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Crime Pays Volume 55 Number 4, July/August 2002
by Jarrett A. Lobell

[image]Many of the fakes have a higher silver content than real coins, but the piece on the right has a copper core. (Courtesy and © Somerset County Museums Service) [LARGER IMAGE]

When off-duty British policeman James Hawkesworth set out with his metal detector, he could not have imagined he would stumble across evidence of a 1,600-year-old crime. Hunting for treasure in Somerset in western England, Hawkesworth found 670 fourth-century Roman coins, 56 of which are actually ancient forgeries, probably made locally, according to Stephen Minnitt of the Somerset County Museum. He adds that although forgeries are seen in late-fourth- and fifth-century finds, at the time of the end of Roman rule in Britain, this hoard, orginially buried in A.D. 365, proves that forgery was also common at an earlier time. What is also unusual about this find, according to Minnitt, is that many of the fake coins actually have the same or higher silver content as the authentic ones. The hoard, which the Somerset Museum hopes to buy and exhibit, was declared treasure trove at a recent inquest. This means that it belongs to the crown and that Hawkesworth is entitled to a portion of the value of the find as a reward ("Letter from Britain"). Hopefully those coins will be more authentic.

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© 2002 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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