Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Finding Three Iceni Coin Hoards In Suffolk

Added To World Metal Detector Community By Roman Ron Morley

I want to tell you how the finding of three Iceni dating coin hoards came about here in West Suffolk England. The first two came to light in the late 1950's and early 1960's and the third in the early in the1970's and none of them strangely enough turned up more than a couple of miles from my home with each of them in turn coming to light in a different way. (I apologise in advance to those of you who may have read this story in part before in theTreasure Hunting magazine but the complete story is well worth the telling). Although I was never actually the finder of any of these hoards myself I was involved in all of them in some way as you will see:-
The first hoard came to light on Monday, November 23rd 1959, six days before my fifteenth birthday, and is the nearest I have got in fifty-five years of searching to discovering a hoard in it's entirety myself. It came to light on my then favourite site, the 'Roman Field' here in my home village of Lakenheath in Suffolk. As you completed your schooling at fifteen years of age back in those days the end of my final 'term' at school was fast approaching. I had been off school with a bout of tonsilitis the week prior to the coins appearing and was now in my recuperation period so on nthe Tuesday morning and feeling somewhat better I had decided to cycle around to the 'Roman' field to see if any ploughing was being carried out. I was in luck for here I found Bill Mackender, the local Estate's head ploughman, turning over the old roman dating site. I started my usual procedure of walking behind the plough waiting to see if anything interesting would be brought to the surface. Well DaveT, my present day detecting partner is always telling me "if your name's on it you'll find it" and never was a saying more true as far as the finding of this particular hoard was concerned. I was lucky in one way that morning in that by a 1000-1 chance while I was there the plough left a large centionalis coin of Magnentius laying exposed in the bottom of the furrow the only time I have ever come across a coin in that way but after that my luck quickly ran out. Shortly after my arrival on site Bill's tractor started to cough and splutter and repeatedly came to a juddering halt, Bill kept hopping off and tinkering with the engine managing several times to get it going again. This scenario was repeated over the next 60 minutes before Bill finally gave up and with the parting remark that I had put a 'hex' on his tractor chugged off back to the farmyard leaving the field only 50% ploughed. I wandered around the ploughed area for a while noting a large piece of Roman dating quern, (corn-grinding) stone had been ploughed out on the last circuit of the plough. I returned a couple of days later to see if the ploughing had been completed only to find no more had been done since my last visit. However Lady Briscoe, the Squire's wife who was also an archaeologist of some note was on site. She was in a bit of trouble however as she had driven her car over the stubble to the edge of the ploughed area only for the car's off-side wheels to fall into the last furrow. Her car was firmly stuck so she quickly dispatched me to a neighbouring field where two of her other estate workers were ploughing. I reported her plight and they duly brought their tractor over and towed her car out. While we were waiting for the 'rescuers' to appear I showed her where the quernstone had been ploughed out remarking on its large size. Any other time she would have got a spade from the boot of her car and set me to digging in the area but not today as she was too upset regarding her predicament and once the car was released she quicky returned to the local Manor leaving me to bike home. On the following Monday I returned to school only to be told on returning home at the end of the day that Bill had discovered a hoard of coins on the Roman field that morning. Bill knowing the field had Roman connection always spent much of his time while ploughing there looking over his shoulder to see if anything of interest was appearing on the surface behind him. In this case he spotted a shower of green discs fly up in the air, he stopped, looked, and quickly shot off on his bike to report his find. When I heard the news of the find to say I was gutted was an understatement especially when I found out later they had turned up on the first circuit of the plough that morning. I popped up to the the field on the following Saturday morning where I met Lady Briscoe and Dr Parsons, a local GP who like her ladyship were members of a local archaeological society. A small excavation had been opened up in the area of the find-spot a couple of days earlier and as we approached the the first thing I spotted was a coin from the hoard laying by the hole. Also close by the excavation lay the large piece of quern-stone I had spotted a week earlier, no doubt placed there as a marker by the person who had originally buried the coins. I got a chance over the next couple of weeks to assist Laady Briscoe on the small dig finding several missed hoard coins in the process. It appears the field had been ploughed about an inch deeper than normal this had been enough to disturb the coins from their resting place. The hoard that consisted of 3 gold staters, 396 silver Iceni and 63 early Roman denaraii was found laying in half of a pottery Belgic type pottery jar. The pot had been broken some time in the past, it had been split in two from top to bottom and it was here that the coins lay in the remaining half of a full length pot. There was no sign of the other half of this pottery jar and I suspect some years previously the pot had been hit by the plough removing its top half sideways complete with a number of the hoard coins in the process as several more coins from the same hoard were discovered by various detectorists over several years in the 1970's when over a 20 metre square area 2 more gold staters, several denaraii and Iceni issues came to light. Very rare Celtic coins were amongst those discovered back then with at least five silver CAN DURO issues turning up, these were catalogued at £350:00 in the 1970's. Today, some thirty odd years on and allowing for inflation you would imagine the present day price for the same coin should read at least £1500. However in common with many other once rare coin types that have been found in numbers by detectors over the years, the book price has dropped back to £275:00. Back in 1959 one of the three gold staters found was only the second of its type known, today a dozen or more are recorded. I'm sure that there are undiscovered coins from the hoard still buried there but the land is no longer ploughed having been lain to grass and covered in grazing cattle for the past 20 years or more. Footnote: Bill the finder was rewarded with the then so-called 'market value' of the coins- a paltry £350:00 today the same hoard would command a price of £25,000.

