Hoard Imaging

The Archaeological Computing Research Group  are currently working with the mu-Vis computed tomography centre and with a range of other imaging technologies to investigate a number of Roman coin hoards.

Originally designed for the analysis of substantial engineering parts, such as jet turbine blades, the powerful scanning equipment at Southampton’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funded µ-VIS X-ray Imaging Centre is being used to examine Roman coins buried in three archaeological artefacts from three UK hoards. The centre’s equipment can scan inside objects – rotating 360 degrees whilst taking thousands of 2D images, which are then used to build detailed 3D images.  In the case of the coins, the exceptionally high energy/high resolution combination of the Southampton facilities allows them to be examined in intricate detail without the need for physical excavation or cleaning. For those recently scanned at Southampton, it has been possible to use 3D computer visualisation capabilities to read inscriptions and identify depictions of emperors on the faces of the coins – for example on some, the heads of Claudius II and Tetricus I have been revealed.

Excavating and cleaning just a single coin can take hours or even days, but this technology gives archaeologists and conservators the opportunity to examine and identify them quickly and without the need for conservation treatment at this stage.  It also has potential for examining many other archaeological objects. The University’s Archaeological Computing Research Group can then take this one step further – producing accurate, high resolution CGI visualisations based on scan data.  This gives archaeologists and conservators around the world the opportunity to virtually examine, excavate and ‘clean’ objects.

The three objects examined at Southampton are:

  • A cremation urn containing nine coins, dating from AD282, found in the Cotswolds. This item in particular would take months to excavate – with archaeologists needing to carefully examine bone fragments and remains to extract more information about its past.
  • An estimated 30,000 Roman coins discovered in Bath, dating to around AD270 and concreted together in a large block weighing over 100 kilograms (radiograph image only)
  • A small pot dating to the 2nd century found in the Selby area, East Riding of Yorkshire

The University of Southampton and the owners of the artefacts have plans to share the scan data with the public, including in the new Citi Money Gallery at the British Museum.


At Southampton:

  • Richard Boardman
  • Grant Cox
  • Graeme Earl
  • David Hinton
  • Mark Mavrogordato
  • James Miles
  • Ian Sinclair
  • Fraser Sturt