Mon, 20 Jul 2020
Close up of 'Selsey Two-Faced' type coin from the Wokefield Hoard illustrating the stylised horse. NEBYM:2018.54.8. Image copyright West Berkshire Museum
Highlights from the West Berkshire Museum Collection The Wokefield Hoard by museum volunteer Pam Hart and West Berkshire Heritage Archaeology Team
There has been much written in the press over the years about discoveries of ‘hoards’ and ‘Treasure’, but what do these words actually mean? A dictionary definition of a hoard is “a large amount of something that someone has saved and hidden”. Treasure in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is defined by the 1996 Treasure Act. One criterion for Treasure is that it includes two or more coins of at least 10 per cent precious metal which are at least 300 years old and found in close proximity.
Eight gold stater coins comprising the Wokefield Hoard, showing obverse (heads). NEBYM:2018.54. Image copyright West Berkshire Museum
Eight gold stater coins comprising the Wokefield Hoard, showing reverse (tails). NEBYM:2018.54. Image copyright West Berkshire Museum
IN 2017, four metal detectorists were investigating an area in Wokefield parish, West Berkshire, when they discovered eight gold coins scattered over an area of approximately 30 square metres.
As experienced detectorists they knew that they had found a hoard and that it was probably Treasure, so they reported it to a portable antiquities scheme finds liaison officer, a legal requirement under the Act. The coins were very unusual and were identified as ‘Selsey Two-Faced’ staters, dated to 60-20 BC. Each of the coins depicts a three-tailed horse, a high status symbol in the Iron Age, on one side and a wide variety of faces, figures and symbols on the reverse, including a charioteer’s arm, a chicken and a stylised stalk of wheat or barley.
In the late Iron Age coins were minted by local tribes, but their usage was generally restricted to high status
individuals. These gold coins were issued by the local Regini and Atrebates tribes, the Atrebates’ capital, Silchester, being only a few miles to the south. They are approximately 18mm in
diameter and each weighs about 6g. The coins are a significant find as very little Iron Age material has been recorded in Wokefield.
After the coins were declared Treasure, West Berkshire Museum acquired them with support from Art Fund, Wokefield Parish Council and Mary Buxey, a former member of the Newbury District Field Club. The coins are on display in the museum as part of the Hoards Exhibition and can be seen again now the museumis reopened on Wednesdays to Fridays, 10am to 4pm.
These coins would have been very valuable, so why were they buried and left for more than 2,000 years – and by whom?
Were they buried for safekeeping, perhaps in a time of attack? Perhaps the owner died and they were forgotten. Or were they deliberately buried, without the intention of recovery, as votive or religious offerings to their owner’s gods, a theory which is gaining ground. We will never know the reason, but we are grateful they were left and were latterly rediscovered, so that we can see their beauty, admire their workmanship and learn about this intriguing period of prehistory.
The British Museum recently announced that the number of finds recorded to its Portable Antiquities Scheme has hit a milestone 1.5 million. The milestone item recorded was a medieval papal bulla (lead seal) of Pope Innocent IV (r. 1243-54). All the discoveries on the PAS database since its launch 23 years ago have been made by members of the public. These finds have radically transformed what we know about life through time on the British Isles.
Pictures: West Berkshire Museum