Hungry badger may have uncovered Roman coins in Spanish cave

A trove of 209 Roman coins in a cave in northern Spain – hailed by researchers as an “exceptional find” – is believed to have been uncovered by a badger desperately foraging for food.

The coins, dating from between the third and fifth century AD, were spotted in a cave in the municipality of Grado in the northern region of Asturias. They were found mere feet from the den of a badger, months after Storm Filomena dumped heavy snow across swaths of the country.

Researchers believe that the snow forced the badger to step up its foraging efforts, leaving it prodding at a small crack near its den in hopes of uncovering berries or worms.

Instead it appears that the animal hit on a stockpile of worn Roman coins, forged in places as far away as Constantinople and Thessaloniki, archaeologist Alfonso Fanjul Peraza told El País newspaper.

Most of the coins are made of copper and bronze and the largest, weighing more than eight grams and containing 4% silver, is believed to have been forged in London.

“To date, this is the largest treasure trove of Roman coins found in a cave in northern Spain,” the researchers said in a recently published report.

It is not the first time archaeologists have uncovered treasure in the dense woodlands of Grado; about 85 years ago, 14 gold coins dating to the reign of Constantine were found in the area. “The accumulation of significant finds could – with caution – be seen as a response to the intense conflict experienced in the border territory,” said Fanjul.

The Romans conquered the Iberian peninsula in 218BC, ruling until they were ousted by the Visigoths in the early fifth century. Researchers have speculated that the latest trove of coins were likely part of a larger haul that was hastily hidden in hopes of keeping them safe amid political and social instability.

The find marks the first phase of the project, and researchers hope to return to the area for further excavations, Fanjul told reporters earlier this year. “We want to know if it was a one-off hiding place or if there was a group of humans living there.”