Tuesday, 5 May 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part thirteen

My notes showing die links in a variety of the
drachms of Chalcis in the Wallace collection
exhibited at the Nickle Arts Museum at the
University of Calgary just over thirty years
I have been trying to identify the hoard where I saw two die linked coins in an illustration
of a just a few coins from the hoard and now I'm about 90% sure that it was the Burnham Market hoard of Iceni silver. I still cannot find the photo, though. This morning I was looking through Google Images for a chart showing how die links are drawn. For some strange reason I found nothing so the lead graphic today is one I constructed in my notes for the Wallace collection of Euboean coins, in this example, drachms of Chalcis bearing the wreath symbol. Nothing ever came of the study: The University of Calgary refused to pay for the photography of the coins in the exhibit they held of the collection, and the owner of the collection  (one of their own emeritus professors of archaeology) wanted to sell the collection before there was time to catalogue it properly, anyway. The collection is now disbanded. It was the largest collection of its type, ten times larger than what appears in the British Museum catalogue. Only the League coinage had been published before. A die study without photographs is useless.

For those of you unfamiliar with numismatic methods, a chronology of die use is possible because the obverse (anvil) die wears out slower then the reverse (hammer) die. The reason for this is that the coin blank acts as an energy buffer for the obverse die. You notice this especially with coin blanks that are struck very hot (Thompson, F. C. and Nasir, M. J. The manufacture of Celtic Coins from the La Marquanderie Hoard, in: Numismatic Chronicle, 7th series, Vol XII, 1972): the plasticity of the internal hot metal absorbs a lot of the energy so that the reverse die impression is often very crisp while the obverse looks like George Bernard Shaw's description of  Isadora Duncan ("She looked as if she had a face that was made out of sugar and someone had licked it").

Obverse of Series Xn coin showing die cracks (raised
straight lines around the facial features). British Museum
ex Evans 1224, CCI 681356. This die was too brittle and
would have disintegrated before becoming too worn.
For the most part, die studies look much like the one shown here with a few links and some dies not linked. Sometimes, though, the links can be all over the place such as in the coins of the Xn series, formerly known as "Abrincatui". There, the die links more resemble what my late father-in-law described as "like a mad-woman's washing". This happens when dies are ordered before the coinage from an itinerant die cutter. When the production exceeds what was estimated, or when the die quality was not as good as expected, then the moneyers start using damaged "retired" dies again until they become completely unworkable. In some series of coins, obverse dies are allowed to wear down to virtually blank as the structure of the anvil die (unlike the hammer die) usually remains intact, if not properly detailed. I have not seen a die-link chart of such a series and they would obviously be very difficult to create with certainty for many of the obverses. Sometimes, you see a die that has been reworked and these are often difficult, too.

As we have established that some so-called "plough scattered hoards" are actually coins left as a display of wealth (or perhaps sometimes as a war trophy) at a Druid council site, then the deposition of such coins could often include fairly fresh coins straight from the mint. Such an issue might have even been created for that specific purpose. I suspect such of the scyphate coins of the Aulerci Eburovices which are very fragile for normal circulation but look weightier than they really are on account of their thinness. Such coins might be described as coming from a plough scattered hoard; as a multiple deposit (which is very different from a hoard); or even as just a single find and where other single finds in the vicinity prove to have die links with each other. It is also quite possible that the coins did not remain where they were scattered, but were used later as currency. This could result in a much wider scatter, but probably mostly from the same, or an adjacent parish. In such a case, wear might be visible on the coins.

What needs to be constructed for recording such deposits is something a bit like the Harris Matrix: we need to plot specific dies used in combination within a fairly narrow geographical location of the finds. There is no point in paying any attention to the big Iceni hoards as these most likely represent the savings from many locations that were gathered together again and reburied at the time of the Boudiccan revolt.

From the patterns that might emerge, over time we could perhaps plot the the influences of certain high-status groups at different tuatha. It might prove to be partly an expansion from a central location like a hillfort, spreading outward as the die series progresses, or it might show some longer-distance attempts to influence at different industry sites. As I have said, this is an untested hypothesis.

There were "silver pellets" in the Burnham Market hoard, and at some other Iceni hoards as well as the Dobunni site discovered by detectorist Dean Crawford (his work has greatly increased the numbers of known Dobunni sites, hoards, and single and multiple deposits). I suspect that these pellets are mostly unanalyzed and some (like the Dobunni "super potin" might not be silver at all. Some might even be white gold like the ingots also found at the Dobunni site. You might find some of these pellets in the large secondary hoards, too, but then you would need to look for other multiple finds in the general area of the hoard where die links are concentrated and the same dies and links are also represented in the large hoard. The pellets in that case serve only as a clue that such a Druid site might not be too far away. but there are other clues, too, for finding such Druid council sites, and I will talk about those tomorrow.

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