Saturday, December 27, 2008

Abstracts for Two Numismatic Sessions at the 2009 Joint AIA/APA Annual Meeting: "Contextual Numismatics..." (AIA) and "Coins and Identity" (APA)

In a previous post I discussed the upcoming colloquium, "Contextual Numismatics: New Perspectives and Interdisciplinary Methodologies," at the 2009 AIA Annual Meeting in Philadelphia that Stefan Krmnicek and I organized. The AIA has now finalized the program of sessions and papers for the Annual Meeting in Philadelphia and abstracts are now available online, including those for our session. For convenience I post the abstracts for our session and the topics about which our panelists will speak below. The APA, whose Annual Meeting is joint with the AIA's, has a session on "Coins and Identity" and I post those abstracts below as well.

AIA Session 6A
Contextual Numismatics: New Perspectives and Interdisciplinary Methodologies
Saturday, January 10, 2009, 1:30-4:30

Organizers: Nathan T. Elkins, Goethe Universität Frankfurt / University of Missouri; Stefan Krmnicek, Goethe Universität Frankfurt

1. Session Introduction (Nathan T. Elkins, Goethe Universität Frankfurt / University of Missouri)

Colloquium Overview Statement:

The participants in this panel expound innovative and dynamic approaches to the contextual study of ancient coins within an interdisciplinary framework. Coins have often been reduced to mere aesthetic objects or chronological references divorced from consideration of their original contexts in which they were once embedded. A multidisciplinary treatment of the individual dimensions of an ancient object (functional, social, historical, political, personal, etc.) provides a better understanding of its contemporary meaning. In the study of ancient art and culture, for example, modern scholarship has successfully applied such approaches. Unlike most art objects, however, coins also have an equally strong practical and functional quality, which must be investigated in conjunction with their other dimensions and within the wider context of material culture. Therefore, the numismatist ought to formulate proper methodologies that address these factors suitably.

Using the above methodologies and approaches, the first two papers in this panel explore the theoretical premises in which numismatics can be applied in a wider interdisciplinary framework. The third examines the relationship between hoarders and hoards, while the fourth considers the semantic value of certain coin types. The final paper reconsiders chisel cuts on Athenian tetradrachms in relation to function in light of hoard context. Fleur Kemmers, who has successfully applied the concept of Bildsprache to coins from excavated contexts, and who is sensitive to the advantages of developing numismatic method and theory, provides discussion.

2. Two Sides of a Coin: Etic Structures and Emic Perspectives in Numismatics (Stefan Krmnicek, Goethe Universität Frankfurt)

This study discusses ancient coin finds in the wider cross-disciplinary framework of cultural anthropological and sociological theories. The current state of research in numismatics, the limits of contemporary numismatic methodology, and a discussion about new perspectives take center stage.

Typically in Classical archaeology and historical disciplines, ancient coins are uniformly perceived as money in modern economic terms; alternative or complementary functions of coins are rarely considered. In the past few years—influenced by the concepts of exchange, barter, and reciprocity—Iron Age numismatists have developed a dichotomy between ritual and non-ritual interpretations for a better understanding of the meaning and function of Celtic coins replacing the exclusively economic line of interpretation.

However, like all archaeological artifacts, coins cannot be reduced solely to one lifelong meaning, whether singularly economic or ritual. Ancient coins, like other objects, are actively meaningful in various dimensions through the relationships established with people. The object’s function and usage can change constantly—in the systemic context of the past and even in today’s world. These individual moments of practical usage can be understood through the model of a theoretical biography of the object. In effect, however, only the final context in the biography of a coin in the past Lebenswelt provides proper archaeological interpretations of the archaeological evidence. As a consequence, only archaeologically recovered coin finds, with a well-documented archaeological context, are suitable for understanding the usage and meaning for their contemporary consumer.

3. Working in Between: Numismatics as Historical Archaeology (Nanouschka Myrberg, Stockholm University)

The focus here is on the numismatic discipline as a scholarly field of research. History, archaeology, art history, and economic history are closely related disciplines, whose materials, methods, and terminology are often used and touched upon. Between archaeology’s centering on the object and history’s detached attitude to material culture, there is a space or field of tension where numismatic practice can choose to orient itself more or less outspokenly to the one or the other pole.

Working on coins within the theoretical and methodological framework of historical archaeology implies giving equal weight to several aspects and contexts of the objects. Coins incorporate the dimensions of object, text, and picture. These dimensions have parallel functions and strata of meaning, which do not exclude but reinforce each other, even when they are not obviously speaking with one single voice. The practical function as a monetary object is an essential aspect of coins, but not the only one. Thus it is essential to benefit from the numismatist’s knowledge of the coin’s primary context (origin) as well as to create an understanding of the secondary contexts (uses, reuses, and deposition). Between the one context and the other, the coins go through transformations, which may consist of transportations, demonetisation, mutilation, additions, and various reuses. This is their life biography, of which every stage is of interest to numismatic studies.

4. Interrogating Ancient Coin Finds: What They Say, and What They Do Not Know (Georges Depeyrot, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique; Delia Moisil, National Museum of History of Romania)

Over the past decade, we have been publishing the systematic inventories of ancient Greek and Roman coin finds from the regions of the Transcaucasus (Georgia, Armenia) and from the countries of Central Europe (Poland, Romania, Moldova, Ex-USSR, etc.).

