Monday, 19 May 2014

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

Potin coins later than the Thurrock type
top: Van Arsdell 108-1
bottom: Van Arsdell 139-1
Later developments to the Thurrock types see lower relief, an apparent abstraction over time, and variations with right or left facing heads. The earliest of these later types also exhibit the high Co to low Ni ratios of the prototype. Northover (op. cit.) includes a large number of analyses of these but they are referenced by source numbers rather than their Van Arsdell numbers so looking for any correlations between the alloys and the types would be a major project and might not even be fruitful. It is possible that some differences in the levels of abstraction, weights and alloy batches could be due, not only to the passage of time, but varying standards at different workshops. There is an e-thesis from Durham which, according to Google, at least mentions these types but after more than two hours after clicking on it, my browser is still waiting for the University of Durham's server to respond. So I am giving up. Perhaps you will have better luck and apologies if it turns out to be a "red herring".

As all of these coin ingots are cast in an apparent tree-mould the method of die linking that might tell us something if they had been struck coins cannot be applied here. Archaeological excavation methods with hoards would also be useless as details of stratification, associated finds, and C14 testing could not possibly deliver a level of fine tuning necessary to deliver the sort of answers that we require. Only one stratified hoard has been found (Takeley, Essex, by Stansted Airport) which Northover says "contained over fifty coins, mainly of one design type, but varied in size and weight and bridging two of Van Arsdell's supposedly evolutionary production stages". He does, however, speak of the remarkable metallurgical homogeneity of the hoard which is an antimony-rich alloy comparable to that which is found in coins of the continental Sequani, Arverni and Carnutes and others, and that it appears not to be a British alloy at all.  Interestingly, the weights and sizes varied considerably so we can be sure that the production was al marco rather than al pezzo. This is a virtual assurance that these coins were not intended to meet the needs of a small market economy, but were intended to be distributed and utilized in large batches. Were there to have been any application to a monetary market economy then Gresham's law would certainly come into play and the evidence shows that this was not the case at all. We see an al marco method in Coriosolite coins too, and these had two functions: first as payment in large amounts to military commanders and second as the Jersey recycling hoards. As military coinage at the time of the Thurrock potins to the later derivatives was exclusively gold, and because we cannot point to any corresponding coinage from any potential rivals to the producers of these potins, my hypothesis of them being ingots and not currency is thus strengthened.

Even if a workshop were to be excavated that was in pristine condition it would reflect only a single moment in time for that state and would still leave many questions unanswerable. The chance of multiples of such sites ever being found is virtually nil.

As this is a real time hypothesis, like most that I present in this blog, I had not formulated the idea about deadstock hoards when I wrote about the 3rd century AD Frome, Roman hoard, but that hoard, too, is a class of deadstock hoards. The industry that ceased was rural native involvement in the campaigns of Carausius and this presented a huge problem when workers returned to farm in a non coin-using economy. Without removing the coins from circulation, most of the pre-existent social structures would have broken down and we can only imagine that the coinage brought back was converted into credits that would have maintained the social structures. I would go so far as to say that this would have been understood even before the locals left for their new jobs, as to not make this clear, from the outset, would have caused considerable strife. Roughly contemporary Irish law shows, very clearly, the mutually advantageous character of such a social system and this is verified even in recent times with primitive governments such as certain African tribes which have a cattle-based economy. Primitive is frequently confused with crude, but modern laws are better examples of the latter as they are designed to apply to widely-differing social conditions among much larger, and more widespread, populations. Often, a one-size fits all approach benefits one segment of the population to the detriment of others. Humans have evolved to work best together in small groups. Big governments, big business and widely standardized education could even light to the way to our extinction as a species if we are not vigilant.

This is the last episode of this series, tomorrow, a belated anniversary.


  1. This is the first mention of "deadstock hoards" I have ever run across...very interesting concept!

    1. Thanks Jim, I coined the term (pardon the pun), and I think, the concept.