The Danube – Bottoms Up!

The nine gold coins; All that glitters isn't gold; Various tools and weapons.

The Danube – Bottoms Up!

Olga Vállay Szokolay

In one of his books, the Italian writer, Claudio Magris, calls the Danube the River of Mysteries. This time, the River’s puzzling history is being enriched by a new riddle.  This year’s drought and subsequent low water levels produced not only bombs and other unusual findings at the exposed bottom.  An amateur treasure-hunter from Érd-Ófalu, with his metal detector, found a bell there with the image of the dragon-killer St. George.  Following that trace, with assistance by the local police, archeological authorities dug up some rare and very valuable objects.

According to experts of the Ferenczy Múzeumi Centrum at Szentendre, the origin of the numerous coins, weapons and utensils that constitute the find is thus far unknown.  The most feasible conjecture attributes it to an 18th century merchant ship which had sunk nearby.  For the time being, archeologists are searching in the archives of Érd for data of shipwrecks around 1745.  Using a drone for assistance, they could identify the potential location of a shipwreck about 80-100 meters (250-300 feet) from shore.  Archeological divers were expected to examine the wreck.

The head of the Museum’s Numismatic Department declared that the find contains about 1,600 silver and nine gold coins.  The latter ones were minted between 1665 and 1743.  Five of them originated from the reign of four Hungarian monarchs, concluding with the time of Maria Theresa.  The foreign mints include a very rare piece, a Vatican coin of Pope Clement XII, as well as ducats from Zűrich and Holland.  Most of the silver ones are also from abroad. Besides the larger units such as tallérok (thalers) and half-thalers, everyday coins of one, three, six, 15 and 30 krajcár are common among them.

The combination of the find is not characteristic of Hungarian money circulation, which seems to indicate that they are dealing with a foreign merchant ship.

Other objects found at the site include sabers, lances, hatchets, axes, boat hooks and even cannonballs.  Amateurs with metal detectors assist the museum’s experts in the dig.  The explorers raced against time, as the River’s water level was expected to rise any day.  Therefore, instead of fine-digging methods they turned over the gravelly soil in about 30 cm (one foot) depth in smaller parcels and checked them with detectors.

Upon restoration of the finds, the Szentendre Museum is planning to organize a special exhibit of the items.  Realistically, this could happen around 2020, since they will need to resort to outside help as well.  This will render the Ferenczy Múzeumi Centrum the holder of one of the most significant numismatic collections of the country.

Olga Vállay Szokolay is an architect and Professor Emerita of Norwalk Community College, CT after three decades of teaching.  She is a member of the Editorial Board of Magyar News Online.