Sadly, we’ve come to the end of the Austrian Mint’s superb series of palaeontological coins, ‘Prehistoric Life: Back From the Dead, with the release of the fifth coin, Quaternary: Life on the Ground. The first coin in this series was the subject of the first post I ever wrote for AgAuNEWS, so I’ve clearly been an admirer of these coins from day one. This last coin does nothing to diminish the respect I have for this vastly under-rated set.

Everyone has a fascination with prehistoric nature, and these coins tap into that by choosing five geological periods from the last 250 million years to showcase life that used to roam about in Europe, especially in the vicinity of Austria. Kicking off in chronological order with  ‘Triassic: Life in the Sea’, it was followed by ‘Jurassic: Life in the Air’Cretaceous: Life on the Ground and Tertiary: Life on the Ground. The final piece of the puzzle is Quaternary: Life on the Ground, the period of time we find ourselves in today that started 2.6 million years ago with the Rolling Stones first concert…

Simple coins in specification, being clean-struck, 20g silver rounds, they put the artwork front and centre to carry the coins appeal, and manage that with ease. This particular one is designed by the guy responsible for the Philharmonic bullion coin, Thomas Pesendorfer, so it has pedigree. The flexibility of Euro coin design has let the mint keep the reverse side completely free of inscription and the design of all five of these coins makes full use of it to great effect. The mint will also likely update the app for iOS and Android, an explore and find game for kids.

After the rush of weird and expensive coins we’ve covered recently, it’s a pleasure to know that there are still affordable and clean coins available for those of us that want them. Let’s hope the mints next series keeps up the standards of this one.

The Mammoth is the star of this coin, an animal related to modern elephants that lived from 5 million to around 4,500 years ago. Known for their huge curved tusks and covering of thick body hair, many remains have been found in absolutely amazing condition frozen in northern tundras. The appearance and behaviour of this species are among the best studied of any prehistoric animal because of the discovery of frozen carcasses in Siberia and Alaska, as well as skeletons, teeth, stomach contents, dung, and depiction from life in prehistoric cave paintings.

Like their modern relatives, mammoths were quite large. The largest known species reached heights in the region of 4m at the shoulder and weighs up to 8 tonnes, while exceptionally large males may have exceeded 12 tonnes. However, most species of mammoth were only about as large as a modern Asian elephant (which are about 2.5m to 3m high at the shoulder, and rarely exceeding 5.4 tonnes). Both sexes bore tusks. A first, small set appeared at about the age of six months, and these were replaced at about 18 months by the permanent set. Growth of the permanent set was at a rate of about 2.5 to 15.2 cm per year.

(Source: Wikipedia)


Beginning 2.6 million ago, the Quaternary has been a period of extreme fluctuations in temperature. During the glaciations typical of the period, up to 30 per cent of the Earth’s surface was covered with ice and snow, but mammals such as the hippopotamus and woolly rhinoceros could be found in Europe during warm periods. Mammoths thrived during cold periods until they died out at the end of the last Ice Age, some 12,000 years ago. Both sides of the coin feature these large woolly mammals.

OBVERSE: A mammoth in profile dominates the background of the coin’s obverse, with a fully tusked skull in the foreground. At the bottom sits the timeline corresponding to the Quaternary period, a feature common to all five coins that make a single timeline when lined up. At the left and running clockwise sits the inscription 2015 REPUBLIK OSTERREICH, and to the right the denomination 20 EURO.

REVERSE: Features an Ice Age hunting scene shows Homo sapiens brandishing flaming torches and spears as they attack the giant beast. This side is completely devoid of inscriptions and is an object lesson in uncluttered design.


Although the coin comes supplied in its own box with a numbered certificate as shown above, there are two collector cases available to hold the whole collection. The Classic Edition (below left) is aimed more at the coin collector, while the Discovery Edition (below right) has a poster, is full of facts about the subjects of the coins and has a full length image on the front. They’re well designed, but cardboard construction is a little underwhelming for 45 Euros. The black insert is just a piece of card that lays over the individual red coin boxes.

Each of the two cases sell for EUR 44.40. If you can get one cheaper, it’s a nice enough way to display the set. Given the unique artwork on both sides of each coin, we’d spend our money on one of the superb Nimbus frames to show them off. They actually do a frame the same shape as these boxes which would be a perfect compliment.


WEIGHT 20.0 g
DIAMETER 34.0 mm
MINTAGE 50,000