This extensive documentation allows a clear understanding of the distribution of coin finds, but also the distribution of ensembles, single finds, and/or hoards.

We can interrogate this documentation to understand how coins circulated in antiquity. Their wear indicates whether or not they were used in daily transactions and for how long. Finally, the importance of hoards reveals several modes of conservation but also the nature of discoveries.

We consider, for example, discoveries of silver Roman coins from Romania. More than 500 hoards have been inventoried. Some hoards were reconstituted by the addition of coins at later dates.

We evaluate the relationship between currencies, money, and those who retained them. It is possible to depart from the traditional numismatic and historical approach and try to consider a new approach to the study of coin hoards. This method is influenced more from anthropology than archaeology.

This systematic study considers the monetary economy during the period from the second century B.C. to the end of the third century A.D.

5. Coin Imagery, Authority and Communication: the Case of the Later Soldier-Emperors, ca. A.D. 260–295 (Ragnar Hedlund, Uppsala University)

I present an investigation of the coinages of the later so-called soldier-emperors of the later half of the third century A.D. This age has often been described as an age of crisis. However, to what extent is this a crisis of imperial authority?

The third century has long been the focus of much scholarly attention. Not least, much recent work has been done on the coinages of this age. I suggest that the idea of a crisis of imperial authority in the later third century can be approached through a combination of more recent historical theory—most prominently concerning issues of legitimacy, authority, and communication—with the most recent publications of numismatic material. I approach the coins struck for the soldier-emperors as a means of communication, the aim of which is to express Roman imperial authority. This authority should be understood in relation to an idea of “Roman identity.”

One of the most important results is that a process of regionalization can be discerned. Images on coins struck in the provinces vividly express the development of a “common Roman identity,” and a sense of a “shared Roman memory.” I argue that the developments of such notions are connected to the process through which the city of Rome was gradually losing its power in favor of the capitals established under the tetrarchs, and ultimately in favor of the city of Constantinople.

6. Chisel Cuts: Bureaucratic Control Marks on Fifth Century Owls in the Near East? (Richard Fernando Buxton, University of Washington)

Gashes made by a chisel across either face of Athenian silver tetradrachms (henceforth “owls”) are a common feature in fourth-century B.C. hoards from the Near East. Although frequently dismissed as the result of unsystematic metal tests conducted on owls that were solely regarded as bullion, recent scholars such as P.G. van Alfen (AJN 14 [2003] 1-57) point to the consistent patterning in the placement of such chisel cuts in relation to the owl’s iconography. Van Alfen accordingly argues that this consistency suggests the marks, whether metal test or not, served to identify the coins not as bullion, but rather as discrete objects within a regularized system of bureaucratic control administered from the Near East.

Since such observations have thus far been confined to fourth century owl hoards, this paper examines evidence for regularized patterns of Near Eastern chisel cuts even earlier in the fifth century when owls first reached wide circulation. I argue that close attention to the find spots (e.g. IGCH 1259) and archaeological contexts (e.g. IGCH 1649) of fifth century hoards demonstrates that systematic chisel cuts were already well developed in the region by the start of the fourth century within a self-contained economy that did not feed back into Greece and its hoards. Such a division is consistent with patterns observed for the fourth century and suggests that the common view that owls were used in the Near East during the fifth-century, primarily for transactions with Greek mercenaries and merchants, requires serious modification.

Discussant: Fleur Kemmers (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen)


APA Section 59
Coins and Identity
Sunday, January 11, 2009, 1:45 - 4:15

Organizers: The Friends of Numismatics / Jane De Rose Evans

Session Abstract:

Six papers will focus on what a coin meant to the person arranging its creation and on what it meant to a person using the coin, as well as what it meant to a person hoarding or collecting the coin. From the types of Campania and the Akarnanian League in the fourth century BC to the iconography of the Late Antique, the papers will analyze how coins reflect political propaganda and how their types relate to contemporary events and local cults and religion.

1. Their Neighbor’s Keeper: A Neapolitan Coin for Capua (Rabun Taylor, The University of Texas at Austin)

The bronze coinage of Hellenistic Neapolis (Italy) is dominated by imagery of Apollo, who is known to have had a robust cult in this city. But in the second half of the third century, shortly before it ceased minting altogether, Neapolis briefly issued an obol representing Artemis/Diana on the obverse and a cornucopia on the reverse. Both motifs are anomalous for this city; and the pairing of the hunter-goddess with a symbol of agricultural bounty seems doubly puzzling. This paper will argue that the imagery on the coin is intended to signify not Neapolis, but the rival Campanian city of Capua – a city which, on the one hand, was an agricultural power befitting the cornucopia; and which, on the other, oversaw the second most important cult of Diana in all of Italy, on nearby Monte Tifata. Why would Neapolis assume an alien identity on its coinage?

In 216, during the Second Punic War, Capua took a desperate gamble by switching its allegiance from Rome to Hannibal. Neapolis, as always, remained firmly allied with Rome. Monte Tifata itself, with its famous sanctuary, became Hannibal’s base of operations for several years. When Rome regained Capua and its territory in 211, it wreaked a selective vengeance, sparing the city’s buildings and its territory but declaring the Campanian plains to be ager publicus, Roman public property. Extraordinarily, Neapolils’ bronze issue was intended to burnish Capua’s greatest assets after their defilement by Hannibal and to appropriate those assets symbolically on behalf of Rome.

