A Welsh man wielding a metal detector recently discovered a large Roman lead ingot inscribed with Latin writing, reports Dominic Robertson for the Shropshire Star. The chunk of lead—found in a field near Rossett in northern Wales—measures more than a foot and a half long and weighs almost 140 pounds.
After Rob Jones, the local man who unearthed the ingot, notified authorities of his find, officials from the Wrexham Museum and the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust worked to identify it.
The inscription appears to mention Marcus Trebellius Maximus, who governed Britannia on behalf of Roman Emperor Nero between 63 and 69 A.D, suggesting the lead specimen is nearly 2,000 years old, according to a statement.
Jones’ discovery adds a tangible piece of evidence to the history of Roman mining in the region. Archaeologists have previously identified fewer than 100 ingots of the same type in Roman Britain. Per the statement, Emperor Claudius’ desire to exploit Britain’s natural resources was one of the main motivations for his invasion of the island in 43 A.D.
Lead ore, also called galena, often contains silver. The Romans prized both metals, using the former “extensively for ornamental purposes in decorative boxes, wine cups, and other household items,” explains Encyclopedia Britannica. “Roman engineers [also] developed architectural uses—for roof coverings, masonry, gutters, water pipes, and cisterns—that were continued for centuries.”
Stamped markings and inscriptions like the one seen on the newly described ingot may have offered insights on the metal’s point of origin and whether its silver had already been removed, according to a 1932 paper published in the journal Nature. If researchers are able to confirm that Marcus Trebellius Maximus’ name is indeed inscribed on the lead bar, then it will be the sole relic bearing his name ever unearthed in the United Kingdom, reports the Star.
Trebellius helped restore stability in Britannia following Boudica’s 60 to 61 A.D. revolt but was later overthrown by his own soldiers. Rather than testifying to the governor’s personal influence, the inscription is more broadly indicative of the bureaucratic order that marshalled the labor required to produce the ingot. It also places the chunk of lead among the earliest dated inscriptions yet found and, according to the statement, speaks to the speed with which Rome moved to begin extracting the island’s natural resources.
“We don’t yet know where this ingot has come from and we will probably never know where it was going to,” says local Finds Officer Susie White in the statement. “However, given the find spots of other ingots from Britain of similar date, it may have been destined for continental Europe, perhaps even Rome itself. The object could tell us a great deal about this important period of our past, a period which is still poorly understood in this area of the country.”