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."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Coins in Context I: H.-M. von Kaenel, "Coins in context – a personal approach"

This is my first discussion of an individual contribution from the new collection of essays 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). It makes sense to proceed through the book in an ordered fashion for this series of posts and so I will begin with the section on "Methodological Overviews" in which the first essay is that by H.-M. von Kaenel, "Coins in context - a personal approach" (pp. 9-24).

H.-M. von Kaenel is an internationally known numismatist who has, for over three decades, actively combined archaeology and numismatics in his research. As the title of his contribution indicates, he reflects on the study "coins in context" through his own experiences offering us a sort of retrospective, but also provides critical discussion regarding the state of method and theory in the study of coins from archaeological contexts. He focuses throughout on the benefits afforded by attention to the study of coins from close contexts at archaeological sites in particular.

Following the introduction is a section comparing and contrasting the study of coins from an entire series (i.e. an entire group from a site) and from feature-related ensembles (from a tighter archaeological context). Here the author references his publication of Roman coin finds from Aventicum, which he carried out when he was a student, and tells us how he educated himself on the study of archaeologically recovered coin finds from the writings of Konrad Kraft. Already at young age, he could distinguish ways in which the study of coins from archaeological contexts could be advanced since Kraft had written at a time when excavation techniques were still at an early stage in their development. He references how archaeological work at Aventicum provided a new chronology for the site and then provides a more recent and lengthy example with regard to the study of the coin finds from Vindnossa.

At Vindonissa, a rather small sample of coins from a tight archaeological context associated with the pre-fortress timber phases 1-4 allowed a new chronology and understanding of the history of Vindonissa to be established. Study of the entire series of finds from the site, which had been gathered for several centuries, provided a much larger sample of coins but could not clearly answer questions about the foundation, caesurae, and end of the settlement as clearly as those from tighter features could. The reason for this is because the larger sample of coins from Vindonissa was simply a mix of coins from multiple features and occupation horizons at the site.

In the next section, "reference series" for the study of coin finds are surveyed and discussed as an important aspect of contextual and comparative research. Our best corpora are from the northwestern provinces, with fewer good corpora existing in the central and urban regions of the Roman Empire (i.e. Rome, Italy, Gaul, North Africa). Nevertheless some important corpora from the center have been published such as those on the Caligulan and Claudian finds from the Tiber River. There is also the corpus of c. 70,000 coins from Rome which await comprehensive publication.

The third section, "From 'numismatics or archaeology' to 'archaeology and numismatics'," is an interesting methodological discourse. He begins with an anecdote about publishing the Celtic coin finds from some Swiss excavations which, through their archaeological context, provided a new chronology on the coins themselves. He speaks about how established French numismatists such as K. Castelin and J.-B. Colbert de Beaulieu reacted against this new chronology. Colbert de Beaulieu was particularly forceful. While Castelin entered into an academic dialogue with the young von Kaenel and his colleagues on the numismatic and archaeological rationales for chronologies in Celtic numismatics, Colbert de Beaulieu used his superior institutional position to protect the traditional chronology although young French archaeologists and numismatists quietly agreed with von Kaenel and his colleagues. In the coming years, archaeologists increasingly accepted the new chronology, rooted in material evidence, and it eventually supplanted the traditional numismatic chronology. Von Kaenel concludes this short section:
"The necessary revisions have long been made, and today no one seriously asks the question 'numismatics or archaeology' – the title of a paper by K. Castelin published in 1976. In fact, in Celtic numismatics today it is a matter of 'archaeology and numismatics'. In no other area of ancient numismatics has the discussion on coins and money been so productively stimulated and advanced by archaeologists as in Celtic numismatics" (p. 18).

