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Bird Watcher Digs Up Million-Dollar Bounty of Gold Celtic Coins

Bird Watcher Digs Up Million-Dollar Bounty of Gold Celtic Coins

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Modern-day treasure hunting isn’t known as a particularly lucrative hobby. But in September, one amateur British birdwatcher / treasure hunter struck gold, both figuratively and literally, while tramping about in an undisclosed location in the English countryside. The 50-something adventurer, who at least for now has chosen to remain anonymous, stumbled across 1,300 gold Celtic coins bearing the imprint of a lost Celtic civilization that populated the British landscape two millennia ago. This golden bounty represents one of the most valuable collections of coins discovered anywhere in the world in recent memory, and it’s the largest collection of purely Celtic coins found in the United Kingdom since the Wickham Market Hoard of 850 ancient coins was discovered in Suffolk in 2008.

The story is featured in November’s Treasure Hunting Magazine. (Treasure Hunting Magazine)

The story is featured in November’s Treasure Hunting Magazine. ( Treasure Hunting Magazine )

Bird Watching Trip Leads To Spectacular Celtic Coins Find!

The anonymous discoverer of this amazing prize is no stranger to treasure hunting and has his own metal detector . But on this day, it was his interest in bird watching that motivated his rural walking trip.

Stopping on the edge of a farmer’s freshly plowed field the man watched a pair of magpies harassing a buzzard that had invaded their territory. When the show ended he was prepared to leave but his attention was captured by a flash of sunlight bouncing off something metallic that lay near his feet.

 

 

The birder picked up the small item, which had apparently been unearthed by the farmer’s plow. He initially thought was an old washer or something equally useless. But then he took a closer look and fortuitously his previous experience as a coin hunter allowed him to accurately identify the rare item he held in his hand.

“I saw the glint of gold and realized it was a beautiful Celtic gold stater, which made me sit down in sheer shock,” the lucky individual explained to an interviewer from Treasure Hunting magazine, as quoted in this Daily Mail article . “I then spotted the second coin two feet away, and rushed home to get my [metal detector].”

On his return, he surveyed the upturned soil more completely and his detector beeped frantically in response to something buried a bit farther below the surface. Digging down approximately 18 inches (46 centimeters) the man discovered the copper handle of a container of some sort. After digging deeper, he was able to dislodge the container and as he lifted it a cascade of gold coins, identical in design and manufacturing style to the two coins he’d already found, spilled out.

The unearthed cache of Celtic coins included approximately 1,300 gold coins, with an assessed value of 880 dollars (or 719 euros) each, giving the treasure a total value of $1.14 million (or 1.14 million euros). The man toted the weighty cache of coins back to his home in two normal shopping bags, which miraculously didn’t break under the strain.

The UK Treasure Act of 1996 AD, which is currently being revised, deals with who gets what when treasure is found by pro and amateur treasure hunters. (Holistic Auction Ltd.)

The UK Treasure Act of 1996 AD, which is currently being revised, deals with who gets what when treasure is found by pro and amateur treasure hunters. ( Holistic Auction Ltd. )

Doing The Right Thing: The Finder Reported His Treasure

Determined to do his duty as a law-abiding British citizen, the treasure hunter immediately contacted his local coroner’s office, which will now determine the final disposition of the coins under the authority granted to it by the UK Treasure Act of 1996 AD.

Passed in response to disputes over previous archaeological and historical finds , the Treasure Act is designed to equally weigh the interests of finders, landowners and society as a whole, who all have at least some basis for staking a claim of proprietorship when ancient treasures like this are suddenly and randomly discovered.

The basic structure of the law essentially dictates a three-way split of the spoils and the profits. If a discovery consists of gold or silver coins that are at least 300 years old (this definition is currently under review, as reported in a recent Ancient Origins article here), the finder must offer them for sale to a local museum at a price set by the Treasure Valuation Committee of the British Museum . Eventually, the finder and the landowner will receive some financial reward for the discovery if they aren’t the same person.

