England's largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold coins unearthed

Most of them were discovered by one searcher with a metal detector in west Norfolk between 2014 and 2020

The gold coins, along with four other objects, unearthed by metal detectors in west Norfolk. Photo: PA
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Metal detector users have unearthed the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold coins to be found in England.

The find of 131 gold coins, along with four other gold objects, was discovered in west Norfolk, with the exact location not disclosed.

Most of the items were discovered by a single detector user between 2014 and 2020.

But 10 of the coins were found by a second hunter, serving police officer David Cockle, who failed to report his discovery and tried to sell them.

Cockle, then 50, was caught out and in 2017 was sentenced to 16 months in prison after pleading guilty to theft. He was also dismissed from the police.

Two of the 10 coins could not be recovered as they had already been sold.

A treasure inquest into the 1,400-year-old hoard, buried shortly after the year 600, was opened in Norwich on Wednesday.

Most of the coins are Frankish tremisses, and there are also nine gold solidi, larger coins from the Byzantine empire worth three tremisses.

The hoard also contains four gold objects, including a gold bracteate, which is a type of stamped pendant, a small gold bar, and two other pieces of gold that probably belonged to larger items of jewellery.

At the point when the hoard was buried, England was not yet unified but divided into several smaller Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

Of these, the kingdom of the East Anglia, including modern Norfolk and Suffolk, was one of the most important.

The region is also one of the most productive in terms of finds of archaeological material through metal detecting.

The previous largest hoard of coins of this period was a purse containing 101 coins discovered at Crondall in Hampshire in 1828.

It had been disturbed before discovery and may originally have included more coins.

The most famous discovery from this period was the ship burial from Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, recently dramatised in the Netflix movie The Dig, and dating somewhere between 610 and 640.

The Sutton Hoo burial included a purse of 37 gold coins, three blank gold discs of the same size as the coins and two small gold ingots, as well as many other gold items.

“This is a hugely important find," Gareth Williams, curator of Early Medieval Coins at the British Museum, said of the latest discovery.

“It is close in date to the famous ship burial from Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, and although it doesn’t contain as much gold as the whole of the Sutton Hoo burial, it contains many more coins.

“In fact, it is the largest coin hoard of the period known to date.

“It must be seen alongside other recent finds from East Anglia and elsewhere, and will help to transform our understanding of the economy of early Anglo-Saxon England.”

Norwich Castle Museum hopes to acquire the hoard, with the full support of the British Museum.

“This internationally significant find reflects the wealth and continental connections enjoyed by the early kingdom of East Anglia," said Tim Pestell, senior curator of archaeology at the Norwich museum.

“Study of the hoard and its find spot has the potential to unlock our understanding of early trade and exchange systems, and the importance of west Norfolk to East Anglia’s ruling kings in the 7th century.”

Norfolk finds liaison officer Helen Geake, said: “The west Norfolk hoard is a really remarkable find, which will provide a fascinating counterpart to Sutton Hoo at the other end of the kingdom of East Anglia.

“It underlines the value of metal-detected evidence in helping reconstruct the earliest history of England, but also shows how vulnerable these objects are to irresponsible collectors and the antiquities trade.”

Updated: November 03, 2021, 10:48 PM