Section four deals with "object biographies" and coins from archaeological contexts (S. Krmnicek's article, "Das Konzept der Objektbiographie in der antiken Numismatik," pp. 47-59, deals with this theme in more detail). Here the author references the hoard from Neftenbach that was found through the course of the archaeological excavations at the villa there. It is truly a spectacular hoard, not because of the coins themselves, but because of the detailed way in which it was studied and the information that it yielded (H.-M. von Kaenel, H. Brem, J. Th. Elmer, et al. 1993. Der Münzhort aus dem Gutshof in Neftenbach. Antoniniane und Denare von Septimius Severus bis Postumus. Zürcher Denkmalpflege, Archäologische Monographien 16 (Zürich and Egg). When hoards are found by metal detectorists – and sometimes even inexperienced or student excavators – the vessel containing the coins is dumped out and the potentials for studying the "micro context" are lost. At Neftenbach, however, the bronze vessel containing the hoard was taken to Winterthur where it was to be studied by numismatic specialists. H.-M. von Kaenel, B. Hedinger, and H. Brem decided to conduct a "stratigraphic excavation" of the coins inside the canister with the aid of an endoscope. Through the course of this tedious excavation they documented 20 layers within the vessel itself which composed the hoard. There were eight roll-like groups of coins and six other distinguishable groups. These groups of coins, also differentiated by their dates, indicated it was a savings hoard where coins were put into it at different times and in different manners. Biological remains showed that the vessel was padded with foxtail millet to absorb moisture and that it was sealed with a cloth or leather. The vessel and its contents were placed in a tile enclosure hidden beneath floorboards and covered with hay; some of this additional organic material made its way into the vessel after a fire that occurred later after the hoard was hidden. The biological remains and the vessel itself were also analyzed by specialists and published in the volume cited above. The case from Neftenbach indicates the potential of the close study of coin finds:
"Context was thus in many respects vital for determining the value of the hoard from Neftenbach as a historical source. Initially it was a question of the coins themselves, the composition of the series; then the coin rolls and bags and their deposition in the container as well as the insertion of the foxtail millet; next the fate of the bronze vessel in its hiding place in the context of the history of the gate building; and ultimately this as part of the history of the villa at Neftenbach…. When using the word 'context', we refer to everything in the 'space' in which a coin once 'lived', where it fulfilled its function as a coin. Just as 'life' evolves in a manifold network of relationships of a biological, spiritual, religious, social and material nature, so too the 'life' of a coin occurs in one, several or even in a great number of 'spaces'. But not only this; a precondition for being able to hold an ancient coin in our hand today is its transmission, which again took place in its own, specific 'context'. Coins are thus things, objects and these have their own physical and social 'life', their individual and supra-individual history, their object biography. The goal of the scholarly study of coins in general, and more specifically of coin finds, must be to decode this as far as possible.

Coin finds from context have, as a rule, a fundamentally higher potential as evidence than those without context. They hold the key to the reconstruction of the 'social life' of coins as money, and are a precondition for the potential of coins as a historical source being fully exhausted. Archaeological and numismatic research in this direction is, admittedly, still in an early stage. But much of what has been said in the past has not been paid appropriate attention, and so it is necessary to discuss individual examples of the potential of this type of approach" (pp. 20-21).

Von Kaenel turns to Kalkriese in his section on "source criticism" in which he uses studies on Kalkriese to point out on how we must be vigilant about the nature of our sources and how finds were recovered.

The sixth and final section before his conclusion is entitled "Actuality: the decontextualisation of coin finds on a previously unknown scale." Here he calls attention to the systematic destruction that is taking place in many parts of the world to supply the market in ancient coins and antiquities which is also destroying the potential knowledge that contextual study can yield:
"Never before has so much archaeological material been removed from the earth through illegal looting as it has since the 1990s. We are witness to a 'decontextualisation process' on an enormous scale which affects all archaeological objects. However, as regards sheer numbers, coins take first place."

He goes on briefly to contrast the number of coins recorded in our most important finds inventories with the number of fresh coins which appear on the market each year and continues:
"This is a loss of historical source material that is without comparison, and it canot be replaced. The situation for archaeology is just as disastrous as it is for numismatics. Many colleagues are aware of this, but only a few speak out and the authorities responsible have so far not been prepared to intervene actively and consistently."

In his conclusion, the author returns to Theodor Mommsen and the goal of the historical sciences which, as Mommsen put it in a letter to the Swiss numismatist Fredrich Imhoof-Blumer: "Each collation on a grand scale is to some extent the solution of the historical problem on which we work." Von Kaenel states that to understand the past we, as numismatists and archaeologists, must ask why coins were struck, what functions they had, and what meaning they had to their contemporary users, how they functioned in legal frameworks, various institutions, and how actions of the state affected them – all things which are greatly enhanced and perhaps best worked at through attention to context.

All current and future posts relating to the book and its content can be found by using the keyword "Coins in Context I."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Coins in Context I: New Perspectives for the Interpretation of Coin Finds

Hot off the press, I just received my copy of 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). The book may now be ordered directly from the publisher.

