A hoard of Roman coins now on display in Malmesbury has perplexed staff at the Athelstan Museum.

The stash was discovered in a field in Milbourne two years ago and has now been cleaned up and given to the museum.

Chairman of the Friends of Athelstan Museum, Roger Griffin, is puzzled as to the purpose of the collection.

He said: “These coins aren’t the equivalent of £20 notes. They are quite small coins, like loose change really.

“They might have been the savings of a slave waiting for his release or possibly a child’s pocket money. They certainly were a poor person’s hoard.”

At first, 24 coins were found scattered over a small area and later a further 14 coins were found.

The coins, known as nummi, date from 305 to 325 AD but there are none in the seven years from 313 to 320.

Mr Griffin said: “We’re not sure why there is a gap, maybe the owner went away for seven years and then came back.

“If it was a child’s pocket money then they would have been saving for quite some time.

“It’s amazing to think that 1,700 years ago there was someone in Malmesbury hiding away these coins.”

The field of coins is half a mile from the site of a Roman villa found three years ago, suggesting the area was well populated during Roman times.

Mr Griffin said: “It wasn’t just Bath and Cirencester that was occupied by the Romans.

“This whole area was heavily occupied and there was a significant amount of activity in Malmesbury itself.

“There have been quite a few finds of Roman pottery, buckles and coins.”

He added: “In 2006 an Iron Age ditch was found in Abbey Row when gas pipes were being laid.

“There was quite a bit of pottery found.

“A Roman denarius was found by the walls of Malmesbury a few years ago.

“It makes you wonder what else is still in the ground waiting to be discovered.”

The coins will go on display at Athelstan Museum in Cross Hayes until next month.

Then they will return to the museum as part of The Festival of British Archaeology from July 18 to August 2. This will also include items from a 2006 dig at Rodbourne Bottom.