RAMM has a rich collection of archaeology from Exeter and Devon. People have lived in the area for at least 350,000 years. They’ve left behind them traces of their dwellings, clothing, possessions and the food they ate. By finding some of these traces we can start to understand what their lives were like.  The museum is actively collecting archaeological finds from commercial work.

RAMM’s curator Tom provides a glimpse into the museum’s extensive archaeology collection

Exeter archaeology

For 150 years the museum has collected archaeology from the city of Exeter. Our collection includes finds from the Roman fortress and town, the important medieval Cathedral city, and the prosperous Tudor city.

The earliest archaeological discoveries were made by local gentlemen with an interest in the city’s history, including objects such as Roman samian pottery. Since the 1970s the collection has grown significantly with material discovered in excavations by professional archaeologists. Our museum is still collecting archaeological finds from the local area.

You can see many of our wonderful archaeological objects in RAMM’s Making History gallery. We also have a significant amount of material in our stores which is available for research and creative inspiration.

Highlights of the Exeter archaeology collection

  • Objects from the Roman legionary bath-house. This building was one of the finest Roman buildings in Britain, and one of the first to be built from stone. Items in our collection include fragments of floor mosaic, wall paintings, building tiles and window glass.
  • A large and important collection of medieval and post-medieval pottery, excavated from household rubbish pits in the city. The Exeter puzzle jug is one of the most extraordinary pieces of medieval pottery discovered in northern Europe.
The Exeter puzzle jug was discovered in pieces during building works in 1899 at the junction of Bear Street and South Street in Exeter.

Devon archaeology

RAMM’s collection of Devon archaeology includes over 30,000 objects, which were discovered from the 19th century until the present day. It includes important collections of Prehistoric material from Dartmoor and East Devon, Roman military and civilian sites, and finds from medieval towns and rural settlements. You can discover highlights of the collection in RAMM’s Making History gallery. Or delve into the collection in our online Collections Explorer.

Highlights of the Devon archaeology collection

  • The earliest stone tools made by humans – a remarkable collection of 350,000-year-old flint handaxes from the gravel pits at Broom near Axminster
  • Huge collections of stone tools found by field-walking
  • The mysterious wooden human figure from Kingsteignton
This incredibly rare Iron Age figure was discovered by quarrymen near Kingsteignton in 1867. Radiocarbon dating found the figure to be 2,400 years old. 
  • Important collections from barrow burials at Farway Down and Upton Pyne
  • Bronze tools and weapons buried in hoards by prehistoric people

Seaton Down Hoard

The Seaton Down Hoard arrived at RAMM on 20 July 2016.  With 22,888 Roman coins, it is by far the largest coin hoard found in Devon and the third largest ever found in Britain.

The coins were found by a metal-detectorist in a field near Seaton. They are now one of the most important parts of the museum’s archaeology collection.

Thank you to Patrick and Sally Long, Clinton Devon Estates, Devon County Council, Thomson Reuters and the hundreds of private donors who helped us buy the hoard.

The hoard is now on display in RAMM’s Making History gallery.

About the Seaton Down Hoard

The Seaton Down Hoard consists of 22,888 Roman coins and three iron ingots. It was buried in around AD 350 but why, and by whom is a mystery. Could it have been wages for workers or a merchant’s savings? Were the coins stolen or were they being hidden from the taxman? We may never know. The coins were found a few fields away from known Roman sites. One was a farmstead, the other an army watch tower. The hoard is probably connected to these in some way.

Laurence Egerton found the hoard whilst metal-detecting on land owned by Clinton Devon Estates. When Laurence realised the extent of his find he contacted the Devon County Council archaeologist, Bill Horner who arranged for the hoard to be professionally excavated by AC Archaeology. This prompt action means that we know a lot about the hoard’s archaeology.

The coins were all buried at the same time and were probably held in a large leather sack or saddle bag. The hoard weighed 68kg and so was more than one person could comfortably lift.

Most of the coins belong to the time of Emperor Constantine I and date from AD 317 to 340. The earliest coins are from AD 260 and the last from AD 348. This means that the oldest coins had been in circulation for nearly 90 years. Almost all of the coins are of a type called a nummusNummi (plural of nummus) were used in everyday purchases. Two nummi would buy a flagon of poor quality wine.

The Seaton Down Hoard in numbers

  • 22,888 coins
  • 3 iron ingots
  • Earliest coin from AD 260, the latest from AD 348 giving a span of 88 years
  • The coins were made in 17 mints from 9 modern countries
  • The coins depict 25 rulers, sub-rulers, members of the Imperial family. Many of these rulers became rebels and rivals of Constantine I. Many met bloody ends!
  • nummi would buy you a flagon of cheap wine
  • nummi would buy good wine
  • 20,000 nummi was roughly equivalent to 2 years pay for a middle-ranking civil servant

Video showing conservation of some of the coins

Supporters of the Hoard

Thank you to all the supporters of the Seaton Down Hoard project.

The Heritage Lottery Fund funded the conservation and display of the hoard together with a high quality and imaginative outreach programme which shared the hoard and its stories with thousands of children in East Devon.

RAMM acquired the coins with help from the Heritage Lottery FundClinton Devon EstatesThomson ReutersDevon County Council and many members of the public. A substantial donation by Patrick and Sally Long will ensure that the coins are preserved for inspiration and wonder of children.

Researching the local archaeology collection

Are you interested in using our collections for research? We welcome research into the archaeology collection (including objects, paper and photographic records) by students, local history or community groups, and interested individuals. Please contact us if you have an enquiry about this collection, or to make an appointment to visit objects and archives in store.

Commercial archaeology and archaeological archives

The county of Devon is a rich historical landscape which interacts with modern-day use and development. RAMM is actively acquiring selected archaeological material from commercial and research projects within our specified geographical area.

Archaeological archives

We aim to work closely with commercial archaeologists, local authority planners and other relevant people to preserve important newly-discovered archaeological finds. In 2014 we revised our Archaeological Archives guidance and you can find a copy on the reports, plans and policies page.

Please note our archives process is different to many other museums. When preparing the Written Scheme of Investigation please contact us to obtain a Reference number. During the project we encourage on-going conversation about the content of the finds archive. We also need to be involved when making finds selection and retention decisions.

Conservation of finds

RAMM offers preliminary conservation advice for fragile or delicate artefacts discovered during commercial archaeology projects. We may also be able to offer the treatment of artefacts on a commercial basis. Please contact us for further details.

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