I’m fresh back from my Spring England detecting tour and happy to report that we had an amazing time. My team made some incredible finds. The guys were troopers. They endured rain (I’m pretty sure it was hailing on us at one point) and some brutal sun (abnormally high temps the last days of the hunt) to seek out history in the fields surrounding Colchester. As always, we've reported all "treasure" and find coordinates to the British Museum for review.
Allow me to first introduce you to this excellent condition 1st Century BC to 1st Century AD lead Woad Grinder (alternate spelling: wode) found by Texas Scott W. Woad, an herb plant in the cabbage family, was used by the Celts to create a blue dye. It was dried, then fermented, then crushed. This tool was used to pulverize the dried leaves into a dye that could then be used to paint the body (the Iceni tribe, think Queen Boudica, were famous for painting their faces blue before battle) or traded. Learn more about the history of woad here. Discoveries through the years indicate that this field and those surrounding it were populated by Celts, Romans, and Saxons.
Next, we have a Bronze Age socketed axe head circa 850 B.C., also found by Texas Scott W. (he apparently had his detector tuned to extra ancient mode). What an artifact! Early bronze axe heads were flat, but the socketed variety represents a technological advance during the late Bronze Age. The wooden haft was secured within the socket for effectiveness. It would have been cast in a clay mold. Scott W.’s is missing only a small portion, is a bit pitted, and has a beautiful patina. It is the second axe head that has been found in the field it came from (the other was discovered several years back).
While these significant finds were made in the final days of the tour, there was hardly a day when multiple cool items were uncovered. In fact, during our first half-day we tackled a lesser-known field for kicks and Texas Scott J. (yes, I take two Texas Scott’s and they are double the trouble, double the cool finds) didn’t take an hour to make us all jealous. He walked my way with a grin on his face and a beautiful Roman silver coin in his hand. It was in great shape and we heard back from an expert about the factors that make it an uncommon combination of attributes. Here’s what he had to say:
“As it turns out, there are very few trigas (3-horse hitch) on Roman coins of any type – only a few among the Republicans which run heavily to quads- and bi-gas. It’s C. Naevius Balbus, 79 B.C. This is specifically the only type of serrate denarius with a triga reverse.
Also, the ‘SC’ on the obverse is quite unusual as well, indicating that the silver for the issue was approved – probably as a huge emergency issue to raise and equip an army during the civil war disturbances at the time of Sulla’s dictatorship – by a specific act of the Senate. Not particularly early, and definitely not rare, but in the Republican silver series, it is a unique combination of all of these somewhat lesser-seen elements: serrate, triga, ‘SC.’ The ‘CCV’ on the reverse is a control mark and variable.”
In the same general area, I popped the best Roman bronze I think I’ve ever found. We’re assuming this field has seen way less farming chemicals than others near it and that is yielding metal artifacts that are less crusty. Our expert gave us this opinion on the bronze:
“It’s easy to tell you the type and even, probably, the mint here. What I can’t tell you with certainty is who among the members of the “House of Valentinian” issued it – the obverse legend is completely missing due to edge-chipping. So is the reverse legend, but the type is pretty obvious – it’s a SECVRITAS REIPVBLICE restored centenionalis. Most likely to be, in this order: Valens, 364-378; Valentinian I, 364-375; Gratian, 367-383. There is a possibility, a bit more distant, that it is Valentinian II and very distantly that it might be Theodosius I or Arcadius, but the first three account for probably at least 90+% of the extant specimens from all mints which date mainly to the 2nd half of the 360’s and the 1st half of the 370’s AD.
Although it may not be from the same mint (several of the Western mints used privy-mark systems which, among other marks, would have placed an F in the left field) this is the same basic type – and definitely from Siscia:
This certainly is not a design unique to this series – Victory walking left carrying wreath and palm-branch is on literally hundreds - perhaps thousands – of different coin types from all over the Empire, as well as on many pre-Roman Greek coin types. However, given the ‘F’ in the field, which is likely indicative of a Western mint as well as the history of the pieces you seem to find regularly, I’d be really surprised if it were not a House of Valentinian centenionalis.”
