Pre-Invasion Roman Helmet Find Could Rewrite History Books

By David Prudames | 07 April 2003
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Shows a photo of coins in the ground, partially unearthed.

Left: the coins, initially discovered by an amateur, were removed and examined by archaeologists from the University of Leicester. Courtesy of The British Museum.

Amateur archaeologists in Leicestershire have unearthed what could be one of the country's most significant Iron Age and Roman finds.

An initial discovery by an amateur group has led to the discovery of over 3000 silver and gold Iron Age coins at what appears to be a feasting site and the first Roman gilded silver helmet to be found in Britain.

The local group working with the Leicestershire County Council's Community Archaeological Project discovered the site while fieldwalking in 2000. It was group member Ken Wallace who, upon returning with a metal detector, unearthed the coins.

“This is a discovery of international significance and one that has surprised us at every turn,” explained Dr J D Hill, Iron Age expert at the British Museum.

Shows a photo of a section of earth, with buried items just visible.

Right: a section of the hoard halfway through excavation. On the left you can see coins and bones, on the right the Roman helmet. Courtesy of The British Museum.

“Hardly any Iron Age coin hoards have ever been scientifically excavated before. Then to discover the silver helmet and then the bones from feasting was even more of a shock. Together they can tell us a story about the ritual that happened 2000 years ago and force us to rethink just how important Leicestershire was before the Romans.”

Funded by English Heritage, the BBC and The British Museum, excavations were carried out in 2001 and 2003 by University of Leicester archaeologists.

The digs revealed that the coins were mostly made by the local Iron Age tribe, the Corieltauvi, as well as evidence of feasting at the site. This gives the find added weight with the suggestion that the coins were offerings at a sacred or religious centre.

Although the entire discovery has thrilled experts, it is the silver Roman helmet that could cause the greatest impact on the way we see early British history.

Shows a photo of lots of silver and bronze coins in a range of sizes, embossed with pictures and symbols.

Left:more than 3000 coins were found - mostly made by the local Iron Age tribe, the Corieltauvi. Courtesy of The British Museum.

A decorated Roman cavalry helmet, the silver piece is the first such artefact to be found in this country and would have been worn by high-ranking officers on parade. Evidence suggests that it might have been buried before the Roman conquest.

This raises the intriguing possibility that a Leicestershire man may have travelled to the Roman Empire and served in the cavalry before Britain was conquered.

Dr Patrick Clay, Director of University of Leicester Archaeology Services explained how the artefacts came to light: “the discovery was not by chance, but the result of the ongoing fieldwalking programme by community archaeology groups working in Leicestershire.”

“It was hugely important that the discoveries were recorded very carefully in the field, and then examined in further detail in the laboratory,” added Jon Humble, regional English Heritage Inspector of Ancient Monuments.

Shows a close-up of the Roman cavalry helmet during excavation.

Right: the Roman cavalry helmet - this inauspicious looking piece could change the way we think about Roman Britain. Courtesy of The British Museum.

“This has enabled the chapters that survive of a 2000 year old human tale to be put together and read. The work was very timely indeed, as within another year or two the evidence of how the objects were put in the ground – their 'context' – would have been lost to the plough.”

The discovery will be the subject of a coroner's inquiry on April 8, where it will be decided if it qualifies as Treasure under the Treasure Act 1996. Depending on the outcome, it is hoped that a local museum or The British Museum will be able to acquire it.

A BBC television programme about the find is currently being made and will be screened in the Autumn.

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