An excavation in Dovedale, Derbyshire has unearthed a hoard of Late Iron Age and Republican Roman coins, the first time coins of these two origins are thought to have been found buried together in a cave in Britain.
The discovery at Reynard’s Kitchen Cave is significant because not only is it unusual to find Late Iron Age gold coins, but to unearth them actually within a cave setting adds to the mystery surrounding them.
The initial discovery of four coins was made by a member of the public, which led the National Trust to carry out a full excavation of the cave.
“In total we found twenty six coins, including three Roman coins which pre-date the invasion of Britain in AD 43,” explains National Trust archaeologist, Rachael Hall.
“Twenty other gold and silver coins are Late Iron Age and attributed to the Corieltavi tribe. The tribe is more usually associated with occupying areas further east during the Late Iron Age, where the tribal centres are thought to be Leicester, Sleaford and Lincoln. So, it is interesting that this find is where it is in Derbyshire. Could this area have been a previously unknown power base of the Corieltavi tribe?
“Coins hoards of this era in Britain have been found in fields and other locations but, as far as we know, not in a cave which raises some interesting questions.
“The coins would suggest a serious amount of wealth ‘power’ of the individual who owned them. Coins were used more as a symbol of power and status during the Late Iron Age, rather than for buying and selling staple foods and supplies. Was an individual simply hiding his ‘best stuff’ for safe keeping? Or, perhaps speculating, in the hope that the value would increase in the future, like a modern-day ISA?
“The situation of the cave can’t be ignored either. Could it have been a sacred place to the Late Iron Age peoples that was taboo to enter in everyday life, making it a safe place that would ensure that person’s valuables were protected?”
British Museum’s curator of Iron Age and Roman coins, Ian Leins, says: “Although this is a much smaller hoard than the similar finds made at Hallaton in 2000, this has been declared treasure and is an exciting discovery given the puzzling location in a cave and the fact that it lies beyond the main circulation area of the coinage.”
The National Trust worked with the University of Leicester Archaeology Service and, for the first time, the Defence Archaeology Group’s Operation Nightingale which provides recuperation through field archaeology for service personnel injured in the conflict in Afghanistan and other areas of operations.
Operation Nightingale’s Sergeant Diarmaid Walshe says: “With the inherent skills of the soldier – an appreciation of landscape, topography and deposits in the ground – archaeology is a discipline that is perfect for service personnel. Through projects like the excavation at Dovedale, archaeology can help former service personnel to address their ailments and help in their recovery.”
Joanne Richardson, who spent 10 years in the military and was part of the excavation team, says: “This was the first archaeological excavation I’ve ever taken part in and it was brilliant.
“I was working at the back of the cave, in the dark, and I was the first person to find a coin – a silver coin. It was so exciting and really helped to lift spirits, after several fruitless days of hard graft. My first dig and this is what I found! The experience working alongside archaeologists and other veterans was inspiring. It has given me a new interest in life and helped me adapt to civilian environment.”
Rachael Hall adds: “The Corieltavi was made up of a number of other small tribes or clans who would come together for the common good, so it’s fantastic that we’ve joined with Operation Nightingale and other organisations and individuals to carry out the excavation and to learn more.
“We may never know why the coins were buried here but this discovery places a dot on the map for Late Iron Age Derbyshire. It adds a new layer to what we are discovering about Late Iron Age activity, especially the Corieltavi tribe. We hope to generate a lively debate and invite people to tell us their thoughts on the discovery.”
One other significant find included a decorated Roman ‘Aesica’ type brooch.