Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Holographic archaeology -- design evolution

Rybot 90. With its novel obverse, no one was sure where this
should fit in the chronology but "God is in the details"
When a novelty occurs within a run of dies, it is a bit like a biological mutation. Although the novelty attracts everyone's attention, it is the parts that do not change that securely positions it in the chronology.

The first serious attempt to place Coriosolite dies in their chronological order was made by major N.V. L. Rybot who was told that the art would start out realistic, but would gradually decline in its realism over time. This was very bad advice that was based on how Greek art appeared to decline in quality over time. Had he not been given this advice, he might well have done much better in his attempted chronology.

The next attempt to classify this coinage came from J-B Colbert de Beaulieu and was later modified slightly by Katherine Gruel. Rybot's original four groups were first rearranged into six classes (I to VI ) and the order reflected the reasoning Rybot had been given. Next, the order of those classes was changed and these changes were based on some die links interspersed with bad decisions where a die link was not present, or had been incorrectly identified. The order was now (from the earliest on the left to the latest on the right):
VI      V      IV      I      III      II  
By including distribution patterns, changes in the manufacturing techniques and design evolution, I was able to determine that instead of a single issue of coins there were three. I called these Series X, Y, and Z. The mint site of Series X was on the east side of the River Rance; Series Y was on the west side of the River Rance; Series Z was not even Coriosolite, but was an issue of Viridovix of the Unelli tribe in Normandy. Applied to the above class model, the chronology was now:
Series X:       VI       V       IV
Series Y:       I          III
Series Z:       II 
Rather than retaining these classes, which by now had absolutely no meaning, I divided each Series into groups with each group represented by a series of multiple changes in the designs. I created these groups to act as an aid to understanding the chronology, but made it clear that the grouping did not represent any similar ideas on the part of the moneyers so these groups could not be used for any sort of statistical analysis of the coinage. The only objective decisions were the order of the dies to a greater or lesser accuracy which was indicated in the catalogue, and the fact of three different mints whose production of the coins overlapped each other in time. Previously, this assumed coinage had been dated circa 75 - 50 BC. I changed the dating to 57 - 56 BC for all three series, together. The arrangement was now:
Series X:      Groups a-g
Series Y:      Groups h-m
Series Z:      Groups n-o
The lead illustration is of my Series Y, group j. This group sits at a transitional position between the obsolete Classes I and III. For this article, I have selected four die pairs where the proper chronology is revealed. These include the illustrated variety and are in chronological position, earliest to latest, from top to bottom:
Group i (Class I)
Group j (Class I/III transition)
Group j (Class I/III transition)
Group k (Class III)
The illustration on the left shows how the pony's cheek and eye is portrayed: all Class I coins (my Series Y, groups h-i) show a bean-shaped cheek section and a bead for an eye; the earliest Class III coins -- before the style of the pony was changed for group l (Series Y, group k) show a notch in the top of the bean shape indicating the eye; the Class I/III transition (group j) show both styles. The latter styles are linked (within group j) by the presence of a line through the obverse head's eye. All group j varieties have this line. It does not exist in any other group in the series.
The novelty is the last variety of group j. In the illustration to the right, the front of the neck of the obverse head has a small loop (left). this loop is continued for all of the varieties of group k (right --Class III).

Focusing only on the novelty, unchanging features had been largely ignored. But novelties are arbitrary decisions. We cannot be sure of their purpose, perhaps the artist was just bored and wanted to do something out of the routine, perhaps these are "masterpieces" showing the skills of the die cutter. We can only speculate on such things -- the actual evidence is unobliging.

Whenever we see a motif that barely changes in its design, like the four string lyre motif discussed in the previous post, it reveals an icon. If the motif undergoes a series of apparently arbitrary variations, then the common feature of all the variations is the theme and the entire series of variations are called "variations on a theme" and reveal a religious/philosophical lesson. Evolutionary changes show the die cutter struggling with the motifs relevant to the rest of the composition. Sometimes these problems are resolved and the final variation is carried through subsequent dies. Paying attention to all of the changes in the design, not just the ones that look important to us two thousand years later, will reveal the die chronology to within very narrow tolerances.

Tomorrow, a break in this series for (I'll think of something!)

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