ancient Greek coinAt left is an ancient Greek coin, circa 300 B.C., that was identified by professor Robert Weir. The image on the left shows the coin in the condition it was found with the yellow lines indicating traces of the symbols similar to the Poseidon coin on the right, which was was found in 1861 and is currently kept in Berlin.

Cultures prof identifies rare ancient Greek coin

An ancient cultures professor has discovered that what first appeared like a “cruddy piece of bronze” is actually a 2,300-year-old coin, calling in to question previously held beliefs that the Greek city where it was made was completely destroyed by a natural disaster.

“This is one of the biggest finds for me personally,” Robert Weir said of the Poseidon coin found this past summer at the archaeological dig at Helike, Greece. “They’ve been hoping to find one of these for years. It’s enormously important for a number of reasons.”

The coin – only the fourth of its kind to be found – was actually discovered by one of the excavators working at the site of the Helike Project, and assumed to be just a small hunk of bronze, but then set aside by Helike Society director Dora Katsonopoulou for Dr. Weir to examine.

“It didn’t look like much when we found it,” said Weir, a professor in Languages, Literatures and Cultures. “I was a bit mystified at first. It was encrusted with all kinds of debris, but the size and the weight of the thing precluded just about any other possibility.”

Through some expert detective work, Weir was able to determine its date and origin. Using nothing more than a souvlaki skewer and a paint brush, he spent about five or six hours cleaning the object and studying it to see if there were any images on it that he recognized.

Before long a profile jumped out on the obverse, or “heads” side of the coin, and he could also see part of a trident, a dolphin and a wreath, as well as Greek epsilon and lambda figures. After determining it was indeed a coin, he set aside for an expert to do the rest.

“I’m not a professional conservator and I didn’t want to risk breaking it,” he said. “I managed to get the details I could with a minimum amount of investigation.”

Weir estimated the coin to be dated at about 300 BC, well after 373 BC when previous writings have suggested the city was destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami.

“This may be proof that the city wasn’t completely wiped out,” he said.

The coins of Helike are extremely rare, Weir said. Two were found in the area in 1861 and are now in Berlin, and a third was sold at auction in Zurich in 2006. But the one he identified is an artifact of great national and archaeological importance because it’s the only known Helike coin still in Greece, and the only one to have been found in an archaeological context.

Weir said he hopes the coin, which remains in Greece, will be properly displayed in a museum after it’s completely restored. He said a press conference was held last month with the Greek Minister of Culture to announce the find, and he delivered a paper on the subject at the Fifth International Conference Concerning Ancient Helike earlier this month.

“People were pretty excited,” he said.