Archaeologists at an HS2 site in Hillingdon have unearthed an incredible treasure of over 300 Iron Age ‘gossip’, a coin dating from the 1st century BC.
The 300 coins are an extremely important historical find and were found in August 2020, with the find likely to be considered a ‘treasure’ under UK law.
The take has been called “The Hillingdon Hoard” and dates from the end of the Iron Age, a time of great change when the Romans began to settle in Britain creating Londinium.
The pieces depict the left head of the Greek god Apollo and a charging bull to the right of the other. It is believed that the gossip is based on coins made in Marseille, France, around 2,175 years ago and that these early coins were probably used throughout northern Europe.
In England, gossip has been linked to Kent, Essex and Hertfordshire. The word “gossip” is used because of the base metal, often a silver-like alloy that was used in coins, usually being a mixture of copper, tin, and lead.
It is not known what gossip was actually used for during the Iron Age period, as the exchange of goods and services as well as barter are considered the primary means of trade, it is also unknown why and where coins were lost.
Archaeologists studying the find believe the gossip might have marked a property limit and might even have been an offering to the gods. It is not uncommon to find treasure in what appears to be an isolated location, as it may also have been hidden as savings or as emergency treasure in times of crisis.
Potins that were first produced in Britain are known as the Kentish Primary or Thurrock types, which would likely have been made no later than 150 BC. Before 100 BC, these thicker parts were replaced by thinner versions with less detail which are now called flat linear types.
Over the course of several decades, flat linear gossip slowly evolved into a variety of different styles, with the image of the bull and the head of Apollo becoming better stylized and it was this period of gossip that was found in the treasury of Hillingdon.
Another treasure of a similar size was discovered in 2010 and is known as “The Sunbury Hoard”, this gossip was much earlier in the Iron Age. Gossip similar to The Hillingdon Hoard has been found before, but never in such great quantity, which makes the find extremely significant.
The Hillingdon site was the subject of archaeological excavations and reviews by HS2 preparatory contractor Costain Skanska, Joint Venture (CS JV). Archaeologists working at the site were delighted to make such an incredible and historically significant find. The discovery came as a result of a storm that altered soil conditions, revealing a patch of different colored soil that was the site of the coins.
The enormous importance of the find and the large number of coins have meant that a local coroner has been alerted and will determine if the find can be called a ‘treasure’ after reviewing specialist evidence with the British Museum. The gossip was sent to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery to be cleaned and preserved using a process using water and the long thorn of a specific plant. Recordings have been made and sent to a specialist for further evaluation, classification and cataloging which will provide further information on their origins and importance.
The earliest archeology discovered by HS2 in the London area dates back to 11,000 years ago or to the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age. These finds revealed that stone tools and artifacts were in places suggesting people lived on the banks of the river, which would have provided a good supply of food and water for the hunter-gatherers of the time. Later discoveries of HS2 dating back to the Bronze Age around 4,000 years ago show that human activity still took place near the river with evidence of cremations and a possible rotunda.
The value of the treasures has not yet been determined and its likely future location is also still unknown. Under the Treasure Act, the coroner will have to assess whether the find constitutes “treasure” and whether a museum wishes to acquire the gossip. Advice from experts at the British Museum will provide the coroner with information they will use to conduct an inquest and provide recommendations for discovery. A potential value will also be attributed to it.
The treasure was discovered on land that was temporarily occupied by HS2 and they are not making any claims on the treasure. Under the Treasure Act, the archaeologists who made the find are not entitled to a share of the reward, however, there is no doubt that the significance of the find is a treasure in its own right.
HS2 has designed an approach to archaeological work with Historic England to ensure that the site has been carefully and thoroughly examined, to find, protect and explore any significant archeology before construction begins.
HS2 will participate in the 2021 Archeology Festival which kicked off on Monday, July 19 with a series of webinars that the public is welcome to book to learn more about the Hillingdon Hoard and other fascinating finds.
Helen Wass, HS2 Heritage Manager, said: “At HS2, we don’t just build for the future, we also preserve the past. This is an exciting find for our team of archaeologists and provides us with more information on how our ancestors lived and settled in London. HS2’s unprecedented archaeological program has enabled us to tell the stories of our history and leave a lasting legacy for future generations.
Emma Tetlow, who now works as a historic environment manager for HS2 main works contractor Skanska Costain STRABAG, said: “We were nearing the end of our archaeological work at the site when we found a plot of floor of a very different color than one would expect it to be. The patch of soil was dark blue-green suggesting oxidized metal, and when we took a closer look we could see loosely packed metal disks. It is a once in a lifetime find, and allows us to expand our knowledge of what life might have been like in Hillingdon centuries ago.
Duncan Wilson, Managing Director of Historic England, said: “Money is said to speak, so what can this unexpected discovery tell us? It takes us back to the tumultuous time of the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar. Reaching Great Britain in 55 and 54 BC. AD, he observed locals using “bronze” coins, an innovation they had adopted shortly before through migration and cross-Channel trade. Treasures like this are now protected by law so they can be studied to learn more about how these early pieces were used, and perhaps shed light on why they were hidden. in an apparently remote location. Large-scale projects like HS2 will always bring
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