Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Le Catillon II treasure is now officially the largest Celtic coin hoard ever discovered

After 30 years of searching one particular field on the Channel Island of Jersey, metal detectorists Reg Mead and Richard Miles  found an enormous hoard of Roman and Celtic coins from approximately 50 B.C. Archaeologists have excavated it from the clay in a solid block, weighing three quarters of a ton.

Here's the giant block of Celtic wealth buried just before Christ was born.

Mead’s and Miles’ epic quest began after a woman told them that her father had found some ancient coins when he removed a hedgerow from a field. The coins had been buried in an earthenware pot which shattered when the plant was uprooted, scattering silver coins all over the place. Father and daughter collected the coins in a small potato sack, then ploughed under the remains of the pot and other assorted debris. She described the coins to them and they recognized them as Iron Age coins from when the Brittany Celts lived on Jersey.

Show me the money!

In February of 2012, they finally found something: 60 Celtic coins, 59 of them silver and one of them gold. After three decades coming up empty, those 60 coins signaled that they might have finally found the location the farmer’s daughter had told them about so long ago. They dug down deeper and found a large solid object. Reg Mead dug up a chunk of earth from the top and found five or six silver coins.
They immediately stopped what they were doing and reported the find and location to Jersey Heritage.

The treasure in situ

Most of the hoards found in Jersey have been coins from the Coriosolite tribe, a Celtic tribe from what is now Brittany on the northwestern coast of France. First century B.C. hoards are the most common because the populations were under pressure from Julius Caesar’s legions. Caesar describes his encounters with the coastal tribes of the area he called Armorica in The Gallic Wars. The Coriosolite, aka Curiosolite, aka the Curiosolitae are first mentioned in Book 2, Chapter 34 as one of the maritime states that surrendered to his delegate, Publius Licinius Crassus (son of Marcus Licinius Crassus, one of the richest men in history, famed for his brutal defeat of Spartacus and for joining Caesar and Pompey in the First Triumvirate) in 57 B.C.

A year later, the Veneti, the most prominent of the Armorican tribes, along with their Armorican neighbors captured some of Caesar’s officers to exchange them for hostages the Romans had taken. Caesar had to muster all the considerable engineering talents of the Roman army to fight the Veneti in their well-defended strongholds. When they fled to the sea, Caesar had his troops build ships, but they couldn’t compete with the locals’ heavy navy and sailing expertise in the treacherous waters of the Channel and Atlantic.

He did it in the end, though. He destroyed the Veneti fleet using giant billhooks to sever the lines used to hoist the mainsails. With the sails on the deck, the Celtic ships were entirely out of commission. They couldn’t even row because the huge sails cloaked the deck. Caesar then went from coastal town to coastal town and killed everyone. Those he didn’t kill he sold into slavery. The few who managed to get away fled to nearby Jersey and/or went on to Britain, hence the preponderance of Coriosolite hoards discovered in Brittany and Jersey.

Excavation of the enormous hoard of Celtic coins discovered by metal detectorists on the Channel Island of Jersey in 2012 is finally complete. Comprised of almost 70,000 coins, multiple gold torcs, glass beads and organic materials including plant fibers, a leather bag and a bag woven with silver and gold thread, the Le Catillon II treasure is the largest Celtic coin hoard ever discovered, six times larger than the runner-up.

Golden torcs in the block of coins

Almost certainly, this hoard was buried by the retreating Celts to keep it away from Caesar and his Romans.  They accomplished that, but somehow never returned to reclaim the tribe's wealth.   Meanwhile, Caesar amassed so much personal wealth from his conquest of Gaul (modern France) that he could buy the allegiance of his army and finance the destruction of his own Roman Republic.  

He didn't get it all, however, as this massive chunk of treasure shows.  Who knows what other fantastic wealth still waits patiently in the cool earth for its Celtic owners to come back and reclaim it?


  1. I always wonder how much the finders and land owners get out of things like this. It always seems like the governments confiscate most of it. I agree that it is a great archaeological find, but if it was me I'd have second thoughts about telling anyone about it. Finders, keepers............

    1. The Brits have a law requiring the treasure's value to be shared between the finders and the landowner.

    2. Okay, that works for me. Time to buy a metal detector and head on East across the pond......................