The archaeological establishment has preached at CPAC meetings and elsewhere that coins—like other artifacts--lose all their meaning without context, and that import restrictions are necessary to encourage academic research. But all the workshop topics about coin iconography (including one Elkins himself chaired) simply belie this claim.
The study of ancient coin iconography can be worked at multiple angles. Yes. So?
Anyone who read the summary or announcement of the workshop that was posted here should have understood that exploring the various ways that coin iconography can be approached was the whole point of the workshop. Tompa, it seems, would have us discard the importance of archaeological context simply because there are other ways that coin iconography can be studied too. If we are playing with tired idioms, forget about "tail wagging dog," Tompa would have us "throw out the baby with the bathwater"!
Tompa boldly claims "But all the workshop topics about coin iconography (including one Elkins himself chaired) simply belie this claim." Why the deception? Why ignore the fact that the workshop did include a session on "Coin Iconography in Numismatic and Material Contexts"? In case the session title is not clear, some papers in that session approached the study of coin iconography through the lens of find contexts (i.e. material context). For further clarification this means through hoards and/or archaeological excavation.
Coin iconography is, of course, not only worked at via find context and cannot be approached through material context alone, but to ignore its place in the workshop to promote one's own agenda is surely dishonest. And to imply that coin iconography cannot be approached through this route displays an ignorance of recent peer-reviewed research by several specialists on coin iconography that has appeared in-print within the last 5-10 years. The subject of Roman coin iconography is especially fruitful; our understanding of Roman imperial communication via the coins continues to be enhanced by attention to archaeological context.
It is simply wrong-headed to suggest that just because there are other ways of approaching subjects that other methods are irrelevant. We can read ancient historical texts that have survived the ages. Does that mean the study of art and archaeology is irrelevant? No. Art and archaeology can answer questions that texts cannot or can be deployed in conjunction with texts and other forms of evidence to reconstruct a more complete picture of the past.
The lobbyist's attempt at deception and sniping are characteristic of a debate that has become overly polarized, entrenched, and lacking of critical thought though rife with emotion. Would it not be better to acknowledge the importance of archaeological and material context and to seek ways in which both context and ethical collecting can be preserved so that avocational passion and scientific study can continue to coexist? More moderate and reflective voices must prevail.