LONDON (Reuters Life!) - One of the largest hoards of Roman coins ever found in Britain has been unearthed in a field in Somerset, southwest England, by an amateur treasure hunter with a metal detector.
The stash of some 52,000 mostly bronze coins dating from the third century AD was buried in a large, well-preserved pot close to the picturesque town of Frome. It has yet to be valued.
Archaeologists are excited about the discovery because they say it sheds new light on the turbulent time, when Roman Britain suffered barbarian invasions, economic crises and civil wars.
Head of Portable Antiquities and Treasure at the British Museum, Roger Bland, said the hoard has "a huge amount to tell about the coinage and history of the period."
Dave Crisp, who found the hoard, said he hit the jackpot after his detector gave "a funny signal."
"I put my hand in, pulled out a bit of clay and there was a little Radial, a little bronze Roman coin. Very, very small, about the size of my fingernail," he told BBC radio.
Stephen Minnitt, Somerset County Council's head of museums said in a statement the find was of "great national importance."
Some of the coins are stamped with the image of Marcus Aurelius Carausius a military commander who seized power in the late third century and proclaimed himself emperor of Britain and northern Gaul.
Carausius who ruled from AD 286 to AD 293 was the first emperor to strike coins in Britain.
"This find presents us with an opportunity to put Carausius on the map," said Bland.
"School children across the country have been studying Roman Britain for decades, but are never taught about Carausius -- our lost British emperor."
Since its discovery in April, experts from the British Museum have examining the find and local archaeologists have been excavating the site.
They believe the coins were probably intended as some kind of votive offering to the gods. The coins are estimated to represent the equivalent of four years' pay for a legionary soldier.
Because the find is a hoard, it is likely to be officially declared treasure trove, allowing the local museum to acquire it for the benefit of the nation at market value.
The money paid will be shared by the finder and the owner of the land.
Editing by Steve Addison