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The Silchester Hoard

To the southwest of the walled Roman town of Silchester is a late Iron Age earthwork. In 1985, for the first time in many years, the surrounding area was plowed. A metal detector search uncovered an elaborate and ornate gold ring with strands of beaded gold wire forming a filigree hoop and a large engraved gemstone (intaglio). Such rings usually date from the last decades of the Roman period in Britain and were widespread throughout the Roman Empire. The intaglio consists of onyx engraved with a satyr and a small cupid. Four late Roman silver coins were found nearby.

During the winter of 1986-7 more finds were found nearby, bringing the total number of coins to 55. Although the exact locations of the finds were not specified, a site visit by an archaeologist revealed a limited area of disturbance, and it is considered likely that both sets of finds came from the same hoard. Subsequent small excavations revealed no other late Roman materials and no related features. This suggests that the collection was lost or hidden, and that it was most likely a "migratory" hoard.

Of the 55 coins, all but three were heavily rusted, broken silver specimens from the late 4th century AD. At least 13 of them were "trimmed," which dates to the reign of Constantine II (407-11 A.D.). Four more rings were found, two complete gold rings and two fragmentary rings, one of which was silver. Because of possible plow damage, it is impossible to determine whether the incomplete and fragmentary rings were part of the jeweler's hoard or were damaged after they were concealed.

One of the complete gold rings has an embossed bezel with a glass stone imitating onyx, depicting a satyr carrying a hare. This ring is large and heavy; the other complete but deformed gold ring is much smaller, decorated with a reused glass bead. Only very fragmentary and mineralized remains remain of the silver ring. It was also decorated with an imitation onyx cast glass stone depicting a seated bearded man reading from a scroll he thought was a philosopher.

Some of the items mentioned here are on display at the Willis Museum in Basingstoke. The Silchester hoard, though smaller in size, can be compared in composition to the late Romano-British Thetford hoard discovered in Norfolk in 1979. Two rings from Thetford are similar to a gold ring from Silchester with a glass bead; a gold plate buckle from Thetford depicts a satyr.