A METAL detector who dug up an invaluable hoard of Roman coins in a South Devon field has been told: “You can’t keep them.”
The 243 coins were thought to have been stashed away by Roman Britons more than 1,500 years ago just as the Empire was on the verge of collapse.
Newton Abbot metal detector enthusiast Geoff Fox, 38, and his friend Shaun Pitts discovered the haul of copper coins in woodland in Denbury and then took them to Exeter Museum on the bus.
The find is thought to be the life savings of a family who may have lived in Roman Exeter and hid their wealth miles away.
But at a treasure trove inquest, coroner Ian Arrow said the find, which is thought to have little monetary value, is so historically significant that it should go to a museum.
Geoff said after the hearing: “I picked up a signal and started digging. I realised it was a Roman coin and I saw the emperor’s head.
“I thought it was Constantine but it turned out to be Valentinian.”
Then the metal detector was picking up signals everywhere.
“I found a Roman family’s life savings and I was the first person to touch them since they were buried,” said Geoff.
The pair took ‘three hours solid’ to dig out the coins which were buried from between three inches to a foot in rough ground.
He said: “It is something magical to touch history and to link directly with our ancestors.
“It was a find of a lifetime.”
The coins have been analysed by leading Roman coin exert Sam Woodhead, of the British Museum.
They were minted throughout the empire in France, Germany, Rome and Turkey.
Danielle Wooton, Devon archeological finds officer, told the inquest: “There was a lot going on at the time these coins were hidden. The Empire was falling apart.
“The coins are a really late date and because of the find is very interesting.
“We think that the nearest Roman settlement was at Exeter and they would have been hidden where no one would find them.
“It is only because a metal detector has found them and recorded them in this way that we know and it is this type of record that is changing the way we think about archaeology in South Devon.”
The find is likely to be acquired by Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum, currently undergoing major improvements works.
But it is unclear whether the coins will go on display.
The rare coins date from AD 330 to 378, while Emperor Constantine to Emperor Valentinian were on the throne, and are the furthest south of any finds of its kind.
Mr Fox said: “All I want is to see the coins on display with my name and the landowner’s name next to it.
“That would be fantastic, The money is not important. It is the history that counts.”