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Thursday, 4 April, 2002, 14:49 GMT 15:49 UK
Policeman digs up clues to ancient crime
Roman coins
The hoard of coins contained numerous forgeries
A crime committed more than 1,600 years ago has been unearthed by an off-duty West Country policeman.

An inquest was told on Thursday how policeman James Hawkesworth was out with his metal detector when he uncovered a hoard of Roman coins.

He was then told many of them were deliberate forgeries made at the time of the Roman occupation of Britain.

Mr Hawkesworth found 670 coins, plus the 72 forgeries, known as "hack silver", when out walking on the Quantock Hills last October.

James Hawkesworth with found coins
James Hawksworth hopes to get a reward

At the inquest, which has to be held into all finds of ancient treasure, West Somerset Coroner Michael Rose declared the haul to be "treasure trove" meaning it belongs to the Crown.

Treasure which was deliberately hidden is ruled to belong to the Crown while lost property can be claimed by the finder.

No evidence is available of how the hoard, one of the earliest from the 4th Century ever found, came to be buried in the field near West Bagborough, Somerset, and then never recovered.

'Dishonest people'

The coins, which were miliarenses and siliquae used throughout the Roman Empire, had come from mints as far afield as Lyon, Arles, Rome and Constantinople and were buried in about AD 365.

Speaking after the inquest in Taunton, Mr Hawkesworth, 38, of Bishop's Lydeard, said: "I was not aware I had forgeries on my hands - I could not tell.

Stephen Minnitt
Stephen Minnitt helped unravel the mystery
"It goes to show there were dishonest people 1,650 years ago as there are today."

Stephen Minnitt of the Somerset County Museum, which hopes to acquire the whole hoard after it has been valued, said the forgeries were unusual because most were of the same or even higher silver content as the genuine coins.

Mr Minnitt said: "They were probably an unofficial attempt to keep coinage supplies up to required levels. A few did have a copper base and were then plated with silver and those are the more genuine forgeries."

He said although forgeries were seen in late 4th and early 5th Century finds as the Roman rule of Britain began to collapse, this discovery had proved that forgery was fairly common at a much earlier time.

Mr Hawkesworth is expected to receive a proportion of the value as a finder's reward.

The BBC's Clinton Rogers reports on the found Roman treasure
See also:

14 Jan 00 | Europe
Tourist guide uncovers treasure
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