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Silver Coins Lead to One of the Earliest Roman Sites in Yorkshire

The dig site found by metal detectorists 3 years ago appears to be a high-status homestead that once had two villas

Pottery and mosaic tiles found at the Yorkshire site. (DigVentures)
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Somewhere in Yorkshire, a county in the northern England, archaeologists have discovered one of the earliest Roman settlements found in the area, a high-status site that is being described as “astounding” reports Nazia Parveen at The Guardian.

The exact site is being kept secret and with good reason; so far researchers have found a trove of 2,000-year-old silver coins, a brooch found in an infant’s grave as well as fine pottery, mosaic tiles, and other items indicating it was once home to wealthy first-century Romans.

The first indication that there was something important in the ground came about 3 years ago when three metal-detecting friends came across 18 silver coins in a farm field. They reported their find and now the area is the site of an archaeological dig supported by the archaeology crowdfunding and resource sharing platform DigVentures. Excavation began a couple weeks ago, and The Yorkshire Post reports that just a foot down the team began to recover items, finding more coins, pre-Roman pottery as well as the wall of Roman-era building. The configuration of post holes and foundation trenches suggest that two villas once stood on the site.

The coins date to the reign of emperor Vespasian, who ruled between 69 and 79 A.D., meaning the site was constructed around that time or even earlier. While Julius Caesar famously landed soldiers in Britain in 54 and 55 B.C., the island was not conquered by the Romans until 43 A.D. during the reign of the emperor Claudius. But it was several decades before the legions made it north to the area of York. Eventually, York became the Roman capital of the region.

“It’s quite significant,” Chris Casswell, head of fieldwork for DigVentures tells the Post. “The Romans came north of the Humber and set up shop in York around 71 A.D. and all of our finds are from that period. We are looking at something at the same time as they were doing that.”

Just who the villas belonged to is hard to say, but apparently they were rich. “It has felt like a Richard III moment in terms of excitement,” Lisa Westcott Wilkins, excavation manager tells The Guardian’s Parveen, referring to the discovery of King Richard III's body under a parking lot in 2012. “Some of the items we have found have been very exciting. These people were burying infants with jewelry – there was a beautiful brooch – which would have been for a cloak. This suggests to us that it was high status.”

The site is unusual for how it’s being excavated. First, the metal detectorists who originally found the coins reported the site to authorities instead of just looting it themselves, which doesn’t normally happen. Paul King, one of the original finders, tells Dalya Alberge at The Telegraph that his interest runs deeper than just making a quick buck on some old coins.

“They call us detectologists… a blend between archaeologists and detectorists because we’re quite knowledgeable,” he says. “You just want to know about things. How did people live? What did they do? When you pick up that Roman coin out of the ground, after it’s been there for 2,000 years, it still puts tingles up my spine that the last person to touch that coin was a Roman… It’s fascinating.”

The second unusual aspect is the involvement of DigVentures. The platform was created by archaeologists in 2012 after funding for archaeology was reduced by universities and the U.K. government. The goal of the platform is to connect archaeologists with worthy projects, help raise money for the digs and also get local people involved so they can engage with their history.

This isn’t the only villa unearthed in Britain recently. In 2016, a family in the southwest of the country found the remains of a massive villa on their farm while installing a ping-pong room in their barn.


About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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