2. New Perspectives on Fourth-Century BCE Akarnanian Coinage (Douglas Domingo-Forasté, California State University, Long Beach)

*An error with the hyperlink prevents anyone from viewing the abstract for this paper.

3. Learning from Mistakes: Iconographic and Artistic Errors by Late Antique Die Engravers (Philip Kiernan, Independent Scholar)

One of the most fundamental questions about Roman coinage is the extent to which the messages of reverse types were intentional propaganda on the part of the issuing authority, and to what extent those messages were understood by those who used the coins. This paper looks at a rather unorthodox source to shed new light on this old question – the imitations of the bronze coins of the Gallic emperor Postumus (A.D. 260-269). In a period when silver coins had almost been debased to the point of being bronze themselves, Postumus made the unusual decision to strike large bronze sestertii and double sestertii. After four years, the experiment was abandoned, but the need for the fractional coins seems to have remained, with imitations being struck at local workshops in the Western Empire until at least A.D. 260. Unlike the more common imitations of contemporary antoniniani, the imitations of Postumus' bronze coins had a much larger field on which the die engraver could practice his craft. An examination of these coins reveals a number of interesting mistakes, suggesting that even the more talented of the unofficial engravers had only a minimal understanding of the iconography of the official coins they copied.

4. Not the Egyptian Type: Denominational Distinctions and the Selection of Images at the Roman Mint of Alexandria (Sean O’Neil, Randolph-Macon College)

Much has been made over the extraordinary diversity of individual types issued from the Roman mint at Alexandria. In choosing to maintain the closed currency system of their Ptolemaic predecessors, Roman authorities managed to create an opportunity for the careful direction of images toward a specific provincial audience. While several authors and catalogue editors have commented on the exceptionally broad range of individuals, symbols, monuments, and deities referenced on the Alexandrian coinage, comparatively little focus has been placed on the degree of selectivity displayed by Roman administrators. The mandatory payment of certain taxes in coined money necessarily established the Alexandrian coinage as the lone medium for “Roman” ideas and imagery viewed by each and every provincial, and the ruling authority took full advantage. The intentional dissemination of certain themes and the appearance of select imperial family members on particular denominational classes reflect a keen awareness of the distribution and realms of use for billon and bronze issues throughout Alexandria and the province. The distinctions between Greco-Roman and native Egyptian religious iconography are especially revealing, both in the presence (or lack thereof) of accompanying Greek legends and in the exclusion of the latter from the billon denominations that were typically used for larger transactions in the more Hellenized urban centers. Moreover, this calculated presentation of native religious symbols and themes on Alexandrian types can be placed within the broader context of a pervasive attempt to compel Egyptian provincials to accept a Roman reinterpretation of their own religious culture.

5. Coins and Meaning: Flavian Case Studies (Sarah E. Cox, Independent Scholar)

When the study of ancient coins reveals patterns and regularities in their types and legends, it is natural to infer that they were the result of planning by a central authority, conceived with a purpose, often to convey a message to the people. Using examples from the Flavian period, this paper will look at evidence to support that thesis as well as grounds to believe that people paid sufficient attention to what was on their coins to understand the intended messages. Among the minting patterns in the Flavian period is the congruence of types and Latin legends on aurei struck for Vespasian in 70 in both the East and the West. It seems unlikely that very many, if any, individuals would have noticed this congruence, but clearly someone was coordinating mint decisions, particularly the use of Latin legends, empire-wide. Another meaningful, but potentially unnoticed, decision was to have Vespasian share some precious metal reverse dies with Titus, but not with Domitian, a distinction that marked out Titus as his father’s colleague in power and his heir designate. Certain reverse types were targeted for use in particular regions, such as Pax sacrificing on dupondii of Lugdunum, a type originally struck at this mint by Galba. In the Flavians’ reprise of the type, the pointed allusion was to Galba’s unsuccessful efforts to establish peace. Lastly, some reverse designs were utilized for specific denominations, like those of the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Asses struck under Vespasian, regardless of when or where, depicted the temple before its reconstruction, while sestertii showed its completed state. Perhaps more readily noticeable to the average viewer would have been the coin types minted to coincide with specific occasions. One of numerous cases is the striking of the laurel tree denarii in 74; because laurel had an apotropaic function, it was used in the lustrum performed at the conclusion of a census, precisely the situation in 74. Another is Titus’s issuance of the Restoration bronzes for Vespasian’s consecratio, all of which carry some form of the word restituit, explicitly stating that Titus was restoring earlier coins. By inserting himself in the numismatic representations of his predecessors, Titus placed both himself and his father, the new Divus, in the long stream of history beside a select group of other worthy individuals. I will conclude with a discussion of how Nero’s reputation is reflected in the treatment of his coinage, based on coin finds in Pompeii. Of 16 hoards of bronze coins found there, four of them have substantial quantities of Neronian coins, but 12 contain none of his coins whatsoever. Particularly interesting is the hoard of over 1300 bronzes from a bar in insula 1.8, where Nero’s coins amazingly constituted less than 1%. Recalling Epictetus’s directive that coins bearing Nero’s portrait should be thrown out as his character was unacceptable, this hoard dramatically demonstrates that one bar owner, at least, paid close attention to his currency and adjusted his actions based on its images and legends.

