Saturday, December 26, 2009

Contexts and the Contexualization of Coin Finds - An International Colloquium

The Swiss Group for the Study of Coin Finds (Groupe suisse pour l’étude des trouvailles monétaires/Schweizerische Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Fundmünzen) has announced that it will host an international colloquium on "Contexts and the Contextualization of Coin Finds" in Geneva on March 5-7, 2010. Several established and emerging scholars will present papers on a wide breadth of subjects that elucidate the value of contextual methods in numismatics. Lectures will be in English, French, Italian, and German. Abstracts are posted in the program.

The list of speakers and subjects is as follows:


Richard REECE, Coin finds and archaeologists: past, present, and future

L’élaboration de fondements à l'aide de contextes (dans le temps et dans l'espace)

Andreas SCHÄFER, Zur Aussagekraft von Fundmünzen in latènezeitlichen Siedlungskontexten Süddeutschlands

Colin HASELGROVE, Hallaton and Leicester: rewriting the early history of the English East Midlands

Le potentiel d'étude de différents types de stratigraphies et de trouvailles

Kevin BUTCHER, Hoards, single finds and monetary circulation

Luisa BERTOLACCINI & Ulrich WERZ, Fundmünzreihen versus Dendrochronologie? Das Beispiel Grosser Hafner (Zürich)

Jens Christian MOESGAARD, Monnaies médiévales et modernes en contextes archéologiques le cas de la Haute-Normandie

Benedikt ZÄCH, Münzfunde in Kirchen: Chancen und Grenzen bei der Interpretation von Kontexten

Aires de circulation monnaies comme clé de compréhension du développement économique

Federico BARELLO, Augusta Taurinorum, archeologia urbana e rinvenimenti numismatici

Charles BONNET, Matteo CAMPAGNOLO & Marc-André HALDIMANN, L’étude conjointe des monnaies et de la céramique de contextes stratigraphiques de la cathédrale Saint-Pierre à Genève

Johan VAN HEESCH, Coins and the countryside: Coin use in Roman ‘villas’ in Northern Gaul

Vincent GENEVIÈVE, Le trésor d'argentei de Bénazet (Ariège) : un dépôt monétaire franc au pied des Pyrénées?

Degré de monétarisation ou la deuxième et la troisième vie de monnaies antiques

Suzanne FREY-KUPPER & Clive STANNARD Evidence for the importation of blocks of foreign bronze coins in the Ancient world, and their role in the monetary stock

Fleur KEMMERS, After Rome? The second life of Roman coins in Frankish settlements

Différents types de trouvailles à l'époque médiévale et moderne

Adriano BOSCHETTI-MARADI, Stephen DOSWALD & Brigitte MOSER, Bauforschung und Numismatik: Fundmünzen aus Bauuntersuchungen im Kanton Zug

Harald R. DERSCHKA, Der St. Mang-Platz in Kempten (Allgäu)

Fonctions des monnaies dans des environnements sociaux et économiques particuliers (rituels, offrandes, thésaurisation, etc.)

Günther E. THÜRY, Verlieren und Wiederfinden von Münzen in der römischen Antike

Samuele RANUCCI, San Feliciano: un caso di offerta monetale nelle acque del Lago Trasimeno

Paul-André BESOMBES, Les monnaies de l’établissement antique de Mané-Véchen à Plouhinec (Morbihan)

Other recent colloquia and conferences that addressed the application of material contexts in numismatic study include the symposium on "Coins in Context" at Frankfurt University (a collection of articles based on the conference have since been published), a panel at the 2009 AIA/APA Meeting entitled "Contextual Numismatics: New Perspectives and Interdisciplinary Methodologies," and a round table discussion with a panel of speakers at the XIVth International Numismatic Congress on "Coins in Context."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

New Academic Program in Value and Equivalency

It has been announced that Frankfurt University and the Technical University at Darmstadt will begin their new program in Wert und Äquivalent (Value and Equivalency). This interdisciplinary program will be directed by faculty of international renown from the two universities who are active in a number of related disciplines: African prehistory, ethnology, Classical and Roman provincial archaeology, numismatics, European prehistory, Near eastern archaeology, North American ethnology, and philology.

The program officially begins on April 1, 2009 and applications for 11 doctoral scholarships with a stipend of 1200 Euro per month are being accepted until January 10, 2009. The scholarships are valid for two years and are renewable for a third year.

One scholarship holder can work in archaeology and the cultural history of the Near East, one in Near Eastern philology, two in Classical archaeology (one in Frankfurt and one in Darmstadt), two in Roman provincial archaeology/auxiliary archaeological sciences (numismatics, papyrology, epigraphy), one in European prehistory, one in African prehistory, and three in ethnology with an emphasis on Africa, North America, and South East Asia.

There are also two post-doctoral fellowships for a tenure of two years. One is available in European prehistory and one in ethnology.

For further information and application details visit:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Digital Library Numis (DLN)

Many readers may already be familiar with Digital Library Numis (DLN). The project "is aimed to establish a major portal and a digital repository for freely available numismatic publications on coins, medals and related subjects, which mostly can be downloaded online."

The resources are not restricted to ancient coins, but to numismatics in general. The site features a search engine and subdivides subject matter into themes: e.g. "Roman Coins: Catalogues" or "Roman Coins: Iconography," or "Greek Coins: Aegean Islands, Crete, Cyprus," etc.

The bulk of the accessible material is 19th century monographs that are now out of copyright. A number of Ernst Babelon's important works are accessible as well as Cohen's catalogue which will be useful for anyone working with Roman coins from old collections or reports. But a few newer resources crop up as well. Essentially the aim is to aggregate material that is already available online and so for the newer research there is a prominence of articles from Revue Numismatique since it has already been made freely accessible online.

A contact link, prominently displayed on the homepage, allows users to report problems or suggest the addition of material.

Thanks to Thijs Verspagen for the suggestion to cover DLN here.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Decision Rendered in ACCG FOIA Suit Against U.S. Department of State

The litigious measures of the ACCG, and particularly its FOIA lawsuit against the Department of State with co-plaintiffs IAPN and PNG, have come up in discussion on this website before. A decision was delivered last Friday. David Gill delivered the first public comments (see "The ACCG, IAPN, and PNG FOIA Case: Opinion Delivered", 24 November 2009, Looting Matters). Gill's latest PR Newswire article brings further attention to the decision:

SWANSEA, Wales, Nov. 27 /PRNewswire/ -- David Gill, archaeologist, reflects on the outcome of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) related case brought against the US Department of State by two numismatic trade bodies and a collector advocacy group.

Two numismatic trade bodies, the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN) and the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG), and a collector advocacy group, the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG), had made a series of eight FOIA requests relating to the import restrictions on ancient coins from three specific areas: China, Cyprus, and Italy. The searches produced some 128 documents; 70 were released in full, and 39 in part.

In November 2007, the three groups (ACCG, IAPN, PNG) filed suit for the release of the remaining material. The action was taken because, according to the ACCG, the three bodies felt that "the State Department [had] recently imposed unprecedented import restrictions on ancient coins from Cyprus."

