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Courtesy of Anderson & Garland Fine Art Auctioneers

English School Caretaker Discovers Medieval Coin Hoard Buried in Playground

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Courtesy of Anderson & Garland Fine Art Auctioneers

From Viking silver to Roman bronze, amateur treasure hunters in Europe locate all kinds of buried treasures with their metal detectors. Now, a new hoard is making headlines: As the ChronicleLive reports, the caretaker of a primary school in Northumberland, England used his own electronic device to find a stash of Medieval-era silver coins buried underneath the school's playground.

The discovery occurred at Warkworth Church of England Primary School, in the tiny village of Warkworth. The school sits near a well-preserved medieval castle, which was once owned by the House of Percy, a powerful noble family.

"The collection was found in the playground by the caretaker who had asked to metal detect and was granted permission," Fred Wyrley-Birch, director of Newcastle auctioneers Anderson & Garland, who will auction off some of the coins, told Mental Floss. "The hoard was then declared a treasure trove, and was valued and authenticated by The British Museum."

The cache consists of 128 silver coins forged during the 15th and early 16th centuries, a period of transition in England from the Medieval era to the Renaissance era. It includes groat and half-groat coins, which date back to the reigns of monarchs King Edward IV and King Henry VII, and nine coins from the 1460s associated with Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. Together, they're worth £11,000 (nearly $15,000 US).

Theories abound as to why the coins were buried: The presence of a large medieval castle just up the hill has prompted Wyrley-Birch to concoct "a romantic tale" of a "large tax bill on its way to the local sheriff, which never made it to its intended destination."

Meanwhile, Andrew Agate, a local finds liaison officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, to which discoveries of treasures are reported, proposed to ChronicleLive that "the owner may have felt in danger during turbulent times of Scottish incursions," he said. "The intention would have been to retrieve them, but for some reason, this never happened."

The British Museum didn't opt to purchase the silver currency, so the primary school caretaker and the landowner, the Diocese of Newcastle, agreed to split the buried treasure. On Wednesday, September 13, Anderson & Garland will sell 66 coins at auction, all of which belong to the Diocese.

"The collection is a rare opportunity to buy interesting coins that have been underground for 500 years," Wyrley-Birch says. "Most types of treasure troves are kept for the nation and placed in a museum, but for unknown reasons, this one has been given back."

You can check out some of the coins for sale below:

  A primary school caretaker with a metal detector discovered a hoard of 128 silver Medieval-era coins, which were buried underneath the playground at the Warkworth Church of England Primary School in Warkworth, England.
Courtesy of Anderson & Garland Fine Art Auctioneers

A primary school caretaker with a metal detector discovered a hoard of 128 silver Medieval-era coins, which were buried underneath the playground at the Warkworth Church of England Primary School in Warkworth, England.
Courtesy of Anderson & Garland Fine Art Auctioneers

A primary school caretaker with a metal detector discovered a hoard of 128 silver Medieval-era coins, which were buried underneath the playground at the Warkworth Church of England Primary School in Warkworth, England.
Courtesy of Anderson & Garland Fine Art Auctioneers

A primary school caretaker with a metal detector discovered a hoard of 128 silver Medieval-era coins, which were buried underneath the playground at the Warkworth Church of England Primary School in Warkworth, England.
Courtesy of Anderson & Garland Fine Art Auctioneers

[h/t ChronicleLive]

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Guy de la Bedoyere, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Archaeologists Unearth the Victims of a Mysterious Massacre 400 Years Ago on an Australian Island
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Beacon Island
Guy de la Bedoyere, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

The cargo ship Batavia set out from the Netherlands in October 1628, bound for the Dutch colony at present-day Jakarta, Indonesia, with more than 300 crew and passengers. For some still-unknown reason, the ship veered off course to the south and smashed into a coral atoll about 50 miles west of the Australian coast.

What happened over the next few months—culminating in a mysterious and brutal massacre that left at least 125 people dead—is Australia's oldest cold case.

In a story that aired on 60 Minutes Australia, correspondent Liam Bartlett traveled to this "island of horror" where a team of Australian and Dutch scientists is uncovering the nearly 400-year-old skeletons, well preserved in the sand of what is now Beacon Island. They hope to discover what led to the sudden mass slaughter of adults and children.

"We're dealing with a psychopath and some pretty horrible events," Alistair Paterson, an archaeologist at the University of Western Australia and the leader of the research team, tells Bartlett. "There's nothing like it in Dutch history or Australian history."

