Friday, August 14, 2009

"Coins in Context" at the International Numismatic Congress

Regular readers of this website will know that I have been making a series of posts discussing the new book Coins in Context I: New Perspectives for the Interpretation of Coin Finds, which was based on a colloquium held at Frankfurt University in the fall of 2007. The book was entitled Coins in Context I in order to indicate that research in this direction should continue and that future volumes may be produced.

Two contributors to the book, Fleur Kemmers (Nijmegen) and Nanouschka Myrberg (Stockholm) have organized a round table session on "Coins in Context" to take place at the XIVth International Numismatic Congress in Glasgow. The summary of the round table session reads as follows:
Coins are an integral part of the archaeological record. Yet, the coins are often separated from the other finds and brought to a specialist, who will treat them as a separate entity regardless of their find context. The archaeologist accepts the list of coins and lacks the knowledge to evaluate its full meaning. Thus a lot of the information of coin finds is wasted. Yet a close study of the context in which coins have been found might not only reveal a lot of information on the archaeological site, but perhaps even more so on the coins themselves and how they functioned in the past. By only using coins to establish the chronology of a site, the full potential of this particular category of archaeological sources is not considered.

When archaeology and numismatics are deliberately combined, the great potential of this approach will present immediate results. To study coins in their various contexts has greatly contributed to our understanding of the functions, use, loss and deposition patterns of coins, of the way and pace in which coins were brought into a society, of the perceptions surrounding the coins themselves and their deposition, and more. Such studies are not only of interest to numismatists, but just as much to archaeologists and historians. Nevertheless, this kind of research is still in its infancy, and often regarded with suspicion by numismatists and archaeologists alike.

The phrase ‘context’ is here intended as the archaeological feature (pit, posthole, well, etc.) on a site in which a coin is found, but also as its functional context (Iron Age religious site, late Roman villa, Merovingian cemetery, etc.) or its ideological or historical context as a context of thought and history. The research paradigm in which the coin is treated also constitutes a context, which may well have a decisive impact on the interpretation of the coin and its finding circumstances. Since the approaches of a numismatist, an archaeologist or an art historian are surely quite diverse, their research objectives will vary accordingly.

The aim of the roundtable session is to investigate innovative methods and research questions relating to the coins as objects with their own distinctive cultural biographies, ranging from the production context to the depositional context. We would like to discuss the topic in a broad chronological (600 BC – AD 1750) and geographical scope. However, we expect proposals to go beyond particularities of a period or region, and rather focus on theories and methods with wider applicability.