8-year-old unearths Roman-era silver coin in school sandbox

The front and back of a silver coin from the Roman Empire.
The heavily worn coin was minted 1,800 years ago. (Image credit: Culture Department)

An 8-year-old boy playing in a sandbox at his elementary school in Germany unearthed an 1,800-year-old silver coin minted during the Roman Empire's Pax Romana.

Overwhelmed with excitement for literally finding buried treasure in the schoolyard, the fourth grader — identified only by his first name, Bjarne — rushed home to show the coin to his family in Bremen, a city in northern Germany, upon finding it in August 2022. After his parents contacted authorities, archaeologists confirmed that the coin was a Roman denarius minted during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, who held the throne from A.D. 161 to 180, according to a translated statement released on Aug. 11.

The heavily worn coin, which weighs 0.08 ounce (2.4 grams), was minted during a "time of coin deterioration" when the Roman Empire decreased the silver content in its currency, a direct result of inflation, Uta Halle, the state archaeologist, said in the statement.

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Halle called the find "something very special," since it's one of the few times a denarius has been discovered in Bremen, according to the statement. While this region of Germany was never under Roman rule, it was inhabited by the Chauci, an ancient Germanic tribe that often traded with ancient Romans. This could explain how the coin wound up buried in German soil, according to The History Blog.

Bjarne won't be able to keep the coin, as finds like this one belong to the state, per the Bremen Monument Protection Act. But state archaeologists praised him for his "alertness and curiosity" and plan to give him two archaeology books as a reward, according to the statement.

Halle said she hopes the denarius finds a home at the Focke Museum in Bremen, where she heads the department of prehistory and early history.

Jennifer Nalewicki
Live Science Staff Writer

Jennifer Nalewicki is a Salt Lake City-based journalist whose work has been featured in The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, Scientific American, Popular Mechanics and more. She covers several science topics from planet Earth to paleontology and archaeology to health and culture. Prior to freelancing, Jennifer held an Editor role at Time Inc. Jennifer has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin.