Friday, 31 January 2014

Entertaining mediocrity

Nielsen ratings for Star Trek TNG Season 1 
These days, I find that I watch about an hour's television each day unless there is some potentially interesting documentary scheduled. The other night it was an episode of Nova. I generally like that program, and the episode was about Irish bog bodies so I was looking forward to it.

I might have to revise my opinions about Nova. It was really a sensationalist exploitation of the concept of human sacrifice with information that ran all the way from wrong right up to some half-truths. The title, Ghosts of Murdered Kings really should have tipped me off. The bit about the Gundestrup cauldron iconography was especially annoying to me -- for example, the procession plate scene was described as a human sacrifice. Of course, the footsoldiers marching toward the scene and the cavalry riding away was not mentioned at all as it did not support the idea. I got to see a couple of Celtic coins: an Ambiani and a Namnetes stater, but they were just stock photos among others showing the kind of things the Celts had made. I wondered if some of the other Nova programs were equally as annoying to specialists in their themes.

What survives or dies in television programing is governed mainly by the Nielsen ratings. As the programs make their profit through advertising, it is necessary for them to appeal to as wide an audience as is possible. This must mean people with an IQ of about 100. After signing up with Netflix, I could just choose the movies and TV shows I wanted to watch, so TV was already on its way out for me. But some of the TV series on Netflix had not lasted as long as they should have if quality had been a consideration. Two in particular, stood out for just recently. One of them was Lie to me  which was about reading faces and body language and was based on the work of Dr. Paul Ekman. For some reason, I had missed it on TV. Perhaps its advertising had been aimed at the "average viewer". Being an INFJ empath, it was of special interest to me. I was curious to see how what came natural to me could be both explained and taught.  Natural empaths often do not have a good time of it earlier in life. Later, though, that can all change. It is nothing particularly mystical -- the various signs about a person are not conscious thoughts but appear at the very top of the unconscious, above the dream state, and can be experienced, if not fully understood. They also work much better if the person is not very close to one -- complete strangers being the easiest of all to peg. I found the science parts most interesting. I might even take some of  Dr. Ekman's courses to see how it impacts upon my natural abilities. The show, however had much more than that: the characters were well designed, a few exceptionally so. The leading character was properly flawed and his daughter was realistically shown to have a life quite apart from what was being revealed in the show. It was so good that it ran for only three seasons.

Two other Netflix shows were very familiar to me and I rewatch them from time to time: the science fiction Firefly (1 season) and the surreal crime drama Twin Peaks, (2 seasons). You can read the link articles for the details on what happened to them. Of all the three shows I have discussed so far, I think Twin Peaks has to be number one for me. I am very familiar with the sort of countryside where it plays out, and its cinematography is truly excellent.

Before such services at Netflix arrived on the scene, we were stuck with TV programming or what we bought on tape or disc. Now we can chose, instantly, and on a whim. We are not bothered by commercials, and we can switch to something else if our first choice turns out to be a dud. As we pay, not per view, but by the month it doesn't matter. The only downside is that a good series might not have played that long, or a good series was now unobtainable to these services. So I don't watch much TV any more, and I don't see many commercials.

I will leave you with a link to a clip from a show that we might well never see again -- apparently, the royalties for the songs it included prohibit the chances of it being re-run. It is quite an old show, and most will have never even heard of it. It was The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd and was likely the world's first intelligent sitcom. I cannot get this specific video clip to play here so you will have to watch the definitive scene of The Ingrid Bergman Incident by following the link

Have a great weekend, more about holographic archaeology on Monday

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Holographic archaeology -- introduction

Garton Chariot Iron Age burial
© Trustees of the British Museum
The photograph on the left shows the spatial context of finds at an Iron Age chariot burial. A single stratum is depicted, as would be expected for such a site. The location of each object in the grave will be plotted and the meaning of each object will be relevant to the grave, itself. We could easily imagine that the chariot parts and fittings was intended to accompany the grave's occupant to be reused in some sort of an afterlife. If the site can be successfully carbon-dated, certain objects within the grave might be dated to that same period. As carbon dating gives only a set of date ranges plotted against percentages of probabilities, a greater accuracy for the burial might be obtained from typological and metallurgical analyses of the fittings we see. This can only go so far, though, without some comparisons made to other, similar sites in the region and even further afield. Gradually, we hope to build up a picture of burial practises at this site and for the time and/or culture, generally. An archaeologist who is focusing on the site would relate everything to the site. He or she might also say that if these objects had been scattered by deep ploughing then the context would be lost and the objects would tell us very little. Another archaeologist might see that one of the objects was extremely rare and had only ever been found as stray finds. That person might be constructing a typology of this class of object and the grave might thus help with the relative chronology in that project. The grave, itself, would thus be supporting evidence and the focus would be on that one object. The importance of the grave can only exist within the context of other importances in the mind of any observer. The site might also have other importances that are less obvious. Perhaps a new housing estate had been planned for that site and the grave was discovered  as part of that process. The importance to the developer would be very different to that of each of the other archaeologists, but that importance could affect the way the excavation is carried out -- especially if the archaeologists were hired by the developer! Or, let us imagine that an archaeology program at a university has been threatened by a reduction in its funding and this excavation, by that department, could swing the scales in its favor -- if it is important enough and the work can be published before the next budget meeting!. The university is a  business concern -- if such a site increases the interest of local kids in studying archaeology, then perhaps the funding should not be cut right now. Each viewpoint has its own set of importances, and there can be many more viewpoints than I have mentioned here.

A hologram shows an object from all points of view. If the hologram is broken, only certain points of view will be possible. Imagine that none of the objects are subjected to metallurgical examination (actually a common neglect): the archaeometallurgist would find nothing of use here. What if the typologist was looking for a specific detail that was not properly recorded in the excavation report and could not be discerned in the photograph? He or she would probably remain completely unaware of the potential importance of the site.

Various importances can be plotted on a mind map. I show the mind map above because of its good quality and that it also incorporates elements of an expert system. It would  be of great value to doctors, pharmacists and patients, alike. It does not neglect any aspect of its subject's importances. Now, imagine if the above mind map was also part of a larger study -- it might one for pain killers, anti-inflammatories, or heart medications. Aspirin and other salicylates being just one of its components. We are still dealing with a two dimensional representation. Just like the photo of the excavation, it will show only a single stratum. To represent other strata. Let's say the study focuses on pain killers, then similar mind maps might be constructed for opiates, and other methods of killing pain. It would not even have to include just various drugs -- it could include psychological coping mechanisms for pain, control of pain through hypnosis, paint treatments used by Bushmen in the Kalahari. The basic sort of mind mapping would present all sorts of problems, but more sophisticated systems can do much better. Take The Brain, for example. This product adds extra dimensions to a simple mind map, and you can shift from one importance to another and have a whole new visual mind map. Explore it for yourself here. Click on anything you like, and then click on something that is thus brought forward and keep repeating that process. If you get lost then just click on the "welcome!" tag again. I use this myself and can't think what I would do without it.

So far, the subject of all the various importances in any of our projects must be pre-determined, and that can be difficult if we actually want to to know them (many will be unconcerned about things outside of their own sense of what is important). What if we have recorded something focusing on one importance, and later think of another importance? Chances are that the primary recording will not be of much use for the second application.

This has happened before, many times: someone is shooting a photograph -- lets say of a friend in a landscape setting. The friend is in focus, but people or things in the background are blurry. Later, it is discovered that there is an important detail in the photograph -- Let's say it is some crime playing out in the background that was unnoticed by the photographer. The police later put out a call for anyone at the scene at that time, and the photographer steps forward. The police see that the criminal in the photograph, but despite what TV programs show happening in forensic labs, a clear likeness is not going to be created from that blurred image.  However, if the camera had been a Lytro which uses light field technology, you can focus on anything after you have taken the photograph. This is related to holographic technology in that viewpoints can be switched after the fact.

Of course, there is no magic technology that will restore a neglected importance in an archaeology report. You are just going to, somehow, discover what might be important later. This series will teach you ways of doing just that. It is not about what you think is important, but what the subject tells you is important. What you have to do is to not think at all, because the more you think, the less you will know. I'm going to teach you how to do that. How to discover importances, and not just apply your own.

The posts in this series will be occasional, but in sequence. I will (at the very least) provide a link to the previous episode in each post. The point of departure for each post will be something I had already done for my Coriosolite coinage research, but that might be applied elsewhere.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Holographic archaeology -- preamble

Photo: Epzcaw

English is a bastard language, and in more than one sense at that. So, I was really struggling, this morning, to come up with a suitable title for this new series. I settled on holographic archaeology. The term has been used before, but its usage has belied its definition by adding specific subjects that it embraces.

If I had wanted to emulate academic postmodernism, I could have started this post with something like "'English is a bastard language' says Foucault" (in the manner of the pomo generator), but Foucault never said such a thing. Being French, if he had said that it would have given the statement a completely different slant! Yet, Foucault is instrumental in my formulation of this subject. In particular, his The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, which is about viewpoints, the way we arrange things, and our history of such. Unlike academic postmodernism, I came about these things honestly: when I was in business, if someone asked me if I could do some specific job for them my answer was usually "Yes" -- then I would set to work on the how part.

With my own research projects, I would start with a hypothesis that was always based upon an observation of the primary material, and how this observation might be useful for a specific task that was related to that observation. This was what I did in my initial work on the coinage of the Celtic Coriosolite tribe from Côtes-d'Armor in Brittany. I observed that the variations in their coinage were so numerous that they might show some sort of design evolution. If this was true, then I might be able to establish the chronology of the dies. This was necessary as their coins had been only partially researched through typology and die-linking and the original coins used for this study had been stolen and never recovered, and their photographs were only partially published. In any case, die-linking is all about the order in which dies were used, not created. This conventional method had resulted in a very crude, arbitrary and faulty typology. The only possible solution was to use existing die reconstructions of vanished and poorly recorded coins and then start, properly, from that point. Without the reconstructions, all of the knowledge would have remained lost.

Next comes method. The only valid method is designed for a specific task. If it is successful, it might add something to the way we look at other things, but all of these other things must also have their methods designed especially for them. Any cross-over is merely contributory. Blindly applying a method from one thing to another is academic and lazy. Current archaeology is so theory-laden it is often next to useless if any sort of external reality is what one is going for. Metaphorically speaking, it should be AC, but its most often DC. To do things right, you have to keep alternating inductive and deductive reasoning, and in that initial order. Too much archaeology is deductive and barely addresses the inductive at all. It should, thus, never be called a science.

Very few people have understood what I did with the Coriosolite coinage by applying my method. An exception is David MacDonald, a numismatic author and emeritus professor of history, but he is also very independently minded in his own interests -- not a  follower, by any stretch of the imagination. He gave me this to use:
"I am a great admirer of your work on Armorican coins.  It sets new standards and methods for investigating Celtic coins, and its results are so much more sophisticated than previous work as to allow no comparison.  Reading it gave me the first comprehensible, though quite complex, overview of a Celtic coinage that left me feeling I really understood more about it than when I began. Until I read your work I tended to dismiss most minor variations as meaningless.  Your careful compilation and analysis of variations taught me to be much more careful, exact, and open to possible meaning in what initially might appear to be arbitrary variations."

In 1996, I made some attempt to teach my method, but this was before I read Foucault. This series will improve on that and attempt to apply some of its principles to broader archaeological matters.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Ronnie Burkett's garage sale

The glove puppet by Ronnie Burkett.  
He would warm up the audience with his puppet 
assistant before ascending the marionette stage
Has it really been twenty years? The woman at the theatre entrance eyed our daughter and her friend with Canadian master puppeteer, Ronnie Burkett's Tinka's New Dress, and it was going to make history.
concern. "This is not a children's puppet show", she said. We assured her that we knew and that we thought that the kids were old enough. The production was
Based on the illegal puppet shows staged in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, Tinka's New Dress examines propaganda versus truth, compliance versus censorship, and the collective society versus the individual.
Playwrights Canada Press
Before the play began, Ronnie Burkett gave his usual glove puppet introduction. He also warned us all that there would be no intermission during the main performance. It soon became apparent why this had to be. We were soon transported to an Orwellian world where, throughout the play, recorded messages from "The Common Good" acted as an audial backdrop for what was occurring on the stage. We were all mesmerized; The ambience was palpable. Later, I remembered George Bernard Shaw's words, "The theatre is a place where two or three are gathered together...". You might get some sense of this from the following Ottawa Citizen video clip from the recent production, Penny Plain, introduced by Ronnie Burkett.

So, Carrie and I were at Ronnie Burkett's garage sale at a tiny house on 17th Avenue in Calgary, not far from the Calgary Stampede Grounds. I was looking at the marionettes he had made for his plays. His marionette controls were more advanced than what had previously existed, and their costumes were amazing. With a marionette play, costume changes are impossible so he made one marionette for each costume scene. They were, obviously, quite expensive and we could not afford to buy one. Besides, I thought that my attempt to work one would be too absurd --almost sacrilege, in fact! Instead, I bought the glove puppet pictured above. I asked him to sign it, and he kindly did so on its liner. He told me that it had been one of his early "assistants". This would have been around the time that he won a regional Emmy award for his puppets in the PBS series Cinderrabbit. About fifteen years before Tinka's New Dress. You can see the same puppet style in these production shots of Cinderrabbit

Not that long ago, I read that Ronnie Burkett never sells his puppets (although I later saw that he donated a glove puppet for a charity auction). He also destroys all of his sets after a performance run -- Sic transit gloria mundi.  Although I've owned it for twenty years, it's not really in my collecting interests, but my intuition told me to buy it, and to get it signed. If you would like it and would like to make me an offer over $200, I'll consider it -- but you had better, also, give me a good reason for wanting to own it -- its not an auction.

I'll leave you, for now, with the recent four part documentary series on Ronnie Burkett, his work, and his philosophy (produced in Melbourne, Australia). If you are lucky enough to be able see one of his plays, do not miss it. You will never forget the experience!

Monday, 27 January 2014

Scoop! -- Ruth and Vincent Megaw's supplement to Paul Jacobsthal's Early Celtic Art

Gold torc from The Glauberg, Wetteraukreis 
Photo: Rosemania (cropped)

"Dear Jope,
           ...Why are people always in a hurry?... Can't you get your dept to pay for ECA?"
Excerpt of typed letter from Paul Jacobsthal to Martyn Jope, 19th January, 1950. Early Celtic Art (ECA) was published in 1944.
(Jacobsthal Archive)
The cognoscente will immediately see some irony in Jacobsthal's words. Early Celtic Art in the British Isles (ECABI, as Jacobsthal later abbreviated it), was originally intended to be a collaborative effort between Jacobsthal and Jope, but Jacobsthal died in 1957 and Jope continued the work alone, until only weeks before his own death in 1996. I first heard of it in an autograph letter from Martyn Jope to me in 1989, where he said, "... I am currently finishing the British Isles successor to Paul Jacobsthal's Early Celtic Art". I waited, learning patience along the way, and it was finally published in 2000. Ian Stead had worked to get it to its publishable state.

In 2003, Vincent Megaw told me in an email:
"Our ECAS will not be a revision of ECA but will attempt in a very art-historical manner to follow Jacobsthal's lead in offering a selection of material which (a) he couldn't/didn't see in the '20s and '30s before having to leave his post at Marburg in 1935.  It will of course have to review the major developments since 1944. When will we finish? 1-2 years is my best guess."
I passed on the news to the Council for British Archaeology's "Britarch" discussion list, saying: "All we can do is to wait patiently..."

The subject of early Celtic art has been demanding for everyone who has tackled it. Its difficulties have gone far beyond those of the subject, itself. Jacobsthal was a German Jew who managed to leave Germany a couple of years after the establishment of the Third Reich and he settled in England. In 1937, he was appointed lecturer at Christ Church, Oxford. Hitler's atrocities to the Jewish people was not the only problem facing Jacobsthal's passion. Even had he not been Jewish, Hitler hated and persecuted intellectuals of all faiths. He didn't like the Celts either: the Gauls' last leader was Vercingetorix who had long been a national hero to the French.

Scholars around the world have been waiting patiently for the Megaws' supplement to Paul Jacobsthal's Early Celtic Art (ECAS). The subject has taken its toll with this work, too: from Vincent Megaw's fight against a serious illness, the annoyances of the Celtoskepticism fad of the mid-nineties to the greatest tragedy of all, the passing of Ruth Megaw last year. It was Ruth who had, as Vincent said "suggested that they should approach Oxford University Press with a proposal for a supplement to Jacobsthal, not a second edition but rather a presentation of that material which could not be included in his Early Celtic Art concentrating in finds made since the 1940's"

All the rest of us have only had to face our impatience.

A couple of days ago, Vincent shared more details with me -- I had not known that Jacobsthal had actually been denied access to much of the material before he went to England. He also added the following:
"Work began early in the 90's.  There followed about a decade of field work in museums and private collections collecting a visual archive now numbering some 5000 photos and drawings. ... currently the text volume of some 72,000 words has been completed and a start made on the Catalogue.  From a database of some 2500 entries has been selected c.850 objects which will form the Catalogue to be illustrated by a selection of 1800 images forming the second volume of the publication.  Work on the Catalogue entries continues... 
"The structure of the publication does not closely follow that of Jacobsthal; who was largely concerned with major stylistic classes and their association with the Classical world. After a Preface and Forward outlining the scope of the volume and also offering some discussion of the nature of art in an Iron Age context, the opening chapter offers a historiography of early Celtic art studies since Jacobsthal while the following three chapters cover a more or less chronological discussion of various regional developments within the earlier La Tène phases. 
"As to what might be regarded as the contribution to scholarship of ECAS it will form a natural successor to Jacobsthal and Jope and it will present much material unfamiliar and indeed unknown to many workers in the field while the main text will offer an assessment of previous publications and an overall discussion of the antecedents and evolution of what is not so much a single style but rather an interrelated series of regional styles."
If that were not great enough, Oxford University Press has a notional publication date of March 2016 and a cost for the two volume set of only £180! The moment it goes on sale, I will be placing my order. I strongly suggest you do also. Until then -- patience. Oh, and by the way, references to Jacobsthal's patterns will be included, but it will not have its own pattern section. Vincent sagely commented, "People will have to use their eyes".

Friday, 24 January 2014

Celtic swash-S motif and the structure of evidence

Swash-S motif on button-and-loop fastener
Wild's Class VIa, 2nd century AD
Portable Antiquities Scheme,  HAMP3302
This post is a continuation of yesterday's post and must, boringly, start with the same picture. H. E. Kilbride-Jones, in Celtic Craftsmanship In Bronze shows this same type and records that example as coming from Cilurnum, Northumberland (Chesters Roman Fort). Elsewhere in his book, he refers to a swash-N motif, but does not apply that designation to this one. In his chapter on dress-fasteners, he says that most of them "have been found in the former territories of the Votadini and Brigantes". both tribes had important metal-working sites, but it is the Traprain Law hill fort in Votadini territory that seems more likely to have produced this type than the workshops in the Brigantes territory. We cannot be sure of this, however, without clear evidence like comparative metal or enamel analyses, or the discovery of moulds. With so few and scattered find spots that we can associate with this motif, and the knowledge that all of these workshops were making "mass-produced" small objects for trade that seem to have been taken far and wide by Roman soldiers, we cannot make very confident claims about its source. It is possible that this rare type came from a small workshop yet to be discovered. This might even be in a different tribal territory --we just do not know. The scales are tipped slightly in favor of Traprain Law because there is another example of the motif on a driving-harness snaffle bit (Jope, 2000, Pl 279 a-b, page 303, Birrenswark, Dumfriesshire). Its "official" museum photograph seems to be deliberately useless, and the National Museum of Scotland, unlike the British Museum, wants no truck with its images plastered all over the Internet. The quoted find spot "Burnswark" is an alternative spelling for Birrenswark. As I cannot freely snatch images from Jope, I found one that was labelled "out of copyright", so I eliminated the yellowing from the image of that page, and enhanced it to make it closer to the original drawing:

Bronze driving-harness snaffle-bit decorated with red and yellow enamel
Birrenswark, Dumfriesshire, Last half of the 1st cent AD (click to enlarge)
The information on that page is also more useful than its museum catalogue worksheet. I especially found it interesting that Roman coins from Nero to Trajan had been found in the neighborhood. While not proving the date of the bit, it does add weight to Jope's dating of the type. This was clearly not part of any farm cart rig. I am sourcing it as from a driving-harness because of the extra decoration on the left which has the swash-S motif at its centre. This is part of a chariot rig -- with one for each pony, the more elaborate decoration would not be wasted on the inside. You don't necessarily need a bit on a driving harness, it depends on the horse or pony. No harnesses are known of that time, so we cannot be sure of their configuration or use. I can't be of much help in techniques, having spent very little time behind a horse. I know next to nothing of the commonest English style of horse-riding, either. It seems a bit primitive to me. I mean, really, a rein in each hand? What does one do when you need to rope a steer? I did have to gee-haw once, on a badly trained, nasty and skittish pinto stallion from an Indian reservation here. It was bad enough to start with, but when a truck sped by me and the country road gravel showered the horse, he bolted and there was nothing I could do about it. After pulling his head up toward the sky to no avail. I decided to ride it out. That was fine until he decided to cross a ditch and enter a wood, still at full gallop. A low tree branch hit me in the chest, back I went, jamming one foot in the stirrup and being dragged through the wood before my foot came free. My memory of the incident is spotty. I had several injuries and might have been knocked out in the wood. I woke up in field, realizing that I had also broken my arm. Then, I had to catch the damned horse which at that point was quietly grazing as if nothing had happened. I have had an aversion to pintos ever since. Even the cars named after them had a habit of catching fire when rear-ended. But, as Shakespeare wrote, "What's in a name?" A pinto horse is just a colour variation, anyway. I should have known better when I learned that the horse had not been trained to neck rein and had been sold off. I don't mind a bit of excitement -- I even rode a cutting horse, once -- talk about turning on a dime!

That the snaffle-bit had a lot of wear and was repaired a few times is interesting. The Torrs Farm pony-cap had also been repaired, apparently in Ireland. That is interesting because Dumfriesshire is adjacent to Kirkcudbrightshire, where Torrs farm is located. The bit is not of an Irish style, though, and no bits of its type have been found in Ireland. Iron age sites are not thick on the ground in Dumfriesshire, the only one I know of has not been excavated at all.  It seems most likely that the snaffle-bit had not travelled that far -- Roman soldiers seemed just to go for the trinkets, so Traprain Law is a slightly better possibility for the button-and- loop fastener. Traprain Law seems to mainly have objects with multi-coloured enamel within small cells, though and the fastener does not quite fit the profile.

I am defining the Swash-S motif as an implied S-shape with a keel at each of the four corners. Keeling does have an earlier history, but we have to take all of the elements of the motif into consideration. As Vincent Megaw says, "Similar is not the same as same".

A related motif, of course, is the Swash-N. While the Stitchill, Roxburghshire collar has a wildly elaborated form of this motif which includes two keels, and the Swash-N is a response to a large rectangular (Roman), space, I think a closer relative to the S-form on the fastener is the armlet which was found at Plunton Castle, Borgue, Kirkcudbrightshire.

Plunton Castle, Kirkcudbrightshire, armlet
late 1st cent AD. (click to enlarge)
Although dress fasteners are concentrated in Votadini and Brigantes territories, I think we can rule out the Brigantes for the Swash-S motif.  I think it possible, though, that the motif was mainly on objects made by and/or for the Selgovae, a large and fairly well fortified tribe who left their largest hillfort when the Romans invaded in 79 AD. The date strongly suggests a possibility of artisans moving to another area where, later, they were engaged in making these dress-fasteners for the Romans. The snaffle-bit is most certainly a piece of warrior finery but it, too, might have had quite a history before it arrived where it was excavated. We cannot, however, rule out the possibility that Selgovae artisans stayed in their own territory and also made a few dress-fasteners for Roman soldiers along Hadrian's Wall.

Find spots do not give us a full picture, but at least it is better than imagining archaeologically excavated sites full of context and dateable associated finds. This is not the common pattern for Britain for this sort of material as a whole, but in this region, such is pure fantasy. Again, we return to one of the subjects of yesterday's post and realize that when political factors come into play, especially nationalistic archaeology and archaeologists who criticize the value of stray finds and public involvement from detectorists and collectors alike, even to the point of criticizing art-historical methodologies used on unprovenanced objects -- even if first published on Ebay! Then, we have to take into consideration the man as well as what he writes. It is the postmodern thing to do. Neglecting comparative typology means that you will be able to write very little about the subject, and what you do write will not be very good. This could even lead condemnations of the subject itself! Before I go onto the next topic, here are few more Swash-S links that you might find useful:

Printed literature can make tracking motifs and elements very difficult. Those who do have the sort of intellectual powers that are not very common. Others who lack such abilities might start applying The Fox and the Grapes phenomenon to the task. The databases we see are often not wide enough in their scope (apart from those like the Celtic Coin Index which includes archaeological excavated, stray find, collection and trade examples). Databases also suffer from designs too slanted to certain types of interests, mix and match terminology, and human inadequacies of all sorts. If you enter a term like "bronze", the interface should ask you if an analysis has defined the object as such and if not, should list all such variations as "copper or copper alloy". It might even ask you about brass. You cannot have identical things scattered all over the place. Clean the data before you build the database and base its design on clean data.

My  idea for the database of the future, has at its core, three qualities:
Object; Attributes; Subsidiary Objects
These are all "nested": an attribute can become an object in its own right, and have its own attributes, and subsidiary objects, and so can a subsidiary object. I will give you a simple example: A Ford Pinto is the object. Its steering wheel is a subsidiary object -- if someone has removed the steering wheel, it is still a subsidiary object that is designated as "missing". Cars are also an object, and in that case, the Ford Pinto is an attribute: cars can, but do not have to always include Ford Pintos. A parking lot is an object and cars are one of its attributes, as are marked parking spaces. Parking lots might also contain other objects that are usually found in such places: trucks, vans, even tanks and troop carriers.

All of these are attributes -- we are not that surprised to find them there and we might even expect to do so (depending on what sort of parking lot we are looking at). A box of oranges on the back seat of a Ford Pinto is a subsidiary object, not an attribute. If you see a Ford Pinto, you do not think of boxes of oranges. If the Ford Pinto is engulfed in flames, then the fire is a subsidiary object. However if there are enough Ford Pintos recorded as being in flames, then the subsidiary object will automatically be promoted to an attribute!

The box of oranges on the back seat of our burning Pinto also has sets of attributes and subsidiary objects --which might include flames,  too, in this case, but will likely include oranges, even if it is an empty orange box. The oranges have skins, or they might have been peeled, they might have seeds and so on -- everything is nested.

They connect via "fluid nodes" This is a very crude brain model, nowhere near as good as the one in our skulls, but one that can be programmed to rearrange the data both as it is entered into the database and as the database is queried at certain times. While behaving a bit like a search engine in some cases, it would be far more sophisticated as it is constantly altering our perceptions of reality. Each database would be used for specific sorts of tasks -- It might be a museum database, or it might be a police database. It could be used for any interest. Each database would be linked through networks to similar databases used for other things, but it would not connect the data unless it "spotted" certain associative patterns. For example, a stolen museum object on a police database would alert its original museum automatically. Or a stolen object might later show up in a museum, and it would alert the police database. Data is being sent back and forth all the time. We do not yet have the technology to build and operate such things. Until that time, we must muddle along as best we can, and always be on the lookout for things in places we do not think about, or like.

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Celtic swash-S motif and an introduction to the general subject

Swash-S motif on button-and-loop fastener, Wild's Class VIa, 2nd century AD
Swash-S motif on button-and-loop fastener
Wild's Class VIa, 2nd century AD
Portable Antiquities Scheme,  HAMP3302
From time to time, I will focus on particular motifs in early Celtic art. A motif is a design that often consists of multiple elements. Line drawings of motifs and elements are called patterns (PP), and this tradition was started by Paul Jacobsthal (1944), for the continental material and continued by Sir Cyril Fox (1958) and Martyn Jope (2000) for the British. I am not sure if it will also be continued by the Megaw's in their forthcoming supplement to Jacobsthal -- I will ask Vincent Megaw about it and let you know. It was not followed by Barry Raftery for the Irish material in his corpus (1983).

With the exception of Fox, in the above published corpora the material is arranged by type of object (with chronology the secondary factor). Fox attempted to include regional foci, but this can be quite difficult with much British material, more so now, than in 1958. One has to consider the type of object in estimating the value of find spots: Very high status objects usually (but not always) stay closer to their source than lower status objects which are traded. Very low status objects like domestic pottery and ordinary brooches often have a very narrow range as these "cottage industries" are widespread and there is no point to having long distance trade in them. These are trends and should never be interpreted as rules. Certain types of Celtic coins, for example, are sometimes given wrong tribal attributions when this trend aspect is not properly understood.

A trend should also not be confused with a tendency: the former is due to deliberate human agency and the latter can also be due to various happenstances. For example, a lost Roman coin might accidentally be included in the ballast of a trading ship centuries later and find its way, thus to America. Finding a Roman coin in America does not mean that the Romans discovered America. While this obvious situation can be understood easily, other examples are far less obvious and need more detective work than is frequently conducted. Let us take the sica, for example. A few years ago, I came across a grave group of bronze and iron objects offered for sale on Ebay. It included a sica (I did not buy it as it was most definitely illicitly obtained and would not contribute anything new to our knowledge of those objects and very little to the knowledge of its original place of deposition). It was advertized as being "shipped from Romania", but its last resting place was most likely the briefly occupied Celtic town of Tylis in Bulgaria. Each of the objects in the grave group (including the sica) had exact parallels to objects in the British Museum's Morel collection of Celtic antiquities from Champagne. This was where the inhabitants of Tylis had originated.

For nationalistic reasons, Thracian finds are often defined as being culturally Thracian. The native Thracian ornamental metalwork styles were replaced, over a period of time, by the Greek styles of Sicily. Syracuse had attracted some of the greatest artists and philosophers when it functioned, essentially, as the the capital of the Greek world after Athens had fallen into decline. It too, however, went into its final decline starting during the reign of Hiero II (Archimedes' "boss"). At certain times before this, and afterward, some of the best metal-smiths had sought out new patrons and Thrace was an obvious choice as it was rapidly becoming Hellenized. You can see, in the finest "Thracian" silver vessels, the designs that  Kimon of Syracuse and others had applied to their coin dies. The facing head of Athena with a triple crested helmet; the kneeling version of Herakles fighting with the Nemean lion, etc.. Much later, during the reign of the Thracian king Rhoemetalces II (11 BC - 12 AD), There was an attempt to revive the native styles. This was instigated by Augustus (Hooker, forthcoming). Rhoemetalces was his puppet and Augustus was the earliest, and perhaps best practitioner of  nationalistic manipulation. Note the Roman style of Herakles' hairstyle on the Stara Zagora phalera, and the crudeness of the background hatching. The hoard also contained silver cups typical of the Augustan period. Another phalera was found with a dedication from "King Mithridates" and this has been conveniently attributed to Mithridates VI of Pontus, who died in 68 BC. -- perfect for associating the Gundestrup cauldron with the wanderings of the Cimbri. But Mithridates II of Commagene became a puppet of Augustus after the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, and that would not have helped the Gundestrup Cimbri/Scordisci hypothesis one bit! Also supporting this hypothesis is the Sark hoard of phalerae which showed the same poorer workmanship as the Stara Zagora phalera and the same synthesis of classical and native Thracian styles (not to be confused with just subjects). While the Gundestrup cauldron includes classical subjects, the style is pure native Thracian. The justification for the dating of the Sark hoard was the Roman Republican denarius of 82 BC. The decades of wear on this denarius was not mentioned. The Warmington hoard from Warwickshire contained Roman coins from ca 200 BC (Republican) to Nero (Imperial). Republican coins in early Imperial hoards are quite common, especially in Gaul and Britain where they did not circulate very fast and there was often a lack of freshly minted Roman coins. The Scordisci, by the way, share no Celtic iconography with that on the Gundestrup cauldron. They just lived close to Thrace. The Celts around the main Gaulish recruiting areas for the Italian campaigns of the 4th. and 3rd centuries BC, however, did share such iconography as evidenced by many subsequent coins and much later Imperial period statuary. The deities depicted probably date as far back as the Neolithic. Apparently, while Celts and Greeks could travel far to ply their trades, Thracians were always stuck in Thrace. The Greek iconography of the Gundestrup cauldron depicts many Italian subjects. It was thought strange, though, that the native Thracian style had magically reappeared so long after it had died out in Thrace, to be replaced with the Classical style. I suppose the artists were not dead, just sleeping. Why would they seek new markets after the Classical styles in which they were untrained became so fashionable in their homeland? Sometimes, scholars forget that real people are involved. Eastern Greek artisans went to Etruscan lands when they were threatened by Persian advancements --and that was quite a long journey in comparison with that of Thrace to Northern Italy. Northern Italy had been cosmopolitan for a very long time.

Of genius intelligence, Augustus had reinvented Rome and by having his puppets emphasize their nationalistic ideal and glorious pasts, Augustus was able to strengthen his power bases. He was also responsible for what, in modern times, has been labelled Interpretatio Romana, a phrase only ever used by Tacitus, and for a specific observation, but which has been often grossly misinterpreted to represent some sort of Roman policy to change native gods into Roman ones. We see this in the Roman Celtic world almost everywhere, but it was not of Roman doing. Augustus had created a hierarchical religious system. At its apex was Vesta, and the Vestal Virgins were better funded than any other religious organization. The lower the status of the deity, the less funding their priests could obtain. Priests were allowed to gain extra income from tenant farmers on temple property, and there were many other perks as well. Native priests, of course, soon realized that if they could associate their favorite deity with an important Roman one they would make make much more money. They could not, believably, do this with Vesta -- she epitomized Rome herself, but it was easy enough to do it with Apollo and Mars, for example, and these gods generated good income.

To his credit, Augustus did not sympathize with the empire building of his native, secular, officials. He chastised Licinius (a freed slave of Caesar's who had clawed his way up to being Augustus' procurator in Gaul) after a Gaulish delegation had gone to Rome to complain about Licinius' corruption and thievery. When Licinius denied all of the charges, instead of  just some of them, Augustus knew that he was lying. But Licinius did not get to where he was by being stupid. In a mental chess game between the two men, Licinius achieved a stalemate by saying that the riches he had were confiscated for the Roman people. He lost his riches, but saved his life. Augustus knew the game.

During WW II, Mussolini utilized romanità (see: Archaeology as Propaganda: Mussolini and the Myth of Romanità) or read Archaeology under Dictatorship. The game continues to this day: The U.S. State Department through its Memoranda of Understanding submits to various nations' desires for US import restrictions on what they label as their "Cultural [nationalistic] Property". In return, certain economic and other benefits are then obtained from these countries quid pro quo. The public and the courts are not permitted details of what is spoken of in whispers behind closed doors, but sometimes details leak out, or are patently obvious to those less gullible than others. Had the U.S. adopted the Roman religion as well as some of its icons and political edifices, we might be seeing temples dedicated to Ceres Monsanto! These same nations, seduced by the game, even put pressures on other nations through different measures, to have various things "repatriated" -- adding to their nationalistic power bases and scoring public relations victories against nations that they could not defeat through any other means.

Before I started this blog, and for three years, I wrote press releases for the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild and was the editor of their newsletter. My research was eye-opening. I think, though, that the US State Department emulates Licinius more so than Augustus in these matters. One must be able to see the Big Picture: those who do not study syncretism and political machinations become their victims. It is also very interesting, that the nations who have most benefited from these US Memoranda of Understanding, are those who have already been hardened through communism or dictatorships in their past. In Archaeology under Dictatorship  it is explained that these nationalistic systems are not solely the province of dictatorships, but are instead, a spectrum. It just that dictatorships are a little more obvious about it all. I wonder what Augustus would have thought about if had he lived in our day.

A current meme is the "conspiracy theory". It was created, as a concept, to protect a wide variety of state manipulations against the interests of its own people. Most people who use the term do not realize it is a meme, but that's what makes a meme a meme, does it not? If someone were to actually think about it (thus breaking the meme -- which works just like a biological virus or a chemical poison) they would realize that the definition of a conspiracy is "a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful" and that of a theory is "a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, esp. one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained" (Google). Whenever the first occurs, then the second must prevail until the first is broken.

 During the Cold War, I did a brief stint as an RCMP Security Services operative. Unlike some, this was voluntary and unpaid. I had previously been trained in competitive intelligence. I had given up my intelligence work for some time when I discovered a terrorist plot to blow up a number of downtown Calgary office buildings. I was working as a cataloguer in the military department of Glenbow Museum at the time. Within minutes of discovering the plot, I made a phone call to a former colleague and a couple of hours later was meeting with an RCMP SS agent in his car in the parking lot. After a crash course in Cold War espionage, I worked (with many others) to help the RCMP eliminate the threat. The terrorist group were all Métis, which was rather ironic as I had just been cataloguing a number of Riel Rebellion artifacts! My sympathies to some of their plights had attracted the attention of a young man who was being recruited by the terrorist organization. I already had a knack for such things -- a  few years earlier than that (1969), armed only with a bottle of whisky, I got a CIA phone-tapping dupe to spill the beans. As was typical, he was a university student recruit. I saw that he was flashing a rather large sum of money about, so I went to work on him. He had been getting a little too close to a company I worked for.

At one point, one of the RCMP agents told me "If you blow your cover, offer him police protection. I knew the game and asked, incredulously, "You would actually do that?!!!"; "Of course not!" he replied and we both had a good laugh. The RCMP worked exclusively with operatives in the field. We were essentially canon-fodder, and this was made clear to us. No RCMP agent would ever be in physical contact with anyone under investigation -- although  the agent I first spoke with was certainly a "James Bond" type in his personality, like the rest, he was a "behind the scenes" person -- a real intelligence agent. If his cover was blown just once, his career would be over. Think about it.

People just do not understand terrorism -- thinking it is about buildings and people being exploded by other people fighting for they believe in. It is really about the terror caused by the threat of such things. Many of us understand that the terrorists are all being conned and manipulated by those above them -- the bin Laden's and the like. What they do not understand is that which is told to the terrorists, has nothing to do with the motives of the instigators. They are fighting a different war, entirely. Only one of the terrorists I was working against would have had any idea that Métis rights had nothing at all to do with the interests of the person who (far away) had started it all. He was a KGB agent. It had the usual cell structure. The purpose was to break the backbone of the country, to spread dissent and fear. My agent summed it up in his stock introduction when he flashed his badge: " I am .... of the RCMP Security Service, our purpose is to guard against the Communist infiltration of Canada".

If you have a government that makes you afraid of terrorism; who reminds you of it each time you board a plane, I would seriously question their motives and ask yourself who is being the terrorist now?. But it is a Catch 22: as long as everyone is afraid, the "physical means" terrorists do not have to operate, and thus lives are saved. No one wins the game, it is always a stalemate. The best actions are those where the public never knows a thing. The Calgary public never knew and slept peacefully ignorant of what might have been, and all of the would-be terrorists vanished. The Canadian public did not like the RCMP methods and the Security Service was disbanded. Of course, later, its replacement understood, very well, why the RCMP had to work the way they did.

If you are wondering what all of this has to do with the study of the distant past, then you have not been paying attention. Read it all from the top again and understand why, as the saying attributed to Mark Twain goes, "History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme".

Tomorrow, a database structure that I invented that is based on numismatic methods, but is beyond our current technology, and yes, the conclusion of the swash-S motif!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

The rarest Coriosolite coin type and the Jersey Museum theft

Coriosolite Group A billon stater
Ex. Hooker coll. Donated by Garth Wright to the
Nickle Arts Museum, University of Calgary
There might be less than a hundred of these in existence and it took me many years to find one. I had all of the other major types, but this one eluded me until Robert Kokotailo found it mis-described on a dealers list and bought it on my behalf. He actually found all of my Coriosolite coins while I was researching my book back in the eighties, although I bought some more many years later from other sources. In the acknowledgements of my book, I included "Robert Kokotailo of Calgary Coin Gallery for finding me all of my coins"

Yet, the largest, single site find of this type was not found in Brittany, but in England All Coriosolite coins are very rare as stray or site finds and only a single Group A has been recorded as a site or stray find in Jersey or France -- the latter from le Mans, Sarthe at that!. One was even found in northern Spain. The English site was the Hengistbury metalworks. From the numbers of dies, there really should be many more. We can only speculate on why the earliest Coriosolite coins strayed so far and yet are so rare in the usual places. The Hengistbury coins had undoubtedly come from one the recycling/founders hoards in Jersey. Yet apart from a massive hoard still not even separated, but apparently similar (in that it also contains other scrap metal) to the Jersey Le Catillon hoard and found nearby, the previous largest hoard from Le Marquanderie contained 9,254 Coriosolite staters and only 19 of them were Group A. My coin almost certainly came from the Le Catillon hoard and was one of two. Most of that hoard was released to the trade. At first it had created some confusion as everybody had imagined that it was a refugee hoard. As it also contained some British Durotriges silver coins, those coins were dated far too early. Later scholarship showed that it was a much later hoard. Colin Haselgrove placed it sometime in the 3rd quarter of the 1st cent BC (pers. comm), but I argued for 10-15 AD. I bought my first coin from that hoard in 1965 as a clump of corrosion, and also saw a larger clump of quite a number of them. I cleaned it myself, leaving a perfect surface that bore no signs of ever having been corroded at all. I won't say how as it is rather dangerous method for the person doing the cleaning -- without protective clothing and a gas mask! The timing is also very important and it would not work for a number of coins in a clump. Rybot had used ammonia on a small clump of the La Marquanderie coins at his home and later, the British Museum had advised the same for the rest of the hoard. Billon can be cleaned in ways that would be very harmful for coins made from either of its main alloying metals. Alloys are strange.

You can reconstruct, to a degree, the routes that had been taken in gathering the contents of these hoards. One scatter of coins never made it to a Jersey hoard. That was the multiple find just behind a makeshift and improperly made gate at the hillfort at Le Petit Celland, Manche. which also contained pottery of a type found at both Jersey and Hengistbury. The hillfort was not finished during the Gallic War, and the gate was a much later addition made by people who did not understand how to build it and it was easily destroyed by fire when the people camped behind it were attacked -- the coins were dropped and the remains of the gate was found on top of them.

There is a slim chance that my Group A coin was one of the La Marquanderie coins,  these had been stolen, some years ago from the Jersey Museum along with most of their Coriosolite coins. Nothing had been catalogued by the museum and the whereabouts of Major N. V. L. Rybot's notes on the coin types is unknown. He had supervised the find and had done the first study of them. I discovered some photographs of a section of the stolen coins, arranged in the order that Rybot had originally placed them. It was easy to tell that the coins had come from a gigantic hoard because of the very narrow range in their chronology. The photographs had mysteriously been discovered in a desk drawer at the British Museum. No one could say how they had got there. I reported the details to Interpol via the RCMP, but a Scotland Yard detective told me that after chasing all leads "the trail had gone cold". Very few of the coins of that hoard had been published, but as luck would have it, the coins in the British Museum photographs had been. The lighting in the published coins was from a different direction and the hoard was only photographed (officially) once. After examining the numbers that had shown up in the trade, it was clear that the stolen coins had not reached the market. They are still lost.

The culprit had been caught. He was a museum caretaker. Declining a reduced prison term if he disclosed what he had done with the coins, he served a number of years in prison but was eventually released. When I first discovered the pictures of the stolen coins, Douglas Corbel, of the Société Jersiaise, was bubbling with excitement. Apart from my wife, he was the first to know. I had received the photographs, from the Celtic Coin Index. on the Friday, and discovered their importance early Saturday morning when I phoned Douglas at his home in Jersey. Next, I phoned the RCMP in Calgary but they were closed (Calgary has its own police force!).

First thing Monday  morning, I was in a small interrogation room at the RCMP headquarters in Calgary. I had brought all of my documentation -- including copies of the original illustrations; copies of the photographs of the stolen coins; inked Mylar overlays proving the two sets of photos matched, and the story of the theft. "So, you say these are American coins?" the confused detective asked me. "No, Armorican coins" I replied. I was reminded of Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant:
...and the Judge wasn't going to look at the twenty seven eight-by-ten colour glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us.
My original photo-collage for the Web version of my book
showing a selection of coins from my collection at the time.
So we have a couple of mysteries here: what happened to the Jersey Museum coins and what happened after the Group A coins were struck?
I have five different possible scenarios for the first that allows for all of the evidence known to me -- one being somewhat less unlikely than the rest -- and two different motives for the thief of about equal likelihood. I will probably never know for sure.

Group A is part of a continuum, and one of the same die engravers also cut dies for Group B but perhaps not the rest of Series X. The manufacturing processes seem to have been identical, too. Series Y is manufactured quite differently and the differences were discussed in Thompson, F. C., and Nasir, M. J., The manufacture of Celtic Coins from the La Marquanderie Hoard, Numismatic Chronicle, 7th series, Vol XII, 1972. In the paper, coins that I later classified as Series Y are said to have been struck hotter. This often results in small crazing cracks at the edges, a very weak obverse, but an exceptionally crisp reverse. The hammer die often picking up very tiny details of the die. The coin at the centre of my illustration is a good example. The obverse (anvil die) looks like George Bernard Shaw's description of Isadora Duncan when the two met: "She looked as if she had a face made out of sugar and someone had licked it". On that coin, you can even see the tool marks on the die in the inner slant of the pony's chest section (not on the photo, of course!). Today, I could do a better job of making such a picture actually look like the coins were piled on top of each other. The "two" coins just above the Group A are actually obverse and reverse of the same coin (Series Z -- Unelli). Most Coriosolite coins are not as pretty as all those, they are often very weakly struck or have corrosion damage. These were "cherry-picked" from my collection.

Part of Major Rybot's original MS which was the only documentary
evidence in the Jersey archives when I did my original research
on the hoard
The collection is long-sold -- back to Robert, of course. They have all been sold again, but you can visit the one that Garth generously donated at the museum. Oh, by the way, If you would like to see the first written account of the La Marqaunderie Hoard and read the text, it is all on my web site. Details of the hoards take up a chapter of my book and are further discussed in the concluding chapter.

By the way, I used for the Mylar overlays, the very same technique that Major Rybot had used for his remarkable die-reconstructions that appear in my book and in most of the literature. Almost no coins show the whole design. Wherever there is only part of the coin design visible in an illustration, you know that the coins from that die are quite rare. Rybot was an amateur par excellence. Soldier, artist and scholar, he received poor counsel on the evolution of coin designs. Had he done it all himself, I don't doubt that I would not have needed to write my own book! Unlike most, he had a fine attention for detail. I might do a piece on him one day.

Tomorrow,  Swash-S. (curious?)

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Crime wave sweeps Calgary!

The Imaginary Prisons (Le Carceri d'Invenzione)
etching by Giovanni Battista Piranesi 1720-1778
Gonzo Alert!
I broke the law yesterday, in fact, I have been breaking the law for several days -- so have most of my neighbours. Tens of thousands of Calgarians have been breaking the law lately.

With wild abandon, we have been jaywalking and not keeping our sidewalks free of ice. Many of us are imprisoned already, but because the prisons are so full, we are mainly under house arrest -- kept inside by dangerously icy sidewalks. I am going to try to make another escape after I write this. I need some things at the store. If I don't make it back, it's been nice knowing you.

Some years ago, The city decided that ploughing side streets in residential areas was too expensive, now ice is blocking the drains and when the snow melts there is nowhere for it to go so it flows across crosswalks and pavements and then freezes again. Then melting snow from lawns adds to the layers of ice building up. The stores have run out of salt and other ice melting products.

Perhaps the city plans to charge us all for our crimes and then use the money to properly clear the residential streets next year. One can only speculate about such matters. Well, the rush hour is over, and I am about to walk down the middle of the street in a few places without, hopefully, being killed by a car or ticketed by a policeman. Wish me luck.

I'll leave you with this newspaper story about it all.

Monday, 20 January 2014

The mathematics of mediocrity

I think it was the late seventies. I was walking and chatting with Bill Blackburn through Mount Royal, an old and affluent Calgary community -- pausing now and again to look at a mansion  or so that Bill could spit in front of its gate. A few days earlier I had been reading a passage in some book describing experiments involving planarian worms abilities to learn the route through a maze to find water or food at its end. After the worm reached its target, it would be picked up and placed at the entrance again and its performance was recorded for each pass. The worms would build up to about an 80% efficiency rating but if the experiment went on much past that then the worm  would get less efficient again and eventually would just lie at the entrance until it died, apparently, of boredom.  I told this to Bill and said that I thought that it must also mean that planarian worms must have a rudimentary intelligence. Bill disagreed strongly, saying that many of his students did not even have a rudimentary intelligence.

It is fairly common, in numismatics and archaeology to deal with percentages. Quite often in the ancient world very similar things are not quite the same in some of their measurements. Weights and alloys in numismatics have long been considered to be very important and that attention has been passed down to modern archaeology. There are, of course, different statistical methods and one can even use a variety of them in the same project to tease out of the data the results that one wants. If one method doesn't work after a set or two, then just switch to one that does. In this way, apparent truths can be seen to dutifully follow one's hypothesis.
There are lies, damn lies - and statistics
              Mark Twain (who attributed its origin to Benjamin Disraeli)

Katherine Gruel, in Le tresor de Trebry, Cotes-du-Nord, 1er siecle avant notre ere: Contribution a l'histoire du monnayage des Coriosolites suggests that the Coriosolite tribe of NW France had been reducing the silver content in their coins by about 2% from class to class, save for a 25% reduction at about the start of Class IV. I could buy the latter -- one in four would not tax the abilities of Celtic moneyers in the middle of the first century BC. At the time of that publication, it was thought that all of the classes of Coriosolite coins followed one after another. I was later able to prove that three different mints were involved and at one point, all three were likely in operation at the same time. One of these mints ("Class II") was not even Coriosolite, but Unelli. (Hooker, Notes on part of the Le Catillon Hoard purchased by the Société Jersiaise in 1989. Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise, 1993, 26 (1); Celtic Improvisations: An Art Historical Analysis of Coriosolite Coins, BAR International Series 1092, Archaeopress, Oxford, 2002)

 A 2% devaluation taxed my credulity. For a start, I doubt that the Coriosolites had the means or the motives to do such a thing, but most importantly, the classes were an arbitrary classification imposed on the coinage in modern times. Besides, I already had determined that the coinage was produced whereby each coin was a unit of account. The coins were paid out, in quantities, to military commanders for the hire of their troops to fight the Romans in the Gallic Wars. In using such small devaluation percentages, adjusting the weights of the blanks, al marco was the usual method employed. Adjusting the weights al pezzo was only rarely done in ancient times (see previous link), and I could see no evidence of either on the coins (some people display their ignorance of numismatic methodologies by imagining that we can do our work entirely from looking at illustrations of museum-held coins!). The situation was thus: the moneyers had been presented with certain amount of bullion and were told to make X numbers of coins from it. This bullion was not just ingots or casting pellets of refined silver, copper and tin, but was (or included) various scrap metal likely dug up from founders or personal hoards. Much later, the coins were again deposited in a sort of founders hoard awaiting transportation to the metalworks at Hengistbury in England so that the silver could be recovered through cupellation. This industry seems to have been closed, through a Roman police action in about 10-15 AD. The Durotriges (the tribe who ran the Hengistbury industry) were forced to devalue their own currency to pathetic cast copper coins. As these staters were also used as units of account, they were unable to hire outside forces to defend themselves from the Romans after Claudius landed in England, but supplies were in short supply, anyway, because of an agreement between Caesar and Cassivellaunos (I'll have a post on that later), and they had already been reducing the silver content of their coins. A similar situation happened much earlier with the coinage of Lesbos.

What actually happened, in the manufacture and later distribution and deposition of Coriosolite coinage was as follows: The workmen started, in each series, to adjust the alloys fairly carefully. It was not terribly important to get each batch of alloy just right as the commanders would get thousands of them. They were not used to buy goods in shops, so exact weights and intrinsic values were not that useful for the purpose, it would all average out in the end. After a while, the repetitive task took its toll. Whether planarian worms or some university students have a rudimentary intelligence is open for debate, but certainly these Coriosolite moneyers had more intelligence than, at least, the worms. The moneyers would, now and again, see that one of the pile of metals was going down faster than it should to maintain the intended alloy ratio and would correct that by using a bit less of it in the next batch of blanks. There were also other mistakes, In the nineteenth century, Sir John Evans recorded one Coriosolite coin that had a silver content of only only 4.1%, while the tin content was excessively high at 11.66%. Evidently, some scrap potin (high tin bronze) coins had got thrown in the silver pile because of their pale colour.

Now for the juicy part: Gresham's law shows that bad money drives out good (if you were a Roman emperor paying your troops, it would also usually lead to assassination!) In modern times, almost bovine complacency has taken over in these matters in our slow evolutionary path toward shark-intelligence. So imagine yourself back about two thousand years going through a bunch of coins that have been valued by unit of account. A few extra percentage points of silver, even as much as about ten percent in the alloy might not look very different from the rest, but a coin that had a very large percentage of silver would be quite noticeable. You know that you can make a profit on that so you remove it at once. Should you see one that had virtually no silver, you would let it remain. You might even exchange one of your own baser coins for an average one in the batch you were sending to be recycled.

Two thousand years later, someone finds a hoard of these coins and their alloys all go into the mental melting pot where they are averaged out to determine some monetary policy. The sample was corrupted even before they were buried and archaeology is not a science: if you depend on the wrong scientific method, your study will also become corrupted. All of the highest silver content coins had been culled before the hoard was buried and what had survived was mistaken for what had been created. This is why there appeared to be a 2% reduction "class by class". If you used clustering methods, instead, as I show in the above chart, the truth of the matter might well reveal itself. I could have done better if I had been able to plot them, exactly, on their timeline -- coin by coin, but I was only working from book data. My series X does not show the effect very clearly because of the rarity of the earliest of these, a major devaluation probably around the end of "class Vb" and the experimental effect of the initial minting of the earliest of Series X -- which are exceptionally rare. It also does not work very well for my Series Z, which are Unelli and found in Coriosolite territory in very small numbers. The latter have existed in vast numbers in the poorly recorded Normandy hoards of the nineteenth century and the recycling hoards in Jersey. Series Y, however, shows it quite clearly.

It's a lot more work to do this sort of thing properly, and I didn't have the coins on hand, but there is enough to show the general trend. Mediocrity is the state of being average. If you rely too much on averages, then you might well end up with a mediocre result!