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Meet Arthur - Jersey Museum's ancient millipede

News | Published:

  • Tiny creepy crawly thought to be a millipede found amongst the Celtic coin hoard
  • Creature could be around 2,050 years old
  • Technicians have removed 16,000 coins in ten months
  • Find out how the Iron Age coins are being cleaned

SINCE being found three years ago Jersey's Celtic coin hoard has slowly revealed its secrets.

But the Iron Age cache may now have given up its rarest treasure to date – a 2,050-year-old creature believed to be a millipede.

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Named Arthur – short for arthropod – by the team working on the hoard, the ancient creepy crawly was spotted by conservation technician Viki Le Quelenec.

At just a few millimetres long, the bug, which sits on one of the hoard's 71,000 coins, appears as a tiny black fleck when viewed with the naked eye. But under a museum microscope the creature's segmented body and legs are clearly visible.

It is the first sizeable organism to be discovered in the coin collection, which technicians ensure is kept damp to preserve the organic matter trapped inside.

Metal detectorists Reg Mead and Richard Miles discovered the 2,050-year-old hoard in a Jersey field in 2012 following a 30-year search.

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Other items trapped in the collection include several gold torques, a small gold ring with engravings on the inside and outside and a series of tiny, rare coins called petit billons.

Museum conservator Neil Mahrer sprays the coin hoard with deionised water to keep organic matter damp
Several gold torques have been found buried within the coin hoard. Some appear to have a dark resin leaking out. Experts believe this could be bees wax, which was piped into torques to give them extra strength

Describing the moment the creature was spotted, Neil Mahrer, the Museum conservator for Jersey Heritage, said: 'It was just astonishing. We got used to the idea of grassy stalks surviving, but we never expected to find a whole creature.

'It's great for us because Jersey soil conditions never allow these types of things to last all that long. In this case we're pretty sure it has survived because there's so much copper in the coin hoard that it is acting sort of like a biocide and killing all the microbes and other things.

'Jersey soil is full of microbes, which cause things to decompose. It's also slightly acidic as well. But the copper from the coins is killing all the microbes and germs.

'We don't know the species yet, but we're pretty sure Arthur is a millipede. We keep him wet and in the fridge and will have to see about sending him off with other samples to get them analysed. Olga Finch, our curator of archaeology, has been speaking to a few people to see who will be best placed for that.

'You do get stuff like this coming out of wet sites, normally in places like Denmark and Ireland where you get bog bodies. But I think this is the first time we have had anything like this over here.

'We think we may find more. We'll keep him for research at the moment and then send him off with other organic materials probably to England.'

Jersey Museum conservator Neil Mahrer and conservation technicians Viki Le Quelenec and Georgia Kelly work with a 3D laser arm that measures the position of each coin in the hoard with pinpoint accuracy

Mr Mahrer explained that removing material from the hoard was a slow process, but that the rate of work had increased recently following help from volunteers from the Société Jersiaise Archaeology Section and two people from the States Back to Work scheme.

Several of the tiny petit billon coins are being found among the deposit every week, significantly increasing the world's collection of known coins of this type.

Initially Jersey Heritage had attempted to find a company that could X-ray the hoard in its entirety, but that was not possible.

'It turned out it was too thick to do that,' Mr Mahrer said.

'It was annoying at the time, but it has meant that throughout the project we do not know what we are going to find each day.'

The team has been in contact with experts in the UK who have been helping to identify objects found within the hoard. Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick a research fellow at Leicester University's School of Archaeology and Ancient History has worked with Mr Mahrer to tell Jersey Heritage more about the ancient Iron Age collection.

Mr Mahrer said: 'Dr Fitzpatrick has enabled us to identify lots of the jewellery. He thinks that most of the gold torques are the type you might find in northern France or Belgium. It's possible they were already 50 or 100 years old before they were buried.

'In some ways if you're thinking of these as the crown jewels then it makes sense for them to be older before they were buried as they were probably kept by someone whose father had worn them.

'We're still fairly confident that the collection is from around 30 BC. We had assumed it was buried at the time of Julius Caesar's invasion around 50 BC, but then we found a British coin that was dated about 20 years later. We haven't found anything else which changes our ideas.'

WHEN metal detectorists Reg Mead and Richard Miles heard the beeping that signalled a foregin object beneath the earth they can have had little idea just how significant a discovery they were about to make.

Ever since experts have been carefully picking apart the 71,000-coin collection the hoard has proved to be a treasure trove that keeps on giving.

Museum workers are constantly plucking out unique coins, pieces of jewellry and organic matter dating back moire than 2,000 years.

To date they have removed, logged, cleaned and stored around 16,000 coins and are expecting their rate of work to increase with the help from more volunteers from the Société Jersiaise Archaeology Section and two Islanders on the States Back to Work scheme.

Hidden in the hoard are tiny objects called petit billons - small, rare coins that may only exist in tiny numbers in a museum in Paris.

Mr Mahrer said: 'I believe there's only one collection in a museum in Paris, which only has tens of them. We are finding several of these a week as we go through the hoard. And we are finding many types of coins which we just haven't seen before.'

After finding the Celtic coin hoard metal detectorists Reg Mead and Richard Miles contacted experts at Jersey Heritage who arranged for the cache to be excavated and retrieved safely. Here the hoard is winched up from the depths of its burial site
Jersey Museum conservator Neil Mahrer measures and records the exact position of a coin before it is extracted
  • First each coin’s position is measured with a laser and the details are recorded.
  • The coin is removed and treated with formic acid, which removes the greenish copper build up.
  • Coins are then washed in six water baths.
  • Extra cleaning is done by hand to reveal the coin’s design, but the process is not designed to polish them to a shiny finish.
  • They are then photographed and identified for type or the tribe they represent. That information is stored on a computer database.
  • Each coin is given a unique identity number and then stored.

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