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All that is gold totally glitters

Treasure. Archaeology. In popular culture, they go together: after all, Indiana Jones seems to find a lot of it, as does Lara Croft.

In the workaday world of field archaeology we know the reality is very different. We're more likely to get excited by a layer of grey-brown soil with pottery inclusions than to find buried treasure. Except when we really do find buried treasure...

In August 2003, during a last-week routine metal-detector sweep of the site by Kev and Terry to clear it before the winter, a strong non-ferrous (ie not iron) signal was detected in an otherwise uninteresting corner of a particularly muddy area.

Early-morning excavation, 2003 (Photo: Jim Reid)

The signal was pinpointed. They dug. Kev moved a piece of bone aside to get a better signal, but the signal changed. He then realised the piece of bone was suspiciously heavy. It was the distal end of a cow humerus - a bone from the front leg of a cow, corresponding to the elbow-end of our upper arm bone.

And then the coins started to appear in the soil and in the bone. Gold coins, with a blank obverse and the design of a stylised horse on the reverse. Iron Age coins, designed and made by the Celts around the time of Caesar's invasion of Britain, and identical to coins found in the same area over previous seasons that had been thought to indicate random losses.

Cue a big day and a huge week of excitement, media attention, visitors and the unique opportunity to discover genuine treasure.

Two of the Sedgeford coins (Photo: Hilary Snelling)

X-rays at a local hospital showed about 20 coins crammed neatly into the bone. 19 further coins were found in the vicinity, including those from previous seasons. A special lab was set up to draw the bone and carefully extract the coins. It was a memorable time for all involved.

Xray of the cow humerus with coins in situ (Image: Sandringham Hospital)
Anj draws the bone prior to coin extraction (Photo: Jim Reid)
Kev, the finder, prepares to extract the coins (Photo: Hilary Snelling)
Digging out the coins (Photos: Maria Fashing)

The result was a unique collection of very special and beautiful gold coins identified as Gallo-Belgic E gold-alloy staters, likely originating from northern Gaul (modern-day France). The design reflects an Ancient Greek prototype dating back to Philip II of Macedon (father of Alexander the Great) showing a charioteer and horses, which has become changed and adapted as it travelled over time and distance to result in the Type E found at Sedgeford.

The metamorphosis of coin design. (Image courtesy of John Creighton)
The anatomy of a Gallo-Belgic E stater (Drawing courtesy of Ray Ludford)

As you can probably imagine, the find caused a sensation and was reported widely by media of all types.

The hoard was of course declared as treasure and went through the legal process to be appropriately assigned ownership. It is now on display at the King's Lynn Museum, where it is on permanent loan through the kind generosity of the landowners.

Jill Bennett of BBC Radio Norfolk prepares to interview Chris and Kev (Photo: Hilary Snelling)
Sedgeford's postal agent Bert poses with a copy of the Lynn News headline. Sadly, both Bert and the Sedgeford PO are no longer with us. (Photo: Terry Baxter)
The find hits the newsstands in Snettisham (Photo: unknown)

The finding of the coin hoard remains one of the most significant and exciting events ever to happen within SHARP.

Although archaeology is generally fairly routine, you never know what will be revealed by that next sweep of the trowel or the metal detector. What we find connects us to the past and to people like us who stood and worked in the same place, long ago. That is part of its addiction, and why we love it.

The 20 coins of the Sedgeford Hoard that were found in the cow humerus (Photo: Hilary Snelling)
The full 39 coins of the Sedgeford Hoard on display (Photo: Hilary Snelling)

To find out more about digging at Sedgeford with SHARP this summer, have a look at our opportunities for site volunteers here, and our introduction to archaeology (BERT) course here.

Visitors to site are also welcome - more on that to come!

Reference: Dennis, M. and Faulkner, N. (2005) The Sedgeford Hoard. Tempus, Stroud

Please contact with us here to buy a copy by mail-order at £12.99 with free P&P.

Or buy it from Terry - yes, the same Terry! - on site this summer.


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