Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Nara + 20: British Celtic coin culture and community

My copy of John Evans' Coins 
of the Ancient Britons (1864)
The Nara meetings and documents give examples of a range of communities from a small group of people dependent upon a very localized ecosystem to global virtual communities. One of the problems mentioned is the identification of other sorts of communities. I can add one of my own communities (or cultural frame): British Celtic Numismatics. I could have attempted wider views such as Ancient coins, or even Numismatics, but that would have meant quite a bit of research involving discussions with numismatists of many specialities.

It would be rather outdated to say that British Celtic Numismatics is a sub-culture of numismatics: for a start, a sub-culture implies a hierarchy and this would be a highly subjective arrangement whereby a classification system is invented that would support the beliefs of its creator and yet could also be antagonistic to other's beliefs. Also, structures and foci within transdisciplinarity are amorphous, shifting through attention. Finally, the community, regardless of how small it is, always consists of multiple cultural frames. Sub-cultures give an impression of self-contained units (which do not exist in reality).

Sir John Evans is considered to be the father of modern British Celtic Numismatics. He is also considered to be a father of modern archaeology. These credits are largely due to his creation of seriation within archaeological subjects. He was limited (by his time) to create this seriation with certain views in mind. Nowadays, these views have grown in number through evolutionary processes. However, it is important to keep in mind that without certain seeds being planted, evolutionary changes cannot happen at all.

The originator of a culture or community sets the tone for the evolutionary events which follow. John Evans was not an academic, he was a businessman. He inherited a coin collection and decided to continue collecting. Although he is best known for his work with British Celtic coins and these were the subject of his seriation, he had interests in other sorts of coins and in the practices of numismatics and archaeology. In order to follow his goals, he was in communication with many coin dealers and some of these supported his interest in recorded find spots. He also successfully lobbied for finders of coins and other objects to receive the full retail value of what they found. He believed that if this reward was not offered then people might be tempted not to report their finds. He, like others of his time, were also interested in the work of Charles Darwin and he attempted to include this subject in his work on Celtic coins. Also typical of researchers of his time, he had a network of scholars who shared his various interests and these would meet at each other's houses and later in the rooms of the learned societies to which he belonged or had other connections.

A set of cultural frames attracts other people to the degree that they share many of the same cultural frames, but with everyone also contributing non-shared cultural frames, the community evolves along new lines dependent on the usefulness demonstrated by paying attention to example of unique cultural frames within the group's membership. No matter how far down the time line you look, you will find evolutionary changes that will reflect the original foundation of that community (culture).
I do not like UNESCO because of its original stated interests in eugenics and a single world government have influenced all subsequent work and with its emphasis on governments being at the apex of a cultural hierarchy, it is rapidly becoming a dinosaur. Organizations of all sorts, sensing their extinction on the horizon, rapidly try to propagate to try to ensure the survival of their "species". Also, such organizations become subject to enantiodromia through unconscious processes and createt the opposite of their stated aims. As they enter such a prolific stage, they attract many people who will go then down with them, It has been said that if the characteristics of an overly large and complex organization were given to just one individual, that individual would be diagnosed as a sociopath.

We  find Evans' successors sharing a number of his characteristics: both Commander Mack and Derek Fortrose Allen were amateurs. Both added to his British Celtic coin seriation work and interest in find spots and distribution patterns. Henry Mossop was also an amateur (a farmer), was interested in find spots and was an avid collector. He also shared Evans interests in nature conservation. He added to the subject an interest in metal-detecting and was one of the first people in England to import a machine from the U.S. Mossop became involved with the archaeologist Jeffrey May, a delightful man and a father figure to some of his students. I had communicated with Jeffrey May and was impressed by his helpfulness and his enthusiasm. Colin Haselgrove is an archaeologist with a keen knowledge and interest in Celtic coinage. He continued Allen's work in plotting Celtic coin findspots and came up with a different seriation system based on regions more than tribal designations While I was doing my primary research, we wrote back and forth and I found him to be most helpful. When I read a paper that he wrote with John Collis in which they expressed a desire for a computer retrieval system for British Celtic coin records, I was inspired to create an on line version of the Celtic Coin Index -- a card file of Celtic coin finds, museum holdings, and coins noticed in the trade. The original was created by Derek Allen and Sheppard Frere at Oxford starting in 1961. I created its knowledge structure and my wife designed and built a database system best suited to it, that not only stored the information in a relational database, but also had a feature which generated static web pages for it records. This work involved help from other numismatists (not just Celtic numismatists), IT innovators, and archaeologists.

As I had made great use of Haselgrove's British Archaeological Reports (BAR) publications as well as other volumes in those series by other authors, when the archaeologist Sean Kingsley wrote to me about the importance of my on-line book and its need to be academically published, he told me of his contacts that could easily make that a reality, and of those, I picked BAR as it felt right to give something back. Sean was, at that time, the managing editor of Minerva and I wrote a an article for the magazine about my research.

In about this same time, Bob Van Arsdell had reclassified the entire series' of British Celtic coinage: a massive undertaking that few would or could attempt. His success was, in part, due to the many new types and varieties which had surfaced through the use of the metal detector and the ongoing additions to the Celtic Coin Index. I incorporated both Bob's and Colin's systems into the first Celtic Coin Index On Line.

My own method, was an expansion and improvement on a type of seriation developed in the nineteenth century but applied to only separate archaeological site finds and thus limited in its usefulness and accuracy. I knew nothing of its evolutionary history at the time and it was thus an independently created system. It did, however, resolve all of the problems of previous evolutionary stages in seriation, again, without my conscious knowledge of these. So how was I able to create another evolutionary stage without such knowledge? As I said above, the origins of every evolutionary process are embedded in  the later organisms, even if they are not consciously realized. In a sense, I could have done nothing else as I had become part of the culture (community) of British Celtic coinage.

I have mentioned just the prominent connections made by my joining a specific culture. There are many more connections too. Efforts to protect other special interests in the past are only as effective as their proponent's diligence to understand the often complex networks and infrastructures surrounding other cultural groups. Whenever you see neglect or derision applied to other connected groups, you can be sure that the group that is making these serious errors are not acting in an evolutionary fashion, All they are doing are magnifying the death throes of a "species" about to face its own extinction and are manifesting a sad compulsion to propagate as a desperate means to their own survival.

More tomorrow on Nara, etc.

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