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The origins of the silver used in 7th Century Anglo-Saxon pennies have been revealed after analysis of 49 coins.

Anglo-Saxon England experienced a rapid surge in the use of silver coins between 660 and 750 AD, but historians had no “hard evidence” of its source.

A team of researchers from the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam have solved that mystery by analysing the make-up of coins held by the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

They now know Byzantine bullion and a French silver mine were behind the increase, said the joint Cambridge and Oxford university study.

Prof Rory Naismith the Cambridge University professor of Early Medieval English History said,

“I proposed Byzantine origins a decade ago but couldn’t prove it,”

“Now we have the first archaeometric confirmation that Byzantine silver was the dominant source behind the great 7th Century surge in minting and trade around the North Sea.”

Byzantine bullion fuelled Europe’s revolutionary adoption of silver coins in the mid-7th century, only to be overtaken by silver from a mine in Charlemagne’s Francia a century later, new tests reveal.

The findings could transform our understanding of Europe’s economic and political development. Naismith hopes to establish how and why so much silver moved from the Byzantine Empire into Western Europe. He suspects a mixture of trade, diplomatic payments and Anglo-Saxon mercenaries serving in the Byzantine army. The new findings also raise tantalising questions about how and where silver was stored and why its owners suddenly decided to turn it into coins.

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