This article appeared in the Autumn 1976 (Issue #45) edition of the Kent Archaeological Review.
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Roman Gold Coins Found at Springhead.
Easter Sunday 1976 provided a memorable experience for John D Shepherd of the Springhead Excavations Group. Excavating within an early structure on the site, he uncovered a group of five gold coins closely packed together in the clay floor. There was no surviving trace of any container possibly suggesting a small bag of cloth or leather. The coins were aureii of first century date, four bearing the head of NERO and the fifth of TITUS, all minted between 58 and 75 AD. The archaeological implications and a detailed study of the coins themselves will be dealt with separately at a later date. This account concerns itself primarily with the train of events uniquely rooted in English history and custom to which such a discovery gives rise. This started as soon as the coins were lifted from the place where they had rested for nineteen centuries. A photographic record was of course made before they were disturbed.
According to law, all finds of gold and silver including coins, plate or bullion must be reported to the Coroner for the area in which they are found and the finds handed over to the police for safe custody. After recording the details of the coins found, this procedure was duly followed with the minimum of delay. They were taken by the police to the British Museum for expert examination and report to the Coroner. Following the presentation of this report an inquest was arranged to determine their ownership.
The inquest was conducted on June 1st at Dartford by Lt. Col W Jervase Harris OBE, TD, the Coroner for North Kent. The reasons for the inquest having been given, the Coroner's Officer opened the proceedings by swearing in the jury. The Coroner then addressed the jury, summarising the legal background and explaining that there were six basic questions which had to be considered and answered:
- Of what did the find consist?
- Was the find intentionally concealed or purposely abandoned?
- Where was the find deposited?
- Is the owner known?
- Who was the finder?
- Did the finder attempt to conceal his find?
The first witness to take the oath was John D Shepherd who described the actual uncovering of the coins and his subsequent actions in reply to the questions asked by the Coroner. These facts were corroborated by Peter Green, another member of the Springhead Group, who was also working in the same area. As the director in charge of operations the writer was then called to the stand to describe the steps he had taken to deal with the situation and to describe the archaeological context of the find. On the latter aspect the Coroner called upon Mr R A G Carson, Deputy Keeper of the Department of Coins and Medals at the British Museum to ask the relevant questions based on his expert knowledge. These related to the nature of the building remains and the position of the find in relation to those features. No further witnesses were called and Mr Carson made his report on the coins themselves and based on the evidence presented expressed his opinion that they had been buried for safety. He added that they represented a considerable sum of money in those days and possibly represented the savings in portable form, of an individual who had concealed them for safety.
The jurors were then permitted to examine the coins following which the Coroner proceeded to sum up the evidence presented. He reminded the jury of the questions to which they should seek answers and if the answer to the first part of the second question was in the affirmative that the find would be declared 'Treasure Trove'. In that event specific answers would be required for the remaining questions. The jury elected to retire to consider their verdict. After a short interval, they returned and the foreman stated that they were agreed on their findings. The find consisted of gold coins which had been intentionally concealed in the location described and were therefore 'Treasure Trove'. The owner was not known and the finder was John D Shepherd. No attempt had been made to conceal the find.
The Coroner then declared the coins to be 'Treasure Trove' that is treasure that is found, and formally siezed them on behalf of the Crown. He stated that they would be appraised by the British Museum and the finder would receive the full market value if they were retained for museum purposes or sold.
Objects of gold and silver (including coins, plate or bullion) which have been hidden in the soil or in buildings and of which the original owner cannot be traced, are Treasure Trove and by law the property of the Crown. It is of great importance for historical or archaeological reasons that any such finds should not be concealed, but should be reported and handed over in their entirety to the proper authority. A finder who fails to do this may be guilty of a criminal offence.
The proper authority is the Coroner for the district in which the find is made, who may be approached directly or through the local police.