Archaeologists working on railway and road projects in the UK in recent years have unearthed a number of ancient finds, including a large Iron Age hoard. The hoard, dubbed the ‘Hillingdon Hoard’, was discovered in west London as part of the HS2 railway project in 2020 and contains more than 300 small coins known as potins, dating back to the 1st century BC.
On one side of these metal discs is the head of Apollo (facing left), and on the other is a bull (charging to the right). This design derives from coins struck in Marseilles, and potins with these images spread across northern Europe, with the first ones to be made in England appearing no later than 150 BC. These early potins were superseded by a thinner variety called Flat Linear potins, and the images on their surfaces became increasing stylised over time, as can be seen on the later examples of the Hillingdon hoard.
Late Iron Age potins similar to those of the Hillingdon Hoard have been found before, but in much smaller numbers, and it is unclear what use these potins had as bartering is thought to have been the main form of commerce in use in Iron Age Britain. Archaeologists studying the coins suggest they may have been deposited at the Hillingdon site to serve as a boundary marker, as a votive offering, or they could represent someone’s wealth, buried for safekeeping.
Further north, a project investigating the Roman fort and town of Cataractonium (Catterick) has concluded with the publication of the final volume reporting on the fieldwork. Excavations were carried out as part of Highway England’s work on the A1 road in the north of England, which follows the route of the Roman road Dere Street, between 2013 and 2017. Archaeologists from Northern Archaeological Associates uncovered more than 62,000 objects at Cataractonium and other sites along the road, such as the previously unknown roadside settlement at Scurragh House. The finds represent aspects of both military and civilian life. Among the many discoveries are the oldest known pistachio nut in Britain, found at the bottom of a well and dated to AD 24-128; brooches, including one shaped like a hare; rings and intaglios; and seal-boxes with colourful enamel decoration, probably used to secure bags when valuables were in transit.
Artefacts recovered from the A1 excavations are now in the Yorkshire Museum in York (where some may go on public display in future), while the publication on Cataractonium is freely available online through the Archaeological Data Service.
IMAGES: HS2 Ltd; courtesy of Northern Archaeological Associates.