Jewellery from Byzantine coins

Metal detectors strike gold in Norfolk

By Roger Williams | August 29, 2017

The fields of Britain are constantly roamed by metal detectorists, hoping that one day they might have the luck of Godfrey Pratt. When recently searching near his home in Attleborough, Norfolk, the amateur archaeologist saw what he thought was a bottle-top. “I was amazed how perfect it came out of the ground… gold and sparkly,” he said.

The bottle-top turned out to be a pendant of high quality gold, bearing the image of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, and may have been part of a burial.  Seemingly a long way from home, the coin was either struck in Istanbul or it may have been made in France before being turned into a piece of jewellery, and it has yet to be evaluated. The Merovingian Franks copied Byzantine coins to increase their currency, which says much about the prestige and reach of Byzantium beyond the empire’s boundaries.

In 2013 another gold Byzantine pendant was found among a coin hoard in North Elmham, also in Norfolk. The 23.5mm diameter pendant is an imitation of a gold solidus of the Byzantine emperor Maurice Tiberius who was born in Cappadocia in AD 539, and this is thought to have to have been produced in southern France. It had been made into a piece of jewellery with a suspension loop with three longitudinal ribs soldered to the coin above the emperor's head.

Meanwhile the Attleborough’s pendant is on its way to the British Museum for valuation via the local coroner who must decide if it is part of a treasure trove, in which case it belongs to the nation, and a reward will be given. Earlier this year a record £2million was paid to a retired businessman, Derek McLennan, who had uncovered the  Galloway Hoard, the biggest Viking find in Scotland, now on display at National Museums Scotland until October 1.

Unlike Scotland, in England the reward money must be divided between the finder and the landowner. If the find is not regarded as a treasure trove, then Mr Pratt can keep it. In 1979 metal detecting in Northwold, West Norfolk, unearthed a gold Byzantine coin made into a necklace in the Saxon period. It was not part of a treasure trove, so it reverted to the finder.

Punishments for not declaring finds can be severe. In March this year a policeman was given a 16 month jail sentence for selling, for £15,000, 10 Merovingian tremissis, coins he found with a metal detector in a field in west Norfolk.


PHOTO: © Godfrey Pratt

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