Thursday, 22 January 2015

Beyond the "Fringe Archaeology" — part seven: catching up

Catching up on the news
photo: Ron Hoffman
It would be wonderful if new discoveries prompted everyone to suddenly change gears about the way they think about the subject matter of the discovery. I suppose that it does happen in some disciplines like particle physics because it is a relatively small academic community and independents and amateurs with particle accelerators in their basement just do not exist. Also, the Internet has its origins with physicists who wanted to communicate with each other rapidly. In those dark days before the Internet, information was passed by "snail-mail". I remember that exchanging an idea or two between Canada and the UK took about three weeks, round trip.

I remember one such communication with Colin Haselgrove about the dating of the Le Catillon hoard sometime in the last half of the eighties. I had put forward a date sometime in the first few years of the first century AD and based that on the destruction of the main Coriosolite port and the devaluation of the Durotriges stater to a coin that no longer contained any silver at all (It appears that Coriosolite coins were being processed at Hengistbury (where there is a Durotriges harbor) to extract the silver for usage in their own coinage. Colin Haselgrove had dated the same hoard as being sometime in the third quarter of the first century BC based on a brooch type found in the hoard and its distribution patterns in Roman forts north of the Alps. What was not in question at all, however, was the nature of the hoard. With a large percentage of coins with chisel test-cuts to see the internal metal, and the presence of scrap metal, it was clear that this was no "refugee hoard". I call these sorts of hoards "recycling hoards" to differentiate them from the closely related "founders hoard" where a craftsman might store some of his metal for future use. Yet, when the latest Le Catillon hoard was discovered, all of the early reports were saying that the hoard was buried by refugees fleeing Caesar's troops. This was a typical explanation for such hoards back in the fifties and before, but the first Le Catillon hoard was unearthed in 1957. By the early sixties, the idea of the Jersey hoards all being refugee hoards was still in vogue, but later studies had changed that, somewhat and Le Catillon 1 had enough evidence to seriously doubt the earlier dating, especially with the Durotriges coins that it contained.

Some years before I started my study of Coriosolite coins, I had been invited to recatalogue some Greek coins of Euboea by Colin Orton, the then curator of the Coin Department at the Nickle Arts Museum at the University of Calgary. It was the Wallace Collection, about three times larger than the British Museum's collection of the same region, but only part of it (the Euboean League coinage) had been published. At that time, the Nickle had a fully equipped numismatic lab complete with an electron microscope and the ability for XRF analysis. Visiting numismatists from around the world were amazed at seeing these facilities, but Calgary is an oil-town and XRF analysis has a wide application in that business. So after Orton retired, the hyenas moved in to strip the lab of anything useful. What had been unique in the world was exchanged for yet another geology department that could conduct XRF analyses. After my book on the Coriosolite coinage had been published at Oxford (BAR International Series), I went to a talk about Armorican coinage at the Nickle. The speaker had obviously never even encountered my book and showed little signs of having read any of the French literature on Armorican coins either. Coins were being improperly described and the main point of the lecture was an observation that would have been completely invalidated if the speaker had been aware of the chronology of Coriosolite coins. Let's just call it a "fringe" interpretation based on what something looked like to a modern mind with no real background in the material.

There is always a cultural lag in discoveries. The specialist dealers like Chris Rudd will give my reference numbers for Coriosolite coins, but most general dealers do not, even though the previous classification obscured the distribution patterns to the point that none were visible at all.

There can even be delays of information in particle physics, but these are usually because of having to wait for proofs. Here's my favorite from the Wikipedia entry for Wolfgang Pauli:
"In 1930, Pauli considered the problem of beta decay. In a letter of 4 December to Lise Meitner et al., beginning, "Dear radioactive ladies and gentlemen", he proposed the existence of a hitherto unobserved neutral particle with a small mass, no greater than 1% the mass of a proton, in order to explain the continuous spectrum of beta decay. In 1934, Enrico Fermi incorporated the particle, which he called a neutrino, into his theory of beta decay. The neutrino was first confirmed experimentally in 1956 by Frederick Reines and Clyde Cowan, two and a half years before Pauli's death. On receiving the news, he replied by telegram: "Thanks for message. Everything comes to him who knows how to wait. Pauli."
Patience is a virtue for the researcher.

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