Blacktip Island historians were divided this week over the significance of an ancient Roman coin, dated to the Second Century CE, found in a Blacktip Island cave Wednesday by amateur explorers.
“Jessie and me were poking around up on the bluff when we found this little metal disk,” Hugh Calloway said. “When I buffed it with my thumb, we could see it was a coin, with a guy’s head and one side and a seated woman on the other.
“We took it to the Heritage House, and they said it was a Roman something-or-other and took it away from us,” Calloway said. “If it’s so special, you’d think we’d get a ‘thank you,’ or a reward or something, but no way, José.”
Some island historians were excited by the find.
“This is a rough, worn, but unmistakable Roman sestertius, with the Emperor Hadrian on the face and Britannia on the obverse,” island historian Smithson Altschul said. “There’s always been speculation about Romans having settled here in antiquity, and now we have proof.
The only way for this coin to get on the bluff is if a Roman settler dropped it,” Altschul said. “People here don’t just carry things like that around. It also gives context to the odd rock formations in that area. They’re not natural—they’re the foundations of ancient Roman buildings.”
Other experts questioned the find.
“Is the piece a 2,000-year-old sestertius? Maybe,” Tiperon University-Blacktip history professor Rashie Bottoms said. “Is that proof ancient Romans lived here millennia ago? Absolutely not. It’s far more likely someone bought it at a tourist stall in Italy, then inadvertently dropped it there. Or that Hugh and Jessie planted it there as some sort of hoax. Frankly, it smacks of a Jerrod Ephesians practical joke. Or a Chamber of Commerce marketing ploy
“There is zero historical record of Roman settlements in the Caribbean,” Bottoms said. “They certainly didn’t settle on some tiny, random island. And those rock formations are just that—basalt lava dams that pushed through the softer limestone ages ago.”
Island residents, however, embraced the idea.
“It makes perfect sense,” Catalina Luxfer said. “The Ra Expedition proved ancient people could sail from the Med to the Americas. And if Romans came here, up on the bluff’s exactly where they’d build, to be safe from storms. Folks always said Blacktippers have a Roman look about us. And Italian food’s always been popular here.”
Island officials remained noncommittal on the coin’s authenticity and importance.
“All I know is it’s got people excited,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “Folks are greeting each other with ‘ave’ instead of ‘hi.’ And all the dive staff are calling fish by their Latin genus-and-species names. Guests love it. Rashie needs to shut up and get on board with this.
“The souvenir business’s booming, too,” Cobia said. “Every resort’s got Latin phrases on t-shirts and caps and coffee mugs. The only negative is Eagle Ray Cove resort had to pull a bunch of hats off the shelf when someone realized the Latin embroidered on them actually said, ‘Spank me, Big Boy. They were selling great, though.”
Neither Jerrod Ephesians nor the island’s Chamber of Commerce would return phone calls.