The second hoard started to come to light in the local fens the following year. I say 'started' as these came out in dribs and drabs over many years. Most fen fields around this area of East Anglia tend to be very flat and consist of jet black peaty soil that contain little in the way of ancient artefacts. However the exception to the rule was a black peaty field in the local fen that stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb from its neighbours having four sandy rises upon it. Local farmworkers spent their lunch breaks walking these higher sandy areas picking up ancient pottery and flint tools in the process. However one of these sandhills also started to produce blackened coins, these turned out to be Roman-dating silver denaraii as well as Iceni issues. Once the new came out over the next few weeks Lady Briscoe collected over 60 coins from half a dozen finders and sent them to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge for cleaning. I got permission to walk the area one sunny and windy Sunday afternoon where I picked up five of these coins, three of which were exposed by the wind in front of my eyes stuck together one on top of the other. The first coins that names the Iceni King Prasutagus turned up as part of this hoard with at least ten eventually coming to light. Most of these were found in the1970's/1980's with many other coin types from the same hoard being detected at that time. I recorded over two hundred various coin types from this hoard all coming from this one sand-hill by various people. I fear that a lot more coins were found and never reported in fact I would 'guesstimate' that the all-over total from this hoard discovered there numbered some five hundred. The chances of investigating the site further are now nil as it is now under a very large RSPB Nature Reserve.

The third hoard came to light in 1972 and again the way it came to light was completely different to the previous two. It was discovered on the boundary of the local American U.S.A.F.E. base on a building site where at the time they were busy at the time constructing new Officers Married Quarters. On the day in question the workmen were on their 10 o'clock break when one of their number went outside for a smoke. While there he noticed a number of discoloured metal discs laying beside a nearby newly constructed house. In a few minutes he had picked up some seventy two examples. His actions were soon noticed by other workers and soon a dozen or more workers were scrabbling in the dirt looking for more of the coins A fight soon broke out amongst the men and the police were called in to restore some semblance of order. The men were told if any of them had found coins they were to be handed in as they represented Treasure Trove. Most of the men did as they were told but I was to find out sometime later that not all had handed in their finds as instructed. An inquest was held in February 1972 by which time a total of two hundred and fifty-five Iceni coins had been found and seventy two Roman silver denaraii. After the inquest the finders were each rewarded according to how many coins they had handed in and what their value was. I became involved some two years or so after the initial discovery when I was asked by a third party to value two 'lots' of these coins kept by two of the original workers, one cache consisted of eight coins the other some eighteen. I can't remember what valuation I put on them at the time however I do remember there was amongst the coins an almost mint condition issue of Caligula with his bust on one side and his mother's bust on the other and I know its present day value is in excess of £3200:00!! Some of the hoard are believed to be still beneath the house where the coins originated and there is now talk of these houses being pulled down and rebuilt bigger and better if so we may yet hear further about this hoard in the future. So there you have it, a tale of three hoards, none ever found in its entirety and who knows I may get a chance in the next few years to reinvestigate at least one area here in Suffolk where one of the three originlly turned up.

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