Thursday, July 30, 2009

Coins in Context I: P. Beliën, "From coins to comprehensive narrative? The coin finds from the Roman army camp on Kops Plateau at Nijmegen..."

The first three essays by von Kaenel, Elkins, and Krmnicek from Coins in Context I: New Perspectives for the Interpretation of Coin Finds composed the first series of articles on "methodological overviews." The next four articles are grouped in a section called "potential at site level." The first of those is Paul Beliën's "From coins to comprehensive narrative? The coin finds from the Roman army camp on Kops Plateau at Nijmegen: problems and opportunities" (pp. 61-80). It should be noted that the military camp on Nijmegen's Kops Plateau should not be confused for the legionary fortress on the Hunerburg whose coin finds have already been systematically studied and analyzed (see F. Kemmers. 2006. Coins for a Legion: An Analysis of the coin finds of the Augustan Legionary Fortress and Flavian canabae legionis at Nijmegen. Studien zu Fundmünzen der Antike 21 (Mainz: von Zabern)).

Beliën's contribution lays out his methodology for a study of the coin finds from the fort on the Kops Plateau, founded c. 12 BC and abandoned in AD 69 during the Batavian Revolt, which he is currently undertaking. The first eight pages provide the historical background which need not detain us here. The author then provides a short history of the excavations on the Kops Plateau on page 69. The site has been rather productive. Beliën states "By 1995, 42,000 features, 375,000 sherds, 35,000 fragments of brick and loam, 30,000 metal objects, 3,000 pieces of slag, and 4,668 coins were found. In addition to this, copious amounts of organic material were recovered, such as 62,000 animal and human bone fragments." As he indicates one of the problems in studying material from the Kops Plateau is that little has been published, which he attributes to the fact that much of the site was excavated before the Malta Convention (alt. Valetta Treaty) was enacted in 1992, which has a provision for regular publication and reports. But at least the complete coin lists were published in 2002 in FMRN 3.1.

Beliën begins delving into his methodological discussion on page 70. In studying the coins in context, his primary goals are to understand what processes were in place to supply coins to the Kops Plateau and if there is any significance to deposition patterns of the coin finds. He adds:

"When analysing the coins and their contexts, we must take into account the various factors that governed the deposition and loss of coins and the post-depositional processes that influenced the ways in which the coin complex was formed. The size of coins, the metal they are made of, their value (in the Roman period, as well as in modern times), the number of coins of a certain type or denomination in circulation on a site, the way they were used and the methods used during excavation, must all be considered" (p. 70).
The author also plans on conducting a "numismatic analysis" that at this stage will focus on AVAVCIA coins, countermarked coins, and "barbaric imitations" which he expects will be new sources of information and which perhaps also were produced locally. Beliën also supposes that Celtiberian and Gallic coins may provide information about the origins of the soldiers on the Kops Plateau. All of this taken together should provide insights into how the coin series here came to be and will no doubt open the door to chronological questions and raise further questions on the way coins were used by or supplied to different military units at different periods of time.

Beliën will also examine the coin finds in a regional context in order to determine what relationships between the camp and outlying settlements and sanctuaries may have had through the lens of the coin finds: "By making an inventory of the coin finds from the area and comparing the loss patterns, it should be possible to learn more about the nature of the monetary interaction between the Roman military at Nijmegen and the people living in the Batavian countryside, which could be considered a militarised zone at the time" (pp. 72-73). The author then formally discusses some geographical and chronological limits of his study which need not occupy us here since we are most interested in the broader methodology.

Pages 74-77 address the data set. There are 5,340 coins from the Kops Plateau which are available for study. Most coin finds come from disturbed contexts. So far, approximately 200 coins were recovered from undisturbed features and in sealed contexts associated with other datable objects. Although much of the total corpus is considered "stray finds," they will still be essential components of the broader study. Coins from private collections or in the Museum het Valkhof that were found by metal detectorists, and those from early 20th century excavations, are excluded since it is not known where on the Kops Plateau they were found. This reduces his sample to 4,483 coins and ten coin hoards from the Kops Plateau. Beliën is also cautious against using coins from collections since they have undergone a modern process of selection in order to enter a collection and do not represent the ancient reality of what was lost.

Beliën also notes that while certain parts of the site were thoroughly excavated, and in these a metal detector was used in every trench after every 10-15 cm of excavation to ensure that all coins and metal objects were recovered, other parts were not and so the sample he is using will only reflect what was occurring at certain parts of the site at certain time periods. Large parts of the Kops Plateau remain unexcavated, and other areas of the site have been vandalized by looters and the sample of coin finds further diminished.

The final section of the article is entitled "A research strategy." It begins by telling us how each coin will be photographed and put into a database. Initial research questions will focus on the AVAVCIA coins, countermarked coins, and the "barbaric imitations," as well as the Celtiberian and Gallic coins. After the systematization of the data, Beliën will consider archaeological contexts in conjunction with the numismatic data. A distinction is made between coins with coordinates and coins without coordinates. Those without coordinates are only known to have come from a specific trench, other spatial information regarding their features or layers in which they were embedded is lost. He explains, however, "If we use the coordinates of the centre of the trenches in which these coins were found, we can still use them for the analyses to get at least some idea about the general distribution of these coins on the site."

The coins with an exact find spot are divided into three further categories: 1) not from features, 2) from features, and 3) closed contexts. Those in the first category will be used in spatial distribution maps. He expects this may provide some information on the date and function of various parts of the forts. Those in the second category may provide information on the feature or, alternatively, the feature may provide information on the coins. For the final category, Beliën explains:

"After analysing the coins and the associated data and material from every closed context, it has to be established if patterns can be discerned in the distribution of certain coin types, countermarks, etc., over these archaeological contexts. This might tell us something about the date and function of coins and coin use as well as the contexts in which they were lost. The coins from post holes, for example, may provide us with some interesting information: Harry van Enckevort, one of the excavators, told the author that several denarii were found in post holes of the praetorium and it is quite likely that these were intentionally deposited there" (p.79).
After this work is done and all of the information on the coin finds and various features is collated, the comparative work with outlying and neighboring settlements can be undertaken and preliminary plan is sketched.