A hoard of thousands of coins dating back to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 could be worth up to £5m, it is claimed.
A metal-detecting couple found thousands of silver coins in the Chew Valley, Somerset at the start of the year – which show evidence of early tax evasion, according to the British Museum.
Experts say some have mixed designs on either side, suggesting signs of being illicitly tampered with.
The coins include some with both William the Conqueror and the defeated King Harold, despite the Anglo-Saxon monarch having been overthrown.
It is claimed this is evidence the person striking the coins was using an older design – from an older coining tool – and essentially avoiding paying a fee to obtain the up-to-date design.
Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, Rebecca Pow claims it is a “very exciting discovery”.
She added: “Important finds like this shed new light on the remarkable and fascinating history of our country.”
The British Museum said it was the largest Norman discovery since 1833 – and that the coins feature examples of how French-speaking officials had struggled to get a grip on Old English, which is imperfectly stamped onto some of them.
Spokesperson Gareth Williams added: “This is an extremely significant find for our understanding of the impact of the Norman Conquest of 1066.
“The coins help us understand how changes under Norman rule impacted on society as a whole.”
Adam Staple and his partner Lisa Grace, from Derby, stumbled across the 2,528 coins in January.
They said: “It’s an amazing feeling to have unearthed this spectacular hoard. We’ve been dreaming of this for 15 years but it’s finally come true.”
The couple were training friends to use their metal-detectors on a weekend trip when they “hit the jackpot”.
Mr Staples, 43, explained that it was actually their friend that found the first coin.
He said: I was stood right next to him. “He said ‘I’ve got a silver coin’. I was like ‘That’s William the Conqueror, this is an amazing find’.
“Two steps later ‘Oh, there’s another signal, maybe it’s another coin? That’s a bit of a dream.
“Oh God, it’s another coin, but there’s another signal right next to it…’
“It went from one coin, three coins, 30 coins and gradually progressed. We didn’t leave the site until we thought we’d got all the coins.
“It took about four, five hours to dig it up.”
“We had a massive thunder and rainstorm. We were all soaking wet by the time we finished.”
Ms Grace, 42, joked: “It was like the Gods didn’t want to disturb the hoard. We were wet through but it really didn’t seem to matter.”
Although not yet declared treasure or officially valued, Mr Staples – who provides auction consultations for a living – claims the hoard could be worth more than £5m – and that the cash would be shared between the group and the landowner.
He says the money would totally change his life, adding: “We will be able to buy our own property, it’s freedom.”
Under the Treasure Act, which in England is administered by the British Museum, museums are given the opportunity to acquire finds of treasure.
A coroner will decide whether the hoard is officially treasure and where it should be held.
The British Museum said: “If the finder(s) and owner of land where treasure is found wish to claim a reward, the find is then valued by the independent Treasure Valuation Committee and museums have to raise funds to acquire it.
“If this find is declared treasure by the coroner, the Roman Baths and Pump Room in Bath have expressed interest in acquiring the hoard for their collection.”
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