6. Minting History: The Fabricated Triumph of Drusus (Robin Greene, University of Washington)

Drusus, the brother of the emperor Tiberius, was a critical figure in the Augustan wars against the Germanic tribes until his untimely death while on campaign in 9 BCE. Popular with the people, the soldiers and the senate, Drusus was acclaimed by his troops as imperator and awarded a triumph by the senate; Augustus, however, intervened and granted him an ovatio and “triumphal honors” only. Ancient sources agree that this successful and likable member of the imperial family was never permitted to celebrate a proper triumph. Fifty years later, the emperor Claudius, Drusus’ son, minted a coin series that clearly features triumphal iconography in commemoration of Drusus’ “triumph” over the Germanic tribes; thus, these coins, I argue, advertise a fictitious event as historical fact. Moreover, this series served as a model for Claudius’ own triumphal series issued on the occasion of his triumph for the British campaign, an operation that was generally regarded as far from meriting such an accolade (Suet. Claud. 17). In this paper I explore two main issues implicit in these two series. First, I discuss the various reasons which prompted Claudius to elevate the ovatio of Drusus to a full triumph and to produce these parallel representations, most important among which was his need to legitimize his political position by an emphasis on the achievements and pedigree of his popular father. Second, I consider how the numismatic fabrication of a non-historical event may have been perceived by citizens of Rome and the provinces.

Respondent: Jane Cody, University of Southern California

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Large Byzantine Gold Coin Hoard Found in Jerusalem

It has just been announced that a large hoard of almost 300 gold coins from the reign of Heraclius have been unearthed during an excavation just outside the walls of Jerusalem. This is apparently one of the largest and best recorded finds of gold coins in Jerusalem.

The person who discovered the coins at the excavations was a British volunteer who normally works as an engineer. Archaeological excavations typically allow anyone - regardless of qualifications or academic standing - to volunteer. I have worked alongside many non-academic/non-student volunteers before.

Since the context has been preserved and the hoard was discovered within the framework of an excavation, the find will be inventoried, studied, and published. According to online discussion lists, the hoard's analysis and publication has already been assigned to a numismatist at the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) and their study is presently underway.

The date of the coins and their location just outside of Jerusalem are leading the chief excavators of the site to think that the hoard is associated with the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in AD 614.

The chief excavators also stated:
"Since no pottery vessel was discovered adjacent to the hoard, we can assume that it was concealed inside a hidden niche in one of the walls of the building. It seems that with its collapse, the coins piled up there among the building debris."
This is certainly a strong possibility. Hoards concealed in walls have been well-recorded in Egypt, for example (either in situ or found as scatter on floors after they fell out). In general, see discussion in Hans-Christoph Noeske, Münzfunde aus Ägypten I. Die Münzfunde des ägyptischen Pilgerzentrums Abu Mina und die Vergleichsfunde aus den Diocesen Aegyptus und Oriens vom 4.-8. Jh. n.Chr. Studien zu Fundmünzen der Antike 12 (Berlin, 2000).

Personally, I wonder if they may have been contained in a cloth or leather bag that did not survive or of which no traces were recorded. I ask because a photograph of the coins in situ as they are being carefully excavated seems to show the coins stacked or rolled; if they fell from a niche in a wall, I think there would certainly be more scatter and they would not have remained rolled or stacked together in such a manner. It is, of course, also possible that the coins were tightly placed in a bag in a wall niche from which the container and its contents later fell and so their tight relationship would have been preserved.

In any case, the news of this discovery is very interesting and I look forward to the detailed analysis and publication of the hoard. Perhaps we will see the publication in the Israel Numismatic Research journal, but it is too early to speculate as to where the report and analysis will appear. Congratulations also to the excavation volunteer who discovered the coins and who no doubt was very excited to uncover such a spectacular find.

Two press stories covering the find can be found at CNN and the BBC. A video showing the volunteer with some of the coins can be viewed by going to the BBC article.
I am grateful to two of my blog readers who sent me links to some relevant news articles - I have been in transit over the past few days and so I haven't been reading the headlines.

Happy Holidays!

(Photo of the coins in situ from the CNN article. Notice how some of the coins seem to be together in stacks or rolls as I noted above.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Archaeology Magazine's "Under Threat" list includes Bulgaria

Kimberly Alderman's post, "2008 Archaeological Sites Under Threat," brought this to my attention. In conjunction with a list of important archaeological discoveries in 2008 the popular Archaeology Magazine has made a list of sites and regions that are at particular risk for looting and destruction.

Sabu - Near the village of Sabu, in the northern Sudanese Nile Valley, hundreds of rock-art panels dating as far back as the Neolithic period will be inundated by the Kajbar Dam, now being built downstream. No archaeologists have made a systematic study of Sabu, meaning its depictions of giraffes, New Kingdom ships, and Christian churches will be lost forever.

