Archaeologists say coins found in Derbyshire cave could be buried savings of Roman tribe

By Ben Miller | 07 July 2014

A set of coins in a cave in Derbyshire could have been left by tribespeople intent on hiding their savings, say archaeologists

A photo of a set of ancient Roman coins laid out on the hand of a light blue glove
A collection of Late Iron Age coins have been found at Reynard's Kitchen Cave in Dovedale© Richard Davenport Photography
A member of the public looking in a Derbyshire cave has led experts to the first ever discovery of Late Iron Age and Republic Roman Coins buried together in Britain, described by archaeologists as akin to a modern savings account held in a sacred space known only by well-off tribespeople.

A powerful member of the Corieltavi – who ruled the East Midlands during the 1st century, demonstrating prolific coin-making capabilities – is thought to have left his money within Reynard’s Kitchen Cave, where four initial coins grew to an impressive hoard during a full excavation by the National Trust.

A photo of a woman in a lab coat looking at coins under a microscope wearing blue gloves
A University College London specialist takes a look at the coins© Richard Davenport Photography
“In total we found 26 coins, including three Roman coins which pre-date the invasion of Britain in AD 43,” says Rachael Hall, of the Trust, who believes their location adds to the mystery.

“The tribe is more usually associated with occupying areas further east during the Late Iron Age, where the tribal centres are thought to be Leicester, Sleaford and Lincoln.

“It is interesting that this find is where it is in Derbyshire. Could this area have been a previously unknown power base of the Corieltavi tribe?

“Coins hoards of this era in Britain have been found in fields and other locations but, as far as we know, not in a cave, which raises some interesting questions.

“The coins would suggest a serious amount of wealth power of the individual who owned them.

“Coins were used more as a symbol of power and status during the Late Iron Age, rather than for buying and selling staple foods and supplies.

“Was an individual simply hiding his ‘best stuff’ for safe keeping, or, perhaps speculating, in the hope that the value would increase in the future, like a modern-day ISA?

“The situation of the cave can’t be ignored either. It could have been a sacred place to the Late Iron Age peoples that was taboo to enter in everyday life, making it a safe place that would ensure that person’s valuables were protected.”

Joanne Richardson, who was part of a team of ex-military personnel and University of Leicester archaeologists helping the excavation, spotted the first artefact.

“I was working at the back of the cave, in the dark, and I was the first person to find a coin – a silver coin,” she says.

“It was so exciting and really helped to lift spirits after several fruitless days of hard graft.

“This was the first archaeological excavation I’ve ever taken part in and it was brilliant.”

The coins are expected to go on permanent display at Buxton Museum later this year.

“We hope to generate a lively debate and invite people to tell us their thoughts on the discovery,” says Hall.

“We may never know why the coins were buried here but this discovery places a dot on the map for Late Iron Age Derbyshire.

“It adds a new layer to what we are discovering about Late Iron Age activity, especially the Corieltavi tribe.”

A decorated Roman Aesica brooch was also found.

“Although this is a much smaller hoard than the similar finds made at Hallaton in 2000, this has been declared treasure,” says Ian Leins, a curator of Iron Age and Roman coins at the British Museum, where conservation specialists are working with their colleagues from University College London to clean the coins.

“It is an exciting discovery given the puzzling location in a cave and the fact that it lies beyond the main circulation area of the coinage.”

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of a set of Roman coins
© Richard Davenport Photography
A photo of a set of Roman coins
© Richard Davenport Photography
A photo of a set of Roman coins
© Richard Davenport Photography
A close up photo of an engraving of a horse on an ancient coin
© Richard Davenport Photography
A photo of a cave in woodland surrounded by green grass and thin trees
© National Trust / Paul Mortimer
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This photograph shows the caves called 'Dove Holes' not Reynards Cave/Kitchen
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