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).

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