Sunday, July 12, 2009

Coins in Context I: St. Krmnicek, "Das Konzept der Objektbiographie in der antiken Numismatik"

Here is the third installment in the series of posts about the new book, Coins in Context I: New Perspectives for the Interpretation of Coin Finds. Stefan Krmnicek’s "Das Konzept der Objektbiographie in der antiken Numismatik" (pp. 47-59) discusses theoretical applications in numismatics, namely the concept of "object biography." It is the only contribution in the volume that is not published in English, though it is preceded by a short abstract in English (p. 47).

Coins are economic tools and are frequently studied from this single perspective in modern discourses but, just as today, objects can have multiple varying and simultaneous functions. This contribution examines the contemporary reception of ancient coins by exploring the different potential functions they had. The first section of the article "Die Grundlagen des modernen Fachverständnisses" (pp. 48-52) is a short historiographic discussion on the way that our understanding of ancient coins has been shaped by centuries of study. The end of the section introduces a discussion on how developing theories and perspectives in prehistoric archaeology have influenced Iron Age numismatics, especially in defining a dichotomy between ritual and non-ritual interpretations.

The rest of the relatively short contribution provides an example from Arrian’s Cynegeticus (32, 1-2) where coins take on a completely different function as ritual offerings and posits a hypothetical model illustrating how the meaning of a coin could have changed at different times in its "lifetime." As archaeologists and numismatists, we must be aware that in most cases the only function or meaning of a coin that we can recognize will be that from its final deposition, i.e. from its find context. Any meaning it had before its final deposition will, in most cases, be lost to modern observers.

It is argued that the foundations for a discussion on the value of theory in numismatics have been laid in studies on Iron Age coin finds, but such perspectives could be applied to other areas of ancient numismatics as well.

All current and future posts pertaining to this book can be easily found by the keyword "Coins in Context I."