Exhibition preview: Coin hoards in Norfolk


03 February 2023
As a new 'Hoards' exhibition opens at King’s Lynn Museum, Dr Adrian Marsden takes us through the exhibits, and explains some of the reasons why the hoards were buried in the first place

A new exhibition on hoards of coins and other material, Hoards: Archaeological Treasures from West Norfolk, has opened at King’s Lynn Museum in Norfolk and will remain on display until June 2023.

Organised by Dayna Woolbright, Oliver Bone and Adrian Marsden, it looks at the rich finds from the King’s Lynn area, spanning some four millennia of the county’s history. 

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Iron Age coins

The earliest items on display are two hoards from the Bronze Age, one of weaponry including swords and spears, and the other a so-called Smelter’s hoard composed of broken and obsolete metalwork that was destined for recycling.

Coins are represented by two hoards from the Iron Age, one a hoard of Continental Gallo-Belgic staters concealed in a cow bone, the other a hoard of silver units produced by the Iceni tribe, local to Norfolk and Suffolk.

Another group of Iron Age and Roman coins on display is not actually a hoard but a Votive Assemblage, the term given to a group of coins and objects built up over time in much the same way as the contents of a Wishing Well.  

Roman coinage

From the Roman period come three hoards. Two are very similar, hoards of tiny irregular Roman radiates from the later third century found within a few miles of one another. A filmstrip of Adrian Marsden, the Numismatist for Norfolk, shows him explaining the background behind these little barbarous radiates.

The other Roman hoard is completely different – a deposit of pewter tableware and glass vessels from the late Roman period. These have been wonderfully conserved by Norwich Museums Service’s Conservation department.

8th-century silver sceattas

A hoard of silver sceattas from the early 8th century has travelled to West Norfolk from Frisia, the area around the mouths of the River Rhine, and silently attests to the high level of trade between the two areas in the so-called Dark Ages.

From the late 13th century comes a hoard of several dozen pennies dating to the reign of Edward I.

Interestingly, several come from areas outside England, from Ireland, Scotland and the Continent; like the sceattas, they demonstrate how far coins could travel in the course of their use. The final exhibit is a hoard of shillings dated to the English Civil war concealed in a silver goblet. This undoubtedly went into the ground in the course of the siege of King’s Lynn in 1643 after a Royalist uprising. 

Why were coin hoards hidden?

The exhibition seeks to explain the reasons why so many hoards went into the ground and that this was not always a simple case of burial with the intention of later retrieval.

Some, for example, may have been gifts to the gods, precious caches that were not buried for future recovery at all. The stories behind the recovery of the hoards are also related; not all were metal-detected finds although many were discovered recently in this way. 

Not only are the hoards on display detailed but also other finds from the area such as the famous Snettisham torcs and the Roman jeweller’s hoard from the same parish are described. These may be seen on display in other institutions. A book is being written to accompany the exhibition which is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am until 5pm.

Hoards: Archaeological Treasures from West Norfolk, is at King’s Lynn Museum, Market Street, King’s Lynn, PE30 1NL until June 2023. Find out more at: www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk