Friday, 28 February 2014

Invasion, migration or... part four

Compilation of Celtic swords from
the La Tène archeological site

image: Kirk Lee Spencer
Anyone coming into contact with La Tène art for the first time cannot fail to observe the high percentage of decorated military objects. Even the gold jewelry hints at a culture capable of raising armies as, at the time such objects were made, gold was the currency of warfare -- the more of it you had, the bigger and better were the armies that could be mustered. Any decline in a local monetary economy was expressed through some sort of devaluation of the currency, by weight, precious metal content or by increasing the amount of the unit of value. In such situations, foreign troops are less easy to find and this made such states vulnerable.

Yesterday, I spoke of how advances in Celtic culture (or any culture for that matter) are dependent upon communication -- different ideas come together resulting in new ideas and the greater communication between peoples then the greater are the chances of innovation. As one group, within a culture, benefits from such innovation, the other groups can suffer from increased competition.  One of the most popular ways to counter this situation for the disprivileged group was to seek alliances with the more successful group and we start to see clan structures forming. The more fortunate group knows that with success can come greater outside threat and by allowing the clan system to form and grow, they can amass enough people to defend themselves from those who would wish to take over.

Long before there was much danger from military invasions, farmers and herders found that reciprocity was one of the best investments that you could make. If your crops failed, if disease struck your herds, or if you became ill or injured, then your neighbours would all pitch in and help and you would be expected to do the same for others whenever the situation was reversed. Gradually, such behaviour became formalized and an important part of the culture. In the British Columbia and the U.S. Pacific northwest, the potlatch helped to define the culture, and in Africa, an entire tribe would come together, voluntarily, to build their chief's kraal. As well as a defense, it showed his neighbours that he had the support of his people, for it was too great a project for the chief and his family to handle on their own. Such solutions are so common as to be almost universal to some degree and can be considered a human trait. The Celts also had systems that were more specific in their details and thus differentiated them from other cultures -- one of these was fosterage. If someone else raised your son, then the two families would form an alliance that would make conflict less likely. Raimund Karl suggested (pers, comm) that this fosterage system might also have applied to artisans in an early "apprenticeship program", and this makes perfect sense to me as well. This, alone, could explain the arrival of La Tène art in Britain that trade, dismally, fails to do.

Eventually, such customs and cultural markers become the laws of the land as the situations increase in their complexities. Also, as families and smaller groups unite, larger groups are thus formed and the seat of power can become more distant. I remember reading about an African tribe who had a set of penalties that were based on the geographical distance between the perpetrator and the victim -- the farther away the victim lived, the lower the penalty for the same crime. In all societies, systems will be developed to handle transgressions. In Ireland, the idea of an honour price is evidenced in their early legal documents and it is believed that these laws originated before Christianity, during the Irish La Tène. The penalty for any infraction was determined according to the status of the victim -- and thus you really did not want to mess with a king! Of course, the better that you did, the greater your honour price would become. Your status would also determine how many retainers you could have; what expectations guests would have when attending your feasts, and just about every aspect of your life would be clearly defined. This also tapped into the credit system which gave you one of the easiest ways to increase your status. If you also acted bravely in defending your clan leader from attack, then your status would also increase, accordingly.

Another situation also created the need for clan systems and that was advances in food production: surpluses could help when times were bad and they also provided the opportunity for trade. The natural desire for reciprocity soon became formalized in credit systems. If someone had enough land to support greater productivity and wanted to expand quickly,  they could borrow livestock from a wealthy clan leader and then pay back those animals with the interest of some of their offspring. In ancient Irish law, there were three repayments at set times.

What starts off as just being a good neighbour gives rise to clan systems, and as things become ever more complex, the clans form into tribes, and eventually states. When we say that something is primitive, we might think that this means crude, simple, or unenlightened. Primitive governments, however, are often surprisingly complex. As territories grow in size, the laws can no longer address the specific situations of a farmer and his immediate neighbours. Laws become rewritten to have wider applications and, by necessity, become simpler as a result. Modern people, in many countries, often complain that their leaders are so far removed from the common people, that they share very little and do not understand life at local levels at all.

Also yesterday, I mentioned the proliferation and great variety of hillforts in Britain during the Iron Age. From what I have written above, we might imagine that the unusually large hillfort of Maiden Castle was not protect a really huge population from an equally large army, but to cement relationships on the path to statehood for the tribe in question. It is the small hillforts, though, that give us the best clue as to what was going on. As the Iron Age progressed, most of these small hillforts with only a single bank and ditch (univallate) were abandoned. Looking at them, they do not offer much in the way of military defence. Really, though, I think that the bank and ditch was not even a symbol of might but was the equivalent of our modern locked front doors. A feature in the Irish epics is the cattle raid. We might also assume that in other places, other sorts of livestock and even grain storage pits might well be the target of raiders. A bank and ditch (with probable fences too) would be enough to prevent cattle getting out, and a little extra defence of the gates would help if a raider wanted to drive your cattle away.

As alliances formed and laws were implemented, the need for such small defenses diminished. In Ireland, the cattle raider came to expect that, even if he got away with your best bull, then his family would be made to come up with the repayment and the honour price fine, and if one of you neighbours allowed the bull to graze on his land, then he would then become responsible to right the wrong.

Even before the Celts started to become employed by Greek commanders and set up their bases in northern Italy, they were a warrior society. As the tribal/state transition progressed, there was greater need for larger armies and greater defenses. The Celtic-speaking Britons were trading with the Celtic-speaking Gauls, and because of cultural lag, the former were not so well equipped or trained. The cattle raid was nothing compared with the fierce competition of rival clans or tribes and this had been handled, anyway, by the evolution of laws and penalties -- the very things that enabled such political structures to form and flourish. In Britain, we also see some large hillforts and evidence of conflict in the fifth century BC. This is the first time that the Britons might well have hired Gaulish troops. By the fourth century, however, these same troops were looking toward the Mediterranean as a more lucrative source for military work. History is clear that conquest was not the motive -- it was gold. Rome was captured by the Celts and then given back when a ransom was paid; From two types of Etruscan gold coins of about the same weight, but where one type bears a value mark half that of the other, I reason that it was the Celts' demands that had decimated their treasury. The Etruscans thought that they were buying troops with that money, but really, it was a "protection racket". Ptolemy Keraunos, one of the sons of Ptolemy I of Egypt, made the fatal mistake of thinking that the terms put forward by his Celtic attackers was some sort of surrender terms from them instead of an offer to just go away if paid. It cost him his head.

When the Gauls started to return from Italy in about 200 BC, those who escaped from the Romans brought back vast amounts of gold and considerable military experience. Later still, Caesar wrote about how some tribes built mounds of captured booty that could not, under penalty of a horrible death, be used again. I believe that this was yet another evolved system that helped prevent the emergence of warlords gaining  too much wealth and eventually becoming tyrants. It was in the best interests of the tribes that such a measure be put in place. Like any business, if one market fails, its leaders try to find another market. It seems likely that some Britons had already joined the Celtic troops in the Mediterranean, and came back, not just with gold, but with greater knowledge of strategy and tactics. Caesar also tells us that British troops had reinforced the Gauls in just about every campaign in Gaul -- the coin evidence supports this.

Putting all of these threads together, we can see that while one British king hires continental troops to defend his people from a powerful neighbour, without a monetary system, payment can only be through shares in booty. In agricultural lands, such booty can only be in livestock and grain. We can imagine that a continental warrior would be in a similar situation to a visiting artisan, and the benefits would come from patronage. Within as little as one or two generations, the local population would see themselves as part of the same clan or tribe. Some of those who had started as warriors for hire would move upward to become kings or druids with land, tenant farmers and retainers. A warrior could eventually become a king with his own army.

Contrary to what Simon James says, we cannot know if, or how much, the Britons came to call themselves Celts. Mostly, whether in Britain or the continent, the people would refer to themselves by their tribal or clan names, but perhaps Celt was a term reserved for cultural and philosophical discussion, just as Caesar had used the word druid  in the ethnographic book of his commentaries.

It is not just matters of farming, ranching and conflict that worked, in synergy, to create the British La Tène Celtic culture but we know, from late inscriptions, that religious matters, even local deities were all absorbed into the Celtic ethos. John Rhys, in the nineteenth century, mentioned the vast number of Celtic equivalents to the Roman god Mars. Some have imagined that different deity names refers to different aspects of a war god, but there are just too many names for that to be possible. Instead,  it would seem that the Celts understood much of what Joseph Campbell has labelled as mythogenic zones. We also know that the later later Celtic festivals are evidenced in Neolithic alignments as early as five thousand years ago -- long before anyone could be identified as Celtic. The Celts managed to place themselves within many societies and acculturation is a two-way street. If, or how much, the Iron Age Britons called themselves Celts can never be securely established. It is usual for us to use the term today, but labelling is unimportant -- call a duck anything you like, it will still quack. The similarities between the Britons and the Gauls in the Iron Age are just too numerous to deny any cultural unity and the differences are few and negligible -- mostly due to environmental differences and not even specific to the Iron Age.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Invasion, migration or... part three

Badbury Rings hillfort, Dorset, England
photo: Pasicles (public domain)
It is not often that a single thought remains very clear in one's mind after fifty five years. Such a thought came to me at Badbury Rings -- I wondered what might lie below the surface. I was on a school holiday in Dorset and it was my very first contact with anything of the Iron Age. Forty years after having that thought, I was standing at the site with a British coin and antiquity dealer who was giving me much more information about the area than was told to me by my teachers. In fact, he told me more than is officially known to this very day.

Hillforts, some of which originated as early as the Neolithic, really proliferated in the Iron Age and especially in south and west England and up to Wales. The reasons for defenses in this large are are not hard to imagine -- the land is fertile and in and beyond the area are deposits of tin, copper, lead and a bit of gold.. Lead and certain deposits of copper also contain silver that can be extracted. We can see that these hillforts had varied histories -- some were left vacant for long periods; some had been attacked; some were of dubious value as defences; some were clearly large settlements, others simple homesteads. Maiden Castle in Dorset is absurdly large. So large that it is actually difficult to see when you are nearby -- to see it all, you have to be so far away that what you actually see does not differ that much from the natural terrain. When you get close enough to see the bank and ditch defences and the complex entrance earthworks, you can only see a small part of the fort. It's best views are all from the air.

One of the tricky things about studying the Celtic Iron Age is that you have to completely revise your ideas about time. In this day of mass communication, we see mostly just a single chronology -- someone invents the car, and within a few decades they are everywhere. Back in the Iron Age, information travelled by foot, horse, and boat. It stands to reason (if you should indulge in such) that the more people travelling through an area, the more information becomes available for use in that area. To this very day, "backwoods" areas can still have features that have vanished in more populated areas. This means that if you had a time machine and went back to the Rhineland or the Champagne district to see what objects people were using in the early La Tène -- let's say a brooch, and then you went to south west England at the same time -- you would have to wait longer than your lifetime for brooches, even only vaguely similar, to start showing up. Let's imagine another situation -- you have discovered how to work iron, and all of your neighbours are eagerly trading things for  the objects you make. Are you going to share your techniques with them? -- Of course not! So how did any valuable information travel at all? New ideas often come about through putting together a couple of old ideas. If one person knows one thing, and another person knows another, and the combination of those two ideas can lead to great success in something new, then there is a motive for both to strike some sort of deal. The chances of such events taking place is dependent on the numbers of people with very different ideas. In a rural area heavily covered by small farms you might have enough people for this process, but everyone has just about the same sort of life -- there is little variety and it is combinations of very different lives that leads to innovation.

Hillforts show this process of development. In the Roman occupied south east England, hillforts fell out of use very quickly, but in Scotland they proliferated in the 3rd century AD. The situation in Scotland at that time was nothing like the situation in the south after Claudius arrival, but as Mark Twain said "History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme"

There is another ingredient in our formula for understanding the arrival of the La Tène culture in Britain and that is certain behavior is human and transcends most cultural divisions. This is not absolute -- certain reactions to events are cultural and differences between locals and new arrivals can often lead to disaster as a result. Nevertheless, we can often get a good idea about what might well transpire as a reaction to an event in the lives of others if we imagine what we might do in similar circumstances, and by finding enough examples of the same in very different cultures to identify certain types of behavior as human. We will, of course, give somewhat less credence to things that have too much religious or political content. It all works best with mundane, everyday, existence -- getting our work done and interacting with our neighbors in informal matters.

So we have all the ingredients that we need to put this all together and tomorrow I will reveal the third component of the invasion/migration/... trilogy.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Invasion, migration or... part two

Butser Ancient Farm in West Sussex, England.
Wikimedia image by:  Midnightblueowl
That invasions and migrations were a feature of the Celtic La Tène culture cannot be disputed. Caesar gives as his reasons for going to Gaul a massive movement of the Helvetii along with some of their allies. The reasons given for their move were twofold: a growing, prosperous population without enough land, and their desire to conquer. Whether this event was originally considered a migration or an invasion depends mainly on the viewpoint: a king, or warrior might have thought of it more as the desire to conquer, while a farmer would have been more interested in supporting more livestock and growing more crops. The other tribes had two different ideas about the event: some thought of it as a way to increase their wealth through alliances with the Helvetii, while more powerful tribes would have seen it as an encroachment on their territory and a threat to their livelihood. Caesar talks of both migration and conquest with reference to the events, but his involvement thoroughly shifted the focus to military matters -- even though he was assured by the Helvetii that they were just passing through certain territories.