The restrictions on coins and other archaeological material had been put in place as part of a suite of measures to try and reduce the problem of looting. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Cyprus was praised by Dr. Pavlos Flourentzos, the then-director of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus. He had been keen to include coins as part of the MOU. In a December 2007 interview for SAFE (Saving Antiquities for Everyone), Flourentzos noted, "there is no scientific reason to set coins apart from the rest of archaeological finds." He also stressed that the MOU "shows sensitivity to the importance of preserving world cultural heritage, a principle highly esteemed by the international scientific community."

The lawsuit has now come to a conclusion with the issuing of a memorandum by Judge Richard J. Leon on November 20, 2009. Leon concluded that the State Department had "conducted a reasonable search" and that "it properly withheld the disputed information under FOIA exemptions."

The three plaintiffs are now said to be considering an appeal. The ACCG is also planning to bring a test case apparently linked to import restrictions. In April this year, the ACCG had tried to import ancient coins from China and Cyprus through Baltimore Airport without the appropriate paperwork.

It would appear that the ACCG had intended to keep the decision quiet until determining how to react since no comment came from them until immediately after Gill publicized the ruling. Shortly thereafter, the ACCG made a press release, apparently authored by Executive Director Wayne Sayles, which includes some interesting spins ("Ruling in FOIA Case Condones DOS Intransigence"). Gill has provided further discussion ("'This litigation was in many ways a win for the plaintiffs': The ACCG Responds to FOIA Decision").

Also of interest is the tenor and reasoning of comments made by Dave Welsh (Chair of the ACCG's International Affairs Committee) on the decision ("FOIA Case Ruling", 25 November 2009, Unidroit).

The judge's opinion memorandum is publicly available (download here). The judge's comments provide insight into the sorts of documents that the ACCG and its co-plaintiffs were trying to obtain, but which the government determined were included in FOIA exemptions. Such material includes private emails sent by members of the general public in regard to the MoU:

The State Department further points out that, contrary to the plaintiffs' assertion, the information in question here-certain emails sent by members of the private sector in connection with the Act and certain materials from the Bureau submitted to the committee-was provided in confidence. (Grafeld Decl. at 38, 54, 60, 72.) Specifically, the Grafeld Declaration states that the information was provided in confidence to either the State Department staff or to the advisory committee, often by archaeologists, curators, collectors, dealers, and auction house specialists, with the expectation of confidence. (Id.) Such confidence was necessary in order for individuals to disclose information about the quantity, quality, and objects of looting. (Id.). The Government thus properly withheld the information under exemption (b)(3). See 19 U.S.c. §§ 2605(i)(l)-(2).

It also appears that the dealer lobby was curious to uncover the identity of State Department employees and law enforcers involved in the enforcement bilateral agreements and import restrictions:

The Government also withheld portions of two documents under exemption (b )(7)(C), which exempts information compiled for law enforcement purposes that "could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(C). Specifically, the State Department withheld names, email addresses, and telephone and fax numbers of low-level employees included in a chain of emails created as part of law enforcement efforts to implement and enforce cultural property restrictions. I I (Def.'s Mot. at 9.) Given the individuals' strong privacy interest in their identifying information and the weak public interest in identifying information of low-level employees, the Court concludes that the State Department properly withheld the identifying information. See Lesar v. Us. Dep 't of Justice, 636 F.2d 472,487 (D.C. Cir. 1980); (see also Grafeld Decl. 42-44).

Monday, November 9, 2009

Lost Army of Cambyses Described by Herodotus Found?

An interesting story about the lost army of Cambyses that I picked up from my friend "Mithradates" on facebook:

Vanished Persian Army Said Found in Egyptian Desert

The remains of a mighty Persian army said to have drowned in the sands of the western Egyptian desert 2,500 years ago might have been finally located, solving one of archaeology's biggest outstanding mysteries, according to Italian researchers.

Read the rest of the story at Discovery News.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween Archaeology

Just for fun. Some Halloween-inspired archaeology at Archaeology Magazine online.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gold Vessel from Ur Returns to Iraq

The colored saga of the gold vessel, allegedly looted from Ur, that was spotted for sale at Münzhandlung Hirsch Nachfolger and seized has been discussed here before: "The Curious Case of a Gold Vessel from Ur," "Future of Gold Vessel from Ur (or Troy?) Remains Uncertain," Video about the Gold Vessel and Antiquities Trading in Germany."

After being taken by German authorities, it was handed over to Michael Müller-Karpe in Mainz for analysis. Müller-Karpe is a a leading expert on Mesopotamian metalwork. He concluded it was of Iraqi origin and unlikely to have come from Troy, the provenance claimed by the auction house. He believed it more likely would have been deposited in a royal grave at Ur.

After a delay (discussed in the previous posts), Müller-Karpe and his institution returned the vessel to German authorities though the Iraqis feared the German government would allow the sale of this allegedly stolen object.

It has recently been reported that the Iraqis have successfully blocked the sale of the gold vessel and that it has returned to Iraq (S. Adel, "Iraq blocks sale of Mesopotamian artifacts in German auction," Azzaman News, 14 October 2009) . Since the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Iraqis have successfully blocked the sale of 28 suspect items in Germany.

For two other German interviews with the Iraqi ambassador about Iraq's efforts to reclaim materials appearing in the German marketplace see:

"Raubgut. 'Stärkerer Einsatz der Bundesregierung'," Der Spiegel 42 (2009), p. 117.

M. Döring, "Ein Verbrechen gegen die Menschheit," Berliner Zeitung (7 October 2009)

(Photo from Deutsche Welle)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Some Greek Coin Hoards Going Online

When I was at the International Numismatic Congress, I went to a workshop on the Digital SNG project. Since I am currently involved in a digitization project, I was excited to hear about collaborative opportunities for the electronic networking of various collections in addition to the SNG project.

Andrew Meadows and Sebastian Heath presented on the Digital IGCH (Inventory of Greek Coin Hoards) project and the ability of collectors, auction houses, or institutions to link records of coins from those hoards to the Digital IGCH. Individual specimens can be linked to the relevant IGCH page on the website, in essence reconstructing the hoard's contents virtually. Digital IGCH is part of the website, run by the American Numismatic Society. Sebastian discusses digital initiatives from time to time on his website.

After I got back to the States, I went down to the American Numsimatic Society to visit with colleagues and to discuss the project more with Sebastian and then began to see what we could contribute to Nomisma.

So far the Art Gallery's coins linked to include those from IGCH 1546 (Aleppo Hoard) and IGCH 1534 (Bab Hoard). The four coins from IGCH 1546 are mapped on Nomisma, but the records do not yet have photographs - these will soon be forthcoming as digitization progresses. The collection's holdings of IGCH 1534 are much more extensive with 209 drachms. All are photographed, but due to the high number of coins, Sebastian decided not to map the hoard yet since it is still uncertain how they want to set up the pages on the Nomisma website. The project and its format continues to be developed.

Some may find the individual coin records unsatisfactory in their description and detail since the numismatic records are only viewable through the same interface used for other artworks in the Art Gallery's collection. Therefore, much of the internal information entered is not viewable online. I myself was surprised to learn that after taking the time to assign updated references from Price for all 209 Alexander drachms that those new references would not be visible online. But one can hope that in the future the interface can be adapted as more numismatic records continue to go online everyday. In any case, that information is available internally and can be made available to researchers.

The Art Gallery's coins from IGCH 242, the Achaean League hoard, will soon be linked to Nomisma as well. Several other hoard coins in the Yale collection will be noted as they come up in the course of digitization and submitted to Nomisma for linking. I look forward to seeing how this digital initiative through Nomisma develops as we continue to experiment with it.

Photo: Silver drachm of Alexander III from IGCH 1534 (Yale 2001.87.10401)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Amphitheater at Portus

CNN is publicizing the recent discovery of the amphitheater at Portus by the University of South Hampton. In addition to an online article, there is also a video (below). I was surprised to see a colleague of mine, Christina Triantafillou, interviewed while excavating at the site. Hello Christina!

I met Christina at an AIA meeting several years ago via other University of Missouri graduate students who knew her from Tufts. In our conversation it soon became apparent we had much in common. I discovered she went through the ANS seminar the year after I did and was working on some excavation or hoard finds from Carthage. Also my M.A. advisor at Reading, who afterwards received a post at Oxford, is her Ph.D. advisor there.

I look forward to the reports and publications on the amphitheater. Check out the CNN article and video.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Coin Hoards and the Population of the City of Rome

A new article considers estimates for the population of the ancient city of Rome based on the prevalence of coin hoards and suggests figures lower than have been provided before:

P. Turchin and W. Scheidel, "Coin hoards speak of population declines in ancient Rome," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (5 Oct. 2009).

The article is available online, but one must pay a fee to access it or log in from an institutional library that subscribes to online access of the journal.

A summary of the article is provided by Science Daily.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

More on the Colosseum Sestertii

A shameless plug.

Since I started this website, I have received several inquiries about the Colosseum sestertii. Those individuals may be interested to know that a third article on the Colosseum sestertii will appear in Numismatic Chronicle 2009: N.T. Elkins, "What are they doing here? Flavian Colosseum Sestertii from Archaeological Contexts in Hessen and the Taunaus-Wetterau Limes (with an Addendum on NC 2006)."

This short article discusses five Colosseum sestertii that were produced through archaeological excavation at three different sites in the area around modern Frankfurt, Germany. What is peculiar is that the type is very rare (with only five obverse dies known and approximately 50 extant specimens) and so the number that has appeared in this tight geographical region of approximately 20 km is remarkable. In the article I make reference to other archaeological work on coin supply and circulation in the area and propose an historical explanation for the presence of these coins in a region where they would otherwise be unexpected. The short article will be followed by an addendum listing specimens that were missed or which have surfaced since the 2006 die study and catalogue ("The Flavian Colosseum Sestertii: Currency or Largess?"), as well as some additional references for previously catalogued specimens and corrigenda. No new dies or links have appeared.

This short article provides no great revelations, but may be of interest for those who are interested in the Colosseum sestertii or who would like the supplemental information for the more important article and die study from 2006.

I was contacted early in the summer by a production crew making yet another documentary on the Colosseum and they were interested in discussing evidence provided by the coin representations. They seemed most interested in the argument about the location of the imperial box, discussed in the first article ("Locating the Imperial Box in the Flavian Amphitheatre: The Numismatic Evidence"), though most readers will have recognized that the numismatic evidence was used more as a way at introducing some of the fundamental problems with the idea that the box was located on the southern side, a thought which seems to have been perpetuated since Lugli wrote it as an assumption in a few of his works. In most cases, I do not believe that coin representations were meant to be 100% faithful renderings of the monuments in question and am sceptical about many attempts to base reconstructions on numismatic evidence alone. If I recall correctly, the inquiry was for a British documentary and so if anyone sees discussion of the Colosseum sestertii or the location of the imperial box in some new British documentary, please do let me know!

End shameless plug.

Photo: Colosseum sestertius of Domitian for Divus Titus, AD 81. Münzkabinett der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin, Objektnummer 18204487

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lobbyist Celebrates "Collectors' Rights" Victory in Bulgaria, but What About the Continuous Destruction?

A Washington lobbyist and former of president of the American dealer lobby has recently celebrated a court ruling in Bulgaria which makes it easier for Bulgarian citizens to own looted minor antiquities.

Astute collectors however recognize that the ruling does not lessen the scale of destruction and the resulting loss of knowledge that is taking place in Eastern European countries like Bulgaria. One collector remarked:

"This change may be a victory for collectors, but I don't see that it has any impact on the looting problem.

It seems that Bulgarian collectors will be able to keep and 'legitimize' their collections (which in turn may then be eligible for legal export and sale?). But the provenance will be 'so-and-so's collection' as opposed to anything useful....

Of course, I would love to see a PAS-type system there [Bulgaria] in the future, but the first priority with a dying patient is to stop the bleeding."

Many collectors like this one realize that large scale demand and unconcerned attitudes in the acquisition of objects for resale drive the loss of knowledge caused by looting. After all, the U.S. is a market nation which imports looted material from countries like Bulgaria by the ton. Even in collector magazines, collectors have written editorials begging that something be done and proposing ways that collectors and dealers might address how market activities contribute to the problems and work on remedies. But these individuals, their concerns, and their ideas are often dismissed or ignored.

Why is the commercial lobby, which claims to be "anti-looting," unwilling to acknowledge or address the problem and the way that the current market structure contributes to it? If, as its titulature suggests, it caters to a collector interest, why are the concerns of conscientious collectors not being addressed?

I suggest that the archaeological community ought to distinguish better between collector and commercial. It ought to embrace that element which acquires objects out of a passion for history and a love of learning. The consumers are concerned and, if they feel empowered to do so, can be agents of proactive change. Others are content with a detrimental status quo.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Back from the XIVth International Numismatic Congress

I have been very busy over the past couple of months and so I am only now able to update this website after an entire month without posting. I expect to start attending to it more regularly again as I get settled into the new routines.

At the end of August and beginning of September I was in Glasgow for the XIVth International Numismatic Congress. It was the first INC I have been able to attend. There were approximately 600 delegates from all over the world representing all areas of numismatic study from ancient through modern. Of these 600 delegates, approximately 500-550 also delivered papers.

After the formal opening of the Congress on Monday morning, I heard Ute Wartenberg Kagan’s paper “Electrum Coinage: New Evidence and New Questions” in the session “Early Coinage/Persia.” I then ducked over to the session “Republic to Augustus” where I heard Jane Evans’ “The Restoration of Memory: Minucius and his Monument,” which provided much for me to reconsider in a chapter of the dissertation I am completing on architectural coin types. That afternoon I listened to a number of other interesting papers on the Republic and Imperatorial period.

Since I have focused my numismatic studies on the Roman period in my research, I decided to take the opportunity to listen to several papers on Greek coinage. In Tuesday’s session on “Athens and the Aegean” I found Clive Stannard’s paper “The adjustment al marco of Athenian decadrachms by the ‘gouging’ of flans” and Jack Kroll’s “The reminting of Athenian silver coinage in 354/3 BC” of particular interest.

On Tuesday afternoon I attended the round table on the digital SNG project since I am currently assisting in the management of the digitization of the Yale University Art Gallery’s numismatic collection. Although we are not producing a digital SNG at this time, many of the issues and opportunities that were discussed will be relevant to this work.

On Wednesday morning, I delivered my paper “Interpreting Architectural Coin Types from Recorded Contexts: The Flavian and Trajanic Periods,” which seemed to be successful. I also was grateful to receive a tip on an old published collection from Rome that may be considered as representing local finds. The other papers in my session (Empire- Coin Types (1st to 2nd Century)) were enlightening. Martin Beckmann, for example, presented a die study which provided a chronology for the posthumous coinage of Faustina I and which also showed a reverse die link between the coins for Faustina I and Faustina II. Later that morning, I heard more papers on Roman coin types, this time from the 2nd to 3rd centuries AD. The delegates then had a free afternoon for sight seeing, which I had planned to use to visit downtown Glasgow, but unfortunately it began to rain too heavily.

On Thursday morning I went to the round table discussion on “Coins in Context.” At this session it was announced that this event, plus the session at the Roman Archaeology Conference in Ann Arbor earlier this year, will serve as the foundation for a book entitled Coins in Context II which follows the publication of Coins in Context I. In the afternoon I attended the session on “Portraits/Iconography/Propaganda in Hellenistic Egypt.”

That evening was the closing ceremony after which everyone spent the next hour saying goodbye to various friends and colleagues before venturing off to hotels, pubs, or restaurants.

Since this was the first INC I have attended, I was happy to meet several colleagues I had corresponded with but had never met face-to-face and also to greet several others whom I had known by name only, and of course to catch-up with other friends and colleagues I had not seen in years. The wonderful and warm receptions at the Congress were very conducive to this activity; everyone was usually scrambling to and from the different sessions and papers during the day.

There was not a very extensive presence of book sellers. The three exhibitors that were present were Douglas Saville, Spinks, and CNG. Saville and Spinks had the most extensive selection of old and new monographs. I came back from the Congress a little poorer after deciding to pick up a copy of Rutter’s Historia Numorum for Italy, a copy of Duncan-Jones’ Money and Government in the Roman Empire, which I had used several times before though I had no private copy, and the latest Bibliothèque Nationale de France catalogue on Trajan’s coins to complete my collection of BNF catalogues that have been printed thus far.

I certainly look forward to the next Congress which will take place at Messina, Sicily in 6 years.

Photo: Colleagues at the closing ceremony at Wellington Church: (left to right) Cristian Găzdac (Romanian Academy, Cluj-Napoca), Ágnes Alföldy-Găzdac (National History Museum of Transylvania, Romania), Boris Kaczynski (Goethe Universität - Frankfurt), Fleur Kemmers (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen), Stefan Krmnicek (Goethe Universität - Frankfurt), Nathan Elkins (Yale University Art Gallery). Above my head (Elkins) and in the background, you can see David Wigg-Wolf (Goethe Universität - Frankfurt) and Stéphane Martin (École Normale Supérieure, Paris) to his right.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Colonia Ulpia Ratiaria in Bulgaria: An Update

A while back I called attention to the appeal by the Bulgarian Archaeological Association for funds to protect and preserve Colonia Ulpia Ratiaria which - like so many sites in Bulgaria - is being targeted by treasure hunters and destroyed.

Today I received an email which appears to have been sent out to all of those who made a donation to the preservation effort and which gave a brief report on the way some of the donations are being used:

[The] Bulgarian Archaeological Association is glad to inform you that thanks to your financial support a short term archaeological expedition at the territory of Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria was realized. Several architectural and epigraphical monuments were discovered and saved for the archaeological science. Please follow the link to find our [report]:

We will highly appreciate your further help and we kindly ask you to forward the following petition to other friends and supporters:

Thank you in advance,

Bulgarian Archaeological Association

21 Tsarigradsko shosse blv. 1124 Sofia Bulgaria
+ 359 (0) 878940223
While it is great that several individuals and groups donated to the preservation efforts, more is needed and I would urge anyone who can and who has an interest in preserving Bulgaria's heritage to sign the petition and donate.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Roman Architectural Coin Types and "Audience Targeting": A Preview of the Talk in Glasgow

At the XIVth International Numismatic Congress, I will have the opportunity to speak about an important facet of my dissertation on Roman architectural coin types. The presentation in Glasgow is entitled "Interpreting Architectural Coin Types from Recorded Contexts: The Flavian and Trajanic Periods" and takes place Wednesday morning in the Roman session "Empire - Coin Types (1st-2nd Century)," a session which promises many intriguing topics from colleagues.

In recent years, studies of coin supply and coin circulation rooted in archaeological evidence have attested that Roman bronze coinage was sometimes supplied to certain regions or populations based on the designs that those coins bore. This has important ramifications for the study of Roman coin images, Imperial ideology, and even Roman art as a whole.

In light of these developments in the fields of numismatics and archaeology, I decided to consider the regional distribution of architectural coin types in my dissertation from the Flavian and Trajanic periods since the Flavians and Trajan in particular produced a number of varied architectural coin types.

In Glasgow I will summarize my methodology and the results of this case study. There are, in my view, some interesting results with regard to the distribution and comparative frequencies of denotative types (architectural representations celebrating the construction or reconstruction of a specific monument in Rome) and connotative types (architectural designs evoking broader ideals or historical events other than construction).

For obvious reasons I do not wish to publicize the full results of this unpublished research, but I would like to show one of my pie charts (illustrated) which represents the regional distribution of bronze coin types celebrating construction of the Aqua Traiana for Rome that is one of the more convincing examples my research has yielded for an architectural coin type to targeted the city of Rome. The chart has been adjusted to account for the varying sizes of the corpora from the five main sample areas (Rome, Veneto, Germany, Austria, and Slovenia).

I would appreciate comments and discussion either in advance of or after the XIVth INC.

This post is protected by a Creative Commons 3.0 License.

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.

Coin Matters Resource Page Launched

SAFE has announced the launch of its latest resource page, Coin Matters, which lists articles and others resources referencing the indiscriminate trade and its relationship to looting and illicit activities. The August newsletter announcing the new resource states:
Ancient coins are among the most abundant finds from Greek and Roman period excavations. As objects of daily life, they're an essential part of the archaeological and historical record. At the same time, huge demand for fresh sources of ancient coins makes such finds susceptible to illicit sale. The looting of coins and other portable antiquities to meet market demand vandalizes archaeological sites and forever erases knowledge that could otherwise have been preserved.

SAFE is therefore pleased to announce the launch of the Coin Matters resource page listing resources relating to the trade in ancient coins, including links or citations to peer-reviewed articles, books, and lectures. There are also several media reports on the subject from affected countries, notably from Bulgaria.

