Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Musee de l'Ancien Eveche | Coin Hoard

I find that I am peculiarly drawn to hoards. It’s not just that my childhood imaginings of ‘buried treasure’ endured and survived a career as a professional archaeologist. There’s something fascinating in the way we feel we can see into those moments of deposition, clearly imagining the sequence of events from hurried deposition in advance of an immediate threat, followed by wondering why it was never recovered? Was the one who hid their valuables killed? Were they driven off and never made it back? Did they survive, only to realise that they’d hid their stuff a little too well and couldn’t find it?

All of these feelings and questions go through my mind every time I see this pottery vessel stuffed with treasure. The small-value bronze coins are all of the Late Roman Empire and date from 268 to 273. In particular, the hoard is dominated by examples from the reign of Tetricus I (271-274). The collection was discovered in 1979 in Fontanil-Cornillon, Isère. Today, this is an area on the north-western edge of Grenoble, but in the third century it would have probably been open countryside.

The museum’s information card notes that the vessel was buried some 2.5m underground – quite a substantial bit of digging to hide the family piggybank! Given the dating of the coins, the museum speculates that the hoard was deposited by its owner at the time of the first barbarian invasions, but neither they nor I can definitely state why they were not recovered for nearly 1700 years.

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