Many of us get over excited when we see programmes about archaeologists or metal detectorists digging up lost treasure.
Maybe it’s the Indiana Jones in us all.
Archaeologists in West London had exactly that feeling when they uncovered 300 incredibly rare coins when they were digging on the site of part of the HS2 rail network.
It all happened almost by accident after a rainstorm changed the conditions of the ground and allowed them to see a greenish discoloured patched of soil.
The hoard of more than 300 coins known as ‘potins’ was discovered in Hillingdon in August 2020 and dates back an amazing 2,170 years to just before the time the Romans came to Britain.
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The coins in fact date to late Iron Age Britain, a time when Celtic kings ruled the tribes which occupied the country.
But it was also a time when trade with the Roman Empire was growing and Roman influence was beginning to spread across Europe and Britain, especially after Julius Caesar invaded Gaul in 58BCE.
The potins are based on coins originally struck in Marseille, France, about 2,175 years ago, which have the head of the Roman messenger God, Apollo, on one side and a bull charging on the other. But the coin types developed and spread, and the Hillingdon examples are significantly later in date.
The term potin refers to the metal silver-like alloy used to make the coins. It is typically a mixture of copper, tin and lead.
HS2’s Head of Heritage, Helen Wass said of the discovery: “This is an exciting find for our team of archaeologists and provides us with more information about how our ancestors lived and settled in London.
“HS2’s unprecedented archaeological programme has enabled us to tell the stories of our history and leave a lasting legacy for future generations.”
Historians don’t know exactly what the potins were used for during the Iron Age as in this period bartering is usually thought to have been more common than using coins to buy things.
Archaeologists do though believe the coins may have been buried to mark the boundary of a property or as an offering to the Gods – in a woodland clearing or near a sacred spring.
It’s possible they could have been buried to hide them from the Romans when they invaded in CE43.
Potins from late in the Iron Age, similar to the Hillingdon Hoard, have been found previously but in much smaller quantities, making this find very significant.
Describing the discovery, Emma Tetlow, who now works as Historic Environment Lead for HS2’s main works contractor Skanska Costain STRABAG joint venture, said: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime find, and allows us to expand our knowledge of what life could have been like in Hillingdon many centuries ago.”
Because of the significance of the find, and the high number of coins, the local coroner was alerted. The coroner will determine whether the discovery amounts to ‘treasure”.
If so, the coroner will hold an inquest to determine its value and whether a museum can buy it.
HS2 has no claim to the treasure as it was found on private land.
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