Skip main navigation
We use cookies to give you a better experience, if that’s ok you can close this message and carry on browsing. For more info read our cookies policy.
We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Skip to 0 minutes and 5 secondsREBECCA WOODS: Hi, I'm Rebecca, and I'm with Holly, and we're going to teach you how to record a coin. So the first step that you want to do is give the coin in this little bag its own individual number. And the record on this one so far goes up to 30259, so we'd give it to 30260. Type that in.

Skip to 0 minutes and 29 secondsSelect that it's a coin.

Skip to 0 minutes and 33 secondsNow would you say that's small or tiny?

Skip to 0 minutes and 36 secondsHOLLY WALKER: I'd say small.

Skip to 0 minutes and 37 secondsREBECCA WOODS: OK.

Skip to 0 minutes and 44 secondsHOLLY WALKER: In this box, you give it a brief description saying the size and the material that the coin is made of. So we always say CuA, which means copper alloy.

Skip to 0 minutes and 53 secondsREBECCA WOODS: And then the next one is the context that it was found in.

Skip to 0 minutes and 56 secondsHOLLY WALKER: Which is written on the bag on the piece of paper which is in the bag. And this is 11291.

Skip to 1 minute and 5 secondsREBECCA WOODS: OK. And it was issued to Penny Copeland.

Skip to 1 minute and 18 secondsAnd we have to record it with today's date, which is now. We save that. So that's the initial record completed.

Skip to 1 minute and 29 secondsWe then go into Enter Record.

Skip to 1 minute and 37 secondsHOLLY WALKER:So we have to enter the site number, which is in this triangle on the piece of paper that was in the bag. So that's 955. And that's its special find number.

Skip to 1 minute and 49 secondsREBECCA WOODS: We then go down to Description where we look at the coin, measure it, describe it, and see if we can find anything on it.

Skip to 1 minute and 58 secondsHOLLY WALKER: So we often fill in the things that we know first. So material, you write copper alloy. And we have to use full words here rather than the abbreviation, because it means when you're searching back afterwards, it broadens the search terms that you can use on the database.

Skip to 2 minutes and 14 secondsREBECCA WOODS: Its condition is more often than not corroded. Yeah, corroded. Yeah.

Skip to 2 minutes and 21 secondsHOLLY WALKER: And you have to write how many pieces it's in, which is just one piece because it's a single coin.

Skip to 2 minutes and 31 secondsREBECCA WOODS: And then we use the callipers to measure the length, width, and height of the coin.

Skip to 2 minutes and 43 secondsHOLLY WALKER: 11.77.

Skip to 2 minutes and 46 secondsREBECCA WOODS: And the width.

Skip to 2 minutes and 52 secondsHOLLY WALKER: 11.46. 3.17 for the height. So the next thing we need to do is weigh the coin.

Skip to 3 minutes and 19 secondsOne.

Skip to 3 minutes and 24 secondsAnd the main thing that we need to fill in on this form is a description of the coin. And firstly, we check if there's any major things that you can see, such as a chip or a hole in the coin. And then we look at it under a microscope.

Skip to 3 minutes and 39 secondsREBECCA WOODS: And with a light, so any detail that we can't see, usually we can see with the light.

Skip to 3 minutes and 58 secondsHOLLY WALKER: OK, so there's a line pattern on there.

Skip to 4 minutes and 5 secondsREBECCA WOODS: Yeah.

Skip to 4 minutes and 7 secondsHOLLY WALKER: Kind of looks like an angel. There's a block in the middle with lines coming out from the side.

Skip to 4 minutes and 15 secondsREBECCA WOODS: Sort of shaped wings. Yeah.

Skip to 4 minutes and 20 secondsHOLLY WALKER: And so you need to look for any figures or images and then see if there's any writing still visible around the edge. So do you want to enter a description?

Skip to 4 minutes and 29 secondsREBECCA WOODS: Yeah.

Skip to 4 minutes and 52 secondsWould you say the detailing is on both sides or just one?

Skip to 4 minutes and 55 secondsHOLLY WALKER: On one side, there's a ridge, which is probably from the edge of a stamp. I can't see any other things. It could be a king instead of an angel, I think.

Skip to 5 minutes and 17 secondsREBECCA WOODS: Oh, yeah. You can see the sceptre. Yeah.

Skip to 5 minutes and 23 secondsHOLLY WALKER: Oh, sorry.

Skip to 5 minutes and 26 secondsREBECCA WOODS: OK, cool.

Skip to 5 minutes and 27 secondsHOLLY WALKER: Yeah.

