Friday, 16 May 2014

The Thurrock hypothesis ― British tin trade in the 2nd century BC and later, part three

Grouville Hoard, Jersey, while undergoing
cleaning and investigation 2012
photo: Man vyi
In this episode, I am introducing a new item in the classification of archaeological hoards. I am naming it "deadstock". In business, "dead stock" consists of merchandise that was never sold. This can be due to a retailer or wholesaler going out of business or because the products had become outdated and replaced by better, or more fashionable material.

From an archaeological perspective, deadstock hoards can be further broken down into categories or classes that have to do with the circumstances of their burial. The southeastern England hoards of Thurrock type potin coins appear to have been deposited when new sources of tin became available for the city of Massalia (Marseille), specifically, and for other continental states in general around the middle of the 1st century BC. That the composition of copper alloy artifacts in southern Britain has been determined to have changed at that time is why I am assigning the same date for the end of the British potin coin-shaped ingots.

With such a dramatic change, instead of very gradual changes with regional variations, it seems that trade agreements between authorities must be responsible, and considering the time when west-country copper sources appeared to have ceased being widely utilized, and the high Co to low Ni ratio vanished from British bronze objects, it seems highly likely that this had a lot to do with the Gallic War. Any assumption, however, that this involved just an agreement between the Romans and all of the Celtic tribes, jointly, would be far too simplistic. We have to take into consideration that inter-tribal politics was a very important factor and that it was not only the development of new trade routes and partnerships that was considered, but also the elimination of tribal competition by powerful leaders. I discussed one aspect of this pattern in The Caesar/Cassivellaunos deal.

One can hardly assume that the losing sides would have taking this situation lying down, and its reverberations lasted for many decades afterward. When Hengistbury ceased to be such a vital port as the shift from Dressel 1 amphorae to more northern ports witnesses, this had a dramatic effect on the Durotriges' trading partners, the Coriosolites. It was not just Cassivellaunos who benefitted from the trade agreement, but Caesar, in addition to opening new markets for Rome, also would have seen an advantage in diminishing the military capabilities of various Armorican rebels who had not honored their original terms of surrender. The situation was far from simple: Roman ships had a hard time navigating the waters surrounding Jersey because of sandbars and the lack of any deep water port (Douglas Corbel, Société Jersiaise, pers. comm. 1993). In Notes on part of the Le Catillon hoard purchased by the Société Jersiaise in 1989, Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise, 1993, 26 (1), p. 114, I wrote the following:
"It used to be thought that the Jersey hoards were buried by refugees fleeing from Caesar's troops. When the Le Catillon hoard was discovered, the British coins in the hoard were thus dated prior to the war. The combination of test-cuts and scrap metal in this hoard, and test cuts on some coins in other deposits allows for a later date of burial. The problem with a scrap metal hoard is that no datable object in the hoard can tell us how long the object was in use before it became scrap. It is possible, also, that the contents were hoarded previously by several individuals before being gathered together and transported to Jersey for safer keeping. There is little information on the events following Caesar's departure from Gaul. The Jersey hoards may date from soon after this time, or they may even be connected to the events surrounding the destruction of Alet in 10-15 A.D."
Another clue is the attack on the uncompleted hillfort at Le Petit Celland, Manche (Sir Mortimer Wheeler and Katherine M. Richardson, Hill-Forts of Northern France, Oxford, 1957, p. 38-54). The fort appears to have been abandoned before completion during the Gallic War. Subsequently, a small group of people seem to have used it as a base after constructing a gate which was different from the type used during the war, and more susceptible to destruction by fire. As if to emphasize their mistake, the fort was attacked and the burning gate fell on where they had been camping within the walls. The Le Petit Celland "multiple deposit" of 21 coins found in this rubble were mostly my Series Z (Unelli), but also contained six examples of Series Y (Coriosolite mint west of the R. Rance). Also in the rubble from the attack was pottery of types with links to both Jersey, Hengistbury, and Maiden Castle. So not only was the main Coriosolite port destroyed in 10-15 AD, but people, apparently in the recycling business at about the same time, were attacked some distance away in Manche.

The Durotriges, who had already suffered from a blow to their economy after the Roman trade had shifted to areas controlled by Cassivellaunos, had sought to improve their lot through the importation of Armorican billon coins where the silver was being extracted for their own coinage through cupellation but the supplies, not surprisingly, were not constant and their coins embarked on a series of debasements until any pretense of silver was finally eliminated and the coins from about the same time as the destruction of the Coriosolite port were poor cast copper shadows of their former selves.

Things continued to go very bad for the Durotriges and Maiden Castle was the scene of a particularly brutal attack by Vespasian during the Claudian conquest of Britain. It would seem that the southeastern tribes, even in the face of invasion, were convincing the Romans that the Durotriges threat to the Romans was far greater than it really was: as the Durotriges had a closed monetary economy on account of their devaluations, no "foreign" troops could have been hired. The same grim situation had happened, long before, to the Etruscans after the Celts had exhausted about half of their treasury in a "protection racket" that the Etruscans mistook for an agreement of military support. The latter paved the way for the end of Etruscan power, the loss of the Etruscan language, and an easier path to Roman domination in Italy. It is an old story: long before the Etruscans lost, Lesbos had devalued their currency and eliminated any chance of foreign troops coming to their aid. To this very day, economic chicanery and warfare are bedfellows.

More about deadstock hoards Monday ― with a twist.

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