We also know that this was not an isolated event: embedded in the name of three or more tribes is the Celtic term Aulerci, which means "far from their tracks". One of the early coinages of eastern Armorica was that of the Aulerci Cenomani which derives, strongly, from a coinage attributed by D. F. Allen (The early coins of the Treveri, Germania 49, 1971) to that tribe, although very different from their later coinage. Despite the fact that these coins are found in the territory of the Treveri, I think it most likely that it belonged to a tribe that had been conquered by the Treveri, or less likely, who had joined them willingly as a client tribe. Allen says of the earliest variety of these coins:
Neither staters nor quarter staters are rare. They start with coins in good gold weighing 7.34 - 7.85 g., and the quarter staters, all of which appear to be early, correspond. The type of the staters evolves and coarsens, and the weight declines in step; several are plated. The latest coins are effectively of billon or bronze and weigh no more than 4.70 - 5.00 g.
The coinage of the Aulerci Cenomani starts with weights only slightly lower than the prototypes and only rarely declines to the weights of the last classes of the prototype. Although metal analyses are scarce, it would appear that the Aulerci Cenomani coins start with gold perhaps also slightly lower than the first of the prototypes but does not get as debased as the last of the prototypes. So it would seem that the tribe had separated with one branch migrating south where it picked up the appellation, Aulerci. In the northwest, the Belgic tribes had claimed to have originally moved south of the Rhine and being fierce fighters would seem to have weathered attacks from German tribes before seeking an easier life further south.

Going back further in time, to around 400 BC, a number of Celtic warriors were hired by Dionysius I of Syracuse. Usually called "mercenaries", these were really auxiliary troops -- essentially private armies. Dionysos did not have to go too far north to hire them as there were a great number of Celts already living in Northern Italy -- a surprisingly cosmopolitan area for such an early date. The luxury-loving Etruscans had attracted artisans from far and wide. The earliest La Tène art bore design elements common on eastern Greek pottery and it is believed that eastern Greek artisans had moved to northern Italy to escape domination by the Persians. But it goes even further back than that with some people of the Urnfield culture (believed to be forerunners of the Celts) who found northern Italy to be an attractive migration destination. Of course, as people move, cultural traits of the new area are absorbed and in Italy we even find grave evidence of mixed Etruscan/Celtic marriages.

Dionysius was noted for paying the best of his troops very generously. There were power struggles in many part of the Greek world at that time, and the Celts knew that they could earn much gold by working for Greek commanders. Accordingly, they set up large bases in Northern Italy. Anyone who is interested in pursuing this topic further could do no better than looking at the work (downloads available) of Daniele Vitali or the page for Celts in Italy. The two most dominant tribes in Italy were the Senones and the Boii, but it would be a mistake to think that it was only the historically recorded tribes who were represented at these bases -- the very earliest Belgic coin type is of the Ambiani and copies an issue of Taras in southern Italy. Its fine Mediterranean gold attesting the gold source as military pay (all Greek gold coinage of the time can be associated with military campaigns), Somewhat later gold coins of the Ambiani are fairly common in Britain (though usually well-worn), but there are also a few British finds of the early copies of the gold stater of Philip II of Macedon which were paid to the Celts in most of the Italian campaigns and which formed the prototype of most of the Celtic gold coinage.

So far, we have securely established that the spectrum of invasion/migration was not foreign to the La Tène culture and we even have some connections to Britain, albeit tenuous at this stage. We might wonder why Britain should be exempted from the Celtic La Tène culture migration/invasion pattern which is commoner than the few examples I have given here and which stretches as far as Asia Minor. We will start to investigate that tomorrow.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Invasion, migration or... part one

The Waterloo helmet   
© Trustees of the British Museum
Anyone who is unfamiliar with British Celtoskepticism should first read Simon James ideas about the Celts in Britain. This BBC page summarizes things nicely.

Everyone is familiar with the phrase "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence", and I am reminded of that when, in that BBC web page, Simon James says:
However, there is one thing that the Romans, modern archaeologists and the Iron Age islanders themselves would all agree on: they were not Celts. This was an invention of the 18th century; the name was not used earlier.
I would dearly like to get my hands on Simon James' crystal ball, it would make my work so much easier. Iron Age Britain was largely non-literate, and the earliest inscriptions that we have are very late and mostly on coins. The language is always Celtic but Simon James says that language does not determine ethnicity. Celtic inscriptions are so rare, everywhere, that we cannot reconstruct the complete language from them and linguists have been constructing Proto-Celtic which includes words for even very common things for which we have no epigraphic evidence whatsoever.

I find this idea about ethnicity rather interesting. Surely, the correct term that we should be using is cultural rather than ethnic. If we start thinking about ancient societies as having an ethnic identity then we can have no Romans, ancient Greeks, or even ancient Egyptians. All of these societies had mixed races and while this is most obvious with the Greeks and Romans whose cultures spread around the Mediterranean basin and beyond, the ancient Egyptian civilization was at times ruled by people with no ethnic connections to the area: Hyksos, Persians, Greeks and Romans. Yet we do not see these names enclosed by scare quotes and no one seems to mind the terms being used.

Genetic studies also have a few problems, not the least of which is is that one of the political divisions of Gaul was the Belgae who claimed descent from Germans north of the Rhine, yet were not so politically different from the Celtae that both were part of the same social structure. The clincher is that Caesar (VI,13) says that the Gauls met once a year in the territory of the Carnutes "which is supposed to be the centre of Gaul".  This would only be even approximately correct if Belgica was included, otherwise the meeting would have been in northern Gaul -- the Veliocasses, bordering the Carnutes on the north were a Belgic tribe. It Caesar's "ethnographic" Book VI where the nature of the people is mainly discussed and Caesar talks only of the Gauls and Germans, not the Britons. Everywhere else in his commentaries he refers to people by the tribal names or as confederations of tribes united as military strategies to fight the Romans.

Another one of James' ideas to further separate Britain from Gaul is the fact that the Britons used round houses while the Gauls used rectangular houses. However, Raimund Karl has pointed out (pers comm.) that this division of house styles goes back much further than the Iron Age.

It does me no good to diss James without providing an alternative model that does not include the "absence of evidence" fallacy. While proof  of archaeological statements borders on the impossible, I always use the Peirce method of reasoning using cables rather than chains. This method was modified by Richard J. Bernstein and applied to archaeology by Alison Wylie. But all of this will have to wait until tomorrow!

Monday, 24 February 2014

Celtic antiquities -- the state of the market

Portobello Road Market, Notting Hill, London
photo: Chensiyuan
Unlike the more popular Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities, one cannot plot the market in Celtic antiquities on a year to year basis because of the rarity of the material. Apart from brooches (mainly fibulae) and various dress fasteners and other mounts from Celtic workshops in the Roman period, these objects are rare.

If you are new to collecting antiquities and ask those in the know for guidance, the commonest advice you will get is "buy the books first" and "start out buying from reputable dealers with experience in the material".

The knowledge of many dealers in ancient coins and antiquities can be considerable. In fact, you will usually get better information on an antiquity if you take it to a specialist dealer rather than a museum. The reason is that the dealer will likely have seen more examples over the years and his or her reputation and livelihood depends on such knowledge. Most dealers (with an actual shop) also usually have a very large library. It is all different with early Celtic art and it did not take me long to discover that only a few academics are knowledgeable enough to give very dependable information. The books, too, are often expensive and sometimes very difficult to find. General studies of Celtic art are more accessible and will give you a very good grounding in the main styles but they mostly illustrate the sort of objects that even the wealthiest and most enthusiastic collector will never find. You could do no better than to start with Ruth and Vincent Megaw's  Celtic Art: From its Beginnings to the Book of Kells. Not only is its 300+ pages packed with good information and an enjoyable read, its bibliography is about as good as it gets. Instead of the common sort of bibliography where everything is listed alphabetically by the author's name, the Megaws list the works by the chapter and subject. The material book, itself, is a Thames & Hudson product and even as a paperback is bound in signatures instead of the usual, glued, "perfect binding" (the sort that frequently falls apart). It is also a bargain!

The main references to early Celtic art, such as Jacobsthal, Jope, Raftery, and the Megaws supplement to Jacobsthal (forthcoming) are going to cost quite a bit. The links all go to Abebooks and are the most inexpensive of the listings -- even then, those three titles will cost you nearly $800 US (and a bargain at that). But this is still only the beginning -- much of the information on early Celtic art is published in scholarly journals, and these can be both difficult to find and relatively expensive when you do. Many universities, however, have these journals in their library shelves.

So whenever you see Celtic antiquities listed for sale, check to see what references are given, and do follow up on that (I have seen some very dubious references listed). A dealer who is inexperienced might imagine that his La Tène 1 fibula is just about the same as any La Tène 1 fibula -- I once saw a Balkan variety listed as a British "Wessex" type (with a reference). The two types are very different.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme can be a good reference for the British material, but again -- check the references as the skill levels in recording varies considerably, and these references are sometimes given by dealers without mention of any inaccuracies. Here is an example from one Ebay dealer and its PAS record. It is certainly a high quality example, but its date range is all wrong. Instead of "Iron Age", and 100 BC to 43 AD, it should be "Roman" period and late 1st century to middle second century AD. I would reference the teardrop or petal-headed fasteners most common to the reign of Antoninus Pius (J. P Wild, Button and loop fasteners in the Roman Province, Britannia, 1970, for the motif and the Middlebie, Dumfriesshire, hoard (Jope, plate 278b) for a slightly different belt mount but also with the petal motif. Perhaps the price might be somewhat less if the actual date was given.

There should be more dealer references to the PAS, but most detectorists that report to the PAS keep what they have found. This is unfortunate but is probably due to an irrational dislike for the trade among such people. Anyone who is supportive of recorded findspots should really be trying to encourage finders to release some of what they find to the market. There are two reasons for this: first, anything with a PAS listing should come with a premium price -- for a start, you do not have to worry too much about modern forgeries and will perhaps get a reference that could be expanded by other references, second, the detectorist that becomes a specialist collector might also expand our knowledge of the subject. Not relying on what the detectorists finds themselves, they will also purchase items from the trade, using the proceeds from what they sell that is outside of their specialty. Lastly, of course, the market itself will improve in its level of cataloging.

On a rare occasion, the big auction houses will offer Celtic antiquities. Often these are multiple-object lots such as this one. Sold separately, these item would fetch much more, but if you are just after the gold earrings and do not collect fibulae, you would have to resell the rest. It is really a dealer's lot.

Without researching Celtic art before you start to collect, stay away from Ebay. There are a lot of items listed as "Celtic" that are not: just about any bronze harness ring from the Bronze Age to the fifteenth century is likely to be called "Celtic ring money", and I have even seen "Celtic arrowhead money" (the Celts did not have archers). You might also see fakes, modern objects and even modern cut gems listed as Celtic. The word attracts viewers to lots and I suppose that the dealers think that if you see their "sacred Celtic amethyst crystal" while you were looking for a terret ring, you might not be able to resist buying it. Generally, accurate Ebay descriptions of Celtic antiquities are about as easy to find as exit signs in department stores. Once you learn a few things, however, the lack of skill of some Ebay dealers can pay off. I bought the third known example of a British Celtic shield handle mount listed on Ebay as a "Roman saucepan handle".

In summation, the state of the market for Celtic antiquities is nebulous. There are great bargains to be had, but you can also pay too much or get something just posing as a Celtic antiquity. Read first -- collect later.

Friday, 21 February 2014

A History of Celtic Britain

From time to time I will be presenting a video on Celtic subjects. This first offering is a BBC series hosted by Neil Oliver and is nearly four hours long: A History of Celtic Britain -- enjoy, and have a great weekend!

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Lost Change

Lost Change: mapping coins from
the Portable Antiquities Scheme

© Trustees of the British Museum
Yesterday, the British Museum's Portable Antiquities Scheme launched Lost Change, a coin find visualization tool developed by Gavin Baily and Sarah Bagshaw of Tracemedia.

After following the directions in the first link, I opened the start page and decided to select Sego as the ruler's name but soon discovered that this name was not yet present. Apparently, more funding is required for more records to be included. The drop-down list also included two different uncertain's, each showing different data but no indication of why there should be two listings for uncertain rulers. Presumably, such bugs will soon be corrected.

Hopefully, more drop-down categories will eventually be included -- for Celtic coins, a choice of Van Arsdell numbers is essential. I would also like to see hoard/multiple/stray finds as an option (with links to other coins in the hoard/multiple finds category). While I might criticize the current state of the project, Cultural Property Observer reminds us all that even in its current state it beats anything from other countries who have no Portable Antiquities Scheme equivalent whatsoever.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Holographic archaeology -- through a (cracked) glass, darkly

Cú Chulainn & the Bull by Karl Beutel 2003,
 Oil on Canvas,  Armagh County Museum
photo: Teufelbeutel
Holographic archaeology is so named because a hologram captures all viewpoints of an object. If you break a hologram, each of its fragments will only show certain viewpoints and if one fragment is lost, the whole is also diminished. My definition thus aligns the subject with transdisciplinarity.

