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)