Digital technology reveals the 1000 year journey of a York coin.

Anglo Saxon Coin from Uppsala

The coin was made in York sometime around the reign of Æthelred II

Researchers from the Centre for Digital Heritage at the University of York have been to Sweden to work with colleagues at Uppsala University Coin Cabinet ( to examine a coin which is a long way from home.

Uppsala University’s Coin Cabinet is one of the most significant coin and medal collections in Sweden. The collection originated in the 17th Century and now contains more than 40,000 items some of which would have been familiar to York residents of the past. Amongst the museums collections are significant quantities of Anglo-Saxon coins many of which were minted in or around York.1

One of the major functions of the Centre for Digital Heritage is to make cutting edge digital technology accessible to a wide range of researchers. Amongst the tools currently being developed by CDH partners is Reflectance Transformation Imaging. RTI is a digital imaging technique which allows researchers to closely examine the surface detail of objects such as coins or carvings often revealing fascinating insights into their history.

Close up of coin

Digital imaging helps us to reveal tiny details on the coin’s surface

During our visit to the Coin Cabinet it became clear that the technique might have useful applications for the study of coins. Not only can RTI reveal faint images or text on the surface of worn coins it can also help to identify whether coins were struck from the same die (a die is the name for stamp used to make a coin). This information is used by specialists to trace the manufacture and use of coins and can offer precious insights into trade relationships and the spread of goods and resources around Europe for periods for which very little documentation exists.

Coin Normal Map

Analysis reveals the high level of variation and detail across the coin’s surface.

To test the usefulness of the technique we recorded a coin from York which was probably minted at the turn of the 10th and 11th centuries during or after the reign of Æthelred II whose name can be seen on the coin.2 Using RTI we are able to see clear details on the coin including the name of the producer (Oddas) and the location of manufacture (Eofr – York). Micro analysis of coins may allow us to reveal even more information which will allow us to establish when these coins were made and how they compare to coins held in other collections. Over time with this information it becomes possible to build up a picture of coin making and distribution which can in turn tell us about the spread of trade and wealth around Europe during this period.

As research collaborations between Uppsala University and the University of York grow it is exciting to think that we are not the first York residents to make this journey.

1 All the British coins in Uppsala were published by Elsa Lindberger: Uppsala University Coin Cabinet. Anglo-Saxon and later British Coins (Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles 52 = Studia Numismatica Upsaliensia 1), Oxford and Uppsala 2006. Available online at

2 Lindberger (as note 1), plate 8 nr 161.


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