The ancient Celts passed on their history, religious beliefs and legends through spoken verse and it was considered taboo to write any of this down. Eventually, though, many of these stories were recorded in the Medieval period. Foremost among these stories are the Irish epics and the Welsh Mabinogion.

There can only be two ways of discovering something of the original mythologies: you can try to backtrack from the Medieval versions to something that has been excavated, or you can look for continuity and mythological significance in what has been excavated. Unfortunately, most people attempt the first method. Even more unfortunately, and judged from their writing, most archaeologists do not bother to look at all. Sometimes, though, the word "ritual" does creep into excavation reports. As primitive religion does not rank very highly in archeology courses, almost nothing is known of it so whenever anything mysterious appears there is some chance that it will be labelled "ritual", but without any further clarification.

In attempting to backtrack the Medieval stories to their Iron Age origins, people might have heard that the stories are a "mirror to the Iron Age". If this is true, it is certainly a very murky and cracked mirror, for what comes across more than anything is the age of the writing of the stories. It is relevance of some sort that keeps the stories alive -- first as an oral tradition then a literary tradition. The stories have to change over the centuries to keep them popular. Whenever you find a true clue to the earlier times, they are usually an apparently insignificant detail or some throwaway line quite apart from the main themes. The main themes strongly reflect the Medieval with stories of knightly contests and courtly love. Earlier cultures might be transformed into "fairy folk" living deep within Neolithic mounds. The main theme, however, might have some basis in event -- cattle raids and battles get remembered and they are given a "current veneer" to make them more palatable to their contemporary audience. Even people and events can get mixed and matched as seems appropriate to the story teller. During the late La Tène in Ireland, it seems apparent that Celts from various parts of Britain moved to Ireland to continue their crafts in the face of increasing romanization. High status smiths could no longer find customers for military equipment for a warrior class and about all that was left for them was to produce various small trinkets like dress fasteners and belt furniture for Roman soldiers serving in remote forts on the frontiers. The warrior kings had fallen prey to Roman expansion, but the Romans never managed to get much of a foothold in Ireland. There, the warrior was still important and we do suspect from the stories that some of these smiths became quite wealthy and powerful in their own right after finding such patrons. Of course, weapons and horse gear are solid, real, objects and some of these have survived -- but the stories told in the halls of warriors have left no traces apart from those in the minds
of the earliest poets and the later chroniclers. It would seem most likely that myths and legends also traveled from distant shores to Ireland where their heroes became substituted with local patrons of the poet.

So, if we are diligent enough in our search we might be able to draw meaning from what is depicted on Celtic Iron Age objects, but the actual stories are likely so changed as to be almost unrecognizable. The task is far from easy and we have to accept that much will be permanently lost. About all we can hope for are very general themes. Fortunately, and as Joseph Campbell points out, there are few mythological themes that transcend specific cultures. For Celtic subjects, the theme I have written most about is the boar. It had not been given much of a description in the literature about Celtic iconography. In Symbol and Image in Celtic Religious Art, Miranda Green stresses war and hunting for the meaning of the boar as an icon, but these two activities are actually only minor, subsidiary, themes. In order to really identify the role of the boar, we have to include many other cultures as boar symbology is based on the characteristics and features of the animal itself and the Greek boar was no different an animal from the Celtic. Even different species of wild boar share many characteristics so we could look to almost anywhere such creatures are found to find meaning that would have been relevant to the ancient Celts.

Rather than describing, here, how all of this should be done I will simply link to one of my early boar articles and a piece on how to deal with mythological imagery on excavated objects.  

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Feeding mediocrity

Manhattan clam chowder    photo: stu_spivack
It all started with my enthusiasm for Manhattan clam chowder. All supermarkets carry white (New England style) clam chowder but hardly anyone carried the tomato-based Manhattan clam chowder. For a while, Safeway carried it, but one day I noticed that it was missing from the shelves. I discovered that it had been discontinued as it was nowhere near as popular as New England clam chowder. Evidently, there were a few more popular New England clam chowders and Safeway's still carried all of those.

Evidently, modern marketing says that if you have a soup-can display and  some varieties do not sell that well, you stop ordering those and order, instead, more of the popular varieties. This seemed to be true for all products and I started noticing other disappearances as well. Gone were the cans of  really spicy tamales, and in the same department, enchilada sauce had also vanished. Then, the low cost lumpfish caviar vanished -- actually all caviar as they had never carried Russian sturgeon caviar. As the years passed, rabbit vanished from meat department as did all types of liver save for beef (and not calf, at that) and chicken.

Things were starting to vanish far too frequently. I remembered the Calgary of decades ago when you could easily buy truffles, cans of abalone, and even cans of jellied eels at a supermarket. I began to engage in some reductio ad absurdum. Where would all of this modern marketing lead? I could only think that the supermarket of the future would carry only two or three varieties of "people chow" -- something like Soylent Green without the bad connotations, perhaps.

It seems that modern marketing has made a blunder. Whenever a supermarket stopped carrying enough of my favorite products, I just switched to another supermarket -- for everything. Eventually, though, there was no supermarket that did not stop ordering things that I liked. Not long ago, I wanted to make some California sushi rolls, so I bought all of the ingredients I needed -- but I could not find the nori. I asked a manager who told me that they had stopped carrying it as it was not a big seller. I put back all of the groceries I had gathered to that point and left to find another supermarket -- one that carried nori.

I have also started to see some new shops emerging -- there are more independent butchers, bakers, fish merchants -- even a genuine chocolatier (one who actually roasts his own cacao beans). Will the supermarkets ever catch on? Will they ever discover that if their customers cannot find enough of what they like, they might not just buy what they are told and perhaps find new places to shop? But perhaps there will be enough business from the mediocre to ensure their survival. Mediocrity, like democracy, is majority rule after all.

Today, I plan to buy some sirloin steaks. I could get them at any supermarket -- although I know that one of them adds water to their meat in order to raise the moisture content to its legal maximum limit (a good way to make really tough steaks). I will buy my steaks at a good butcher that I know. The beef is all grass-fed and finished and on every package is the name and phone number of the rancher who raised the animal. I could even phone them to check on their methods if I wanted to. Perhaps I will also buy a cut-up rabbit as well. Still no luck with the Manhattan clam chowder, though.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Holographic archaeology -- mind over matter

Chronology of Series Y Coriosolite staters (click to enlarge)

While theoretical physics can be imagined as using mind to study matter, archaeology uses matter to study mind. It is not enough to just plot objects on an archaeological site map with their descriptions, the goal is really to discover what thoughts were responsible for the nature of the original site.

