Watch CBS News

Badger hunting for food instead unearths treasure trove of Roman-era coins in Spain, archaeologists say

Nature: Badgers
Nature: Badgers 02:01

A treasure trove of some 200 Roman-era coins was discovered in northwestern Spain thanks to the apparent efforts of a hungry badger hunting for food, archaeologists have said.

Described as "an exceptional find", the coins were discovered in April 2021 in La Cuesta cave in Bercio in the Asturias region, with details outlined in the Journal of Prehistory and Archaeology published last month by Madrid's Autonomous University.   

The coins were likely dug up by a badger searching for food during the rare snowstorm which paralyzed Spain in January 2021 — a blizzard officials called "the most intense storm in the last 50 years."

The site of the excavation. Journal of Prehistory and Archaeology

At that time, many creatures struggled to find berries, worms or insects to eat, with this luckless mammal only unearthing a handful of inedible metal discs that were later spotted by a local.

"On the floor of the cave... in the sand likely dug up by badger at the entrance to its sett, we found the coins with more inside," the archaeologists wrote after finding 209 coins dating back to between the 3rd and the 5th century AD.

Most of these late Roman era coins "originate from the north and eastern Mediterranean" from Antioch, Constantinople, Thessaloniki which later passed through Rome and Arles and Lyon in southern France, although at least one coin came from London, they wrote. The researchers told El Pais the one minted in London was one of the most well preserved coins and is "bronze, weighing between eight and 10 grams, with an approximate 4% silver."

Reverse of the coin minted in London. Journal of Prehistory and Archaeology

"The quantity of coins recovered, as well as the undoubted archaeological interest of the transition to the early medieval period, make the hoard discovered at Bercio an exceptional find," they wrote.

The researchers said the coins had likely been moved there in the "context of political instability" linked in particular to the invasion of the Suebians, a Germanic people, who pushed into the northwestern part of the Iberian peninsula in the 5th century.

This is the second time in a month that researchers have confirmed the discovery of Roman-era coins in Europe. In December, Israeli researchers displayed a Roman-era golden ring, coins and other items found in a shipwreck off the ancient port of Caesarea.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.