Archaeologists hail "magical moment" as rare Roman gold coin found at Vindolanda

By Ben Miller | 19 June 2014

Archaeologists thought they had more chance of winning the lottery than finding a gold coin at the Roman site of Vindolanda – until a volunteer from France struck lucky

A photo of an ancient gold coin bearing the profile of a Roman emperor
A former Roman fort to the south of Hadrian's Wall has unearthed an extraordinarily unlikely gold find© Vindolanda Trust
In a breakthrough which defied two generations of diggers along Hadrian’s Wall, a volunteer French archaeologist has found the first gold coin at Vindolanda, the Roman site which has been intriguing excavators for almost 50 years.

Described as being “well-worn”, the confirmed aureus bears the image of the Emperor Nero, dating it to around AD 64 or 65. The precious currency was worth half a year's salary for serving soldiers, but was lost on the northern outpost of the empire following 300 years in circulation.

A photo of two men standing in the countryside looking at a small gold coin smiling
Volunteer archaeologist Marcel Albert (right) holds the coin he found, joined by Deputy Director of Excavations Justin Blake© Vindolanda Trust
“I thought, ‘it can’t be true’,” says Marcel Albert, from Nantes, who has spent six years taking part in a dig which has attracted participants from across the world.

“It was just sitting there as I scraped back the soil, shining, as if someone had just dropped it.”

Thousands of coins have been found at the former auxiliary fort, which is perhaps best known for revealing a treasured set of writing tablets.

“My first find at Vindolanda nearly 20 years ago was a coin, but because of their scarcity I didn’t think for a moment that I would ever see a gold coin unearthed at the site,” said Justin Blake, the Deputy Director of Excavations at the Vindolanda Trust.

“It was an absolutely magical moment for the whole team.”

Beads, brooches, rings, leather shoes, arrowheads, pottery and a gaming counter have already been unearthed during the opening half of the digging season at Vindolanda.

“You actually have more chance of winning the lottery than finding a gold coin on a Roman military site,” says Dr Andrew Birley, the Director of Excavations.

“So this is a special and very likely one-off find.”

Experts hope to carry out extensive research before putting the coin on show at the site’s museum.

“It had been a great year on site to date with a whole host of finds,” reflects Sonya Galloway, of the Trust.

“Just yesterday they found an iron spoon also from the 4th Century level – perhaps it was used by an angry wife to hit the person over the head with when it was realised they lost the gold coin.

“They are excavating three areas of the site this year – the fort, where this discovery was made, the vicus, where they are digging deep into the pre-Hadrianic levels, and further to the north of the main site, where we have a Canadian Field School from the University of Western Ontario.”

  • Excavations will continue until September 19 2014. Visit Vindolanda’s blog for the latest updates.

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