An 8-year-old boy named Bjarne was playing in a sandbox at his elementary school in Bremen, Germany, when he made a stunning discovery: a silver denarius—or Roman coin—minted 1,800 years ago. While the boy, now 9, made the find last year, officials announced it at a press event on August 11.
“We are glad that Bjarne was so careful,” says Uta Halle, the Bremen state archaeologist, per a Google-translated statement. “[The discovery is] very special, because there have only been two comparable coin finds from the Roman Empire in the city of Bremen.”
Though much of what is now Germany once lay within the borders of the Roman Empire, Bremen did not, making the Roman coin especially rare—and especially puzzling.
Experts can’t say for certain how it got to Bremen, though they have several theories. As the History Blog writes, “Any Roman coins that made their way that far north likely reached the area via barter, washed up in the River Weser, or as a souvenir carried by an auxiliary or other world traveler.”
At 0.08 ounces (2.4 grams), the denarius is relatively light. That’s because it was minted during a “time of coin deterioration”—a period when inflation led to a reduction in the amount of silver used, says Halle in the statement.
When Bjarne first unearthed the artifact, he wasn’t aware of its significance—but he was excited to find out. “It was round and shiny,” writes the History Blog, “so he did what anyone would do and brought it home with him.”
His family sent photos of the coin to experts, who asked to see it in person. After an extensive examination, they were able to date it to the rule of Marcus Aurelius, who reigned from 161 to 180 C.E. (Known as the last of the “Five Good Emperors” of Rome, he is known today for his Meditations, a collection of writings on Stoicism.)
At this month’s press event, officials commended Bjarne for his “alertness and curiosity” and presented him with two archaeology books.
The boy will not, however, be able to keep his discovery. Under the law, such artifacts become the property of the government. Halle hopes the coin will go on display at Bremen’s Focke Museum, where she leads the department for prehistory and early history. “Such a coin has not been seen there,” she says in the statement.
For his part, Bjarne says he doesn’t mind handing over the artifact.
“The coin goes to the Focke Museum,” he says, per Pandora Dewan of Newsweek. “It can stay there—and I can look at it at any time. And others can, too.”