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Discovering Switzerland’s buried treasure

A treasure map of Switzerland
Kai Reusser /

There’s no need to head for the pyramids of Egypt or Mesoamerica to feel like Indiana Jones – Switzerland is bursting with archaeological surprises. The 293 silver Roman coins recently unearthed in a Basel forest are just the tip of the treasure chest. 

From gold pendants and bronze hands to jugs filled with coins, in this map X marks the spot of some of the most significant finds of recent years.

Archaeologists discovered 12 silver Roman coins during systematic work in a remote forest. The coins were minted between AD241-255. Amt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie Zug

Roman coins, a broach and gold pendant
Roman coins, a brooch and gold pendant were discovered during an excavation of what could have been the historic heart of Altdorf (where, according to legend, William Tell shot an apple off his son’s head). They date to the Late Antiquity, with the pendant thought to have been made around AD600. Copyright By F.x.brun 6460 Altdorf / Switzerland


Bronze hand
Two metal detectorists unearthed a bronze sculpted hand wearing a gold bracelet. It has been dated to 1,500-1,400BC. Keystone / Philippe Joner

Earthenware pot containing 22 oil lamps
Construction workers building some flats and offices got a surprise when they found an earthenware pot containing 22 oil lamps, each with a coin in the middle. Archaeologists believe it was part of a ritual burial. The coins, dating from AD66-67, are bronze asses – each worth around a quarter of a sestertius – and, as such, are of lower value. Kaag

Bronze coins
One of the most important numismatic discoveries in Switzerland: 4,166 bronze coins weighing 15kg were found by a farmer who noticed the green-tinged coins peeping out of a molehill in his cherry orchard. They date to the end of the third century AD. Kaag

An amphora turned up during the installation of pipework on private land. It contained 4,869 coins, in good condition, dating from the end of the first century to the third century AD. Such a discovery, given the number and rarity of the coins, has rarely been seen in Europe. Repubblica e Cantone Ticino

Archaeologists discovered more than 100 silver coins dating from the end of the 13th century (when Switzerland was founded) between boulders on an old mule track above the village of Lungern. The researchers reckon a traveller had either hidden or lost the money. KEYSTONE/Sigi Tischler

The most important hoard of Celtic coins in Switzerland was found under a few centimetres of earth. It comprised 293 silver coins roughly one centimetre in diameter and weighing two grams. The coins – Celtic copies of Roman money – were buried around 80-70BC and bear an inscription in Greek, KAΛETEΔOY (Kaletedou), which could be the name of a Gallic chieftain. Archäologie Baselland

(Translated from French by Thomas Stephens)

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