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BRITARCH  August 2008

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Subject:

Re: Archaeology's Limits, "where coins come from" and export licence evasion

From:

John Hooker <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

British archaeology discussion list <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 6 Aug 2008 08:13:17 -0600

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Hi Ray,
>
> I don't know a single archaeologist who would not deem any coin hoard, 
> regardless how and where it was discovered, to be worthy of excavation 
> (if it still needs to be excavated). Also, every archaeologist I have 
> ever met would surely insist that if a coin hoard were discovered in a 
> context where it would not need to be excavated (e.g. hidden in a hole 
> in a wall, a cave, or in any other place where it could imaginably 
> have been hidden), it should nonetheless fully and properly be 
> recorded and documented.
>
> That said, you seem to be harbouring the misconception that 
> archaeology is only about 'digging up things'. So please take note 
> that this is not the case, something need not first be excavated to be 
> archaeology. Much of archaeology is still standing upright, or just 
> lying around on the surface, and can (and has to be) recorded as such. 
> That of course applies as much to coins in 'out of the way places' as 
> it does to any other archaeological find.
I agree with you on these points. Coin hoards are important to 
collectors mainly because of the numbers of coins and their (often) good 
condition of the interior contents. They are important to archaeologists 
for a number of reasons: retreat patterns can be seen where hoards were 
deposited in times of war; metal recycling operations can be pieced 
together (such as the relationship between Jersey and Hengistbury; 
military alliances can be detected, such as the spread of Gallo-Belgic E 
staters and British A staters, and so on.

Stray finds can determine the "background patterning" of a region which 
can then be contrasted with site finds within that region and this might 
well tell us something about the special nature of the site. Braughing, 
in Hertfordshire can thus be seen as site which differs from the 
surrounding area by its "foreign" coin composition -- including a number 
of coins from Kent. On the other hand, coin types usual  to  
Hertfordshire , in particular the coins marked SEGO, are also found in 
Kent, so we can establish some sort of relationship between places.

I have come up with a hypothesis that might explain the original 
distribution patterns and perhaps the regional foci of the large Iceni 
issues. This data is not evident from the large hoards which had become 
mixed since the issues were struck. This is one of the big mysteries in 
Celtic numismatics. The key, as I see it, is to examine incidences of 
close die links in local areas -- i.e. "multiple finds" that are not 
later hoards. This would then be plotted against the chronology of the 
issues. I believe that coins were given to chieftains or groups of 
people (clan patterning?) by issuing authorities expanding their 
socio-political base. These resulting patterns (if we are lucky) might 
then show a four dimensional  influence that could resolve the problem 
of who issued what and where they were based.

This is only possible to do because coins can be obtained which have 
their find spots recorded. unfortunately, the same cannot be done for 
series of coins that come from other  countries where the find spots are 
not recorded and where not enough coins are being discovered. In 
essence, the ability to be able to do such a thing rests entirely on the 
exitence of England's metal detectorists and their habits of recording 
find spots. It would not have been possible to do this in England before 
the common use of metal detectors because the numbers of non-hoard coins 
found were inadequate. The Treasure trove laws combined with voluntary 
reporting have resulted in a data set adequate to my purpose, should I 
ever decide to embark on this project.

Most collectors are not that interested in such questions, nevertheless, 
they are part of a much larger infrastructure which includes dealers, 
detectorists, auction houses, archaeologists, other recording systems 
and museums. From the masive base of collecters, numbers of individuals 
rise to the surface, interface with other disciplines and formulate such 
stategies, write books, give lectures and generally contribute to 
knowledge. It takes the large base for this to happen (again, a memetic 
phenomenon).

Now for the grim part: it cannot happen in countries where the laws are 
too restrictive. Not only are their fewer metal detectorists, but a 
larger percentage of them are involved in clandestine operations on an 
ever-increasing scale. We numismatists feel that it is these badly 
thought out laws that are ultimately responsible for this sad state of 
affairs.  While we are happy to benefit from all of the  Greek coins 
that have come onto the market because of the actions of organized crime 
to expand this activity to make even greater profits than were 
originally made by a farmer selling a few coins to a tourist, we do 
lament the loss of data -- not only to archaeologists, but to us as well 
because the depth of studies such as I describe above were not possible 
in the past and in these countries are not possible now. I think that it 
is fair to say that Celtic numismatics has advanced further in England 
than in any other country because of the nature of the laws there.

We also feel that it is grossly unfair to be singled out by some of the 
more fanatical archaeologists as the cause of this looting. Looting is 
one of mankind's oldest professions. Before there were collectors, metal 
objects were melted down  for profit. This continued into the nineteenth 
century and I have seen records where Bronze Age gold torcs were 
illustrated with line drawings and it was mentioned in the same text 
that they had been afterward melted down. Irf, suddenly, there were o 
collectors, then organized crime would shift to the recovery of gold 
objects using its existing infrastructure just as it shifted from 
alcohol to drugs after the lifting of U.S. prohibition (incidentally, 
the U.S. legal infrastructure fighting alcohol also shifted to drugs). 
Of course, silevr objevts wopuld also be melted down, but the organized 
crime lieutenants would be expected to make up for the decline in income 
caused by the loss of the collector market, not only by increasing their 
looting but by stepping up their other criminal activities. It is, after 
all, a business and that is what businesses do. There might be many who 
do not see the ramifications of this.

I feel that it is really time to work hard to reform these outdated and 
unworkable laws. Insanity is defined by constantly doing the same action 
and expecting a different result. The efforts to stop looting have 
reallly not worked and now the world record price ever paid for a 
sculpture is a Mesopotamian artefact, not a modern Picasso sculpture as 
it had been before. This should act as a signal. England has provided 
the most workable solution: many of the large hoards of coins have 
released on to the market after they have been recorded and collectors 
of English issues (including Celtic) do not have to buy the products of 
organized crime. British organized crime does not, thus, have to expand 
into new areas or increase production in its old areas to make up for 
any shortfalls -- the bosses are "touchy" about shortfalls in production!

The present system is not perfect, however. I feel that recording of 
finds should be gradually restricted in areas where there has been too 
much collection. Once we have good  samples for any  type from a region 
and can do proper statistical analyzes, it seems wasteful of financial  
resources to continue much beyond that point. I was able to find the 
same patterning in Armorican hoards of 80 coins as I found in hoards of 
hundreds of coins. Such hoards are idiosyncratic and it really depends 
on various circumstances as to what produces a statistically valid 
quantity. It might be useful to know how many Roman coins there were in 
England, but there are better ways to estimate this than by counting 
each of them at a cost of hundreds of millions of pounds. I think that 
better use could be made of such sums.

So please, let's get rid of the fanatics and work together toward 
workable solutions. The UNESCO ideals are unworkable and outdated, both 
intellectually and practically. England can show that it has a much 
better system that recognizes the subtleties of infrastructures and 
cultures within and between "national" labels.

Cheers,

John

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