I am personally very happy to see this book in print since I assisted with some of the editorial work and also contributed to the volume. I also believe that this book fills a void in the sense that it presents a number of case studies and methodological essays about the potential of comprehensive studies of coin finds from archaeological contexts in English. A conscious effort was made to publish most of the contributions in English since much of the detailed literature on the study of Roman coin finds in particular has been published in German. Therefore, this volume should make some of the perspectives and approaches available to a wider audience.

The subject matter of the book is briefly summarized on the back cover:
"Coin finds are an integral part of the archaeological record. By studying coins in the contexts in which they were found, a great deal of information can be gained on how coins functioned in past societies. Where archaeology and numismatics are truly combined, the enormous potential of this approach is apparent. The conclusions contribute to our understanding of the use, loss and deposition of coins in antiquity, their circulation speed, the manner and pace in which coins were brought into a society, etc.; conclusions which are not only of interest to numismatists, but also to archaeologists, anthropologists and historians alike.

In order to discuss theories and methods for this particular approach, the conference ‘Coins in Context’ was held in Frankfurt am Main in October 2007. The majority of the papers presented at the conference, as well as some further sollicited papers on the subject, are presented in this volume. The first group of papers gives an overview of the theoretical and methodological status quaestionis of contextual numismatics, while each of them explicitly points out promising directions in future research. The second group of papers focuses on the possibilities of a close study of coins and associated archaeological contexts at the level of a single site. The last group discusses approaches to a better understanding of the use and functions of coins."

This collected volume grew out of a seminar taught at Frankfurt University in 2006/2007 and a colloquium on the subject of "Coins in Context" that was later held in the fall of 2007. A portion of the editors' foreword states:
"The numerous discussions emanating from this seminar prompted us to organize an international colloquium on this topic to enhance the debate further. As both of us [von Kaenel and Kemmers] are involved, in our own work and as program managers, in numismatic research in an archaeological context, we feel that this approach to coins is one of the ways forward in numismatics. The future lies with young scholars, and these are the ones most open to new methods in research and so many younger scholars were invited to participate in the colloquium."

In the coming weeks, I will discuss certain individual contributions here on this website and will use the keyword "Coins in Context I" so that all future posts pertaining to this volume can be easily located by interested visitors to this website. I am careful to use the word "discuss" instead of "review" since I am fully aware that my role as a contributor to the volume would make me an impartial reviewer. Since I am also promoting the content of this book, I should also make it clear that neither I nor any of the contributors to the volume profit from book sales.

The book is divided into three sections: "Methodological Overviews," "Potential at Site Level," and "Potential Uses." For interested parties I provide a list of contributions and their authors below:

Coins in Context - Methodological Overviews:
  • H.-M. von Kaenel, "Coins in context - a personal approach"
  • N.T. Elkins, "Coins, contexts, and an iconographic approach for the 21st century"
  • St. Krmnicek, "Das Konzept der Objektbiographie in der antiken Numismatik"
Coins in Context - Potential at Site Level:
  • P. Beliën, "From coins to comprehensive narrative? The coin finds from the Roman army camp on Kops Plateau at Nijmegen: problems and opportunities"
  • H. Brem, "Lignum aere perennius? Dendrochronology and Roman coin circulation - taking stock and looking to the future using finds and features from Oberwinterthur"
  • B. Kaczynski and M. Nüsse, "Reverse type selection in sanctuaries? A study of antoniniani found in various contexts"
  • D. Wigg-Wolf, "Sites as context"
Coins in Context - Potential Uses:
  • L. Bjerg, "On the trail of ancient trading places? Finds of Roman denarii from settlements in Jutland - froman an archaeological point of view"
  • F. Kemmers, "Sender or receiver? Contexts of coin supply and coin use"
  • N. Myrberg, "The social identity of coin hoards: an example of theory and practice in the space between numismatics and archaeology"
  • M. Nick, "Economic and social patterns in Celtic coin use"

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Week 6 and Week 7: "Picture Language on Roman Coins: Approaches and Interpretations"

Unfortunately I must write this update quickly since I remain busy trying to organize an international move and also need complete some essential research in Frankfurt before returning to the U.S.