Bulgaria - Like its neighbors, Bulgaria is rich in archaeological remains—ancient Greek, Thracian, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman. But rather than draw millions of visitors each year to its ancient sites, this poor Balkan country mainly exports its cultural heritage. The transition from Communism to a free market economy has left Bulgaria exposed to the swirling forces of the global illicit antiquities trade. Desperate poverty means huge numbers of Bulgarians—up to 4 percent of the entire population—are involved in the trade.

Nine Mile Canyon - More than 10,000 prehistoric images of hunting scenes, bighorn sheep, and abstract designs adorn the cliffs of Utah's Nine Mile Canyon. Created by the Fremont people, who lived in the region from A.D. 300 to 1300, the images have been under threat since natural gas deposits were discovered nearby in 2004. Thick clouds of dust raised by energy-related trucking in the canyon adheres to the images, obscuring them and causing long-term damage. A mud-brick wall in the lower town of the Indus center Mohenjo-daro shows signs of severe salt damage.

Mohenjo-daro - Mohenjo-daro in Pakistan was one of the largest cities´of the Indus Valley civilization, which thrived between 2600 and 1900 B.C. Today, the square-mile mud-brick city is threatened by high groundwater and salt deposits that are destroying the site's ancient bricks.

Isin - Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, looting has resulted in the
industrial-scale destruction of some of the world's first cities. One of the most important is Isin, the capital of southern Mesopotamia beginning in 1953 B.C. For roughly 100 years Isin ruled important cites such as Ur, Uruk, and Nippur. About 25 percent of the site has been looted.

Mirador Basin - Guatemala's north-central Petén region contains the largest concentration of Preclassic Maya cities in Mesoamerica and features the grandest architecture in the Maya world. But the sites are threatened by massive deforestation, looting, and destruction caused by equipment used in logging road construction, which itself facilitates intrusive settlements.

Of all areas listed above, the destruction of Bulgarian cultural heritage and archaeological resources for the indiscriminate ancient coin and minor antiquities trade has been discussed most often on this blog. Rich archaeological heritage coupled with poverty and corruption allows Bulgarian cultural heritage to be exploited and destroyed by those seeking profit and larger inventories in the USA and Western Europe.

There are countless examples of how the indiscriminate trade profits from the wholesale destruction of Bulgaria's archaeological heritage. One of the most famous examples comes from 1999, when one dealer/supplier - who is still active selling and supplying in the United States - was implicated in spiriting approximately one metric ton of ancient coins (literally - i.e. c. 350,000 coins) from Bulgaria to the U.S. via Frankfurt airport. Months after this he was selling the booty by weight to other dealers and collectors at a coin show in America. In addition to legal, ethical, and intellectual issues, collectors ought to be concerned about the indiscriminate sourcing of fresh supplies of ancient coins since it has been demonstrated time and again that suppliers in source countries also introduce forgeries to the market. One of the latest example comes from 2008 in which a smuggler in Bulgaria was arrested with 2,800 authentic ancient coins, dies for making fake ancient coins, and an entire bronze chariot which was probably looted from a tomb.

Some relevant postings/articles of mine include:

The Illicit Antiquities Trade in Bulgaria

Der Handel mit antiken Münzen. Ausmaß und Netzwerke (The Ancient Coin Trade: Scale and Networks)

It's All the Same: The Looting of the 'High Arts' vs. the Looting of the Minor Arts (Cultural Heritage in Danger)

Good Faith, Due Diligence, and Market Activities

Elkins, N.T. 2008. A Survey of the Material and Intellectual Consequences of Trading in Undocumented Ancient Coins: a Case Study on the North American Trade. Frankfurter elektronsiche Rundschau zur Altertumskunde 7: 1-13.

See also:
Organized Crime in Bulgaria: Markets and Trends (pp. 177ff), by the Center for the Study of Democracy

I have been invited to give a lecture on the relationship between looting in Balkan countries and indiscriminate market demand which will focus on wholesaling of antiquities and coins to other dealers in the United States and systematic looting:
"Balkan Metal Detector Finds: Feeding the Coin Trade in the USA," Kolloquium Archäologie zwischen Römern und Barbaren. Römisch-Germanische Kommission/Goethe Universität Frankfurt. 19-22 March 2009. Frankfurt am Main.

With all of the press surrounding the large-scale looting in Iraq and Afghanistan following periods of destabilization, which is no doubt very important and of great concern, I am glad to see that the problems faced by Balkan nations are still receiving attention from popular venues such as Archaeology Magazine.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Third Century AD Battlefield Discovered in Germany

Last week German archaeologists announced the discovery of a battlefield between Germanic peoples and the Romans in northern Germany. The finds from the battlefield have dated the battle to c. AD 200 - rather late for a conflict between Germanic tribes and the Romans. Hundreds of weapons and weapon-fragments (esp. spearheads, arrowheads, and axes), some of them indicating damage from battle, are among the most interesting finds. Tests on the wood of spear shafts indicate these came from Africa. Some coins were also found at the site and add to the chronological evidence.

So far two articles by Der Spiegel Online have covered the discovery (here and here).