The Treasure Act guarantees that valuable artifacts with legitimate cultural value will end up on public display. In this way, they can further people’s understanding of Britain’s rich and complex historical legacy and be available to historians, scientists, archaeologists, scholars, and students for additional study and analysis.

Monument dedicated to the famous Celtic Queen Boudicca in London, England. Her face can be found on many Celtic gold and silver stater coins. (Claudio Divizia / Adobe Stock)

Monument dedicated to the famous Celtic Queen Boudicca in London, England. Her face can be found on many Celtic gold and silver stater coins. ( Claudio Divizia / Adobe Stock)

Famous Finds Like This May Cause A Hunting “Gold Rush”

From an historical perspective, the latest Celtic coin discovery represents the pot of gold found at the end of the rainbow, once again both figuratively and literally.

“The coins form a substantial if not enormous contribution to our academic numismatic knowledge and will undoubtedly be subject to much assessment over the coming year,” enthused Treasure Hunting editor Julian Evans-Hart. Noting that the coins appear to date to the first century AD, when the Iceni tribe had local sovereignty, he speculated that “they may form a deposit as a ‘war chest’ for Boudicca’s eastern campaigns.”

For those who are a little lax on their Celtic history, Boudicca was the warrior queen of the ancient Iceni tribe, which sought to repel the invading forces of the Roman Empire in 60 AD. While Boudicca’s efforts were inevitably doomed to failure, her quest, and the quest of her people to retain their freedom against tremendous odds is still honored today in the form of statues and museum exhibits that celebrate her exploits.

Historians and archaeologists are uncertain of how many similar treasures may be buried beneath the British landscape just waiting to be turned up by metal detector enthusiasts, farmers plowing their fields, or eager rodents burrowing new pathways. But a couple of more finds like this new one could set off a new “Gold Rush,” sending prospectors scrambling across Britain’s hills and valleys seeking their fortunes and staking their claims wherever they can.

Should such a contingency occur it will probably be academics who benefit the most. Artifacts of trade and commerce can reveal fascinating details about the way ancient societies functioned. New discoveries of hidden treasures will only deepen their knowledge of the past and increase their understanding of ancient cultural groups and societies, including those whose true natures have been obscured by the mists of time.

Top image: There are many kinds of Celtic coins known as gold stater coins, and soon we will know what kinds the bird watcher found in Britain recently.              Source: Numisantica / CC BY-SA 3.0

By Nathan Falde

Comments

Nathan:

Thanks so much for sharing the recent Celtic gold coins discovery, evidently minted during the reign of Queen Boudica or Boadicia of Iceni fame.

The Iceni were said to have been the wealthiest Celtic tribe in Roman Britain, which certainly appears to have been the case, considering the number of ‘hoards’ of coins which have been found, minted by that ancient Celtic kingdom.

I was always interested in the ‘coin cache’ or ‘hoard’ unearthed by a farmer, ‘Percy Rolph’ in 1954 {occasionally said to have been a ‘Philip Rolph’ as well} & (no close relation), of East Anglia in County Norfolk, some 300 silver coins, later known as the ‘Honingham Treasure.’ (See for example: “Ancient Tribal Coins Found in Britain: Believed to Be Hoard of Iceni, Who Rose Against Rome,” NEW YORK TIMES, August 14th, 1954; or sometimes the number is described as ‘341’ Iceni Silver Coins,’ found at the time: Honingham Hoard,” Mid-First Century AD-Honingham, Norfolk, found in 1954, currently at: Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery; R. Rainbird Clarke, “A Hoard of Silver Coins of the Iceni from Honingham, Norfolk,” THE BRITISH NUMISMATIC JOURNAL, Vol.28 (1955-1957): 1-10).

Judith Plouviez, Archaeological Officer at the ‘Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service,’ Bury St. Edumunds,’ was very helpful to me as well, in locating data on the above ‘Rolph’ hoard found at Honingham, by correspondence with her in November of 2011.

Dr. Dan Rolph

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