We had two meetings this week since last week's meeting was cancelled. Yesterday we discussed the topic for week 6 "The Art Historical Context: Defining Roman Art and Redefining the Role of Images on Roman Coins – The Concept of Bildsprache" (handout Deutsch - English). In previous weeks we discussed early- and mid-twentieth century understandings of coin images, strongly rooted in a text-based tradition, and then the critics of the way that numismatists had studied coin images up to that point; this sparked a methodological reevaluation in the discipline. In week 6 we turned to some contributions to the study of numismatic images by ancient art historians and discussed in some detail the current understanding of Roman art as a semantic system in which coinage plays an essential role. In particular we discussed the two articles by Hölscher and Zanker and the advantages/disadvantages of their approach which focused on symbolism, the ways that symbols were used in conjunction with one another, and the way that images in general evolved through time (sorry that I do not have time to go into detail).

Today we met to discuss week 7 "The Numismatic Context: Emissions, Die Studies, and Ascertaining the Frequency of Types" (handout Deutsch - English). Although questions such as emissions, die links, and frequency are technical questions, they can provide much insight into the understanding of Roman coin images. We began by discussing one of Ted Buttrey's articles on calculating ancient coin production and the inherent problems in doing so. Although it was not required reading, we talked about the wider discourse relevant to the academic exchanges between de Callatay and Buttrey. The question of differentiating the frequency of types in comparison to one another is useful to the study of ancient coin images since certain types were not as common as others and since, presumably, the more common types would have typically played a more significant role in a visual program. From there we moved on to consider two short historiographical articles, by H.-M. von Kaenel, regarding correspondence between Theodor Mommsen and Fredrich Imhoof-Blumer on Corpus Nummorum project. Theodor Mommsen, who in many ways began modernizing the study of ancient numismatics, argued that in corpora of different collections we need to recognize individual dies, not just individual types. We still have this problem today. Hundreds or thousands of coins of the same type are published in many different museum catalogues or disparate auction catalogues, but their dies are not differentiated. We have multiple examples of one type, but we can say little else. And so to say anything more meaningful, scholars must drudge through every possible publication in order to conduct a die study as they are not built into our corpora. As an example of using some numismatic methods in the interpretation of coin images, we then considered my 2006 article and die study of the Colosseum sestertii. The article begins with discussion of the "historical context" based on the textual sources and then moves onto a discussion of "numismatic context" where I associated other coin types produced by Titus with the dedication of the Colosseum and contextualized the Colosseum sestertii in the wider visual program of Titus' coinage. The die study showed that the surviving Colosseum sestertii were produced from five unique obverse dies (quite a low number for a sestertius). Based on the low number of dies and the context of the emissions, I postulated the coins were commemorative in nature and probably distributed in conjunction with the inaugural games in the Colosseum. The article includes a discussion of the nuanced imagery on the coins themselves.

Next week will discuss "On the Semantic 'Value' of Coin Types: Statistical Evidence from Archaeological Sources" (handout Deutsch - English). The week after that we will continue with "The Importance of Archaeological Evidence: Nuances in the Semantic System and the Intended Audiences of Coin Images" when we will discuss some recent revelations with regard to the study of coins from archaeological context that shed light on the supply of coins to certain populations with respect the images they bear.

Again, apologies for the compact nature of this update.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Two Tons of Ancient Coins Found in China

From China View, "Two Tonnes of Ancient Coins Found in History-Laden Chinese Province":

XI'AN, June 10 (Xinhua) -- More than two tonnes of ancient coins dating back to as early as the Tang Dynasty (618-907) have been unearthed on a playground of a primary school in Shaanxi Province, northwest China.
Zhao Aiguo, director of the cultural relics protection and tourism bureau in Liquan County, Shaanxi, told Xinhua Wednesday that the coins were found when workers were excavating the grounds Tuesday for construction of another building.
They reported their discovery to the bureau and soon more than 70 archaeologists, officials and police were sent to the site.
It took more than five hours to dig the ancient coins out of a vault made of grey bricks.
Zhao said they were in circulation for more than 750 years during the Tang, Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1279-1368) Dynasties.
The vault measures 1.5 meters in width and length and one meter in height. It is believed to have been built during the Yuan Dynasty.
The coins have been sent to a local museum and archaeologists were counting them. Because there were so many, it might take a week to know the exact number and categories, Zhao said.
The site of the discovery was part of a temple built by an ancient emperor in memory of his mother between 180 BC and 157 BC. Zhao cited archaeologists as saying that the coins might be donations from believers who visited the temple.
In 2006, archaeologists in the same province discovered an ancient tomb, possibly of a coin collector, dating back more than 600 years. It contained more than 150 coins of 20 kinds from the Tang, Song and Jin (1115-1234) Dynasties, spanning about 600 years.