Photos from Der Spiegel Online.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Zahi Hawass: Digging for History

Zahi Hawass is one of the most famous and popularly known archaeologists in the world. Hawass' stardom among the general public is almost comparable to that of the fictional Indiana Jones; he has recently raised over $500,000 for a children's museum by selling replicas of his own signature style "explorer hat" in conjunction with the traveling King Tut tour. has posted a video outlining how his passion for archaeology developed, his duties as Egypt's head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, his plans for a large new museum, and his efforts to repatriate stolen Egyptian antiquities.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Now Online: The University of Virginia Art Museum Numismatic Collection

The University of Virginia Art Museum has now placed its numismatic collection online. The collection is relatively small compared to some of the other digitized collections I have called attention to, but I believe the digitization and public archiving of any public collection is essential for the advancement of numismatic research.

The collection has about 600 ancient and medieval coins online - all of them are accompanied with descriptions, references, and images. What is really great about this project is that poorly preserved and worn coins, which are often ignored by museums, are also photographed and placed online. I must say that having tried to photograph coins in that condition myself and knowing how difficult and tedious that can be, those who imaged these very worn and corroded coins have done an excellent job. Ethan Gruber, one of the programers involved in the project, informs me that many of the corroded coins are too fragile to be handled repeatedly by students and scholars and so it is good that we now have a digital record of these specimens

One can search the database through various keyword searches or by browsing through an array of options: name (of ruler), dynasty, century, location, material, denomination, deity, subject, department, institution, or collection.

The homepage of the project also states:

"The collection was described in Encoded Archival Description (EAD), with several coin-specific adaptations to describe physical attributes such as legends and iconography. This project appears to be unique in its application of EAD to numismatics. In addition to EAD's capability of describing the physical attributes of each object in the collection, administrative history, essays, and index terms can be encoded in XML to create completely comprehensive metadata for those students and scholars of numismatics to use as a tool in their research."

Computer gurus will know more about what all this means than I. In my 10-15 minutes of browsing the collection, I personally find the interface rather comfortable.

I am grateful to Ethan Gruber for bringing this collection and the database to my attention.

The University of Virginia Art Museum Numismatic Collection:

Image: Screenshot of a record from the database.

Ulterior Motives in Discussion of Looting Issues?

One of the arguments that have been made against archaeologists advocating for the preservation and protection of archaeological sites against looting is that this advocacy is a veiled attempt to discredit and exclude independent scholars. In a recent posting I asked some stakeholders in the looting/indiscriminate collecting debate to abandon the obtrusive personal attacks and insults which are not relevant to the issues at hand. In the subsequent comments to the posting, the discussion between me and Wayne Sayles, the ACCG Executive Director, turned toward a discussion of "ownership" of the past and scholarship on the past, and thus it is worth starting a new thread.

While I disagree that advocacy for the preservation of finite archaeological resources serves an agenda to exclude the work of independent scholars, Mr. Sayles raises some points that are perhaps worth addressing. As archaeologists we have a responsibility to make our research and findings available to the public for their own edification or study. What use is there in studying the past if we cannot share our passions and the revelations of our research with other enthusiasts whether they be fellow academics, collectors, or laypeople?

Through the course of the discussion, several points about access to literature and material and the ability to publish scholarship were raised.


I explained that scholarly journals (archaeological, numismatic, philogical, art historical, historical, etc.) are peer-reviewed and that affiliated scholars and non-affiliated scholars would be on equal footing during the referee process since submissions to such journals are reviewed blindly.

Mr. Sayles countered by stating that the American Journal of Archaeology has publication guidelines prohibiting the publication of material in collections that were unknown before 1973. While this is true, it is wrong to view the AJA's guidelines for ethical publication as a malicious attempt to exclude independent scholars. Clearly the policy was enacted as a means to discourage the illicit and unethical trade in recently looted antiquities. Nearly twenty years ago, Fred S. Kleiner, a well-known archaeologist, art historian, and numismatist, and who was also the Editor-in-Chief of the AJA at the time, attempted to clear up some misconceptions of the AJA's publication policy through a short editorial in the journal (F.S. Kleiner, "On the Publication of Recent Acquisitions of Antiquities," AJA 94 (1990), 525-527 [JSTOR]). Some of his comments regarding the policy and its goals are worth noting (all italics in original text):

"While condemning the illicit trade in antiquities, the Archaeological Institute of America and the American Journal of Archaeology will not, however, stand in the way of legitimate scholarly discussion of antiquities so acquired once they have been published elsewhere. The AIA resolution does not ask scholars to pretend that illicitly acquired objects do not exist and does not require that such objects never be discussed at an AIA annual meeting or in the AJA. To do so would be contradictory to the vey principle of free and open scholarly inquiry for which the AIA and its Journal stand" (p. 526).

"...The policy has had its intended effect, namely to put the Archaeological Institute of America on record as taking an unequivocal stand against the illicit trade in antiquities and the attendant destruction of the archaeological context of those artifacts; to focus the attention of scholars, museum curators, collectors, and the general public on an ethical, legal, and scholarly issue of paramount importance; and to prompt many institutions and individual collectors to reevaluate and amend their acquisition policies - while not putting the AIA in the way of scholarly inquiry and discussion. The AIA's is a carefully framed, balanced policy; I personally support it without reservation" (p. 527).

