Roman coin hoard points to early recycling

A hoard of Roman coins discovered by metal-detecting enthusiasts on a farm near Longhorsley, Northumberland, could be evidence that entrepreneurial native Northumbrian settlers were recycling old bronze coins and making trinkets to sell back to soldiers in the Roman army, according to experts.

The hoard of 70 Roman coins 61 sesterii and 9 dupondii dates from the reign of the Emperors Vespasian to the reign of Marcus Aurelius (AD69-180 a period when the Antonine Wall, between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and not Hadrian's Wall, marked the frontier of the Roman Empire, and for a short period, Northumberland, which had until then been barbarian territory, became part of the Roman Empire.

The hoard was found close to the route of The Devil's Causeway, the main Roman road which ran north through Northumberland.

Roman expert Lindsay Allason-Jones, Director of Archaeological Museums at Newcastle University, where the coins are shortly to go on display, says: 'What makes this find unusual is that it dates from a period when there was no Roman fort close to Longhorsley, although there were a number of native settlement sites in the area'.

'From excavations in the area, we know that the Romans did recycle metal in a military context, and we also know that local farmers were working with bronze', says Lindsay.

'The discovery of a sprue the metal which solidifies in the air holes of a mould and the very worn faces of the coins in the hoard suggests for the first time that the native Northumbrians were recycling Roman coins to make artefacts, either for their own use or to sell to the Roman Army', she adds.

The Longhorsley coin hoard has no monetary value in present day terms. Most of the coins are so worn as to be illegible, so they probably no longer recognized as official coins of the Roman Empire in the second century AD, but they would have had value as recyclable bronze.

Lindsay continued: 'The hoard is very valuable in archaeological terms, because this glimpse of local recycling is evidence that there was a relationship between the native and the military population at a time when Northumberland was part of the Roman Province of Britannia. And although artefacts made from recycled metal have been found, this is also the first real evidence of native settlers using Roman materials as a source of recycling'.

The coin hoard was found last year by members of the Ashington and Bedlington Metal Detectors Group, and subsequently donated to the University's Museum of Antiquities. The coins were verified by Richard Abdy of the Coins and Metals Department at the British Museum as part of the Treasure Trove procedure.

Date released 10 February 2003