LONDON – A find of 131 gold coins along with four other gold objects dating to 1,400 years ago stands to be the largest find to date of gold coins from the Anglo-Saxon period in England.
Currently, HM Coroner for Norfolk is holding an inquest to determine whether an important find of gold coins and other objects from West Norfolk constitutes Treasure under the terms of the Treasure Act (1996). To qualify as Treasure, any two or more coins which contain more than 10% of precious metal and which are more than 300 years old are defined as Treasure and are property of the Crown. Typically, the Crown only claims the find if an accredited museum wishes to acquire the find, and is in a position to pay a reward equivalent to the full market value of the find.
Buried shortly after the year 600, the West Norfolk hoard contains a total of 131 gold coins, most of which are Frankish tremisses, as these coins were not yet produced in East Anglia at this date. It also contains nine gold solidi, a larger coin from the Byzantine empire worth three tremisses. The hoard also contains four other gold objects, including a gold bracteate (a type of stamped pendant), a small gold bar, and two other pieces of gold which were probably parts of larger items of jewelry. The presence of these items in the hoard suggests that the coins should be seen as bullion, valued by weight rather than face value.
At the point when the hoard was buried, England was not yet unified, but was divided into several smaller Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. Of these, the kingdom of the East Angles, including modern Norfolk and Suffolk, was one of the most important. This region is also one of the most productive in terms of finds of archaeological material through metal detecting, so it is perhaps unsurprising that the largest find to date of gold coins from the Anglo-Saxon period was discovered in Norfolk by metal detectorists.
Most Treasure cases are relatively straightforward, but this is an unusual case in a number of ways. The majority of the objects were found between 2014 and 2020 by a single detectorist, who prefers to remain anonymous. The landowner has also requested anonymity, and for this reason the find is currently described only as coming from ‘West Norfolk’. This finder has reported all of his finds to the appropriate authorities. However, 10 of the coins were found by a second detectorist, David Cockle, who had permission from the landowner to detect in the same field. Cockle, who at the time was a serving policeman, failed to report his discovery and instead attempted to sell his coins, pretending that they were single finds from a number of different sites. Cockle’s deception was uncovered, and in 2017 he was found guilty of theft and sentenced to 16 months in prison, as well as being dismissed from the police.
All of the objects were found in a single field, where a single gold coin was found as long ago as 1990; this find predated the introduction of the Treasure Act, which means that this coin does not form part of the group being considered by the Coroner. Despite this quirk, it seems almost certain that this was part of the same hoard. The Treasure case includes both those finds from 2014 onwards that were properly reported and those concealed by Cockle, two of which could not be recovered as they had already been sold and had disappeared into the antiquities trade.
Norwich Castle Museum hopes to acquire the hoard, with the full support of the British Museum.