Two thousand years ago the Celtic people of the Channel Islands and northern France were in great danger. Roman legions had invaded Gaul and were advancing into what we now call northern France, through a region they called Armorica, attacking and colonising the area.
Perhaps because they were anxious to protect their wealth and precious objects, if not their tribal way of life itself, some people from the Celtic tribes sailed across the sea to Jersey, navigating the Island’s treacherous rocky coast, to bury a hoard of precious objects and coins.
Although we don’t yet know exactly when the hoard was hidden, it is likely to have been during this turbulent period of history, and it remained buried deep in the ground until it was discovered more than 2,000 years later by two rather persistent metal detectorists.
For 30 years, Reg Mead and Richard Miles had searched fruitlessly for a hoard of coins they had heard rumours of from a farmer’s daughter. As a child, she was given ancient coins found by her father in a field as he turned the soil to plant potatoes. Not knowing what clues these coins held to finding the world’s largest ever Celtic coin hoard, the little girl swapped them for comics! Reg and Richard’s persistence finally paid off when, on a summer’s day in 2012, they heard a strong signal from their metal detector. With the help of Jersey Heritage and Société Jersiaise archaeologists, they excavated a huge hoard of 70,000 coins stuck together in a great mass with jewellery, silver and gold.
Since this amazing discovery, Jersey Heritage conservators, archaeologists and volunteers have painstakingly unpicked and studied the hoard, watched every step of the way by the world’s media and a fascinated public. Gold torques, silver coins, gold and silver jewellery excavated from the hoard are now on display at La Hougue Bie Museum in Jersey.
But this is just the start of a voyage of discovery. Finding out what was in the hoard by picking it apart was just the first chapter in this detective story. Together with a team of experts and academics from around the world, Jersey Heritage now hope to find out more about the people who buried the hoard, why and when they buried it, and perhaps even why they never came back to reclaim it.
Top Five Finds
Coins. All together there are nearly 70,000 coins within the hoard, mainly from the Coriosolitae tribe of northern France, but some from other tribes too – like the Osismii, Redones and Baiocasses people. This is the world’s largest ever Celtic coin hoard.
Torques. Eleven gold torques or neck rings have been found in the hoard making it the largest ever collection of these high status objects ever found in Europe. Most of the torques are made from flattened gold sheet around an iron core.
Thin flans. The hoard also contains a number of coins which were made in southern Britain, probably in Hampshire. They are usually dated to the 40s BC which means the hoard can only have been buried sometime after Caesar’s victory in Gaul.
Jewellery bag. The hoard has preserved organic materials like leather and textile unusually well and right at the bottom of the hoard we discovered a fabric bag full of gold and silver jewellery. By studying this bag we hope to find out lots of information about who buried the hoard and perhaps why it was buried – could there have been more bags like this in the hoard?
Bugs and beasties. Lots of dead bugs and bits of plant were discovered in the hoard. Down between the coins we have found lots of grass, straw and even a fern leaf. We’ve also found millipedes, centipedes and other arthropods that probably fell into the hoard pit when it was buried two thousand years ago.
If you want to find out more about the conservation process you can read our blog, which was written during the major conservation project from 2012 to 2017.
Open daily at La Hougue Bie, click here for details. Exhibition sponsored by Benest & Syvret.