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.

No comments:

Post a Comment