As always, SAFE welcomes suggestions for additional resources to list. Check out Coin Matters today!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Video About the Gold Vessel and Antiquities Trading in Germany

The gold vessel from Ur that was seized from a German auction house in 2005 has been handed over to German authorities after residing in the care of the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum in Mainz where it was analyzed by an expert in Mesopotamian metalwork, Michael Müller-Karpe. It is now feared that the object may be allowed to go auction since the antiquities laws in Germany are rather lax, one of the reasons the reasons that Germany is an important transit market for recently surfaced antiquities.

As a follow up to this story, DW-TV has posted an interesting online video broadcast (31 July 2009) discussing the gold vessel and role that Germany plays in the international trade.

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.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Future of the Gold Vessel from Ur (or Troy?) Remains Uncertain

Earlier I discussed the case of a gold vessel from Iraq that was offered for sale by ancient coin auction house Hirsch Nachfolger in 2005 and seized by German officials after it was spotted ("The Curious Case of a Gold Vessel from Ur"). The case has received less press in English speaking media than in Germany, but has been summarized and commented upon by some others in the blogosphere: "Gold Vessel from Ur - or is that Troy?" (Gill); "Mainz and the Gold Vessel" (Gill); "Why do Antiquities from Iraq Continue to Surface on the Market?" (Gill); "What is Münzhandlung Hirsch going to do with the Ur-Troy Goldgefäß?" (Barford).

Michael-Müller Karpe, an authority on ancient metalwork from Mesopotamia, examined the vessel and determined it was likely looted from a royal tomb in or near Ur. Münzhandlung Hirsch Nachfolger claims the vessel is from Troy. Müller-Karpe had been retaining the vessel at the request of the Iraqi embassy in Berlin, but the vessel has now been turned over again to German authorities and its future remains uncertain.

Setback for Iraq as Ancient Gold Vial Seized in Germany

Berlin - In a setback for Iraqi efforts to claim a tiny ancient gold vial, the item has been sent to a valuer in line with a German court order, a lawyer said Tuesday. Both a Munich auctioneer and the Iraqi government claim the dented little container. A German archaeology museum, which has taken Iraq's side, believes the item is 4,500 years old and comes from ancient Mesopotamia.

The attorney representing Gerhard Hirsch Nachfolger, the Munich auction company, said the museum had surrendered the item after a stalemate of many weeks.

The auctioneer hopes that a Berlin valuer will decide the mystery item is not Mesopotamian, but Roman, allowing it to go back on sale. It was seized in 2005, halting an earlier auction.

Customs agents appointed by a tax court in Munich picked up the plain vial, which is 35 millimetres high, on Monday from the Roman and Germanic Museum in Mainz.

Iraq's ambassador to Berlin had hoped the museum would safeguard the vial until its provenance and value are clear.

But the museum director decided to surrender the item, 3sat television reported. Archaeologist Michael Mueller-Karpe of the Mainz museum believes the object was looted from a royal grave in Iraq.

(Photo from Deutsche Welle)

Thursday, July 16, 2009 Limits Access and Implements Fee

Coin find inventories and museum collections are increasingly being made freely available through online databases. It is also a growing trend that academic journals are being made available electronically while subscription prices are being lowered for those who opt for online subscription only. Therefore, it is curious these days when a resource suddenly ceases to be free and implements an inordinate access fee.

As I came into the office yesterday, the first thing I heard from a colleague was that had ceased allowing free and complete access to its archived auction sales and had limited full access only to those who pay an annual subscription of $600 or €430. was a convenient reference used by some academics and researchers who wanted to start conducting a die study or who needed to make quick identification. It was also an easy place to go when one needed to see an image when certain reference catalogues were not at immediately at hand. Collectors frequently used the site to conduct their own research or to investigate pricing trends before making an acquisition. The recent and seemingly abrupt decision to limit access has certainly stirred up spirited discussions on collector fora such the Moneta-L list (click the link and see the subsequent discussion threads).

There has been a lot of speculation as to why this decision was made to limit access only to those who can pay such a large fee. But perhaps it is telling that instead of a $20 yearly access fee for which many people would pay, a $600 annual fee was chosen that will exclude most collectors, researchers, and institutions, and will therefore be a resource which only a few large auction houses and profitable dealers can afford. The fee will limit the potential of amateur and academic study alike with this resource and will be an especially serious blow to collectors who like to do a bit market research before bidding or buying.

Perhaps researchers will return to using large photo files like those at the American Numismatic Society or at Frankfurt University, but many photo files have ceased to be updated since the mid- to late 1990s precisely because of sites like that were electronically archiving sales and making those archives free to the public.

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."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Curious Case of a Gold Vessel from Ur

Last Wednesday, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung carried a story entitled "Deutsch-irkaischer Archäologenkrimi / Aus Ur oder aus Troja? Ein Goldgefäß macht derzeit den Behörden Probleme. Es soll von Raubgrabungen aus dem Irak stammen. Bagdad hat Strafanzeige gegen einen deutschen Händler gestellt" (by D. Gerlach, 29.6.2009, pp. 1,3) about a gold vessel looted from Ur that was offered by a German auction house. A slightly more condensed article in English also summarizes the story ("Mesopotamian Vase Sheds Light on Germany's Artefacts Trade," Deutsche Welle, 30.6.2009).

The vase was first spotted for sale in 2005 at the German ancient coin auction house Hirsch Nachfolger, when it was then seized by authorities and handed over to Michael Müller-Karpe at the Römisch-Germanische Zentralmuseum in Mainz for an expert opinion. Müller-Karpe, an archaeologist who works on material from the region and a specialist in metalwork, concluded that it was likely looted from the royal cemetery at Ur where many similar vessels have been found. Looting in Iraq has dramatically increased since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Customs officials have now asked Müller-Karpe to return the vase to them, but has refused stating that the Iraqi Embassy in Berlin has asked him not to return it to customs. Iraqi officials have warned that anyone who helps or participates in the sale would be liable to up to five years imprisonment in Iraq. Münzhandlung Hirsch Nachfolger claims the vessel comes from Troy.

(Photo from Deutsche Welle)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Personal Note: Coming (Back) to America!

Posting on Numismatics & Archaeology will likely be lighter until the end of August since I am in the process of organizing an international move. But it is my hope to continue make at least one post per week on average.

My position at the Institut für Archäologische Wissenschaften, Abt. II at the Goethe Universität in Frankfurt expires on July 31, 2009. In addition to finding a new renter for my apartment and lining up accomodation in the U.S., there is much to do at the University since I need to finish off my essential research with the find corpora for my dissertation. When I get back to the U.S., I must coordinate moving all of my stuff from Missouri to New Haven, Connecticut where I will begin a two-year position in August.

On August 15, 2009, I will take up a two year position as a postgraduate associate in the Department of Coins and Medals at the Yale University Art Gallery. When my dissertation is completed I will be reclassified as a postdoctoral associate. My primary responsibilities will include assisting the curator, William Metcalf, in the management and supervision of digitization of Yale's numismatic collection. I will have the opportunity to teach at the University in the second year and will be able to assist in the organization of an exhibit as the Gallery moves to its new location. I look forward to working at the Yale University Art Gallery and participating in academic life within the Gallery and the University.

I have enjoyed my time in Frankfurt and will surely miss it. I remain particularly grateful to Prof. von Kaenel who, after I studied here on a DAAD grant in 2006/2007, took an active interest in my work and offered me the opportunity to return and conduct more research, first by offering me a short-term position with the Fundmünzen der Antike project and then with a position in the Institute. I will certainly miss all of my colleagues with whom I have established collegial relationships over the past few years, but we shall certainly remain in touch.

(Photo: View of the Frankfurt skyline from my office at the University - a view that will be difficult to rival in any future academic jobs).

Week 9: "Picture Language on Roman Coins: Approaches and Interpretations"

This was our final meeting and the topic under consideration for our course on methods of interpreting and understanding Roman coin images was "The Importance of Archaeological Context: Nuances in the Semantic System and the Audiences for Coin Images" (handout Deutsch - English).

We began by discussing F. Koening's publication of the coin finds from the necropolis at Avenches and his observation that certain reverse types such as Salus, Felicitas, and Roma were preferred for deposition with the dead. This trend would seem to indicate that the viewers were making judgments about the coins most appropriate for deposition and thus responding to or thinking about certain images, something which was only recognized here via the context. One criticism of the study, however, is the relatively small sample size.

Next we discussed Fleur Kemmers' study of the coin finds from the legionary fortress at Nijmegen, which I have mentioned several times before here and elsewhere. Her detailed and comprehensive study of the finds there also indicated a remarkable concentration of militaristically-themed Flavian coins in contrast to neighboring civilian settlements and the finds from Rome. Her study also examined the logistics of coin supply to Nijmegen and it was demonstrated that these coin types were deliberately supplied to the legions stationed at Nijmegen. This realization provides a new perspective on the semantic system on Roman coinage and clearly shows that, at least at certain times and in certain instances, the Roman state directly targeted certain groups with coins based on specific reverse designs. Future studies of excavation coins may well benefit from attending to the distribution of reverse types as compared with other sites.

We moved on to Hekster's article about the targeting of audiences based on different denominations. This article was not "archaeological" per se, but did distinguish visual programs as they appeared on precious metal and bronze coins and certainly has implications for studies of "coins in context" that address iconography.

Finally, we briefly discussed the last four pages of my recent methodological article on Roman coin iconography that address recent insights into the study of Roman coin images provided by archaeological contexts and then lays out a series of methods and steps that could provide a more encompassing view of Roman coin images in future studies. Among other things, it is argued that using find corpora and inventories, we may better understand the semantic system on Roman coinage by studying the regional distribution of bronze coin types.

Researching and writing this article provided the inspiration for this course when Prof. von Kaenel asked me to instruct a course on the interpretation of Roman coin images.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

When on Google Earth 60

I correctly identified the site of Firuzabad, Iran in "When on Google Earth 59" on Geoff Carter's blog. It is now up to me to host WOGE 60.

This should be an easy one to identify, but bonus bragging points go to the one who can also recognize what particular relevance this site has to subject matter of this blog. Best of luck!

Please mind the rules for playing "When on Google Earth":

Q: What is When on Google Earth?
A: It’s a game for archaeologists, or anybody else willing to have a go!

Q: How do you play it?
A: Simple, you try to identify the site in the picture.

Q: Who wins?
A: The first person to correctly identify the site, including its major period of occupation, wins the game.

Q: What does the winner get?
A: The winner gets bragging rights and the chance to host the next When on Google Earth on his/her own blog!

When on Google Earth has also its own Facebook group.

Note: I could not get the list of previous winners to input properly without multiple error messages and so I left it out.

Friday, June 26, 2009

"Why are ancient coins from Cyprus featured in a suit against the US Department of State?"

The systematic destruction of historical sites, and the knowledge that is lost with it, is a growing global problem that few would deny. In recent years there have been positive developments; for example, many museums have adopted more stringent acquisitions policies to diminish the role that their institutions play in this destructive process by purchasing recently surfaced antiquities. There are, however, a minority of vociferous naysayers - outside of the museum or archaeological community - who pretend looting is not a problem and assert that trade members (i.e. dealers or collectors) should not be held to or practice any due diligence standards. It goes without saying that this mentality maintains a detrimental status quo.

In 2007 in response to the bilateral agreement on import restrictions with Cyprus and the United States in which undocumented ancient coins of certain Cypriot type were included, the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN), the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG), and the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) sued the United States Department of State under the Freedom of Information Act, alleging a lack of transparency in the decision to include coins. The IAPN, which caters to an international constituency, and the PNG are both dealer groups. On the other hand, the ACCG claims to be a collector's advocacy group, although its biggest financial contributors appear to be dealerships and auction houses. Furthermore, all of the ACCG's leading officers listed on its website are also dealers or former dealers, save one lobbyist who has also received money from the IAPN and PNG to lobby on behalf of dealer interests. Recently, the ACCG staged the import and seizure of restricted coins (without documentation) in order to force a legal battle as part of a coordinated strategy to undermine and overthrow import restrictions, which negatively affect the interests of its constituencies.

In light of the changing attitudes with regards to personal responsibility in looting issues, one naturally asks the question of why certain attitudes are not changing. Could it be that for certain people, their own commercial and self interests override a genuine concern for ethical practice, international law, and the incomprehensible loss of knowledge that takes place as a consequence of their own activities which actively encourage a market for loot?

Today the PR Newswire is carrying an article ("Why are ancient coins from Cyprus featured in a suit against the US Department of State?") by David Gill, an archaeologist and authority on looting issues, in which he considers the impetus for the ACCG's aggressive legal action. It reads:
Swansea, Wales, UK, June 25 2009 – David Gill, archaeologist, considers the recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit on the US Department of State.

The FOIA suit was served in November 2007 by three numismatic organizations; one of the three is based in Brussels, Belgium. The alliance objected to the US Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) restricting the import of ancient coins minted in Cyprus as part of a wider memorandum of understanding (MOU). CPAC was responding to concerns by the Government of Cyprus that the illicit searching for ancient objects (including coins) was destroying the archaeological heritage of the Mediterranean island. CPAC states, "The MOU offers the opportunity for the U.S. and Cyprus to cooperate in reducing the incentive for further pillage thereby protecting the context of intact sites for scientific study."

Coin collectors were also concerned about the 2009 MOU with China. This agreement also restricted the import of certain categories of coins.

As a result, one of the three numismatic organizations decided to test the resolve of the US Department of State in April 2009 by attempting to import a small number of coins from Cyprus and China in defiance of the newly established laws. These items were detained when their flight from London touched down in Baltimore.

Are these aggressive legal tactics really for the benefit of collectors, or are there other factors at work?

I strongly recommend reading David Gill's full discussion at Looting Matters: "Antiquities, ancient coins and changing attitudes in North America."

