Thursday, 31 October 2013

Accessing C. G. Jung 6(b). The contextual archaeology of symbols

Armorican Celtic coin, Series Xn, with a head
showing  three pellets within circles on the cheek
Colin Haselgrove, Iron Age coinage and archaeology, in Celtic Coinage: Britain and Beyond (bar), Oxford, 1992, p.123, says:
"On their own, a collection of Iron Age coins from a particular site can only tell us so much. It is commonplace among numismatists that to interpret particular features of a given collection, we need a knowledge of the normal pattern of coin losses found on sites in the region. Many questions will be better phrased in relative terms. specifically, what kind of similarities and differences do we find in the coin lists from different types of sites in a given circulation area or with sites occupied at different times? When we find a case of marked departure from the normal pattern, this gives us something on which to base our interpretation of the material..."
In a transdisciplinary manner, we can apply this method to the study of individual coins by substituting an archaeological site with a coin. The site finds in this application become the coin's design elements and motifs. In many ways, the data become more reliable on the coins than do the finds at an archaeological site: coins are multiples, so when a coin is struck off-centre or is worn or damaged other examples might be found struck from the same dies which will provide the missing details -- typically, those coins might also have other missing details and so, through a number of examples, the complete die design can be recovered. Archaeological site that are related to each other, like Roman temples, will share certain features but are not multiples like coins and the points of similarity will be less and the reconstructions less reliable.

The coin pictured in the last section is from the same series as the one pictured here. This is determined from the great number of shared similarities -- other coin series can also be grouped together by their distribution patterns, but series Xn is mostly known from the Jersey hoards and the coins in these hoards were gathered, after the Gallic war, from many locations. They were intended to be recycled at Hengistbury in England, but the Romans put an end to this trade in about 10 -15 AD, destroying the mainland Coriosolite port in the process. This put an end to the Durotriges silver source and their coinage was only copper after that. After Caesar's visits to England, Roman trade, as evidenced from amphora types, moved north of the Thames and the trade agreement was probably arranged, as part of the terms of surrender, by Cassieuellaunos.

In the two coin varieties there is an important substitution of motifs: on the cheek, the lyre symbol and the three pellets within circles are exact substitutions because of their positional context. These are sometimes called "tattoos", but there is no evidence to support this designation. A symbol might also identify a particular group, for example, many coins of the Dobunni share an otherwise unique tree design. Lyres, however, are commoner motifs and can be found on the coins of many tribes. The lyres show a great many variations: sometimes they are more realistic to the musical instrument; the number of "strings" vary; they might have extra details, and so on. The actual, rather than coincidental, groupings can be seen by examining the coins for other shared
"Treviri" gold coin
elements and motifs and the greater the number, the more certain is the grouping. The closest lyres to those on Series Xn are those on Coriosolite coins, and other design elements and motifs are also shared by these two types and both are in the Armorican style, generally. Next in similarity come some coins of the Baiocasses, and a few other rarer Armorican coins such as a gold coin (BN 6760) found near Rennes (Redones). An "outlier" is also interesting (pictured right). It is a gold coin attributed by D. F. Allen (Germania 49) to the Treviri, but might belong to an unnamed tribe in the vicinity. An earlier issue (without the lyre) was the prototype of the Armorican style and was first used, there, by the Aulerci Cenomani, who had moved down from the north bringing the motif of the human-headed horse with them (a statuette of one was found at Trier). Moving even further away, and in time also, the Coriosolite/Xn style lyres which are highly abstracted and have four "strings" are paralleled with varieties in rock art at the Megalithic Newgrange in Ireland, associated with the roof box which lets the dawn light enter the inner chamber at the winter solstice dawn. Other motifs at Irish Megalithic sites can also be seen on some Armorican coins. That the Armorican lyre might be a cosmological symbol is also supported by Macrobius (Sat. i. 19), who said that the four strings of Mercury's lyre represented the four seasons.

While I could write more about these connections, these examples should serve as an example of how useful this transdisciplinary method can be for the interpretation of symbols.

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