Each summer, the families of Luis Lens and César Gimeno, brothers-in-law, spend their holidays in Xàbia, one of the main tourist attractions in the province of Alicante, on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. your main hobby is to practice snorkeling, “technical equipment for 10 euros [pouco mais de 60 reais] which consists of swimming trunks, mask, tube and flippers,” jokes Lens. Your goal is to enjoy the underwater panorama and “clean up the garbage” you find in your path. Last August 23, a glow on a rock in the bay of Portitxol, about seven meters deep, made Lens imagine that he had found “what appeared to be a 10 cent euro coin”. He continued diving and, before returning to the boat, he decided to rescue her. “It was in a small hole, like a neck,” he says. As he climbed aboard, he cleaned it and discovered “an ancient image, like a Greek or Roman face,” and thought it was a lost gem. Lens and Gimeno dived again to the place of the find and, “with a corkscrew from the boat, from a little Swiss army knife”, they brought to the surface in “a few hours” what turned out to be a treasure formed by 53 gold coins from the time of the end of the Roman Empire, between the 4th and 5th centuries, “engrossed in a cleft in the rock”. It is one of the largest sets in Europe with these characteristics, according to experts.
The discoverers of the treasure, in a family conclave, decided the following day to notify the city of Xàbia of the discovery. “We took the eight coins we had found in a glass jar with some sea water,” recalls Lens. Since then, he and his brother-in-law have returned to the coin site three times, accompanied by specialists in underwater archeology from the City Hall, the University of Alicante (UA) and the Spanish Civil Guard. In three steps, 53 coins, three probably bronze nails and very deteriorated lead remains were extracted from the seabed, which appear to be part of a safe, as detailed by the AU. “It’s an amazing thing, every child’s dream of finding a treasure,” describes Lens.
“The sets of gold coins are not common”, says Jaime Molina, professor of Ancient History at the UA and scientific responsible for an excavation that for three years has been prospecting the bay of Portitxol, “where the boats coming from Bética [Andaluzia] they landed before departing for the Balearics on their way to Rome”. Even less common is that these treasures are in “perfect condition”, like the one rescued by the two brothers-in-law. The team led by Molina managed to identify and relate them to the emperors Valentinian I (3 coins), Valentinian II (7), Theodosius I (15), Arcadius (17) and Honorius (10). There is also an unidentified part. “There are no wrecks of sunken ships in the area where they were found”, observes Molina, “so it is probably a voluntary concealment before the arrival of the barbarians” on the coast of the Iberian Peninsula, “in this case, the Alans”. “This finding speaks to us of a context of fear, of a world that comes to an end, that of the Roman Empire”, he sentences.
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According to indications, the coins must have belonged to “a dominus, a large landowner, a landowner in the region”. Between the 4th and 5th centuries, “the cities are in decline and power has shifted to large estates, to the countryside”, declares the AU professor. “Trade disappears and the sources of wealth are now agriculture and livestock”, he continues. Faced with the advance of the barbarians, one of these gentlemen of the time “decided to gather the gold coins, which did not circulate, but were accumulated to secure the wealth of a family”, in a safe. With the help of a boat, it sinks into the bay. “And then he must have died, because he didn’t come back to rescue him”, speculates Molina.
After their study, in which they will try to determine “the foundry where they were minted, between the years 360 and 409, the alloy used and its circulation”, that is, “all the economic history information” that the pieces can offer, the treasure it will be restored by the UA University Institute of Archeology and Historical Heritage and then to be exhibited at the Soler Blasco Archaeological and Ethnographic Museum in Xàbia. The government of the Valencian Community, where Alicante is located, has already allocated 17,800 euros (110,300 reais) for the underwater excavation of the place of discovery. And the families of Lens and Gimeno will forever remember a “unique and exceptional adventure”.
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