(Photo from A large shipment of freshly looted coins from Bulgaria destined for German market, an important transit country for the international market in looted antiquities)

"Money" by Michael Jackson

When I came into the office this morning my colleagues informed me of Michael Jackson's premature death. Below is a video by a Michael Jackson fan from YouTube set to his song "Money," selected here for the relevance of the theme. As one of the greatest musical artists and icons of our time, he is sure to be missed. Click here for the lyrics.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Week 8: "Picture Language on Roman Coins: Approaches and Interpretations"

A brief update.

In our eighth meeting we discussed "On the Semantic 'Value' of Coin Types: Statistical Evidence from Archaeological Sources" (handout Deutsch - English). We began by considering the methodology of Carlos Noreña's article in which he quantified the personification of imperial virtues from precious metal hoards and argued that certain ideas played a stronger role in the overall visual programs of different emperors.

There was some confusion about preparing discussion of Depeyrot's book and so I simply provided an overview of it; for our purposes it suffices to say here that it addresses the frequencies of certain types according to the Reka Devnia hoard.

In our wider discussion we looked at the benefits of using this methodology (esp. Noreña's) to understand the frequencies of particular reverse types as contrasted with die studies which are problematic for such things, as we discussed in Week 7. One of the problems with hoard evidence, however, is that most are predominantly precious metal hoards (at least the best recorded ones) and so bronze coins will be underrepresented, though such studies on the frequency of certain reverse types in various regions could be undertaken by examining the find corpora and inventories such as FMRD.

The final article we discussed was that by Kaczynski and Nüsse in the new book, Coins in Context I. Using a few case studies, this article probed the question of whether or not a personal "type selection" based on reverse type can be determined according to the third century coins found in sanctuaries. I will discuss this contribution in more detail when I get to it in my ongoing series of posts about the book's contents.

Next time will be our last meeting in which we will discuss the theme "The Importance of Archaeological Context: Nuances in the Semantic System and the Audiences for Coin Images" (handout Deutsch - English). This topic focuses on the insights that the archaeologically recovered coin finds give us into iconographic numismatic research, especially as regards the audience for coin images and individual responses to coin types. We will also end this meeting with a general discussion looking back at the numerous methods we discussed throughout the course.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Coins in Context I: N.T. Elkins, "Coins, contexts, and an iconographic approach for the 21st century"

The second contribution in H.-M. von Kaenel and F. Kemmers (eds.). 2009. Coins in Context I: New Perspectives for the Interpretation of Coin Finds. Studien zu Fundmünzen der Antike 23 (Mainz: von Zabern) is my article "Coins, contexts, and an iconographic approach for the 21st century" (pp. 25-46).

To provide some background, this article grows out of the methodology I developed for my dissertation, "Architectural Coin Types: Reflections of Roman Society," but which should have relevance to other studies on Roman coin images in light of recent developments in Roman numismatics.

After a short introduction that briefly compares and contrasts the general characteristics of Greek and Roman coin images, the article surveys the iconographic approach to ancient coins from the Renaissance to the 20th century in the context of wider developments in numismatic science. The study of coin images became more systematic after the 18th century with the development of corpora and type catalogues. Many studies in the Renaissance fancifully invented coin types that would depict certain mythological and religious figures and so the work of Eckhel in the 18th century, among others, helped weed out fact from fantasy and order our knowledge of what the ancients produced. Multidisciplinary approaches to ancient coin images were not very common until the mid- to late 19th and early 20th centuries when Greek coin images were commonly studied in comparison with relief sculpture and statuary. But the study of Roman coin images was less developed – a likely consequence of the prevailing view at the time that Roman art was merely a derivative and degenerate form of Greek art. In the early and mid 20th century, as Roman art was given more attention (see below), so too were Roman coin images by scholars such as Harold Mattingly, Andreas Alfoldi, Konrad Kraft, C.H.V. Sutherland, and many others. The study of Roman coin images at this time was rooted in the traditional study of ancient history and the reading of ancient texts. Common 20th century interpretations of Roman coins were as instruments of "propaganda," a term less frequently used because of its problematic and false connotations. The use of the term "propaganda" as ascribed to Roman art and coins corresponds with historical events in Europe leading up to, during, and after the Second World War.

By the mid 20th century, the study of Roman coin images was a beloved topic in numismatic research, but some scholars felt the methodology used was weak and felt that "fantastical" histories were being built on iconographic evidence alone. This sentiment prompted A.H.M. Jones to criticize the iconographic approach in his contribution to the Festschrift for Harold Mattingly in 1956. While few today would accept the notion that the iconographic study of coins is a fruitless exercise, credit must be given to Jones who prompted a methodological reevaluation within the discipline. A few years later Sutherland published a response to Jones which highlighted promising ways that Roman coin images could be studied in conjunction with other forms of evidence and the sorts of questions that scholars should ask of Roman coin images. Since the publication of Jones' and Sutherland's respective articles, several methodological treatises on the study of numismatic images have been published and have underscored the need for interdisciplinary study and a critical approach to the source material.

In light of recent researches on coin images, I then propose an interdisciplinary methodology for the study of coin images introducing three crucial themes that provide answer to different questions relevant to Roman coin images: "numismatic context," "art historical context," and "archaeological context." Together these three perspectives give us the broadest understanding of the way coin images functioned Roman society.

In the section on "numismatic context," I discuss the importance of attention to emissions and the role of die studies. All too often, images on Roman coin images are studied in isolation and sometimes even apart from the image on the other side of the coin. In order to understand the overall visual program of an emperor via the coinage it is therefore necessary to attend to the emission from which a coin comes. I draw an example from Neronian coinage: his sestertii showing the Claudian harbor at Ostia and the dupondii showing the Macellum Magnum are often featured in individual texts and especially books on architectura numismatica, discussed in terms of how these coins celebrate the construction of the respective monuments. However, if we look at the other coin types Nero was striking contemporaneously we also see bronze coins bearing images of Annona and Ceres or a congiarium. The overall visual program gives a fuller understanding of these architectural images: they comprise a group of types which emphasize the emperor's concern with the grain supply and the well-being of the people. In addition to the discernment of emissions based on titulature, die studies can also nuance our understanding of ancient emissions further. An example is provided by the first emission in Claudius' reign:
"A die study of Claudius' coins indicate that the emperor's first precious metal emission of AD 41/42 consisted of aurei and denarii showing him within the walls of the praetorian barracks or standing before a praetorian signifer, with the legends IMPER RECEPT and PRAETOR RECEPT, respectively, aurei and denarii with a representation of Pax Augusta and the accompanying legend PACI AVGVSTAE, and gold quinarii with a flying Victory holding an oak wreath and a shield inscribed OB C S. Independently, these types could be interpreted in various ways, but taken together in the context of the emission there is a unifying theme: the circumstances surrounding Claudius' accession. The first two types reference the role the praetorian guard played in his acclamation and were used as donativa to pay them, the quinarii honor his receipt of the corona civica and the clupeus virtutis in service to the citizens of Rome, and the PACI AVGVSTAE types reference a peaceful transition of power to the new princeps" (p. 32).

