Norfolk Anglo-Saxon coins hoard the biggest ever found in Britain

Picture of the coins found near King's Lynn.

Picture of the coins found near King's Lynn. - Credit: The Trustees of the British Museum.

A hoard of early medieval coins found in Norfolk is the largest ever to be discovered in Britain.

The 131 coins and four pieces of gold shed new light on life on the Anglo-Saxon or early Medieval period, experts said, after a coroner declared them treasure trove.

Norwich Castle Museum, which already has one of the finest collections of Anglo-Saxon objects in the country, hopes to acquire the relics and put them on display.

Norwich Castle Museum offers the chance to discover centuries of Norfolk history.

Norwich Castle Museum is hoping to acquire the hoard - Credit: Visit Norfolk

An inquest on Wednesday heard they were found in batches between 2014 and 2020 at an undisclosed location near King's Lynn.

The British Museum believes they were buried around 600AD. Most were unearthed by a metal detectorist, who reported his finds to the correct authorities as the law requires.

But 10 were found by another detectorist, who sold them on the black market for £15,000 but was later caught and jailed for 16 months in 2017.

The hoard consisted mainly of Frankish and Byzantine coins, along with a gold bracteate (a type of stamped pendant), a small gold bar and two other pieces of gold which were probably parts of larger items of jewellery.

Norwich Castle has one of the best collections of Anglo-Saxon objects in the country, including this

Norwich Castle has one of the best collections of Anglo-Saxon objects in the country, including this intricately cut, garnet inlaid Winfarthing pendant dating back to the 6th or 7th Century - Credit: Norfolk Museums Service

Some of the coins had been struck with the same die as coins found at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, where an ancient ruler was buried with his treasures in a ship.

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Others came from across Frisia (now northern Holland), Austrasia (now parts of Germany and Austria) and the French regions of Aquitaine, Burgundy and Provence. 

At the inquest, area coroner Yvonne Blake read extracts from a report into the finds by Ian Richardson, senior treasure registrar at the British Museum in London. He said the coins had been scattered over a wide area, probably by ploughing.

Mr Richardson said the most likely explanation was that they belonged to a travelling merchant. He added all of the items came from a single hoard, but no container had so far been found.

Norwich Coroners Court. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Area coroner Yvonne Blake ruled the hoard was treasure trove after an inquest at the coroner's court in Norwich - Credit: Archant

Mrs Blake concluded that the coins came from a deliberately-deposited hoard after the 15-minute hearing. She said she was satisfied the items were treasure trove.

That means the items become the property of the Crown but could be purchased by a museum wishing to put them on display. The finder, who has not been named, will receive a fee equivalent to their so-far undisclosed market value.

After the hearing, Norwich Castle Museum said it was hoping to add the hoard to its collection.

Tim Pestell, its senior curator of archaeology, said: “This internationally-significant find reflects the wealth and Continental connections enjoyed by the early Kingdom of East Anglia.

"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 seventh century.”

Dr Helen Geake, archaeologist and Norfolk finds liaison officer.

Dr Helen Geake, archaeologist and Norfolk finds liaison officer. - Credit: Steve Adams

Helen Geake, finds liaison officer for Norfolk 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.”

Gareth Williams, curator of early medieval Coins at the British Museum, said: “This is a hugely important find. 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.”

Prior to the west Norfolk find, the biggest hoard discovered was a purse containing 101 coins discovered at Crondall in Hampshire in 1828.

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