Each of the three series of coins formerly all attributed to the Coriosolites exhibit very different profiles in the way that the die engravers thought about the designs. We were last discussing a subgroup (H1 and H2) where the start and end of the obverse and reverse dies were apparently accidentally staggered in a variations on a theme sequence. Later, in motifs 11, 13 and 14, we see more variations where the die engraver uses variations from a repertoire freely. There is apparently no indecision as to which presents the better designs, rather it seems to be a matter of deliberately showing variations. This way of working is typical for this series as some motifs are abandoned and then taken up again without any apparent "variation lessons". The overall impression is that each design should be original as much as possible even though its elements are often allowed to be "stock images".

Chronology of Series X Coriosolite staters
(click to enlarge)
A very different pattern is visible with Series X. Here, the die engraver is concerned with improvements to the design and there is very little uncertainty whereby a previously abandoned design is taken up again. Already, we can form a hypothesis that the most important factor for both die engravers was that most of the coin dies would be unique in their complete design. There is a mythological reflection of this importance in the Irish story of the design of Cuchulain's shield. The armorer is in a quandary as all the designs seem to have been used by different warriors but one day an otherworldly stranger arrives and draws the armorer a design that is completely new. In one long series of British Corieltauvi gold staters, there appears a great number of combinations of two small symbols on the dies. Numismatists have speculated as to whether these symbols represent different gold alloys, different die engravers, mints or workshops. Yet the alloys were not that carefully mixed and very different percentages of gold could be seen in two coins showing the same set of symbols and the number of different symbols sets were far too many to reflect even a feeble attempt at producing a very specific alloy. There was also no sign of different die engravers with unique styles. It seems that the reason for variation was variation, itself. In other words, originality was considered proper.

Chronology of Series Z Coriosolite
staters (click to enlarge)
The chart for Series Z (issuer: Viridovix of the Unelli) is surprisingly simple in comparison. Looking at it, one might imagine a very short series of rare coins, yet these are the most common types in the Jersey hoards and represents many thousands of coins. Rybot noted that their was often die and coin damage and there is likely many minor die variations where the design essentially does not change. This series was largely copied from the Coriosolite types, but there is absolutely no signs of design evolution -- the chronology could just as easily run in the opposite direction as far as design feature are concerned. Also, the designs start with a combination of early and late Coriosolite design elements and then these are reversed. It seems fairly clear that an impression of originality was intended so that a casual observer would think that the designs had been carefully constructed with improvements or perhaps even variations on a theme. Essentially, although the money was genuine, the art was a forgery and intended to deceive.

Julius Caesar provides the solution in talking about Viridovix raising an army (and of course money was required for this):
"...Sabinus arrived with the troops assigned to him in the territory of the Venelli [Unelli]. Their leader was Viridovix, the commander-in-chief of all the rebel tribes, from which he had raised a large army. Within a few days of Sabinus' arrival the Aulerci Eburovices and the Lexovii massacred their councillors because they would not sanction the policy of going to war, shut their gates and joined Viridovix; and there had also assembled from all over Gaul a host of desperadoes and bandits, to whom the prospect of fighting and plunder was more attractive than farming and regular work." (III,17)

It would seem that Series Z was the currency of this army which was most likely ignorant of the finer points of Celtic iconography and artistic tenets. We can safely assume, though, that the professional soldier would have been familiar with the iconography, and that the careful improvements of Series X and the religious/philosophical lessons of Series Y was not wasted on them. This, of course, makes sense as the druids would certainly want the warriors to believe that a heroic death would lead to an heroic new life -- even if they did not get the full druidic training (which also exempted having to fight in battles), they certainly received the basic training in their philosophy. We also know that a druid could stop a battle at any point and would have had the respect of all lower ranks. It was a different story with the higher ranks: the councillors whom the Aulerci Eburovices and Lexovii massacred were also of the druid class.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Holographic archaeology -- variations on a theme

Reconstructed die-pair (Hi), Coriosolite Series Y, Group H
The coins illustrated in this post might not even exist. When Rybot drew his die reconstructions he illustrated the commonest die-pairings. In Group H of Series Y There are two novelties that appear to be an intended isolated set: on the obverse, the head is given a "C"-shaped mouth, and on the reverse, there is a beaded line in front of the pony which Rybot described as a "martingale". There is a two-die lag between the start of the reverse and the later obverse characteristics, and this lag is reflected at the end of the sequence where the obverse is two dies later than the reverse. All of the obverse sub-group have a unique three-line mouth ornament save for the last die.

Reconstructed die-pair (Hii), Coriosolite Series Y,
Group H
As unexpected accidents can happen to coin dies in use requiring a new die to be used, a set of die pairings might not always be reflected by the subsequent coins. Alternatively, the dies might have simply become mixed up and struck in the wrong order. In the subgroup, the martingale motif acts as a determinative and it identifies variations on a theme to demonstrate a particular philosophical lesson. By identifying the common theme, we should be able to reconstruct the basic structure of the philosophical lesson.

Reconstructed die-pair (Hiii), Coriosolite Series Y,
Group H
Each variation is applied to the banner in front of the pony. Traditionally, this banner has been called a vexillum (Latin for a military standard), but as these same designs are used on a number of Celtic coins from different regions, if they do have any military heraldic meaning, they cannot apply to individual warriors, commanders or tribes. About the only possibilities in that category would be marks of rank or specialty common to many tribes. A more likely interpretation is that they are true variations on a theme, and the meaning is the same for all variations. This idea is supported by the success of finding the common thread of meaning.

Reconstructed die-pair (Hiv), Coriosolite Series Y,
Group H
The last obverse die in this series replaces the three-line mouth ornament with a pellet-in-circle sun-symbol from which issues a beaded line with a smaller solid line "hanger" -- the beaded line terminating in a curl and leaf motif. We can thus assign two potential meanings to the device: that it signifies the end of the series, and that it represents the theme on which the variations to the banner are based.

The first reverse die shows a banner of the commonest form seen in Coriosolite coins and somewhat resembles the Union Jack flag. Like other designs on Armorican coins, it can also be seen in Irish rock art -- on an inscribed stone in the Subsidiary Chamber of Dowth (R.A. S. Macalister, The Archaeology of Ireland, 1949, fig 14, and in Knockmore Cave, Co. Fermanagh (Wakeman's handbook of Irish antiquities, 1903, preceding page 30). Subsequent banners of this subgroup all share the feature that the top half of the banner is a reflection of the bottom half. The interpretation is common in primitive magic/religion: as above so below (or vice versa). In this application for a military currency, it indicates that a heroic end will result in a heroic after life. This is also the message of the "procession plate" of the Gundestrup cauldron where the lower register is before death and the upper after death. The latter has also the extra dimension of time where the earlier foot-soldiers armed with a spear and long shield of the lower register are replaced with sword-bearing cavalry heading in the opposite direction in the upper register.