The article continues in surveying other potential applications for die studies with respect to iconographic questions. Die studies by Sarah Cox on the Temple of Concord sestertii of Tiberius and by Fred Kleiner on the Arch of Nero on Neronian sestertii show that the most detailed – and presumably the most "faithful" representations of these monuments – were those that were struck earliest and that later strikes were more abstract or less detailed, probably as a result of copying. All too often, scholars approach ancient coin images without a well developed numismatic methodology. An example is provided by a study in which Trajanic coins were employed in reconstructions of the Forum of Trajan. Here the reconstructions based on numismatic evidence were somewhat haphazard since the arguments revolved around what "most" coins show rather than a comprehensive die study. The reconstructions also did not take account of the conventions used by die engravers who produced architectural coin images and so the author read some depictions too literally, such as the number of columns on the coin representation of a temple. Any scholar who approaches Roman coin images must have some firm grounding in numismatic methods and an understanding of the die engraver's conventions.

Die studies may also have the potential to discern the occasions that necessitated the striking of coins, which may in turn have some bearing on the meaning of the images themselves. A study by H.-M. von Kaenel on Early Imperial coinage has suggested that peaks in the number of obverse dies occur in the same years that large building projects were underway in the city of Rome.

I conclude the section on numismatic context with a discussion of frequency. Certainly not all Roman coin types were equal in the sense that some are more common than others and it stands to reason that those that were produced more abundantly would have played a more dominant role in a visual program. Die studies have been used to calculate the frequencies of coin types in ancient reality, but this methodology has been critiqued by numismatists such as T.V. Buttrey since a number of factors could have affected the productivity of ancient die. Another method of determining frequency of types is through hoard analysis which has provided promising results. For example, Carlos Noreña employed this methodology in a study in which he "ranked" the imperial virtues and their importance through their frequency in precious metal hoards.

The section ends and introduces the next section on "art historical contexts":
"We cannot restrict our studies of coin types to individual depictions or certain categories without being aware of both the political and cultural history of the period and the other coins that were struck together and in circulation at the same time. A command of historical/textual evidence and a strong grasp of numismatic contexts and methodologies – especially regarding emissions, die studies, and frequencies – are essential for anyone who approaches the question of numismatic iconography. Coins are more than historical documents and economic tools: they are products of the societies that produced and used them. The images they bear were not produced in isolation of contemporary art historical trends and the state clearly used them as a medium for communication. In order to have a fuller appreciation of how representations on ancient coins can inform us about the ancient world, one must also examine the material in both art historical and archaeological contexts" (p. 35).

Centuries ago, images on ancient coins were used by antiquarians to illustrate history or myth, but in the 19th and 20th centuries the study of coin images became more critical and interdisciplinary in terms of the wider study of art history. Several scholars in the 19th century such as Karl Otfried Müller included coins along with other objects in their classification and definitions of style. Other examples are treated in some detail. Much of the literature of the 19th century in particular focused almost exclusively on Greek coin images and, as I have said, was an effect of the way Roman art was perceived at the time. An exception to this general trend, however, was in the study of Roman portraiture which was greatly advanced in the 19th century by attention to Roman coin images as in the monographs published by Johann Jakob Bernoulli between 1882 and 1894. Roman coin images gained much more attention in the 20th century:
"Alois Reigl laid the first critical theoretical and methodological foundations for the study of Roman art when he published his formalistic treatment of Late Roman art, Spätrömische Kunstindustrie, in 1901 (Vienna, reprinted and revised in 1927). Indeed, Riegl's contribution impacted the whole of art history and not just Roman art; for the first time art was viewed as a tool for understanding the society that produced it and drew the study of art away from simple aestheticism. Riegl understood that human society does not just experience art but actively produces art, and through this simple – but profound – methodological realization he coined the term Kunstwollen, expressing the notion that the form or style of art was dictated by a collective 'will', 'intent', or 'habit' that also drove contemporary social, political, and intellectual trends. While coins were not specifically treated in Spätrömische Kunstindustrie, Riegl's work set the study of art history on a new course, influencing the way that Roman art, and ultimately also Roman coins, would be viewed and approached by later scholars" (pp. 38-39).

After a quick look at some other developments in Roman art history in the mid 20th century, I move onto the current understanding of Roman art as a semantic system. In this theoretical framework, Roman coins play a significant role as communicative instruments and have been given much attention by pioneering theoreticians and scholars such as Tonio Hölscher and Paul Zanker. The section concludes after a few more pages of discussion on the semantic system in Roman art and the concentrated picture language (Bildsprache) on coins.

The next section addresses the importance of archaeological contexts in the study of Roman coin iconography. It focuses on some very recent and significant revelations yielded by an intensive study of the coin finds from the legionary fortress at Nijmegen, published by Fleur Kemmers in 2006. Among other things, her work demonstrated that that the Flavian legionaries at Nijmegen were regularly supplied with coins that bore militaristically-themed images. Her comparative analysis of finds from neighboring civilian settlements and from Rome clearly showed a much higher concentration of militaristic types in the fortress at Nijmegen in contrast to these other sample areas. The supply of these militaristically-themed types to Nijmegen was connected to the soldiers' payment. The section ends:
"Where Hölscher expounded the semantic nature and system of Roman coinage, and where scholars such as Noreña and Depeyrot have quantified and applied hierarchical semantic 'value' to individual types, Kemmers compared finds from a particular site to local and regional finds and discovered that the semantic system was more nuanced than we had previously thought and that a certain population was supplied – deliberately – with certain coin types relevant to its station in Roman society" (p. 43).

It is then argued that we can further advance the study of Roman coin images by studying the distribution of coins at a regional level in order to discern the specific audiences to which certain types may have been directed. Several resources are outlined in the article. For example, we have a strong corpus of coin finds from the Northwestern provinces and there are some important finds from Rome which have been published and also the large corpus of c. 70,000 coins from Rome that awaits publication, but which has already been frequently made available to scholars studying coin finds. The essay concludes:

"Roman coins are multifarious objects that served a number of functions during their 'lifetimes' millennia ago. As with the study of any other category of ancient art, the understanding of an ancient coin is broadened by the number of contexts to which we can relate it and, when this is done properly and critically, our knowledge of the ancient world is enhanced. For the historical and cultural contexts in which to place a Roman coin, one might turn to ancient texts and modern historical discourses. Traditional numismatic methods such as die studies, associating certain types with emissions, and quantifying the frequency of a particular type provide the numismatic context; these may allow one to 'rate' the semantic value of types in relation to one another and understand them in conjunction with wider ideological programs. The art historical context, namely approaching images on Roman coins as part of a semantic system, allows one to unpack the meaning of an image. Not the least of the contexts to consider is the material or archaeological context, which may allow researchers to define the audience to whom certain types were directed on regional and site-specific levels. It is no longer sufficient that iconographic studies on Roman coins be relegated purely to historical, art historical, or numismatic perspectives. The nature of the objects themselves demands a more comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach. Only in this manner, can one hope to use the source material to its greatest potential and fully appreciate the role numismatic imagery played in the Roman world" (p.46).

All posts relevant to the monograph containing this collection of essays can be found by using the keyword "Coins in Context I."