While a grad student at the University of Michigan, in the summer of 1967 I moved with my young family into a new subdivision on a sloping street in Ann Arbor. Perched on the gentle slope on a pad levelled by a slight scraping into the rise behind, the house backed up to the low, rounded crown of the hill overgrown with brush and bushes. I immediately planted some flowers in the strip of freshly disturbed soil between the house and the newly laid sidewalk. In my digging, I came upon an obviously ancient, apparently bronze coin. I washed the loose soil off of it but didn’t disturb the lighter-colored material encrusting about 75% of the piece.
The coin notably measures precisely 1 inch in diameter. At first I put the coin in with other keepsakes and then some decades ago placed it in a small plastic bag with a note of where it was found. For the past 50 years it has been only very minimally handled and shown to just a few friends as the one true mystery in my life.
In past years I occasionally read about Roman coins being found around the American Midwest, mostly along major river valleys, and marveled that I too had found one. Mine was found in the low hills of southern Michigan but not far from the Huron River. Reading more recently about mounting evidence for a Roman presence in pre-Columbian America, I tried to identify my coin by researching the databases of the American Numismatic Society but was overwhelmed by their 42,000 + examples of Roman coinage.
After inspecting only a couple thousand of the coins in their collection, I noted that in the mostly illegible legends on mine the “IMP” on the obverse is standard for “Emperor.” Meanwhile, I found no portraits resembling the head, none with that tassel or braid at the back of the head, and none with that decidedly un-Roman nose. On the reverse, the standing figure differs in posture from more usual standing figures of Apollo and holds something like a bag in the right hand and possibly a floral bundle in the left arm. Also, the legend or symbols uniquely continue beneath the figure’s feet, and a strange rayed symbol peeks through the encrustation by the knee.
I’m sending this description and image to the following authorities in hopes:
1) that the American Numismatics Society will authoritatively identify this coin;
2) that the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology will advise on appropriate steps for analysis and conservation and suggest means for further research at the discovery site;
3) that the Historical Society of Michigan will advise me of similar or related finds in the state and suggest an appropriate repository for the artifact; and
4) that the City of Ann Arbor will facilitate any further research at the discovery site and any publicity that might follow.
Meanwhile, I’m posting this letter on my website www.richardbalthazar.com and requesting similar input from the Internet world at large. Please email me at rbalthazar @ msn.com. I will incorporate any responses in more web postings and plan to publish an article on the artifact in the magazine “Ancient American.”
About the discovery site, I researched my old address on Google Earth and found the house still there. The low hill behind is still undeveloped after these 50 years and covered with large trees. After some decades of researching Indian mounds (and publishing the book “Remember Native America, The Earthworks of Ancient America”), I reasonably suspect that the hilltop could well be a mound containing far more prehistoric material than a single coin.