Friday, 7 February 2014

Holographic archaeology -- plotting chronologies

The chart on the right shows the design changes over eleven selected features for the Coriosolite staters of Series X. In the preliminary sorting, no features are neglected but it is soon seen that certain features contain little or no clues to the chronology. For example, the number of hairs on the obverse head show no useful patterns. From this observation, we can be sure that the question was unimportant to the die cutters. Most of the changes are to new designs but, now and again, the die cutter reverts to a previously used design. This fact reveals a problem in arbitrarily picking features to define a classification system. We have a tendency to sort by absolute features, but real life is not like that -- we often show hesitation when deciding on a new course of action and who has never changed their mind after starting out? For the most part, however, changes are more certain and are intended to perfect the design in the mind of its creator.

Feature 10 is the design of the chariot driver. The changes are made not only to improve the design of this specific feature, but to improve the entire composition. For example, the curl and leaf motif on the lower left side of 10.6 is also used for the end of the pony's mane at that part of the chronology. Yet the chronology of the pony's head design (11) uses different features altogether.

None of these features were pre-chosen for a progression of the design, instead, they were picked "on the fly", usually to improve the entire composition. These charts show how the artist was thinking about the designs as he or she worked.

The chronology is established by overlapping changes to the features that have been selected. Sometimes an exact order can be determined for each die, sometimes there are a set of dies that can be fixed at a certain part of the chronology, but the internal chronology of this set cannot be established. I put these uncertain sequences in parentheses:
27, 28, (29, 30), 31
Dies 29 and 30 follow right after die 28 which follows right after die 27 and they are both just before die 31, but we do not know if the correct order is 29, 30 or 30, 29.

This method is not restricted to the thought patterns of a single coin die cutter. It can also be used to determine how groups of people act to change the characteristic features of certain types of archaeological sites over time. The information from a single site can only be so informative -- we do not know which features are "standard" and which are novelties to that site alone. Only through the comparative study of numbers of similar sites can such charts be constructed and the evolution of certain sorts of structures be plotted. There is no instrumental difference between an archaeological site with its assemblage of finds and a single coin with its design motifs and elements.

Have a great weekend, more on this subject on Monday.

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