A diver who spotted something metallic not far from Sardinia's coast has led to the discovery of tens of thousands of ancient bronze coins.
Italy's culture ministry said Saturday that the diver alerted authorities, who sent divers assigned to an art protection squad along with others from the ministry's undersea archaeology department. The ministry posted images and video of the stunning discovery.
The coins dating from the first half of the fourth century were found in sea grass, not far from the northeast shore of the Mediterranean island. The ministry didn't say exactly when the first diver caught a glimpse of something metallic just off shore Sardinia, not far from the town of Arzachena.
Officials said presence of coinage from Constantine the Great confirmed that the treasure could be dated between 324 and 340 AD.
Exactly how many coins have been retrieved hasn't been determined yet, as they are being sorted. A ministry statement estimated that there are at least about 30,000 and possibly as many as 50,000, given their collective weight.
"All the coins were in an exceptional and rare state of preservation," the ministry said. The few coins that were damaged still had legible inscriptions, it said.
A video posted by the ministry showed divers with metal detectors uncovering coins, many of them mostly buried in the sand.
The ministry noted that the treasure trove was far bigger than the cache of coins found in 2013 in the United Kingdom when 22,888 similar coins were discovered.
"The treasure found in the waters off Arzachena represent one of the most important coin discoveries," in recent years, said Luigi La Rocca, a Sardinian archaeology department official.
La Rocca added in a statement that the find is "further evidence of the richness and importance of the archaeological heritage that the seabed of our seas, crossed by men and goods from the most ancient of epochs, still keep and preserve."
Firefighter divers and border police divers were also involved in locating and retrieving the coins.
The coins were mainly found in a wide area of sand between the underwater seagrass and the beach, the ministry said. Given the location and shape of the seabed, there could be remains of ship wreckage nearby, the ministry said.
The discovery comes just weeks afterthat Roman coins dating to about the same time were found in Wales.
for more features.