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Lexington Metal Detectorist Discovers Evidence of Romans in Kentucky

A ROMAN GOLD AND GARNET DISK - AD 200-400

Roman Gold and Garnet disk- AD 200-400 was one of the first non-coin finds to be recovered.

“It sounds like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, but Scott Clark, a metal detector enthusiast from Lexington KY has found a series of artifacts that have prominent Archaeologists converging on a farm field in Central Kentucky this week.  Clark has spent weekends detecting in the undisclosed location locating and documenting Civil War activity in a farmstead in association with historians in the area.  His civil war posts are popular on Social Media among history buffs, archaeologists and other detectorists, but the latest discovery has smartphones ringing and buzzing well beyond the bluegrass to the far reaches of the globe.

“It’s unbelievable.” said Clark, “I initially thought they were fake, but after looking more closely and listening to how they sounded, I realized they might be real.  I just sat there and stared at it for a while.”  Clark says his detector sounds differently for gold, silver and bronze, and the coins gave a clear “gold” reading.

Gold Bracelets

Gold Bracelets inscribed in Latin, with Woodland Indian symbology have Archaeologists buzzing.

“Since we’re in Kentucky,” Clark continued, “I just assumed that someone had  stolen and buried a private collection of Roman stuff.  But there were flint tools mixed in, and the stuff was super deep.  I really started thinking it was some kind of Native American treasure.  When I saw how extensive it was and the symbols on the coins, I knew I was going to need some help.”

Clark had initially posted the first coin on his Instagram feed (instagram.com/metaldetecting) and on his Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/kentuckyunearthed) as he commonly does during metal detecting outing, but removed the images an hour or so later as more items began to surface.  “I got nervous when one of the comments said ‘that’s Roman!’ ” he said, before removing it.

Solidi Gold Coin

Solidi Gold Coin (1 of 123 in the cache)  Roman AD 200-500.   The gold coins appear uncirculated, but the others are somewhat worn.

The Signals Began in the Afternoon

Earlier in the afternoon on the day of the find, indications began to appear this was no Civil War artifact as Clark dug 2 small gold coins with Roman busts at around 13″ deep.  “I called the property owner to have a look with me.” says Clark, “I was thinking that would be it – a gold pocket spill is an once in a lifetime find by itself.  But while I was waiting on him and poking around, I realized there was a lot more further out into the field and signals were super deep.  The bronze coins were below large fieldstone more than a foot down – it looks like it hadn’t been moved ever.”  Clark points out that he’s always transparent with property owners about finds and has frequent conversations with them about their property’s history. “I wanted him to be present before I recovered anything else – my reputation as a trustworthy detectorist is more important than any artifacts.   Waiting there, it seemed like he took 5 hours, but he said he was there in 25 minutes!  I was kind of freaking out I guess.  Just staring at those coins and hitting Google.  I posted them on Instagram as I often do, but my followers went crazy – especially the archaeologists.  But I took the pictures down because I got a bit nervous.”

Google Returns a Startling Result

What he found in his Google searches took his breath away. “The coins were Roman,  4th or 5th century AD.  My first hit on Google was the British Museum for a cache from 1980 and the coins matched perfectly.  It’s easily the most exciting Google search I’ve done.”  The sun was setting as the finds were made, so Clark and the property owner (we are not revealing his/her identity for privacy/security reasons) made plans to return the next day.  Clark also contacted some Archaeologists friends to help with interpreting the items and their age. “I hesitated to say what I’d found, but I was asking them both to drive like an hour and a half so I told them it could be career-making stuff.  I also sent a photo.  That’s all it took to get the ball rolling.  They are great friends and I hope they can turn this work into some healthy grant money.”

“Initially the property owner camped near the site, but we hired security to remain at the entrances to the farm while we investigated.  We didn’t want anyone at the site while we documented and recovered it – even neighbors.” stated Archaeologist Sean Williams of the University of Virginia Archaeology department.  “Looting would not just be a risk here, it would be a near-certainty, considering what we’ve found if word got out.”

Carbon Dating Confirms Cache Was Not Buried Recently 

Bronze Roman Coins

Bronze Roman Coins – almost 100 of them.