The morning of the first full day detecting started out with a bit of a quandary. I took them to a field where Sal had found a Celtic gold coin a year or so before and placed a flag on the find spot. Most of the group began gridding the rows surrounding it (we each choose our own grid path and we’re not bothered by the person moving in a perpendicular direction, which I love because it increases our odds of finding another piece to the puzzle of a significant find area) and it wasn’t very long before Texas Scott J. walked up to me with a shiny gold Celtic-looking coin. The trouble was, it was chipped and clearly gold over bronze. I was scratching my head as I’d never seen a “Plated Pony” before, so I snapped a pic and sent it to my outfitter. He quickly identified it as a Cunobelin wild type gold contemporary forgery stater, likely 20 - 25 AD. This pairs nicely with the quarter stater Sal found and we’ll definitely be back to seek out more Celtic clues.
We spent a few days dealing with rain and gathering field condition intelligence. Ontario Mike and I made a huge discovery: a field that had been detected hard by others in our club earlier in the season and produced 34 Roman silver coins (of which Sal found six) had been plowed and was now in rough, mucky condition. We waited for a dry day then ventured out into a sea of uneven ground to see if we could find out more about this Roman spot. Not five minutes after I’d placed flags at the perimeter of what is a small area, Ontario Mike was on his knees in awe and chuckling about eight feet from the nearest flag. He’d found Roman silver! This was hoard coin 35. It has been sent for ID and reported as a hoard addendum to the British Museum. We spent the rest of the afternoon testing our ankle strength and digging faint signals, but, alas, we didn’t find others.
The next morning, on a different field, Ontario Mike found another Roman silver coin. This one was so crusted over that it cannot be identified until it is “cooked.” Rain set in and detecting conditions were less than ideal, but we persevered and spent the next few days finding interesting bits and bobs, including some Medieval hammered silver coins and a nice little Tudor clothing fastener found by Texas Scott W.
As I detected, I felt compelled to make another attempt at the Roman silver hoard, but how would I get these guys to go back to an ankle-breaking field? They’d already expressed they’d only return if it was rolled, but our agreement on that field is not to detect after it is planted and those two events typically happen simultaneously. Sal had urged me to try trenching between find spots to see if opening the ground up to the plow line might help us find a museum-worthy pot that these coins must be coming from (at that point, we’d be calling in the archaeologists). I rallied Ontario Mike and Texas Scott J. to make a return trip and we did some deep digging. I’m not going to lie, those guys moved a lot more earth than I did and I appreciate it. Unfortunately, our test holes yielded only iron nails, but at least we’d tried. I thought for a moment they may actually bury me in the one shaped like a coffin.
Afterwards, we began detecting outside the perimeter of the documented silver coins. Texas Scott J. began gridding in the direction where outliers had been discovered. Imagine our surprise when he called us over to see a Celtic gold 10-40 A.D. Cunobelin quarter stater. His hands were shaking and he was smiling from ear to ear. What a thrill to mark a new Celtic spot near the Roman spot! Rarely does a field with Roman silver not produce Celtic gold, and this has opened up a brand new hoard-adjacent area for investigation. The remainder of the afternoon was spent stumbling in the rough plow and digging up buttons and other bits.
Not to be outdone, Texas Scott W., in addition to his amazing artifacts mentioned above, found a 70 B.C. Celtic gold Morini quarter stater hiding in a trashy area not to terribly far from his impressive wode grinder.
We spent some fun times gridding new areas of that field and found several milled silver coins and cool items, such as French jettons, lead tokens, and cool buttons. There’s even a mystery silver coin-shaped item that has yet to be identified that is likely Roman or Celtic. It shows signs of having been melted.
On our last half-day, we got a good skunking in the early summer sun, but no one seemed to mind. It was a pleasure to reunite with this team and prove that we can be strategic with limited land conditions and still have amazing detecting results. Thank you to everyone who supported our expedition (Sal, Chris, other Colchester hunters). It was one for the history books. I can't wait to get back next May!