Wednesday, 13 May 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part nineteen

Basilius Amerbach’s coin cabinet, circa 1578, Basel.

The photo, sitting against a graduated background, looks as if it comes
from a modern numismatic product catalogue: "The deluxe library
model with the side trays." (better keep those coins away from the oak
in the cabinet's construction, though).
I always like to tell people (and sometimes annoy them, thus) that archaeology is an off-shoot of numismatics and that Celtic numismatics is a part of Greek numismatics. In John Howland Rowe, Stratigraphy and Seriation, 1961, we learn of two types of seriation. The first is evolutionary seriation and the second is similarity seriation. You can read all about them by following the link (p. 326, second column). The author is not coy about his opinions of the first and says "Until a rule of development is discovered which really does have universal applicability, evolutionary seriation is nothing but a waste of time." He contrasts this to similarity seriation, finishing: "No assumptions are made about the nature or direction of the changes taking place. This type of seriation was first done by John Evans in 1849."

Gosh, there are so many directions I could go with this because this is a 1961 paper. Its viewpoint is heavily etic. It was published five years before Michel Foucault published The Order of Things which had a profound effect on my later work. It was also in 1961 when I discovered, after looking through an open door to a north London postal sorting office, one weekend, that the mail chutes might make a serviceable water slide substitute. They did. I also discovered, shortly afterward, how to refill all of the balls of string at each workstation in the building. It was not for another three years, when I was fourteen, that I encountered evolutionary seriation in Greek Coins and their Values, by H. A. Seaby and J. Kozolubski (1959 edition). It was there where I read:

"...IV  336-280 B.C. Period of Later Fine Art
    V  280-146 B.C. Period of Decline of Art
   VI   146-27 B.C. Period of Continued Decline in Art.
  VII   27-B.C.- 296 A. D.  Imperial Period."
Apparently, if you let your art slip, you will become infested with Romans.

For myself, I just took all of that as a vague general trend for Greek art that was tied in, a bit strangely, to political/historical time markers. I used to look at a photograph of a Greek coin in the plates of book and try to guess its date on stylistic grounds. I usually got within about ten to twenty years, or so. What I mostly noticed, however, was that there were three broad and rather general styles apart from the chronological in Greek coins: western, central, and eastern: western moved toward the flamboyant; had a few curlicues; was somewhat organic and sensual. The central was quietly classical and aloof from worldly cares; dignified, like the mourning Athena. The eastern was impressive; heraldic; bas-relief and Oriental. Of course, there are always exceptions, these are underlying feelings.

When Major Rybot sorted his die reconstructions of the Celtic Coriosolite staters in the La Marquanderie, Jersey hoard, he arranged them by the imagined decline in realism, even though he later wrote "I found this division so satisfactory during fifteen months of work that I continued to favour it, although I was given to understand that it might not receive the approval of trained numismatists." Some time later, one of those trained numismatists, J.-B. Colbert de Beaulieu reordered those coins to something far closer to their current classification. He could only go so far by assigning classes, though, as there is a limit with etic approaches.

The 1961 paper, while giving Evans as one of the fathers of modern archaeology, does not mention that he was also very interested in the other, evolutionary seriation, and quite fascinated by Darwinian natural selection, too. There was some interest in this on Darwin-L back in 1996, and I contributed a bit. (search for coin in your browser at that link). The 1961 paper also does not say that John Evans, when he was not busy being the father of modern archaeology, was also being the father of British Celtic numismatics.

In 1984, I came to the realization that Coriosolite die cutters could well have been evolving their designs as they worked on that series, and that its great number of variations seemed to support this idea. It took many more months of frustration and work to crack that code, but it worked and I found a way to achieve an emic system, even though you cannot, literally, go back in time and look through another's eyes, and think with their mind. You can, however, note changes without having any assumptions on what they might mean and in what directions (through time and/or space) they might take.

Tomorrow, I will start listing some of these things: they are not certain, not even necessarily probable, but they are possible.

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