Radiocarbon dating of some organic material near the items revealed a date range of around between 500 BC and 200 AD, in the early to middle “Woodland Period” when Kentucky was a wilderness, and that was consistent with the metallic and stone finds.   Archaeologist Bob Lightfoot did the testing at University of Kentucky Archaeology lab – “This is not a modern burial – not even just old – it’s crazy-old.  These items look to have been in the ground since the time of Christ.  This could change everything, really, and I don’t say that kind of thing often.  I tested three samples twice because I was so skeptical, but they came out within 10% of each other. ”  A second lab is confirming Dr Lightfoot’s work as is standard in extraordinary situations like this.

Security Tight as Items Removed

The risk of looting kept the team vigilant in maintaining a low profile – with members arriving in intervals during the night, sleeping in a local barn and keeping most equipment hidden.  The location itself is out of sight, but the team worried that many vehicles on the road would draw attention.  “Mostly we hiked in from the other side of the farm when it was dark.  The farmer’s car was familiar so we let him haul in some of our equipment.

Team members planning removal of the spearpoints

Team members planning removal of Woodland spearpoints

They’ve been very cooperative, as have law enforcement.  The property owners brought us groceries and pizza – welcome after a 20 hour day!” said Angie Donaldson, an Archaeologist and PhD candidate from Auburn University.

On private property, the cache itself belongs to the property owner in Kentucky, but they agreed keeping it at the farm was too risky because of the isolation.   The team did not want to discuss who transported the cache or where it was stored, but Kentucky State Police confirmed they had escorted a vehicle containing the artifacts to another location.

A Breathtaking Inventory Emerges

The initial inventory includes 123 gold “soldi” and 9,432 silver “millarenses” coins, 21 elaborate silver spoons, 97 bronze coins, 29 items of jewelry, 4 silver bowls, a silver vase, and a collection of ivory carvings.  The finds also include 46 flint spear points, including several wrapped with silver thread and four stone effigy pipes consistent with the Woodland period in Kentucky.  Other items are being identified now, but the team says “they’re Roman but they’re also Woodland – with markings from both cultures on the same artifacts.”

Woodland Era Spearpoints were mixed in with the Roman artifacts.

Woodland Era Spearpoints were mixed in with the Roman artifacts.

Also present were several engravings in bronze, with two clearly showing a map of the local rivers in Kentucky with labels in Latin:  “Ut caritas vestra dona Tutus Travel in terra Viridis” – which translates to “May God grant you safe journeys in the green land” is at the top of one bronze tablet.  Woodland symbology, in turn, appeared on several of the gold necklaces, indicating a clear cultural exchange never before anticipated.  

The first Gold Coin

The first Gold Coin posted, then removed from Instagram.com/metaldetecting

Other native American artifacts at the site included Woodland-era Stone Effigy pipes wrapped with the same silver thread as was around some of the the Roman items.  Over forty spear points were found within a few feet of the main cache.  Prehistoric Archaeologist Renee Lovelace commented that they were consistent with the radiocarbon dating and the presumed date on the coins.  “Because of the extraordinary implications, everyone is moving carefully with a healthy dose of skepticism.  We’ll use our best practices to empirically evaluate these items along with their context.  If it’s true that they were buried together in the Late Woodland period, then we have a serious mystery on our hands.” A cross, present on one of the bowls, may be the earliest Christian symbol ever to appear on the continent, “I think we have a bunch for “firsts” possible here, but I can’t speculate at the moment.”

Cochlearium detail showing inscribed Christian monogram cross in the base of the bowl

An inscribed Christian monogram cross in the base of one of the bowls has deepened the mystery.

Calls to University of Kentucky Dept of Anthropology, Kentucky Archaeological Survey were not returned as of Thursday evening.  A statement was sent from Scott Clark via email stating only that everyone involved had to hold off on comments until basic security arrangements were finalized.  Since the cache was on private property, it will ultimately be up to the property owner what happens to it, so I cannot comment about its ultimate destination.”   We’ve been told that the cache is now secured.  ”

This post, however is off the hook.  April Fools everyone!   Have fun!

PS:  Everything besides this post you see on my sites or social media is 100% true and authentic.

 

Kentucky Heritage Council Historic Timeline of KY Showing Approximate Date of Cache

Kentucky Heritage Council Historic Timeline of KY Archaeology

 

 

5 Comments
  1. JC Johnson April 2, 2016 /
  2. Randy smith April 2, 2016 /
  3. Barb April 2, 2016 /
  4. Richard Williams April 6, 2016 /
    • Scott Clark April 6, 2016 /