A screenshot of the Beacon Island dig site from 60 Minutes Australia
A scene from the 60 Minutes Australia report
Kat Long

The Batavia, the flagship of the Dutch East India Company, was on its maiden voyage. The commander, Francisco Pelsaert, and the captain, Ariaen Jacobsz, detested each other. Jacobsz conspired with Pelsaert's deputy, Jeronimus Cornelisz, to take control of the ship and its load of silver and valuable paintings. But before the mutiny could unfold, the ship crashed into the reef in the early morning of June 4, 1629.

About 100 people died in the wreck, while almost 200 made it to a cluster of islands in the Abrolhos chain—treeless, desert-like stretches of sand without water or food. Pelsaert and Jacobsz sailed for help, hoping to reach their original destination nearly 2000 miles away by boat.

The events of the next three months continue to puzzle and horrify modern researchers. Initially, Jeronimus Cornelisz organized food rations and shelter for the survivors on Beacon Island as a way to cement his leadership. But then, he hoarded the weapons and boats for his own use. He ordered his followers to execute the strong, able-bodied men who could pose a threat to his control over the group. Most of the women and children who would be a drain on supplies were also killed, though some women were kept alive as sexual slaves, Bartlett reports.

"Totally Lord of the Flies," Paterson says.

The Batavia massacre
An image from Pelsaert's journal of the voyage
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Cornelisz marooned several men on a nearby island to get them out of the way as the killing rampage continued. But those men, led by a sailor named Wiebbe Hayes, managed to find water and food, and made a primitive protective fort of stone slabs—which still exists as the first European-made structure on Australian soil. In early August, two months after the wreck, Cornelisz and his men attempted to storm Hayes' stronghold and eliminate his band of survivors.

At the last moment, a rescue ship helmed by Pelsaert and Jacobsz appeared on the horizon. Both Hayes and Cornelisz sent out boats to intercept the ship, hoping to establish their version of events as fact and save themselves from punishment. Fortunately, Hayes's men reached the ship first.

Only 80 to 90 survivors out of the Batavia's 300-plus passengers eventually arrived in present-day Jakarta. Cornelisz, who never showed a hint of remorse or offered an explanation for his brutality, was hanged along with his co-conspirators. The bones of his victims, preserved in the island's alkali coral sand for almost four centuries, are now revealing clues to the historical mystery. 

"Horrible things happened to these individuals. They clearly were victims," Paterson tells Bartlett. "But the archaeology allows us to get their story told." 

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iStock
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Archaeologists Find Traces of What Could Be the Oldest Wine in the World
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iStock

Humankind has enjoyed wine for a long time—since the early Neolithic period, at least, judging from ancient residue on prehistoric pottery shards excavated from two sites in Georgia, in the South Caucasus. The fragments potentially date back to 6000 BCE, pushing back the earliest evidence of winemaking by about 600 to 1000 years, as The New York Times reports.

Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the findings pinpoint Georgia as one of the very first—if not the first—nations to have mastered winemaking. Before, Iran held the honor, although China can still lay claim to the world's oldest fermented beverage (a cocktail-like concoction of rice, honey, hawthorn fruit, and wild grapes that was enjoyed as early as 7000 BCE).

Leading the PNAS study was Patrick McGovern, a molecular archaeologist from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. He and his team excavated the remains of two Neolithic villages, located around 30 miles south of Georgia's capital city, Tbilisi. There, they found shards of clay jars—the likely remnants of large, rotund vats, which once could have accommodated as many as 400 bottles worth of today's wine.

Remains of ancient Georgian pottery vessels that may have once contained wine, photographed by Mindia Jalabadze.
(A) Representative early Neolithic jar from Khramis Didi-Gora (B) Jar base (C) Jar base (D) Jar base, interior
Mindia Jalabadze, courtesy of the National Museum of Georgia

These shards were collected for chemical analysis. Eight of them ended up containing tartaric, malic, succinic, and citric acids, all of which had leached into the clay long ago. The combination of these four acids is believed to be present only in grape wine. Researchers also noted traces of ancient grape pollen, starch from grape wine, and signs of prehistoric fruit flies.

Of course, there is the off chance that the jars might have been used to just make grape juice, but their decorations indicate that they weren't made to hold ordinary drinks, researchers argue.

Archaeological evidence dating back to the Bronze Age shows that Georgians have always held wine in great importance. But some experts thought this love of vino dated back even further—and now they believe they have pretty convincing proof.

[h/t The New York Times]

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