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Life in Community

Bruderhof Discovery Channel, Part 1: They Dropped It, We Found It - Two Millennia Later!

June 6, 2017 by

In my hand I cradle a well-worn silver coin with a “quadriga” of four horses pulling a chariot. Fresh out the ground, it is a rare early Roman Republican denarius dated to 130 BC – and we found it in our field at Beech Grove, in Kent, England! My mind thrills to think of the people who held it, traded with it, most likely brought it to Britain in the first century AD, and then dropped it here where it has lain hidden in the plow-tossed soil for 2000 years.

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an old coin

A silver coin with a “quadriga” of four horses pulling a chariot. (MM)

I have always loved archaeology and local history. Growing up on the eastern coast of the United States, I spotted my first arrowhead in a freshly plowed field when I was seven. That moment kindled my deep respect for Native Americans and I keenly remember the connection it gave me to “the ancients.”

Over the past six years I’ve lived in Kent, England. When I first scouted the area I discovered in the nearby village of Nonington a 900-year-old stone church built with field flints. In the churchyard stands a yew tree twenty feet in girth which must be at least as old. To put these wonders in American perspective, 900 years ago is 400 years before Columbus was even born.

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St Marys Church Nonington

St Mary’s Church, Nonington, 12th century. (TC)

I soon discovered that in England history permeates every village, field, and lane. Millions of people have walked the British Isles for millennia and each group has left its historical footprint. So what is left from all these peoples? A lot! My students and I were determined to find out.

On a field walk, one of my students picked up a marvellously knapped arrow head (Neolithic 4000+ years old). There is amazing engineering in this delicate flake.

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Barbed tanged arrowhead

Barbed tanged arrowhead, KENT-4A0975. Used with the permission of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Kent County Council. (PAS)

 

This next flint borer is what I call a “Neolithic Swiss Army Knife” because it has a blade edge, a knapped notch for scraping shafts, and a boring tip for making holes in leather. All these tools have deliberate form and took amazing skill to fashion.

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Flint borer late Neolithic

Flint borer, late Neolithic, KENT-5FAB89. Used with the permission of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Kent County Council. (PAS)

 

An even older piece, found by another of our students on the hill right behind our school, has been identified by experts as a small “Thames Pick” tranchet axe likely dating to the Mesolithic Period, c. 9000-4000 BC.

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Mesolithic implement Thames pick

Mesolithic implement “Thames pick,” KENT-B1D586. Used with the permission of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Kent County Council. (PAS)

 

The youngest students in our school (ages six and seven) have developed an eye for worked flint and are always showing me their new discoveries, including scrapers and knife blades. As we trained our eyes, we found Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic tools littering the flint-strewn fields.

On a trip to the Kentish coastline I picked up an axe-shaped flint that fit my hand perfectly. It was washed out of the clay cliffs by a high tide. The thick golden patination on the reciprocally knapped indentations led experts from the British Museum to classify this as a lower Palaeolithic scraper with a mind-boggling age of c. 800,000BC–c. 150,000BC. Amazingly, the edge was retouched in Neolithic times, exposing the internal grey coloration. Who picked it up, reworked it, and then dropped it again? And now 3000 years later I am holding this prehistoric tool in my hand.

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Lower Paleolithic D-shaped scraper

Lower-Paleolithic D-shaped scraper, c. 800,000BC–c. 150,000BC, KENT-94FB4A. (MM)

History here is clearly visible, woven into the very landscape. Around 2500 BC, Bronze Age peoples made burial mounds and left caches of bronze axes. The Iron Age culture developed around 1000BC, its people building over 2000 hill forts scattered across the southern landscape and beginning to mint their own wonderfully artistic coins around 120BC. In 54 BC the Romans arrived for the first time and finally conquered Britain from AD 43. They ruled for 400 years before their empire in the west collapsed. The Roman builders left massive fortresses, walls, roads, and villas. The Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings had their day, followed by the Normans. Medieval kings built castles and stamped out their own coins.

On two “mud larking” trips to the English Channel after a winter storms, seven- and eight-year-old students plucked two Iron Age coins out of the clay foreshore. One was a bronze Gaulish coin with what looks like a large duck and a stylish horse from 65 BC, minted in the Somme valley of France, indicating pre-Roman trade across the English Channel.

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Gaulish Bronze coin c 65 BC

Gaulish Bronze coin, c. 65 BC, KENT-480AE2. Used with the permission of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Kent County Council. (PAS)

 

Another was a silver Kentish coin with a hunting dog from 25 BC. David Holman of the Dover Archaeological Group told me, “This coin is a silver unit of Dubnovellaunos, King of Kent, circa 25–5 BC. The obverse depicts a hunting dog standing right with head turned to rear; the reverse has a seated figure with the letters DVBNO behind. I have records of only five other examples.” I chuckle about this one. What is the probability of an eight-year-old finding a 2000-year-old coin that’s rare even by expert standards? Another tide or two and these pieces of history might have been gone for ever.

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Silver unit of Dubnovellaunos

Silver unit of Dubnovellaunos, c. 25 BC, KENT-4664E7. (DH)

What a tremendous thrill it is to discover history right in the very ground we stand on. Each find provides incentive to keep our eyes on the ground so we can discover further riches.

We are grateful to the members of Portable Antiquities Scheme, a voluntary government-run reporting group, who helped us properly identify and record the provenance of these artefacts. After a find, students meet the liaison officer at a local library and after a processing period, the recovered artefact is returned to us and carefully placed in the burgeoning glass case at the entrance hall of Beech Grove School, a mini-museum the students love to show visitors.


All the above thoughts are those of an amateur enthusiast, not a trained archaeologist; please help me correct any factual errors I might have made.

Coming soon: next week, check back in to see what discoveries our school’s new metal detector helped us uncover. I’ve saved the best for last. Don’t miss it.

Photo credits: The Portable Antiquities Scheme and Kent County Council/The Trustees of the British Museum (PAS), Tim Clement (TC), David Holman (DH), Mario Meier (MM)

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About the author

Mario Meier

Mario Meier

Mario Meier and his wife, Robin, are parents of four grown children, and grandparents of two. They live at the Rondout...

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  • this is fabulous - keep hunting wherever you live now

    Martin Johnson MA Cantab