Pertinent to Mr. Sayles' criticism, I would also add that the current publication policy allows for the publication of undocumented artifacts for which there is no history or provenance provided that the article emphasizes the loss of knowledge resulting from its unscientific excavation. Since context is such an important facet of study for the material remnants of past events, whether an archaeological site or a modern crime scene, it certainly should not be difficult to highlight the loss of information caused by a loss of context.

Access to Literature

The second point we discussed was access of study material and resources. I explained that unaffiliated scholars can usually join university research libraries for a small fee and make use of the same resources that affiliated scholars can.

Mr. Sayles disagrees about access by claiming that university libraries reserve parts of their holdings for faculty and doctoral students and pointing to institutional affiliation as necessary for access to JSTOR, which archives past issues of some scholarly journals.

To this I can only point to my own experiences. I am currently affiliated with the University of Missouri - Columbia, which maintains a very important research library relating to archaeology, ancient history, and classics. We even have a respectable collection of numismatic resources as well. There are no parts of the library collection which are reserved only for doctoral candidates or faculty. If a member of the public were to join the library, he/she would have access to the same resources to which I and everyone else there would have access. Library memberships typically also provide use of the Interlibrary Loan Program so that one can order any book or article which is not held by the library. The library membership also grants access to JSTOR and members of the public who do not join the library can certainly access it from library terminals. Many public libraries should also provide access to JSTOR. It is true that JSTOR does not yet offer access for private individuals, but it does have a page suggesting ways of accessing it until non-affiliated researchers can subscribe directly (Institutional memberships are only possible at present). Mr. Sayles is a Missourian and so it is highly likely that if he wishes to conduct research, the University of Missouri library would be the most sensible choice for him as it is the best library for ancient world research in the region. I highly recommend the resources we have available for any research he would wish to conduct.

When I studied at the University of Evansville and the University of Reading (UK), the libraries of the institutions did not have collections reserved only for doctoral students or faculty. When I was at the ANS seminar in 2004, I made use of the library at Columbia University and got a visitor's card. Many of the works were not in the main library but divided up around campus and housed within individual departments. I was able to use my visitor's card (which did not indicate I was doctoral student) to access the resources that were housed in the Classics Department.

Personally, I have always been an enthusiastic researcher and between my undergraduate degree and M.A. I had a four or five month long summer break because of the differences between the American and British academic timetables. During that time I made use of the Texas Tech University library in my hometown and I inquired about joining the library in order to make use of Interlibrary Loan since the numismatic and archaeological resources were not that great. If I had joined the library I would have been able to make use of the program.

Certainly, affiliated scholars have an advantage in living in the same town and working at universities with research libraries, but there is no reason that unaffiliated scholars cannot make use of these resources for their own study. One may have to pay a small fee to join a library, but this will open up access to that collection, JSTOR, and virtually anything else one may wish to read could be attained through Interlibrary Loan.

Access to Material

Mr. Sayles also claims there is a bias against independent scholars in the implementation of fees necessary for the reproduction of copyrighted images. Again, I can only speak from personal experiences, but I have had to order images several times. My impression is that fees for the reproduction of images are standard across the board - everyone is expected to pay. When I published my first article this was an overwhelming notion given my small graduate student budget, but a senior colleague informed me that if you explain your financial situation you can often get the fees waived. I tried this and it worked. I explained I was a poor, unwaged graduate student and would not profit financially for the article and so they waived the fees. When I conducted my die study of the Colosseum coins this worked as well for some places, but other museums would not bend the rules and it did cost me about $120 for photographs from one institution in spite of my affiliation and unwaged status! There were other institutions which also refused to waive fees, but their prices were not quite as high as $120 for images of one coin. I know several fellow graduate students who did not explain their situations and simply paid the fees as requested, going further into debt in the process. I have told several of my unwaged colleagues that they should explain their situations when ordering images - it never hurts to ask.

In short, independent scholars are not the only ones who have to battle exorbitant fees in the reproduction of images. Affiliated scholars fight with them equally. I know of some more senior colleagues who have already published books, for which they will not profit in book sales on account of printing costs, and have had to invest their own money and savings in the publication of those books. One academic acquaintance informed me he had to cough up $20,000 for the image rights on one of one of his more amply illustrated scholarly books!

My impression is that institutions are more willing to waive fees for the reproduction of images for unwaged individuals or for people who will not be profiting financially from their published works (e.g. for an article vs. a popular book). Generally, reproduction costs are not based on affiliation or lack of it, contrary to Mr. Sayles' view.

Mr. Sayles also criticized the ANS for discounting him as a participant in the ANS seminar when he expressed interest some years ago. While I am not familiar with the specific circumstances relating to his inquiry, I do know that the ANS seminar is designed for active graduate students or very recent PhDs - individuals who are pursuing scholarly careers. Mr. Sayles said at the time of inquiry he already had a graduate degree and was not enrolled in a doctoral program and so I suspect that would be the reasoning why he would not have been accepted. Certainly he would not have been dismissed as a potential applicant because he is a collector/dealer. At the time I attended the seminar I personally was still collecting to some degree and many knowledgeable collectors give and have given lectures and instruction to seminar participants.

