French researchers unearth largest stash of Medieval silver coins ever found

Photo by Anne Baud-Anne Flammin-Vincent Borrel.

Archaeologists with the National Center for Scientific Research and other institutions in France revealed today that they have unearthed 2,200 silver deniers and oboles, 21 Islamic gold dinars, a very expensive gold signet ring and other objects made of gold from the Abbey of Cluny, located in the department of Saône-et-Loire.

According to Anne Baud and Anne Flammin, the researchers who led the dig, never before has such a large cache of silver deniers been discovered. They also said that finding such a large amount of silver pieces together with Arab gold coins and a signet ring was a very rare occurrence.

“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. The treasure was buried in fill where it seems to have stayed for 850 years,” the scientists said in a press release issued by the institute.

To better understand the meaning of the finding, the experts explained that in the Middle Ages only few people could own signet rings and gold dinars, as Western currency was mostly dominated by the silver deniers. Gold coins were reserved for special transactions.

Photo by Alexis Grattier— Université Lumière Lyon 2.

These particular gold dinars were very unusual, as they were struck between 1121 and 1131 under the reign of Ali ibn Yusuf (1106–1143), who belonged to the Berber Almoravid dynasty. Similarly, the gold ring is a unique jewel, as it has 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.

The archaeologists said that having found these assets at an abbey opened a Pandora box of questions such as if the owner was a monk, a church dignitary or a rich layman, or how come Islamic dinars minted in Spain and Morocco ended up in eastern France.

They hope that the discovery breathes new life into research delving into the past of the Cluny, which is a historic site open to the public.