On all Corisolite coins, the hair of the obverse head is arranged in three sets of locks which converge in a triple-spiral design at the ear position. This triple spiral is the most famous of the rock engravings at Newgrange, Ireland and is illuminated by the first rays of the winter solstice sunrise which signifies the new year, the start of a new cycle and the cyclical nature of existence in general. This idea is reflected in the Pythagorean concept of the transmigration of souls, and is also applied to the Celts by some classical authors.

The signifier of the end of the series with its sun symbol attached to a new bud unfurling is also encountered as a series on some coins of the Osismii where three seasons are represented by a plant in three stages of growth and the winter season is represented, as here, by the boar above a horizon line on which the dawn sun is arising -- e.g. the winter solstice. The repeated use of "threeness" is also typical in Celtic art -- the triple spiral represents a continuous process, whereas a double spiral indicates a single path from one existence to the next. These meanings are almost universal. The message of the subgroups is a simple one: do well in battle and if you are killed, then your next existence will reflect that glory.

While this variation on a theme is applied to coins issued to troops, other archaeological examples could refer to many different themes -- perhaps some rock art contains symbols that marks procession routes for different purposes, we should always look at such things in an abstract sense and try to apply these concepts widely. We must also be attentive to cultural differences, though. what is true for one culture might not be true for another. In the Northwest American native arts according to Franz Boas, in Primitive Art, meaning is preserved in dance where it is not always preserved in decoration. With the Celts, we know nothing of dance, but we do know that meaning was preserved in decoration -- and this decoration often also expresses rhythm as well. Perhaps the desire to spread their philosophy (writing it was taboo) found its escape valve in their decorative arts.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Holographic archaeology -- religious offerings

Llyn Cerrig-bach -- the site of an important Iron
Age offering of metalwork (Geograph)
© Copyright Eric Jones and licensed for reuse
It is common for archaeologists to label all religious offerings as "votive". As the word means an object offered in fulfillment of a vow, it is clear that the word is ill-chosen as evidence of any vow, or even a wish, is usually absent. Informally, such offerings are called an offering to the god(s) -- again, often without any clear evidence that any god is associated with the site. This is complicated even further with Celtic offerings because of the story of Brennus at Delphi: "When the Celts overran the shrine at Delphi in 279 BC, the Celtic leader Brennus laughed at the Greek anthropomorphic images of their Gods." (Diodorus Siculus, XXII, 9.4). Later, Lucian of Samothrace quotes a Gaulish "philosopher": "We Celts do not consider the power of speech to be Hermes, as you Greeks do, but we represent it by means of Heracles, because he is much stronger than Hermes" (Lucian, Hercules). It should be fairly obvious, from this, that metaphor and abstract thinking was a Celtic characteristic and this is also supported with another statement from Diodorus: "...when they meet together they converse in few words and in riddles, hinting darkly at things for the most part and using one word when they mean another..." (V, 31). These phrases are not representative of the stock Classical descriptions of barbarians merely applied to the Celts, but are specific cultural clues.

Caesar describes the Druids as one of the two most important classes of Gauls (the other being knights), and yet, despite the anthropological emphasis in modern archaeology, Druids are often ignored in the archaeological literature. Why would this be? I think that we have to turn to Jung for the answer, and in particular, his work on personality types as these types can have a profound influence on the sort of career one might chose. Archaeology generally insists that it is about the material remains of the past. History and literature are not usually considered material evidence and one is hard pressed to find these subjects appearing in archaeological reports. Related to this is a common mistrust, by archaeologists, to art-historical analyses. All of these topics are more aspects of thought than the material, and even when psychology is addressed, it is most often about the physical workings of the brain. These foci suggest a materialistic view of existence commensurate with Jung's description of the extravert. Inward looking is not only avoided but distrusted, and it is common for some extraverts to merely project their own personality onto others. There is thus not only an avoidance of anything "spiritual" among extraverts, but explanations that impinge on this quality are treated materialistically and are often superficial and without any attempt at justification for what is being said. The word "ritual" in archaeological reports is often a source of humour for the more introverted archaeologists, who see waht is described as a substitution for what is not understood about some aspect of the site in question. Ritual is only one aspect of religious practice, and is often a later development in belief where actions are carried out without a full understanding of the meaning behind it. With "primitive" religions, it becomes ever more difficult to separate the sacred and the profane -- one might even say that everything is sacred. Druids are frequently described as priests yet no classical author has identified them as such. Most commonly, it is written that the Druids were "philosophers" and only officiated over religious practices. Without separating this duty from that of priests (as in modern times many religious events are officiated by a priest or direct equivalent), an even approximate picture of Celtic society is impossible.

So this is an important lesson: whenever you might encounter something in an excavation that appears to have a religious aspect never, under any circumstances, speak of "ritual" or "offerings to the gods" without providing evidence for this attribution. Failing to do this is a psychological projection that might be compared favorably with the ancient author's "stock" criticisms of "barbarians".  This should not be a problem for even the most extreme extravert -- simply describe what you see and avoid the meaningless labels. If you want to include anything of a religious nature in the description of what you are seeing, then you must deal with it properly as evidence -- "ritual" will just not do. At its best, it is just being lazy, at its worst, it is a subjective psychological projection. All of this will become clearer later in this series.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Holographic archaeology -- the Jersey hoards

Grouville Hoard, Jersey, while undergoing
cleaning and  investigation 2012. This recent
hoard was found near the the Le Catillon hoard
and already shows similarities
photo: Man vyi
The largest hoard containing Coriosolite coins has recently been found near the site of the Le Catillon hoard (Jersey 11). Like the Le Catillon hoard, this new hoard also contains scrap metal and coins of the Xn series (formerly attributed to the Abrincatui). In fact, the Le Catillon hoard was the largest deposit of Xn coins ever found (53 staters and 9 quarter staters). When Le Catillon was first discovered it was assumed to have been left by people fleeing Caesar's troops. This error was responsible for a far too early date given to the Durotriges silver coinage as a number of them were found in the hoard. Caesar records that the British had coinage but, in his description of the currency, did not mention the existence of silver coins. In the light of the Le Catillon hoard, it was assumed that he must not have known about the silver coins.

The problem with this hurried attribution was that the Durotriges silver staters in the hoard derived their design from British A gold staters which John Kent later identified as the currency of Cassivellaunos, and the Durotriges quarter staters were derived from the last continental gold type -- Scheers "bateaux" type which starting out in fairly good gold, is later transported to Britain where it first appears in gold and then, as it reaches the Durotriges territory, silver (but sometimes with a very small percentage of gold). I had discussed the Le Catillon hoard with Colin Haselgrove who dated its deposit to sometime in the third quarter of the 1st century BC on the basis of the brooches it contained. I differed, basing my attribution of 10-15 AD on historical and numismatic events (surrounding the final debasement of Durotriges coins). Regardless of our different approaches, it was certainly not a Gallic War refugee hoard.

