Mystery of Roman coins discovered on shipwreck island has archaeologists baffled

On a distant, isolated island in the Baltic Sea, two silver coins from the Roman Empire have been discovered. It is unknown to archaeologists how they got there.

The discovery of two silver coins from the Roman Empire on a lonely island in the Baltic Sea, midway between Sweden and Estonia, has archaeologists puzzled but also delighted.

The coins' origins are unknown, although they might have been dropped there by Norse traders, drowned in a shipwreck, or transported there by a Roman ship that traveled as far north.

Using metal detectors, a team led by Johan Rönnby, an archaeologist at Södertörn University in Stockholm, discovered the coins in March at a beach location indicated by an ancient fireplace on the island of Gotska Sandön.

We were overjoyed, he said to Live Science. "This website exists, but we have no idea what it is. Yet, the discovery of the coins there makes the excavation process much more intriguing."

ancient coins

The two silver coins discovered on the island are both Roman "denarii"; one is from the reign of Trajan, which lasted from A.D. 98 to 117, and the other is from Antoninus Pius, which lasted from A.D. 138 to 161.

When they were first produced, each coin would have cost around a day's wages for a worker and weighed less than an eighth of an ounce (4 grams).

The term "money" in some Latin-based languages, such as "denaro" in Italian and "dinero" in Spanish, still has the name of the denarii, the common coin of ancient Rome.

Because the silver they contained never lost their value, Rönnby claimed that Roman Empire coins may have been in use for a very long period. He also suggested that Norse traders who sought refuge in Gotska Sandön from storms at sea may have carried the coins there.

The waters surrounding the island are known to be hazardous, and the region is strewn with wrecks, so it's also plausible that survivors from a disaster transported them there, he added.

Although there are no records of a Roman ship traveling into the Baltic, it is still possible that the coins were transported to Gotska Sandön by Romans.

It's unlikely to be a Roman ship, claimed Rönnby. But you must also take into account the fact that the Romans sailed to Scotland and other places, and that they had authors at the time who wrote about the Baltic region.

European island

Roman coins have also been discovered on Gotland, a bigger island located 40 kilometers (25 miles) to the south, although this was likely to be anticipated given that it was home to multiple villages. Yet there are no cities or villages in Gotska Sandön.

While Gotska Sandön, sometimes known as "Sand Isle," is currently deserted, it once housed lighthouse keepers. Before then, it had a reputation for being a pirate hangout and a site of shipwrecks, according to Rönnby.

According to archaeologist Daniel Langhammer, who manages Gotska Sandön's cultural heritage for Gotland County, the recent discoveries confirm earlier reports by a 19th-century lighthouse keeper that he had discovered a Roman coin on the island.

Yet, he warned, it might never be known how the coins got there. Simply said, "We have no idea how they got there."

According to him, during the summer months, seal hunters and fishermen used to often visit the isolated island. Seal hunting is now illegal, but the seals are still present.

Later this year, Rönnby and his colleagues—among them Uppsala University osteologist Sabine Sten—will visit the location once again. They intend to eventually rebuild the island's past.