Who doesn’t hope to one day stumble across a buried treasure worth millions of dollars? That dream became a reality for an English farmer in 1992. Quite by accident, he unearthed a lost treasure chest filled with gold coins and jewelry. Dubbed the Hoxne Hoard, the treasure consisted of more than 15,000 individual objects and is the largest Roman treasure ever to be found. The discovery of this ancient treasure is credited to a missing hammer. Here is the tale of the Hoxne Hoard.
Peter Whatling of Hoxne, a village in Suffolk, wasn’t having a very good start to his day on November 16, 1992. He was doing some work when he lost his hammer in the field. He searched and searched but couldn’t find it. Vexed, he called his buddy, Eric Lawes, to come help. Lawes, Whatling knew, he had recently received a metal detector as a retirement gift. He thought his friend could put the metal detector to good use finding his missing hammer.
Eric Lawes was happy to help. He started scanning the field with his metal detector in the area where Whatling thought the missing hammer could be. Pretty soon, the metal detector started to sing, an indication that a metal object lay beneath the dirt. Lawes and Whatling started to dig, but to their surprise, it wasn’t the missing hammer that caused the hit on the metal detector. It was an oak chest buried in the ground. Inside the chest were jewelry items and gold and silver coins…lots of them. Whatling and Lawes quickly realized the importance of the discovery. They stopped digging and notified authorities…the police, the Suffolk Archaeological Society, and the landowner.
When archaeologists arrived on the scene, they set to work excavating the site. In addition to coins and jewelry, they found Roman serving dishes, spoons, and other household objects. In all, more than 15,000 artifacts were found in the field, all of Roman origin from approximately the 5th century, with the exception of the missing hammer that the archaeologists eventually found.
The Hoxne Hoard represented the largest cache of Roman treasure ever found. Such an important find caught the attention of the British Museum who placed a value of $3.8 million on the find. The price was a bit steep for them. To buy the treasure for the museum’s collection, the folks at the British Museum had to ask donors for additional funds and secure money from the National Art Collections Fund. It was worth it, they felt. Today, the British Museum owns the treasure and many of the pieces are on display…along with Whatling’s hammer!
Researchers believe that the Hoxne Hoard was probably buried around 450 AD. During that time, the Roman Empire was pulling their soldiers from Great Britain because they were needed to protect the edges of the Empire on the mainland from invasions. That left the Roman-British people unprotected and at the mercy of raiding Anglos, Saxons, and Picts. It was not uncommon for Roman families to hide their riches so they wouldn’t be stolen by the invading barbarians. The person or people who buried the Hoxne Hoard probably thought they would be able to return to the area in the near future to retrieve their valuables.
Among the items found in the Hoxne Hoard are some personal items that most likely belonged to the treasure’s owners. Several objects contain the name “Aurelius Ursicinus.” An ornate gold bracelet bears the inscription “Utere Felix Domina Iuliana” which means “Use this happily, Lady Juliane.” To date, researchers have been unable to discover who Juliane and Aurelius Ursicinus were. We only know they had excellent taste in jewelry.