Economic crisis may have caused "hacked up" Roman silver

In 1919, archaeologists discovered a hoard of Roman silver at Traprain Law in East Lothian, Scotland composed of piles of "hacked up" Roman silver. They believed the late Roman period treasure was brought to Scotland as loot, but a new study by Dr Fraser Hunter shows that economics may have been the cause of the destruction of the dinnerware. (photo)

The small pieces of silver correlate with Roman weight standards, making it easier to use as currency. "You find it inside the Roman empire as well," says Dr Hunter. "At times of economic crisis, people stopped trusting other forms of currency and they turned to silver and gold. Suddenly, all the pretty twiddly bits no longer mattered. What mattered is the sheer weight of metal, so the bullion value becomes much more important than whether it is a fine cup or a plate or a dish."

Hunter is the principal curator of the Iron Age and Roman collections at the National Museum of Scotland.