RFG members may have already seen press reports- including a feature on Channel 4 news – concerning the discovery of a major new Iron Age site in East Leicestershire. At present the location is not being disclosed, because of concerns about site security.

A coin deposit being uncovered.
Figure 1. A coin deposit being uncovered.

The site originally came to light as the result of a Community Archaeology fieldwalking project, established to systematically map the archaeology of local parishes. The discovery of coins and bones found during one of these surveys was followed up with metal detecting by one of the group members, Ken Wallace. This eventually led to the isolation of at least fifteen discrete coin deposits, which were able to be lifted in blocks (although a large number of coins had been scattered in the surface ploughsoil). This work was carried out by the University of Leicester Archaeological Service with funding from English Heritage and the British Museum.

Coins of Cunobelin from the site
Figure 2. Coins of Cunobelin from the site.

The soil blocks are currently being excavated by British Museum conservators. So far hundreds of coins have been removed, and X-rays have shown that there are many more still to emerge, with perhaps around 3,000 coins likely to be present at the final count. This would constitute the largest assemblage of coins ever excavated from one Iron Age site. Other sites have produced larger assemblages in the past, particularly Wanborough, but readers will no doubt be aware that the majority of the Wanborough assemblage was removed by illegal metal detecting (O’Connell & Bird 1994). The East Leicestershire site thus has the potential to offer new insights into coin deposition during the Conquest period.

Coins of Cunobelin from the site.
The new type is on the right.
Figure 3. Coins of Cunobelin from the site. The new type is on the right.

Most of the coins are Corieltauvian silver units, as one might expect, probably produced in the early decades of the first century AD. There are also some coins of Cunobelin, mostly gold quarter staters, including at least one completely new type, which combines the letters ‘CVNO’ on the obverse and ‘DVBN’ on the reverse. It might seem that these are somewhat outside of their expected circulation area, but the Midlands has produced Cunobelin gold before, e.g. the Silsden hoard, Yorkshire.

In addition there are Republican silver coins, and some early imperial pieces, with the latest piece so far of Tiberius. The Republican coins are also not entirely unexpected – hoards in East Anglia sometimes mix Icenian silver units with Republican denarii. Dating, however, has always been problematic. Date of issue is generally not a problem, but how they got to Britain, when this occurred, and subsequent deposition date, are more difficult questions. I personally think they must have been circulating pre-Conquest, but as there are so few Republican coins from stratified contexts, this is impossible to prove. The only site which might have produced some (two coins in fact) is the top fill of an Iron Age ditch from Humberstone, Leicestershire – I reserve judgement on whether or not the proximity of findspots is of any significance1.

In addition to the coins, the site has also yielded the fragmentary remains of a Roman cavalry helmet. This consists of iron fragments of the skull-piece and remains of silver-gilt cladding, which implies it was used for parade. As for parallels, it is of similar type to the one from Newstead (National Museum of Scotland), dated to the Flavian period – on this example only a small piece of silver cladding survived on the neck-flange. The best parallel for the cladding itself, from what we can make out at this stage, is a helmet from Xanten, with stylised hair and laurel wreath (Feugere 1994, 105-8). It is too early to say any more at present, until all the surviving pieces have been extracted from the soil block. The other obvious question as well which will need to be addressed is how the helmet ended up on the site in the first place? This might be helped by an examination of the coins inside the block which contains the helmet, as that may assist with the question of deposition date. Enough coins have been found in spoil to suggest that the site may have continued to be used for deposition even as late as the 3rd century, so perhaps the helmet forms part of a post-Conquest phase of deposition. All the other deposits in the assemblage though very much indicate a pre-Conquest date.

In addition to the coin hoards and helmet fragments, the site has also produced a series of shallow pits containing animal bones, including some complete skulls and carcasses. This adds another dimension to how the site might be interpreted. We might speculate that is was a ritual meeting ground on a prominent hilltop; the animal bones – which exhibit a number of cut marks – suggest it was also used for feasting. The coin hoards and other objects such as the Roman helmet seem to have been offerings – another part of ritual activities. This is all understandably speculative at the moment; a greater understanding of the site will obviously come with further research.

The finds were declared Treasure at an Inquest held on 8 April 2003. The discovery will constitute one of a new series on archaeological finds called ‘Hidden Treasures’, which the BBC has scheduled for Autumn this year.

Richard Hobbs
Dept. of Prehistory & Europe
British Museum


Thanks to Jonathan Williams in Coins and Medals for his help with this note.


Charles, B M, Parkinson, A, & Foreman, S, 2000, ‘A Bronze Age ditch and Iron Age settlement at Elms Farm, Humberstone, Leicestershire’, Trans. Leicestershire Archaeol. and Hist. Soc. 74

Feugère, M, 1994, Les casques antiques. Visages de la guerre de Mycènes á l’Antiquité tardive

O’Connell M G & Bird, J, 1994. ‘The Roman temple at Wanborough, excavation 1985-1986’, Surrey Archaeological Collections 82, 1-168