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All that glitters – is it gold?

15 December 2015 by Liz

Roman coins

One of the Museum of Liverpool’s latest acquisitions into the Regional Archaeology Collection is the amazing Malpas Hoard. This collection of coins, buried around AD50 has been acquired jointly with Congleton Museum as part of the Cheshire Hoards Project, supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The hoard consists of seven Iron Age coins, of a denomination called staters, and 28 Roman coins of a denomination called denarii.

The staters, which were struck in the two or three decades preceding the Roman invasion of Britain in AD43, are among over 40,000 examples of Iron Age coins found across the country. These provide tantalising evidence about the late prehistoric period in this country and track the transfer from an exchange economy to a monetised society.

The discovery of seven staters near Malpas in Cheshire by a metal detectorist is an exciting find. While hoards containing a mix of Iron Age and Roman coins are not unusual, they are rare in this region.

researchers studying a coin on a computer screen

University of Liverpool research students Nikki George and Morgan Murphy analyse the coins in the SEM-EDS

The Iron Age coinage is loosely based on Classical Greek coinage, which often depicted horses. A highly stylised horse is shown on each of the staters.

The mixture of coins in this hoard are an interesting group: the staters are of two types: three are marked EISV, probably after an individual named Eisu or whose name was shortened to Eisu. In this period before written records there is no other evidence about this person. The other four other staters bear the letters VEP CORF, which is again probably all or part of a personal name.

The most common findspots for these two types lead archaeologists to associate the EISV coins with the Dobunni tribe in Gloucestershire and region and the VEP CORF coins with the Corieltauvi in Lincolnshire and region. These coins have therefore travelled some distance before beinMaplas Iron Age coinsg deposited in Cheshire.

Currently these two groups of Iron Age coins are undergoing analysis in the new Elizabeth Slater Archaeology Research laboratories at the University of Liverpool to better understand their metallurgy. These staters are described as ‘gold’, as some of the metal content of such coins is usually gold, the rest made up with a mixture of silver and copper. We are interested to know whether there is any discernible difference between the metal alloys of the coins bearing the inscription EISV and VEP CORF respectively.

Analysis by scanning electron microscope with energy dispersive analyser (SEM-EDS) is able to reveal that the three different metals used in the coins didn’t mix completely in production, and there are some areas with a very high concentration of gold/silver which hasn’t mixed with the copper.  The initial analysis suggests that the coins contain around 20% gold, 10% silver and 70% copper.  The two groups of coins, defined by the inscriptions ‘VEP CORF’ and ‘EISV’, show very similar compositions, which raises questions about the methods of production, any possible standardisation among the people who were making them, and the original source of the metals. Research is continuing in the Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology at the University of Liverpool.

 

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