As more than 50% of all the main Jersey hoards are of Series Z coins, any tribal attribution that is based on the percentages of coins must attribute them to the Unelli from Normandy as (apart from Jersey) that is where most of this type is found. These coins are actually relatively rare in Coriosolite territory so it is rather surprising that they were ever attributed to the Coriosolites. The reason was probably that the nineteenth century hoards recorded by Blanchet (Traité des monnaies gauloises, 1905) lacked clear descriptions of the types and were largely ignored.

The missed opportunity with the refugee, as opposed recycling, hoard attribution is that prior trading routes are not considered. With Le Catillon, we see quantities of Series Z, Series, Xn and various Osismii coins and lesser quantities of other tribes. Unfortunately, it still does not help to identify the tribe who issued Xn. Although the latest hoard had not been separated yet, that at least one Xn coin has been identified adds hope that there might well be many more on the hoard. Proper attention to the other" foreign" coins in the hoard might help focus Xn to a geographical region -- who knows?

Hopefully, the new hoard will be properly catalogued, and not by the outmoded six class system which occludes more than it shows. A couple of new Coriosolite varieties have showed up since I wrote my book but they all fitted perfectly into my new system of three series and fifteen groups. As previous hoards have not been recatalogued and because the La Marquanderie hoard was stolen and never recovered, much information is lost. Hopefully, history will not repeat itself and the blunders of Le Catillon in improperly dating the introduction of British silver will not be matched with another hare-brained idea about some other coinage based on the idea of a Gallic War refugee hoard. One would have thought that the large percentage of test-cuts on the Le Catillon coins would have eliminated the refugee hoard hypothesis at once -- I suppose people can look without actually being able to see.

Finally, with the Jersey and the Brittany hoards, the relative chronology of coins of each series within any hoard are now very clear. None of this was possible when all three series were considered to be just one, and no distribution patterns had been visible at all. With such a state of affairs, it still amazes me that no one considered that the classification system might have been wrong. For the cataloguers of the new hoard, my expert system will make the task very rapid: in testing it, an eleven year old girl with no knowledge of coins at all attributed a number of Coriosolite coins to their design groups with 100%  accuracy and an average of less than two minutes each coin. The value of my expert system, along with some other archaeological examples is discussed in Juan A. Barcelo, Expert systems as Cognitive Emulation, An Archaeological viewpoint (2001).

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Holographic archaeology -- distribution maps from hoards

The four largest Brittany hoards showing  old ( I-VI ) and new (XYZ) classifications
If you cannot see any distribution patterns from a number of local hoards, chances are that the classification system that you are using is wrong. There are some exceptions, most notably the British Iceni hoards that were buried long after many of the coins were issued. I decided to use only those hoards containing more that 80 Coriosolite coins as with six classes to work with, small hoards would be of little value. The first hoard which should have alerted people to an error in the classification system was Merdrignac. The coins were believed to be a single issue starting with Class VI and ending with Class II (showing the inaccuracies of the previous system). If the revised system is accurate then there should be some explanation of the lack of Class III coins when the classes assumed to be before and after Class III (I and II) were represented in the hoard and yet Class III was absent. Another poorly recorded hoard (Henan-Bihem) is said to have consisted of a large number of Class III coins  -- we can only assume that this deposit was of freshly minted coins and that perhaps they were accumulated not far from the mint site.

After reclassifying the coins, I was surprised to see how close the associated hoard profiles turned out to be. This was noticeable with the relationship of Series X to Y. Series Z, being "foreign"content, showed no relationship at all. Merdrignac with its 502 coins had a very close profile to Roz-Landrieux with only 89 coins. A similar relationship existed with Trébry (1756) and Penguilly (86 coins). As all of the other hoards had much less than 80 coins, it was fortunate that circa 80 coins revealed the distribution pattern. It was my wife who first noticed that the River Rance appeared to be the defining boundary of my new classification system: the mint site of Series X appeared to be on the east side of the Rance, while that of Series Y was on the east side of the river. As Series Z was from Normandy, it bore no relationship to Series Y and Z whatsoever.

You will also notice that the VI to II classification shows typical chronological patterns for the classes within my Series X or Y (and this would also have included Henan-Bihem if I had included it).

The Jersey hoards exhibit a very different profile but as this is rather complex, involving coins from other tribes to be able to understand it, it must wait until tomorrow.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Holographic archaeology -- hoards and other deposits

Alton A Hoard, 50 gold staters of Commios,
Tincomarus and Epillus, 1st century AD, from
Alton, Hampshire
photo: BabelStone
A hoard is an object, or more usually a number of objects together, which was buried for safety and with the intent of retrieval. Although most people naturally think of "refugee hoards" -- wealth buried to protect it from an advancing army, there are many more reasons for burying wealth in times and places that had no banks or safes. From temple treasuries to an artisan's scrap heap of bronze, the exact nature of a hoard is revealed mainly by its contents, and secondly by its burial details.

Apart from types of hoards that are defined by their content, there can be primary or secondary hoards: an example of a primary hoard are coins which had been collected from circulation over some time, and then buried for safety. An example of a secondary hoard is a recycling hoard where coins and other metal objects arrive at a processing or sorting depot with traders who have obtained them from various people along their itineraries. Some of these collections might have been previously buried hoards and the consolidated hoard might have been awaiting shipment to elsewhere before or after sorting and/or refinement.

Overlapping the hoard categories is the temple deposit. As some temples were also treasuries, anything that is buried in a temple might be a hoard as such wealth is being kept for future use. Depending on religious practices, at least a certain part of coin offerings could have been used for temple expenditures etc. A find of earlier Celtic gold coins below a later Roman temple can be a conundrum -- while Roman coins might have been used again, we cannot say the same for the Celtic. Many Celtic offerings were at "wet" places where recovery would be impossible -- rivers, lakes, bogs, and wells.

Otherworld offerings are what is given with no intention of recovery in this world, but which can allow for such a recovery in a future existence. With coinage, such an offering could be one (appearing as a "stray loss") or many coins. A single gold coin could have the intrinsic worth of a number of silver coins. This category would also include grave goods.

Conspicuous displays of wealth. Like otherworld offerings, there is no intention to make later use of such wealth. Unlike otherworld offerings it is intended to be seen (but not taken). Coin offerings at Druid/clan council sites are scattered over the original surface, while with a "plough scattered hoard" there is, obviously, no such stratum.

Multiple finds are numbers of objects that are most likely separate losses, but which show a concentration in a localized area which is not typical for the surrounding country. Ideally, each multiple find within an even larger area will have features unique to itself and can be used to further define the local area.

I will expand on these categories and describe various methods next in this series.