An amateur Swiss metal detectorist has recently uncovered a remarkable find in a forest near Wildenstein Castle in Bubendorf, Switzerland. Daniel Lüdin identified a clay pot containing nearly 1,300 Roman coins which, following expert analysis, can be dated to the reign of Constantine the Great, who ruled from 306-337 C.E.
After realizing what he had found, Lüdin reburied the object and informed local experts at the Archäologie Baselland, who were able to safely remove the item and preserve it intact. Research carried out at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research revealed more questions than it answered. The archaeologists were able to carry out a CT scan of the pot, which allowed them to create a virtual three-dimensional reconstruction of it. This revealed that the 9 inch pot was actually filled with a relatively small amount of money: in a statement, they described the contents as “a large amount of small change”. The coins are made of copper alloy with a small percentage of silver, and their total value amounts to a ‘solidus’, a pure gold coin from the period that weighed around 4.5 grams, and was worth around two months’ salary for a soldier of the time. The question as to why these coins were buried here is yet unanswered, and another discovery makes the object even harder to understand. A leather cowhide was also found in the pot, which seems to act as a sort of divider between the coins. It is an unusual find which has left archaeologists confused as to the purpose of the hoard.
Reto Marti, head of the archaeological department in the Basel-Landschaft region, helped excavate the coins, and has described the find as “very important”. Of the cowhide divide, Marti stated that: “It was clearly used as a separation […] But why the coins are separated in two parts we cannot tell for the moment”.
It is possible to date the coins to the reign of Constantine the Great, as the coins were minted with inscriptions and designs on each side, which specialists can demonstrate are from this period. This reign of this Emperor was one of peace and political stability, which adds a further question to the hoard. Most hoards discovered in this region were buried at a period of crisis: in the late third and middle of the fourth century C.E., there were several wars, and many buried their money for safekeeping. Marti has suggested that a possible explanation for the hoard is an offering to the gods or, as it was found in an area which was once the border of three Roman estates, perhaps it was related to some sort of border or boundary security.
Marjanko Pilekić, a numismatist and research assistant at the Coin Cabinet of the Schloss Friedenstein Gotha Foundation in Germany, said “a stroke of luck is certainly also the survival of the storage vessel, which contained not only coins but also a piece of leather, organic material that rarely survives.”
There have been significant finds by other amateur metal detectorists in recent times. Last year, a trove of medieval gold coins was unearthed in Wales, whilst in Norfolk another anonymous detectorist found an important Anglo-Saxon hoard.