London into an important trading center after it was devasted during the rebellion. He was also active in promoting industry and commerce and the inscription on the ingot is further proof of his policies. In 69 AD, during the period known as the Four Emperors, he was forced to flee the island, after a mutiny by one of his own legions.
“The Colchester Vase” Roman period funerary urn (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The ingot has been purchased by the local council with the support of several groups, and it will be displayed in Wrexham Museum. Councilor Hugh Jones, a member of Wrexham Council, told The Shropshire Star that, ‘its acquisition will allow the ingot to be displayed in the town nearest to the place where it was lost and rediscovered.’ It is expected that a major archaeological dig will take place at the site where the ingot was unearthed, and this may reveal more about the object and the history of mining in Roman Britain.
Top image: Roman lead ingot Source: Ian Grant/ © Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust
By Ed Whelan