Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Jersey "Le Catillon 2" hoard stratigraphy

Coriosolite stater, Series X, group b, coin 6
mint site: east of the River Rance, Brittany
Very few photographs of the recent Jersey hoard coins have yet been made available to the numismatic community, but already, the nature of the hoard appears to confirm the theory I developed more than twenty years ago that the Jersey hoards of Celtic coins are secondary hoards. I use the latter term to describe hoards that consist of groups of coins gathered from diverse locations that had either been stored above ground or previously buried.
The profile of such hoards is easy to recognize if you understand the issues (series) and their internal chronology: each series has a peak in the numbers of coins within the hoard that reveal the relative time they were gathered together and something of the location where this happened. The previous failure to understand the three series as products of different mints occluded their distribution patterns until I reclassified the coinage. The major reattribution was the dominant type in the Jersey hoards formerly given as Class II Coriosolite, but in my new classification as the issue of Viridovix of the Unelli in Normandy (John Hooker, Notes on part of the Le Catillon Hoard purchased by the Société Jersiaise in 1989Société Jersiaise Annual Bulletin for 1993, p. 113-115)

The hoards from Brittany most resemble Gallic War refugee hoards: they are much smaller hoards and the peaks in Series X and Y are more closely aligned than in the Jersey hoards. The Jersey hoards are what I have called "recycling hoards", that is, coins and other material gathered for eventual reprocessing to extract the silver. Jersey was picked as a repository for such coins as Roman ships would have had difficulty landing on Jersey because of shallows, sand bars etc. (pers. comm. Douglas Corbel, Société Jersiaise). It is important to realize that these coins were minted to finance battles with Caesar's troops and no small-market monetary economy existed before or shortly after these coins were struck. After the war, the coins had no function apart from the intrinsic value of the alloy. Colin Haselgrove thinks that the Jersey hoards were deposited sometime in the third quarter of the first century BC, but I maintain that the last hoards would have been contemporary with the Roman destruction of the Coriosolite port at Alet and also with the eventual absence of silver in British Durotriges coinage (Coriosolite coins and billon ingots have been found at Hengistbury Head). In other words, circa 10-20 AD. We both have good reasons for our attributions that are based on different factors.

There are two photographs that show stratigraphy evidence. The first of these is shown here and appears on this blog. I think that these coins were the very first of the hoard found (which was reported as containing a gold coin). The gold coin in the photograph is a "bullet" stater of the Senones to which I would agree with Haselgrove's date of 200-125 BC. This coin must have been an heirloom when it was buried. To the left of the Senones stater is a billon stater variously attributed to the Veneti or a Veneti/Coriosolite Group a "hybrid". some of the confusion over these early billon issues is due to, perhaps, that the same die cutter was employed by different issuers, Coriosolite, Series Xn (formerly Abrincatui) and Veneti. The latter is not as clear to me as the former two. Series Xn is a mess: some dies were reused later after they had been badly damaged and the die links are all over the place. This makes aligning typology and metrology rather tricky. Most of the rest of the coins in the photograph are very rare in the Jersey hoards. These are the coins of Series X, group b (see illustration above). I see eight examples that are certainly group b, but there could be more. The coin to the right of the Senones stater is only partly visible and could be either group c or d. No later coins of Series X (e to g) are to be seen in the photo. By way of comparison, the first Le Catillon hoard contained only 1.7% of the coins of groups b to d (formerly Class V). The commonest type in the big Jersey hoards is Series Z (Viridovix) and is represented by more than 50% in each hoard. Yet, in this photograph, only one Series Z is visible (the oval shaped obverse at the bottom near the right hand corner which only shows the head down to the eyebrow). There are also a couple of quarter staters contemporary with the Coriosolite staters in the photo. If I had seen this group described as a complete hoard I would have said that it probably would have been found in the same general area as the Merdrignac hoard from Brittany.

The other photograph is a complete contrast: mostly Series Y (mint site west of the River Rance) and especially group L, they represent a very small part of the chronology. These coins are more difficult to see and I had to enlarge the photo by several 10% increments in order to get a larger image in decent resolution.

The stratigraphy apparent here is obviously not representative of the other Jersey hoards and we most likely will find other areas where the stratigraphy points to discrete "parcels" within the hoard. Only when the complete hoard is disassembled and properly catalogued will the percentages of each group be fully known, but a cross section might give us some idea of the hoard's complete contents.

Although Jersey does not have a very good record of publishing photographs and providing catalogues of the previous hoards, and many thousands of Coriosolite coins were stolen from the museum and never recovered (I worked with Interpol on that case), This hoard is recent and they will, hopefully, share the photographs with the public along the lines of the British Museum's web site which allows scholars to post photos for non-profit, educational use. The Wikimedia images are all of uncleaned coins and useless for typological studies.

Great care must be taken with the analysis of the "parcels"within the hoard and with the organic/mineral residues on and around the coins in each parcel. It is even possible that a 2,000 year old itinerary might be reconstructed, but just one or two mistakes could negate that possibility.


  1. .Hi John:

    I'm still chuckling at Paul Barford's cringe-worthy critique of what you have written (see his wretched blog): "Celtophile collector John Hooker, who imagines he has a brain the size of the planet claims to be an expert:" (My initial thought was, well, at least John Hooker's got a brain!).

