A Fortuitous Day in 2020 and an Iron Age Gold Coin

3 minute read

It was a very hot day in August 2020 when I made my best find ever. Lockdown restrictions were gradually lifting and while many people were enjoying the sun eating out to help out I was coming to the end of a long day metal detecting on a site near Horningsea. I’d been searching the same fields each summer since getting permission from the landowner back in 2016. Since then, I’d found quite a few Roman and Medieval coins along with an assortment of artefacts from Roman brooches to Victorian buckles.

I hadn’t found much on this particular day, except for a few poor quality Late Roman coins and the usual assortment of buttons, when I decided to call it a day, especially as I’d ran out of drinking water. As I made my way back to the car I glanced over to the next field, which I also had permission to search, and suddenly felt the urge to run the detector over it. Having made my way onto the field I found swinging the detector’s head from side to side difficult due to the corn stubble so had to limit myself to the narrow rows of bare soil in between where the wheat had grown. After around ten minutes of searching, and having found very little, I decided I really was too thirsty to continue so once again headed back towards the car continuing to search as best I could as I went. Suddenly the detector gave out a lovely clear ping, the kind of ping you know you must investigate. I pinpointed exactly where the object was and proceeded to dig out a nice circular plug of earth. I then ran the detector over the hole to check if whatever gave the signal was still in there – which it wasn’t – so I ran it over the plug of soil. This time the ping was clearer and sharper and as I went to pick it up to investigate I saw the unmistakable hint of gold.

My first reaction was to put it straight back on the ground and stare at it, for this was a moment I wanted to savour, my first ever gold coin. I could tell from its shape and size that it was an Iron Age coin, and as I removed it from the soil, I saw the unmistakable image of a Celticised horse. When I turned it over in my hand a shiver ran down my spine for as I knelt on the ground surrounded by ears of corn, staring back at me from a 2000-year-old coin was the exact same image, an ear of corn! Unlike Andy and Lance from the TV comedy series the Detectorists, I didn’t do a gold dance, instead I took some photos with my phone and sent them to my dad before ringing him with the news. I knew he’d be as excited as I was because we’d spent many hours back in the late 70s finding nothing but ring pulls and loose change in the local park with a cheap metal detector.

A small gold coin with a Celtic horse inscribed on it, in someone's hand.

Figure 1. An Iron Age gold coin with the image of a Celticized horse. Source: Rob Law.

Once Covid restrictions were finally lifted, the coin was photographed and recorded by the local Finds Liaison Officer on behalf of the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme set up to record the finds of metal detectorists. It was then loaned to the museum where it is currently on display as part of the current exhibition at MAA, Beneath Our Feet: Archaeology of the Cambridge Region.


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