In a museum heist that seems lifted straight from a movie screen, thieves made off with a collection of ancient Celtic gold coins from the Celtic and Roman Museum in the town of Manching in Bavaria. The coins are estimated to be worth “several million Euros” according to the town’s police.
Theft of Celtic Gold Coins in Museum Heist Dubbed “a Complete Catastrophe”
According to the New York Times , staff at the museum discovered the theft when they arrived for work on the following morning. They found to their dismay a broken showcase emptied of the museum’s most prized exhibit. 483 ancient Celtic gold coins that, together with the lump of gold that they are believed to be made from, weighing nearly 8.82 pounds (4 kg) were missing. One official said the coins could be worth US$1.7 million (£1.4 million).
However, the coins are worth far more than their price tag “The loss of the Celtic treasure is a disaster,” said Markus Blume, Bavaria’s Minister of Science and Arts in The Guardian . “As a testament to our history, the gold coins are irreplaceable.” Herbert Nerb, Manching’s mayor, added that the losing such a treasure was a “complete catastrophe” for the little Bavarian town that lies around 40 miles (64 km) north of Munich.
The Celtic and Roman Museum in Manching, Bavaria, where the Germany museum heist took place. ( Heinrich Stürzl / CC BY-SA 2.5 )
The Oppidum of Manching and the Celtic Coin Hoard
Manching was once one of Central Europe’s largest Celtic settlements and was inhabited from around 200 BC, according to the CNN. The oppidum, or fortified town, gradually grew into a city with protective walls of stone and timber.
Construction of a military airport in the 1930s caused extensive damage to the site which was excavated after the Second World War . The excavations revealed an ancient settlement with planned streets and rows of buildings. There was also evidence of minting of coins that were used to carry out trade. So far, only 7 per cent of the site has been excavated.
The bowl-shaped coins, which date back to around 100 BC, were discovered in 1999 and are believed to be the biggest treasure of ancient Celtic gold discovered in the 20th century. They showed links of the Celtic settlement across Europe.
Archaeologists still haven’t come up with a satisfactory explanation for why so much gold was stored in one place and why is was at this kept at this particular site. Associated Press reported that Rupert Gebhard, who heads the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection in Munich, explained that the size of the gold hoard, which was found inside a sack buried beneath building foundations, indicated that it might have been “the war chest of a tribal chief.”
Celtic gold coins worth millions have been stolen from a museum in Germany in a daring heist during which phone and internet services were cut off for the entire town. https://t.co/nqSvJ6abHl
— DW News (@dwnews) November 22, 2022
Museum Heist Was a Professional Job
Few details of the robbery were given by local officials but they did point to a break in phone and Internet services, reported The Guardian . “They cut off the whole of Manching,” said the mayor. “The museum is actually a high-security location. But all the connections to the police were severed.”
Meanwhile, The New York Times explained that the police, under the mistaken belief that local banks were the primary target, sent patrol cars to nearby banks when they were alerted that the telecommunications cable had been dismantled and that it was causing disruption to 1,300 local connections.
Officials are certain this is a professionally planned museum heist. “Professionals were at work here,” stressed Herbert Nerb in The Guardian . “It’s clear that you don’t simply march into a museum and take this treasure with you,” explained Markus Blume in The Associated Press . “It’s highly secured and as such there’s a suspicion that we’re rather dealing with a case of organized crime .” Nevertheless, officials admitted that there was no guard posted at the museum overnight and an alarm system was considered security enough. Clearly not!
The stash of Celtic gold coins which was taken during the museum heist in Germany. (Thilo Parg / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
Officials Hope to Avoid the “Worst” Outcome
In the recent past, Germany has witnessed several museum thefts. In 2017, Berlin’s prestigious Bode Museum was robbed of one of its most valuable treasures, the gold coin known as the Big Maple Leaf which is believed to be the world’s second largest gold coin. The burglars rolled it out in a wheelbarrow and carried it away in the elevated city railway.
Then, in 2019, robbers struck the Green Vault Museum in Dresden’s Royal Palace and decamped with 21 pieces of jewellery and other valuables , as reported The Guardian . While a notorious family of criminals is suspected to be behind the burglary, the booty hasn’t been recovered to date. It included a sword with a diamond-encrusted hilt and a shoulder piece containing a 49-carat white diamond.
The authorities hope very much that they will be luckier this time and will recover the gold coins taken during the museum heist before the thieves have time to dispose them off. Although the coins themselves are far more valuable as historic artifacts worth “several million euros,” as melted down gold they would fetch a paltry €250,000 (about US$260,000).
The gold coins themselves would also be hard to sell, as they are very well documented. The police therefore have their work cut out and have to work quickly to prevent, what Gebhard of the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection called, the “worst” outcome, which would be that the perpetrators of the museum heist melt down the stolen gold coins. “The worst option, the melting down, would mean a total loss for us,” stressed Gebhard in The Associated Press .
Top image: Celtic gold coins stolen during museum heist in Germany from the Celtic Museum in Manching. Source: Alex / CC BY-SA 2.0
By Sahir Pandey