A hoard of medieval coins and other treasure has been discovered at
an abbey in France, some 850 years after being buried.
The find includes 2,200 silver deniers and oboles, a medieval coin
then worth a half a denier.
The treasure was unearthed during a dig in September at the Abbey of
Cluny, in the French department of Saône-et-Loire.
The former Benedictine monastery was dedicated to St. Peter.
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A total of 21 Islamic gold dinars, a signet ring, and other objects
made of gold were also part of the hoard.
Never before has such a large cache of silver deniers been
discovered. Nor have gold coins from Arab lands, silver deniers, and a
signet ring ever been found together within a single, enclosed
complex, according to information provided by the officials involved
in the discovery and recovery of the hoard.
The find was disclosed in early November.
An academic discovery
Anne Baud, an academic at the Université Lumière Lyon 2, and Anne
Flammin, an engineer with the French National Center for Scientific
Research, both represent the Laboratoire Archéologie et Archéométrie
at Claude Bernard Lyon 1 University. The pair led the archaeological
investigation, in collaboration with a team of nine students from the
Université Lumière Lyon 2 and researchers from the Maison de l’Orient
et de la Méditerranée Jean Pouilloux.
The excavation campaign, authorized by the Bourgogne–Franche-Comté
Regional Department of Cultural Affairs, began in mid-September and
ended in late October.
It is part of a vast research program focused on the Abbey of Cluny.
Students in the Master of Archaeology and Archaeological Science
program at the Université Lumière Lyon 2 have been participating in
archaeological digs at the Abbey of Cluny since 2015.
This experience in the field complements their academic training and
gives them an insight into professional archaeology.
The hoard’s importance
Most of the coins in the hoard were minted there at the Abbey of
Cluny or nearby, and probably date to the first half of the 12th
century. The silver coins were concealed in a cloth bag, traces of
which remain on some of the coins.
“This is an exceptional find for a monastic setting and especially
that of Cluny, which was one of the largest abbeys of Western Europe
during the Middle Ages,” according to the statement from the archaeologists.
At that time, Western currency was mostly dominated by the silver
denier, and gold coins were rarely used.
A tanned hide bundle, found among the silver coins, fastened with a
knot, enclosed the 21 Islamic gold dinars, which were struck between
1121 and 1131 in Spain and Morocco, under the reign of Ali ibn Yusuf
(1106 to 1143).
Yusuf was a member of the Berber Almoravid dynasty.
Also included among the Islamic coins was a gold signet ring with a
red intaglio depicting the bust of a god and an inscription possibly
dating the ring back to the first half of the 12th century.
A signet ring was a very expensive piece of jewelry that few could
own during the Middle Ages.
Other artifacts in the small bundle are a folded sheet of gold foil
weighing 24 grams and stored in a case with a small circular object
made of gold.
The fact that Arab currency, silver deniers, and a signet ring were
enclosed together makes this discovery all the more interesting,
opening new avenues of research into the history of the Abbey of
Cluny, according to information provided by the archaeologists.
Vincent Borrel, a doctorate student at the Archaeology and Philology
of East and West research unit, is currently studying the treasure in
more detail to identify and date the various pieces with greater precision.
Find raises questions
This discovery will breathe new life into research delving into the
past of the abbey, a historic site open to the public and managed by
the Centre des Monuments Nationaux.
It also raises new questions worth answering, according to the experts.
Who owned the treasure?
Was it a monk, a church dignitary, or a rich layman?
What can the coins and other items teach us?
Where were the silver deniers of Cluny struck? Where did they circulate?
How did Islamic dinars minted in Spain and Morocco end up at Cluny?
Why was the treasure buried?
What lay above the treasure when it was hidden? Was it a building,
now in ruins, that we know little about?