Largest post-Conquest coin hoard found

The largest hoard of coins from the reigns of Harold II and William the Conqueror has been found in a Somerset field.

The British Museum announced the find today, revealing that 2,528 coins were discovered by a team of metal detectorists in January this year, in Chew Valley, Somerset.

“This is an extremely significant find for our understanding of the impact of the Norman Conquest of 1066” said Gareth Williams, the museum’s curator of early medieval coinage. “One of the big debates amongst historians is the extent to which there was continuity or change, both in the years immediately after the Conquest and across a longer period. Surviving historical sources tend to focus on the top level of society, and the coins are also symbols of authority and power. At the same time, they were used on a regular basis by both rich and poor, so the coins help us understand how changes under Norman rule impacted on society as a whole.”

With five colleagues Lisa Grace and Adam Staples found the hoard in small area of ploughed soil in North Somerset: “It's an amazing feeling to have unearthed this spectacular hoard” they said. “We've been dreaming of this for 15 years but it's finally come true.”

The hoard will now be examined by the local coroner to confirm it is treasure under the Treasure Act of 1996, which is administered by the British Museum. Museums then have the opportunity to acquire finds under the Act, and if the finders and owner of land want to claim a reward the find is then valued by the independent Treasure Valuation Committee, and museums have to raise funds to acquire it. If this find is declared treasure by the coroner, the Roman Baths & Pump Room in Bath have expressed interest in acquiring the hoard for their collection.

The discovery contains almost double the amount of Harold II coins - 1,236 - compared with all of the previous known examples combined, most produced in Sussex and the South East, which indicates financial preparation in the area to resist the Norman invasion. It also has five times more examples (1,310) of the first coin type issued by William I, following his coronation on Christmas Day, 1066.

Preliminary analysis indicates the presence of mints previous unrecorded for Harold and William respectively, including coins of Harold from the local mint of Bath. There are also suggestions that the Norman die cutters producing these coins struggled to understand Old English based on the quality of spelling on the coin. 

The exact circumstances in which the hoard was buried are uncertain. It was buried in about 1067–8, but in 1067 the Welsh attacked Herefordshire, in 1068 William himself besieged Exeter, and later that year the sons of King Harold returned from Ireland, raiding around the mouth of the Avon, Bristol and down into Somerset. The last is most likely to be directly associated with the hoard, which might have been buried for safety and never recovered.

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