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Ancient Coin Suggests Earlier Bristol Channel Trading

Ancient Coin Suggests Earlier Bristol Channel Trading

A coin has recently been revealed to the public that suggest maritime activity along the Bristol Channel in Britain began a lot earlier than originally thought. The little lump of metal doesn’t look like much, but this isn’t just any old coin. It is 2,300 years old, which makes it older than the Roman Empire and even the Great Wall of China!

Made from copper and smaller than a penny at only 20mm in diameter, the coin was found after flooding along the River Avon in November 2012. The person who found it wishes to remain anonymous and kept the details of the find private. Until now.

The British Museum has examined the coin and believes it to have been minted around 2,300 years ago, near Sardinia, making it a Carthaginian coin. Dr Sam Moorhead, who carried out the verification, said the coin could have been made at one of the several mints in the region at the time, around 300-264BC.

It might be difficult to tell from the pictures, but on one side of the coin (left) is the image of Tanit, a Punic and Phoenician goddess worshipped in some ancient middle-eastern civilisations. The Roman Carthage later adopted her as the moon-goddess Caelestis, whose name you might be more familiar with. On the other side (right) is the head of a horse, a creature of great importance, often used in war or for hunting.

During the Bronze Age, coins weren’t yet used in Britain. Money did, however, appear in the East, but the health risks of bronze and copper from a region where arsenic is commonly found quickly became apparent. Tin was found to be a great substitute, but it was hard to find, and so a trade network was built to link distant tin sources with Bronze Age markets.

Dr Moorhead explained that the main commodity that Britain had to offer more than 2,000 years ago was tin, which would have been found in Cornwall and Devon. This suggests that travellers came from the East in search of the tin, and the coin was dropped somewhere along the way.

Experts believe there may have been a ford in the area where the coin was discovered that was the only place for people to cross the River Avon at the time. After all, this ancient coin is not the only one to have been found in Britain, though it might be the oldest.

“It has been argued for a long time that these coins reflect trade with the Mediterranean,” Dr Moorhead pointed out. But whatever the real story behind the coin is, “it is certainly one of the oldest coins found in Britain”.

The owner of the coin has allowed for it to be used as part of the History of Saltford project from the Saltford Environmental Group (SEG). Phil Harding, SEG Chairperson and project organiser, explained that the eight coins to have been found in Britain have all been discovered along ancient trade routes, which reinforces the suggestion of maritime trading.

“We can’t believe it,” he said. “We thought we would be writing the History of Saltford from the Roman times to now. But we have to go back to the Iron Age – it’s absolutely fantastic!”

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