Roman coins found in Yorkshire revealed after years of secrecy

Detectorists who found silver treasure led archaeologists to high-status site in 2015

One of the earliest Roman settlements ever to be discovered in the Yorkshire region has been unearthed by a group of crowdfunded archaeologists.

The exact location of the high-status settlement has been kept a secret to protect it from night hawkers (illegal metal-detectorists) and looters, but archaeologists have described it as astounding.

The first sign that there may be something worth exploring at the site came three years ago when some metal detectorists uncovered a hoard of 2,000-year-old silver coins.

Friends Paul King, Robert Hamer and Robin Siddle found the hoard of 18 silver coins in 2015, but the discovery has been kept secret until now, to enable archaeologists to explore the area, which appears to be a high-status Roman settlement.

Last week more silver coins were uncovered, with hundreds of Roman pottery sherds and a tiny brooch, found on one of three neonatal burials.

Lisa Westcott Wilkins, who has been managing the excavation, said: “This is one of the earliest Roman settlements in the north that we have discovered to date. It has felt like a Richard III moment in terms of excitement,” referring to the discovery of the remains of the Plantagenet king under a car park in Leicester in 2012.

The finds so far date from the 1st century, she added: “All the coins date back to the time of the emperor Vespasian [AD 69–79], when the Romans marched north and established a centre at York.

“Some of the items we have found have been very exciting. These people were burying infants with jewellery – there was a beautiful brooch – which would have been for a cloak. This suggests to us that it was high status.”

The excavation is being conducted by DigVentures, founded by archaeologists in 2012 to fill the gap left by severe cuts to research archaeology by universities and local authorities.

King and his friends reported their discovery to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which encourages the recording of archaeological objects found by members of the public. A coroner will decide ownership of the treasure.

“Archaeologists and detectorists historically have a fraught relationship. However, we were very lucky with Paul and his friends contacting the scheme and we were able to protect the site,” Wilkins said.

She added: “It is such a rare find. We have many settlements from later periods – 3rd and 4th centuries – but this one is much earlier and much higher status. This is why it is so rare.”

Hundreds of Roman pottery sherds have been found at the site
Hundreds of Roman pottery sherds have been found at the site. Photograph: Digventures

Dig teams have found post holes and foundation trenches, with the remnants of stone walls that once stood there and evidence suggests there were also one or two villas, possibly belonging to rich families. Fine pottery including decorated bowls and amphorae, which would have transported olive oil and wine from the Mediterranean, have also been discovered.

Wilkins said the site’s location would be kept secret for a while longer due to the danger of night hawkers. There is a high level of surveillance on the site.

She said: “We have to protect the site’s heritage value. The landowner has already had someone arrested. The night hawkers and some metal detectorists are unscrupulous and when they raid these sites a lot of the stuff ends up on eBay without any care for its historical value.”

The project has been partly funded by a £61,100-grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. DigVentures said an important part of its work was accessibility and added it would present the finds at various public events.

The public has also been encouraged to get involved through the DigNation festival, which takes place in September in Lindisfarne, with lectures and the chance to experience excavations among the events planned.


Nazia Parveen north of England correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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