There is also some question about access to museum collections. Here I must simply say that we all struggle with this - affiliated or not. Peter Tompa and I have already shared stories about difficulty accessing material. I was affiliated and he was not, but we both had difficulty with various institutions. With some of these inward-looking institutions you simply have to find a contact who will vouch for you to gain access as I had to do and as Mr. Tompa also had to do. Its absurd I agree, but even as an affiliated academic I have fought with it as well.


Mr. Sayles says I am "naive" to believe that independent scholars are not consciously excluded by affiliated academics and that concern about looting is unrelated to a maligned agenda to exclude independent scholars. He references SAA Bulletin 11.5, in which archaeologists Jon L. Gibson and Joe Sanders stated: "Archaeologists must be more than just stewards of the past. They must serve as the public conscience. They must act on society's behalf even when society is insensitive or objects."

I do not read control in this statement the same way that Mr. Sayles does, and I agree wholeheartedly with the statement made by Gibson and Sanders. I maintain that the archaeologist's concern for looting is easily and naturally comparable to the concern of environmental scientists who are worried about climate change and zoologists who are worried about the extinction of certain species and poaching. Would one argue that these specialists simply want to own or control environmental science and endangered animals? It would be a very idiosyncratic view indeed, but that is essentially what is being said about archaeology and its concern about looting issues.

I fully understand that access to research materials can be difficult in some circumstances; even affiliated scholars have battled with access to collections and resources. But I do not think the problem is as grim for independent scholars as Mr. Sayles paints it and I do not believe there is a conspiracy to exclude them from an informed academic discourse. I have read peer-reviewed articles by unaffiliated scholars a number of times in academic journals and I normally see several "At Large" members at the annual AIA meetings. If an independent scholar has the will to access a research library or other resources, this can be accomplished. And let us be honest, the "Good Old Boy's Club" syndrome is just as prevalent in the "real world," perhaps even more so than it is academia. Equally, personal connections can certainly aid the advancement of a collector or dealer in the ancient coin and antiquities trade and I wonder if many of the large auction houses would open their own reference libraries to the public.

Undoubtedly, access to research materials could be improved and the wider scholarly community needs to put pressure on insular institutions to allow access more freely for legitimate research. Nevertheless, this is an issue unrelated to looting and indiscriminate collecting. It is a red herring injected into the debate and meant to distract from the real and pressing issue of systematic looting. Archaeologists have a duty to act as the "public conscience" on looting and are naturally in a position to call attention to the destruction of the material past. An archaeologist's relationship to the material past is analogous to that of zoologists to endangered species or environmental scientists to climate change. Should they not act as the "public conscience" on such issues or should they be demonized for doing so?

Related Discussions

Monday, December 1, 2008

Digest 2: Posts 26-50

The 50th post on Numismatics and Archaeology was "Call for Papers Extended for the 2009 International Numismatic Congress in Glasgow, Grants Also Available." In keeping with what I planned earlier, I am providing a digest every 25 posts to make it easier for readers to access older posts. Digests listing all previous blog posts may be easily accessed by clicking keyword digest in the keyword list left column of the page.

Digest 2:

26. Hadrian: Empire and Conflict (20 July 2008)

27. New Responsibilities at Uni Frankfurt (6 August 2008)

28. ACCG "Benefit Auction" Press Release (8 August 2008)

29. "...A Free Market for All Collector Coins" - Another Look at the ACCG "Benefit Auction" (10 August 2008)

30. Archäologie und Geschichte der römischen Provinzen (11 August 2008)

31. Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews Blog (12 August 2008)

32. Internet Discussions on Looting, Legislation, and Lobbyists (19 August 2008)

33. Barack Obama's National Arts Policy Committee (21 August 2008)

34. The Online Catalogue of the Münzkabinett of the Staatliche Museen in Berlin (21 August 2008)

35. Obama and McCain on Art Policy...or not (5 September 2008)

36. Searching for Mythical Ithaca (7 September 2008)

37. U.S. Senate Gives Advice and Consent to the 1954 Hague Convention on Cultural Property (26 September 2008)

38. The Coin Collection at the Museo Nazionale Romano - Palazzo Massimo alle Terme (26 September 2008)

39. 28,000 Coins from the Fitzwilliam Museum Now Online (1 October 2008)

40. Exhibition: Bunte Götter. Die Farbigkeit antiker Skulptur (Liebieghaus Skulptur Sammlung - Frankfurt) (7 October 2008)

41. Context Matters: AIA Classroom Excavations Video and Resources for Primary and Secondary Educators (27 October 2008)

42. The Controversial "Excavation" of a Coin Hoard (30 October 2008)

43. Archaeological 'Brown Shirts' (1 November 2008)

44. Der Handel mit antiken Münzen. Ausmaß und Netzwerke (The Trade in Ancient Coins: Scale and Networks) (4 November 2008)

45. Raubgrabung und Handel mit Kulturgütern (6 November 2008)

46. SAFE Honors Lord Colin Renfrew at the 2009 AIA/APA Meeting in Philadelphia (8 November 2008)

47. Numismatics and Archaeology at the AIA (10 November 2008)

48. Leisurely Blogging, Laggardly Thinking (24 November 2008)

49. Recording Wear and Corrosion on Ancient Coin Finds (25 November 2008)

50. Call for Papers Extended for the 2009 International Numismatic Congress in Glasgow, Grants Also Available (29 November 2008)