Skip to 5 minutes and 28 secondsREBECCA WOODS: So we then enter a full description of the image that we see. So we think it's a king or an angel. Shall we go king?

Skip to 5 minutes and 37 secondsHOLLY WALKER: King, I think.

Skip to 5 minutes and 57 secondsWe don't need to do a diameter on the coin because it's the same as the width. So when Rebecca's finished typing that in, she'll save that page of data. And then the final thing to do on the system is to allocate it. So you put who described the object and the date.

Skip to 6 minutes and 16 secondsREBECCA WOODS: And our head of finds is Penny Copeland, so she gets that. Today's date, save.

Skip to 6 minutes and 27 secondsAnd then we go back.

Skip to 6 minutes and 30 secondsHOLLY WALKER: So that's successfully entered now. And the last thing we need to do is file the coin. So we need to fill in a small sheet that contains the scale and some other information. And we need to write the context number.

Skip to 6 minutes and 44 secondsREBECCA WOODS: 11291.

Skip to 6 minutes and 46 secondsHOLLY WALKER: And the finds number, which is what we just allocated the coin.

Skip to 6 minutes and 50 secondsREBECCA WOODS: 30260.

Skip to 6 minutes and 52 secondsHOLLY WALKER: And then after that, we write SF, which is special find, and the number which is in the triangle from the start.

Skip to 6 minutes and 59 secondsREBECCA WOODS: Which is 955.

Skip to 7 minutes and 3 secondsHOLLY WALKER: When that's done, you need to remember to cross off the piece of paper that came with it so that it can be used again. And that can go to the side.

Skip to 7 minutes and 25 secondsREBECCA WALKER: And then pop the coin in the bag.

Skip to 7 minutes and 32 secondsHOLLY WALKER: Seal the bag and put it in the bowl. Our finds have been categorised and are ready to move on.

Skip to 7 minutes and 39 secondsREBECCA WOODS: For photography. So that is how you record a coin.

Recording a coin

Clearly the students have learned a lot from Penny! When you look at this little piece of corroded metal you may be justified in thinking, is it worth it? But the truth is that a single object such as this can transform our understanding of the past. Archaeology is all about ruins and rubbish but those are very human things.

Photograph of coin number 30260 sf 955

Photograph of coin number 30260 sf 955 - Hembo Pagi © University of Southampton

As you have seen, the first step is to measure and weigh the coin. This is because knowing the overall size and thickness and weight of the coin can help you narrow your search when trying to identify it. The size and thickness can be recorded by using a pair of callipers and the weight with a pair of very sensitive scales.

The second stage is to note whether the coin is made from bronze (most likely), brass (less likely), silver (even less likely) or gold (extremely rare). Then you need to see whether anything is visible on the coin. It is sometimes helpful to use a X10 hand-lens under a bright light. With Roman coins, the trick is to first of all try and establish which is the obverse, or heads, side, and which is the tails, or reverse, side. If you have managed to do that successfully, you are in a position to make a stab at making a preliminary identification, which you can record on the ARK, taking care to record details for the obverse and reverse.

Photograph of coin number 30260 sf 955

Photograph of coin number 30260 sf 955 - Hembo Pagi © University of Southampton

In general, large and thick bronze coins with good clear lettering will be early imperial sestertii (1st to early 3rd c. AD), as will smaller thick coins (dupondii and asses); by contrast, smaller thin bronze coins with slightly jagged edges, cruder lettering and a portrait bust with a radiate crown will be a c. mid 3rd c. AD antoninianus (double denarius). Lastly, thinner and smaller bronze coins will tend to be 4th and early 5th c. AD small change – the smaller the coin, the later the date.

In terms of silver, the finer slightly thicker coins with the better lettering tend to be denarii of the 1st and 2nd c. AD; poorer quality coins with only a thin silver wash, an obverse bust with a radiate crown and cruder lettering are generally antoninianus of the first half of the 3rd c. AD. This recorded information will be a useful guide to the specialist numismatist who studies the coin in the laboratory later.

The students look for further information on the coins and, with their practised eye, are able to use this to identify the coin with some of the very comprehensive coin catalogues, such as The Roman Imperial Coinage. If they can pin the coin down to a specific example, then can date it to periods of c. 2-3 years. Usually, however, an exact identification is not possible and you have to be content to an Imperial reign, the life of a particular reverse type, and so on.

Why don’t you have a go applying this same methodology to a coin from your pocket? Share your findings and interpretations below. What can you tell about the coin?

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Archaeology of Portus: Exploring the Lost Harbour of Ancient Rome

University of Southampton

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join:

Contact FutureLearn for Support