This is what metal detectors dream of – a hobbyist found a massive jug of coins while searching through a farmer’s field outside of Frome.How big was it? Try 25 inches across, with about 350 lbs of coins inside. These 52,503 coins date from 253 to 293 AD and were valued at £320,250 (almost $500,000 at the current conversion rate of 1 pound sterling to 1.55 US$).
England has a clever system that encourages metal detection hobbyists to work with landowners and archaeologists to catalog and preserve their finds. When significant discoveries are made, specialists are called in to evaluate the loot and make a fair market offer for the items which is then split between the finder and the property owner. The Treasure Act 1996 prevents looting, encourages farmers to allow metal detectors on their land, and preserves the context that archaeologists need to understand many discoveries.
If the Art Fund is unable to raise funds to buy the hoard by February, some of these coins may end up on the open market. The coins are certainly affordable: the valuation works out to $9.50 per coin, on average. Most of the coins in the pot were low value bronze radiate or silver washed bronze. Despite their low denomination, many are from small series and all date from a time when the Roman Empire was starting to fall apart. The hoarde includes many scarce coins, including nearly a thousand produced by the little known emperor Carausius (a usurper who set up his own empire in Gaul and Brittain).
The hoard may have been buried as a ritual offering. Due to the location of the burial, the composition of the hoard, and the way that the ground was waterlogged in antiquity, experts do not think that it was meant to be recovered. Unlike other hoards (which are thought to be the buried savings of someone who never came back to recover their money), the Frome hoarde may have been a religious offering to boost fertility in the soil.