    It must be very frustrating I suspect, for an undistinguished 'archaeologist' particularly one who's unable to make his mark in his own sphere, having to insult, abuse, and denigrate those who are acknowledged leaders in their own specialist fields - be they collectors, numismatists, or metal detectorists – in order to make a ‘mark’ of some kind.

    Far from discouraging Barford, I look forward to the continuation of his ‘witty’ Sixth-Form brand of archaeo-politics along with his amusing comments as he struggles to get on terms with the experts.

    Warm regards

    John Howland

  2. Hi John,

    At least he makes sense of the second photo, although why they would want to have the same coin reproduced instead of making a variety of impressions is beyond me. I just enlarged it until I could make out the designs and left it at that.

    With the first photograph, however, I thought that I was writing about the types clearly enough to explain it to the general reader. I don't know how I could have made it any simpler. Perhaps he should try reading it again. He was wrong, too, about the Medieval coin, but I just got bored with his obfuscations. He thought it was a common type but was getting the type mixed up with the manufacturing method. While there are many types with that sort of edge, that particular type is very rare (a are several others made that way. Only two examples have appeared on auctions in recent years and they are all from different dies. The reference used on both of these sales is:

    Marion Gumowski, Handbuch der polnischen Numismatik, p.88, Tafel II.

    (see: and

    The last I heard from Trefor is that he is still waiting for the first 1,0000 coins for analysis. He made a special trip to Calgary to talk to me about his project because he found my British Archaeological Reports book about them. The Jersey Museum will be using my classification system to catalogue them. I replied saying that I thought they might be holding off until the exhibition closes at the end of the year, but that's just a guess on my part.

    It is unfortunate that there is such a degree of neglect in academia in ignoring independent studies. I saw this at a talk at the University of Calgary when the university speaker was giving completely wrong information about Armorican coins (especially Coriosolite issues which were variously described as "Armorican", "NW Gaul" and "Coriosolite". She had obviously never read my book!

    I've never claimed to be an expert, I just know more about Coriosolite coins than anyone else. We are all just scholars. I question anyone who claims to be an expert in such things. Expertise is a word better used for some action like using a tool or playing the violin. With inquiries into the past, we are all looking at a subject where most of the information is unknown or even unknowable. We put things together and build models that make sense, that's all.

    I would like to hear if anyone else does not understand my description regarding the first photograph. If there is any misunderstanding, I am sure that I can resolve it. There is no reason that those coins should have been found together, or for them to simply fall from the hoard mass in that pattern of types unless the hoard has some stratigraphy. Also, in other photographs, you can see that they are bagging them by location within the hoard. I think that Paul Barford's lack of understanding is either that he has a low attention span or is just engaging in one of his usual hatchet jobs by which he manages to fool a few gullible individuals who know nothing about the subject.

  3. I am lost. Who is this Barford you speak of?

  4. Hi Barnum, He is an anti-collecting archaeoblogger/troll

    who has targeted me for about ten years or so, and is against the Portable Antiquities Scheme, metal detecting and independent research. He calls numismatists "coineys"; has been known to steal images from dealer's sites, and to even insult relatives of those he hates. The consensus of opinion among collectors, dealers, and metal detectorists is that his stuff should be allowed to persist as it illustrates a particular type of "myopia". It actually does us more good than harm. I joke about the situation saying that if Paul Barford did not exist, we would have to invent him.

    One thing for sure, whenever I do make a mistake in anything, he is always eager to point it out, so that is useful. I certainly was not looking for deception in the Jersey article, and am still puzzled as to why a low resolution picture was posted without an explanatory caption.

    The problem for the general reader is sorting out what is real and what is invented in what he says. His sort of rhetoric is typical of the con-man and the yellow journalist and for a very good reason. But check it out anyway and see what you think.

  5. John, "Barnum" is metal detectorist Dick Stout's dog ( I think Mr Stout knows very well who I am, though he often has problems getting the name right.

    I am glad you agree that discussing the issues and being honest about errors is a good thing. It's what academic debate is all about, and it is a shame that most collectors do not see it like that (see above).

    The article to which you refer was illustrating the exhibition, the exhibition as we all know contains a model of the hoard as the real one is still encased in soil in the laboratory. I do not think any "deceit" was intended on their part. Checking the information is only an email away.

    1. Hi Paul, while I know that Dick Stout knows who you are, I have no evidence that Barnum does, though, and Dick's blog often refers to you in "colourful" terminology rather than by name. I tend to give everyone the benefit of doubt until contrary evidence comes my way, and I'm always willing to hear that argued too.

      Everyone makes errors and it is a good thing because being right never leads anywhere useful. When confronted with hostility, people mostly respond in kind, and thus I cannot see any merit in using hostility as a strategy. In such cases, opinions never change and there are just an endless citing of examples that might benefit one side or the other.

      I had sent Neil Mahrer an invite on LinkedIn but it was not answered. My book has been downloaded a number of times from Jersey, though, and I imagine that my expert system is being used to identify the coins quickly. (It took about two minutes per coin for a twelve year old girl to identify actual coins using it -- and she had never even seen an ancient coin before).

      Trefor went beyond email, looked for the latest study on Coriosolite coins and decided to visit me personally and I have agreed to do any cataloging and offer any other help I can with regard to his Master's thesis in forensic science which will focus on the XRF analysis of an unprecedented number of hoard coins. I am hoping that some coins will be analysed before they are cleaned and there is one question that can only be answered by actually breaking a few coins with a hammer (sawing would not work). I'm less hopeful about that possibility.