Digging Up The Dovedale Coin Hoard


Dovedale collage 2

Last year, a small group of archaeologists from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services, the National Trust and participants of The Defence Archaeology Group’s Operation Nightingale were called to Reynard’s Kitchen Cave in Dovedale, Derbyshire, after a local climber had discovered four coins.

What they found was a mixed hoard of 26 Iron Age and Roman coins, a unique discovery as Roman and Iron Age coins had never been found together before.

News of the hoard’s discovery broke recently when the Coroner declared the hoard to be treasure. DigVentures has an insider’s story as our own Site Supervisor, James Earley, also worked as one of the Site Supervisors at the Dovedale excavation. I sat down with James during a tea break to hear about his experience…

When did you realise that you were excavating such an important site?

I think it was a couple of days in, when we found the first gold coin that we realised it was going to be such a brilliant site. We had already found a silver coin at the back, but the gold one was what really turned it around.

What were the excavation conditions like?

It was really difficult! The logistics of climbing up to the cave, for example, which was slippery because all of the rocks had worn smooth and when carrying tools we had to keep three points of contact with the ground at all times.

Then we were digging by torchlight during the day, which was tricky and getting through the top layer to get down to the archaeology was tough because it was all calcite, so it was like breaking through rocks.

 What kinds of finds were you discovering?

 The floor was so mobile within the cave, so all of the archaeology was so mixed. We were finding everything from sardine cans to ring pulls and even items from the fifties excavation all mixed in with the coins on the same level.

There was quite a lot of animal bone, including a nice bear’s tooth, which was cool. There was also loads of Roman pottery, particularly Nene Valley ware.

What was the highlight of the dig for you?

For me, it was finding my first gold find and a pulling out a nice Roman brooch. This was one of the coolest sites I have dug on, just for the fact that it was in a cave.

You have been involved in a number of digs involving members of the public, what are your views on them?

I think it’s better to get the public involved because they’re the ones who are actually interested in it. They are more interested to know what is in their local area than a random archaeology team, and they probably know things about their local area that an archaeologist would not.

I work with the Hallaton Group, a local fieldwork group in Leicestershire (who discovered the Hallaton Treasure). We have dug a number of sites including a lost medieval chapel site with deviant burials and the Burrough Hill project.

Thank you James, we look forward to hearing more of your stories from the trench! 

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Written by Kezia Evans

Kezia’s parents knew that she would be an archaeologist when they found her digging for ‘old things’ in the garden with a teaspoon at the age of six. She is now a fully-grown, tea-drinking museum-worker who in her spare time enjoys visiting... more museums!

Read more from Kezia Evans +

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