Mildenhall/Minal/Cunetio: Coins from Britain’s largest Roman hoard on display in a first for Wiltshire Museum
Today people get confused as to whether they should call the village east of Marlborough Mildenhall or Minal. There was no such confusion in Roman times - then the important, cross-roads town stretching south of the present village and of the river was called Cunetio.
Over 100 coins from the ‘Cunetio Hoard’ of Roman coins are now on display at the Wiltshire Museum - the first time a loan has been made to the Museum by the British Museum.
This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the discovery of the 'Cunetio Hoard' of 54,951 coins made at the site of the Roman town of Cunetio. In 1978, after the find was made, the coins were deposited at the British Museum and the pottery vessel in which concealed many of the coins was put on display at Wiltshire Museum, in Devizes.
The largest hoard from Roman Britain, the Cunetio coins were buried in the large ceramic jar and a lead box. The hoard is mostly base silver radiates (a type of Roman coin bearing a crowned head), which were produced in large numbers prior to the burial in around AD 274.
Although the denarius was no longer widely used by the time the Cunetio hoard was buried, it contained a surprising number of these earlier silver coins.
It seems that, like the Beau Street hoard found in Bath, Cunetio was sorted before being buried in its two containers. Unfortunately the coins were mixed before they could be studied and so we do not know exactly which coins were in which container.
The location of the hoard just outside the town of Cunetio may hold a clue to its burial. The town was strongly fortified in the late Roman period and perhaps had some official role, for example in tax collection. More archaeological investigation is needed to understand the hoard and where it was found.
For the first time since their discovery, the ceramic jar and one hundred of the coins have been reunited, prior to being featured in the British Museum's forthcoming touring exhibition ‘Hoards: The Hidden History of Ancient Britain’, due to open at Salisbury Museum on October 13.
Working at the Wiltshire Museum, the pottery vessel has been newly conserved by Accredited Conservator-Restorer Pieta Greaves - in preparation for the touring exhibition.
Wiltshire Museum's Director is David Dawson: “Our new exhibition galleries now meet the standard to take loans from the British Museum and other national museums. With support from the Arts Council, our new Exhibitions Officer, Heather Ault, is working to develop an exciting special exhibitions programme over the next few years”.
The coins and their jar will remain on display at Wiltshire Museum until the end of September. They are being shown in the gallery now housing the exhibition Interpretation and Expression: Archaeology and Art - featuring sketches and paintings by archaeological reconstruction artist Peter Dunn.
His works include several relating to the recent discoveries at Durrington. And two intricate reconstructions based on contemporary plans of Port Royal in Jamaica - before and after the devastating earthquake of 1692.
These are shown alongside works from the Museum's collection including those by Henry Moore, John Piper, Paul Nash and David Inshaw - as well as John Martin's fine 1823-1824 watercolour Avebury Restored - showing the site's concentric circles and the avenues leading from them.
This exhibition closes on October 13.
Photo credit: Pieta Greaves ACR