I am grateful to G. Nurkin for drawing my attention to this article.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Week 6: "Picture Language on Roman Coins: Approaches and Interpretations" - Postponed

This is just a notice that due to more scheduling conflicts our meeting for week 6 on "art historical contexts" and contributions (handout Deutsch - English) to the study of Roman coin images has been postponed until next week.

Next week, we will have two meetings: one to discuss the topic for week 6 and the one to discuss week 7, in which we will consider "numismatic context" (handout Deutsch - English) in the study of Roman coin iconography.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Snible Discusses the COINS Project

Ed Snible has posted a most intriguing discussion of the COINS project, an EU project developing computer software which would allow the tracking of numismatic objects. COINS is an acronym for "Combat On-Line Illegal Numismatic Sales."

In addition to having the potential to track the sale and history of numismatic objects, the software has other applications, such as promoting forgery detection, which Ed discusses.

As I understand it, Ed is a computer guru and knows what he is talking about. I have has also referred to Ed's Celator editorial before, in which he discussed and outlined the potential utility of keeping records of ancient coin sales in seeking solutions to the problem of looting.

For anyone who has an interest in electronic applications to numismatic studies, I recommend his discussion. Read it at "Software from Coins."

Monday, June 8, 2009

Preserving Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria

The Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues weblog has called attention to a campaign to preserve Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria which lays in the northwestern part of modern Bulgaria. Like so many other places in Bulgaria, the site is being systematically destroyed by treasure hunters.

I have discussed the destruction of Bulgaria's archaeological record and cultural heritage several times before and I am glad to see attention brought to this preservation campaign. Readers will recall that Bulgaria was highlighted in the "Under Threat" list by Archaeology Magazine, which I and Kimberly Alderman both discussed ("Archaeology Magazine's Under Threat List Includes Bulgaria" and "2008 Archaeological Sites Under Threat", respectively). Anyone who has browsed through several volumes of Archaeologia Bulgarica knows what a negative impact systematic looting and destruction of archaeological sites has on the material record as it has affected virtually every site in Bulgaria.

I have already made a small donation to the initiative and would urge other concerned readers to do likewise.

Individuals may learn more and donate to the preservation effort by clicking here and following the "donate" link.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Week 5: "Picture Language on Roman Coins - Approaches and Interpretations"

Another short update.

Today was our fifth meeting. In previous meetings we examined the historiographical development of the iconographic approach to Roman coins up to c. the mid-twentieth century and critiqued their interpretation as instruments of "propaganda." Today, we looked at A.H.M. Jones' influential and provocative essay "Numismatics and History" in which he argued that numismatic scholars should not investigate political questions via iconography, comparing them to postage stamps, something which few people would pay much attention to at the time they were produced (handout Deutsch - English). He also criticized the haphazard way coin images had been studied and interpreted as propaganda as creating fanciful histories. In Jones' view numismatics and history could be better served if scholars were to focus their energies on questions revolving around technical concerns, volumes of issues, intricacies of coin circulation and supply, law, chronology, and economy.

To his credit, Jones influenced many numismatic scholars who investigated the potential of these other areas and, in our discussion, we commented on the ways where numismatic science has matured (or has started to mature) in these other areas (e.g. the work of Kemmers on the logistics of Roman coin supply and circulation). Although we may disagree with Jones' negative assessment of the iconographic approach to coins, his critique also stimulated a methodological review in the discipline.

C.H.V. Sutherland is perhaps one of the best-known twentieth century Roman numismatists who regularly investigated political question via coin iconography. In 1959 he published a response to Jones' article and outlined the ways in which coin images can be soundly studied and pointed to numerous examples where attention to coin images enhances our understanding of Roman politics and the Roman world. The participant who was to report on Sutherland's two articles in the handout was preoccupied with an important report for another seminar and so we will discuss the two contributions from Sutherland in more detail in our meeting next week.

We then talked about Weigel's methodological essay from 1995. Weigel turns against Jones' criticism of the iconographic approach, much like Sutherland, but layed out a firmer methodology. His emphasis was on interpreting coin images from multiple perspectives and the necessity for both a critical and interdisciplinary approach to Roman coin images, whereby they are not studied in insolation of other comparative evidence.

In coming weeks we will look at the interdisciplinary nature of studying coin images by discussing the contributions art historical, numismatic, and archaeological contexts. Next time we will address the topic of "Art Historical Context: Defining Roman Art and Redefining the Role of Images on Roman Coins – The Concept of Bildsprache" (handout Deutsch - English).