Ipswich Museum launches £300,000 appeal to keep Iron Age Wickham Market hoard

By Ben Miller | 27 April 2011
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A photo of a stash of gold coins
The Wickham Market hoard is one of the largest collections of ancient coins ever found in Suffolk© Suffolk Archaeological Unit
A hoard of gold coins buried by a fearful Iron Age tribe as a gift to the Gods will go on show in Ipswich as officials begin a two-month race to raise £300,000 to keep it in Suffolk.

Two hundred of the 840 coins from The Wickham Market hoard, which formed the largest discovery of its kind when it was found by a metal detectorist in 2008, will be displayed for a month at the Ipswich Museum after the Department for Culture, Media and Sport gave planners special permission to reveal them to the public.

Most of the coins were buried by the Iceni tribe about 40 years before Queen Boudica’s revolt against the Romans destroyed Colchester, London and St Albans in AD 60. Five were buried by the Corieltavi, a neighbouring tribe from Lincolnshire.

They are believed to have been left to the Gods for safekeeping when the tribes expected to be invaded by Cunobelin, the leader of the Hertfordshire-based Catuvallauni people who had taken over the Trinovantes clans of south Suffolk and Essex.

The currency was given to loyal warriors who served their tribal leaders.
Each tribe had its own coin designs, allowing archaeologists to plot political territories.

“The opportunity to purchase the Wickham Market coin hoard is the first time we could retain a national treasure in Suffolk,” says Caroline McDonald, the Curator of Archaeology at the Museum, which has until June to meet the asking price.

“Colchester and Ipswich Museum has an outstanding record for fundraising, but until we raise all of the money this may be the only chance to see some of the hoard on display in Suffolk.

"Iron Age gold coins are quite weighty so they always feel very solid and special in your hand. They are one of those few artefacts that really feel substantial and very familiar – everyone knows what its like to hold money.

"That gives us a very direct feeling of what it must have been like to hold one of these coins 2,000 years ago – and we can only imagine what it took to earn one as a loyal warrior.

"The coins are in excellent condition. Some seem to be in better condition than others but this is because every time a coin die was used to strike a coin they deteriorated just a little bit.

"The last coins to be made are not as crisp as the first ones, but this also tells archaeologists really interesting things about the money making process.

"We can link coins back to particular dies which in effect links us back to that one individual striking out these precisely measured units of gold.

“They will be far better appreciated and understood here. It will give everyone in the county something to be proud of.”

The famous Anglo-Saxon ship burial from Sutton Hoo in 1939, a Roman dinner service found at Mildenhall during World War II and the Hoxne hoard of Roman artefacts, found in the 1990s, are among the high-profile finds from the region which are now in the British Museum in London.

The museum service has already applied for support from the Art Fund, and an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund will be fast-tracked to meet the deadline.

An application to the Heritage Lottery Fund has been especially fast-tracked in order to beat the deadline.

The discovery has also sparked a bitter feud between the two amateur explorers who chanced upon it, according to newspaper reports.

Michael Darke claims friend Keith Lewis had agreed to receive one of the coins as a reward for looking at the hoard.

Instead, Lewis reported part of the treasure and was awarded £74,196 at a hearing where neither man spoke to one another and both arrived with separate legal representatives. Darke will be given £75,803, with the rest going to landowner Cliff Green.

"It was not until I received a letter from the British Museum that I found out he had handed [four] coins in and demanded half the reward," Darke told the Daily Mail.

“I trusted him as a friend. I was totally gutted. It should have been exciting and interesting, and something to look forward to.”

Mr Lewis refutes the allegation, arguing that he found the bulk of the collection.

  • The selection from the hoard will be on display May 3 - June 10 2011.
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