Monday, 1 June 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part 32

Ramparts on the NE side of Warham Fort
photo: Richard Law (Geograph)
Most people don't think about hillforts in Norfolk, or even hills for that matter.The few Norfolk hillforts such as Warham Fort (or Warham Camp) illustrated on the right, cannot be associated with any of the silver coin issues of the Iceni. Coin hoards appear to have been buried as part of the Boudiccan revolt but original distribution patterns of the three main silver issues have not been identified through these hoards. It would appear that the coins circulated and the issues became thoroughly mixed. The large hoards might also have been consolidated from smaller hoards. I call such things secondary hoards.

The Iceni hypothesis attempts to track influences through silver coins that had been paid out, for services or affiliations, or that were cast on the ground at a Druid council site as a display of surplus wealth to encourage support, perhaps along clan or factional lines. You would think at first that influences would gradually spread outward from the hillfort occupants to the farmland surrounding it, but any site at some distance but of some importance like an industrial site such as an important metalworking shop, or where natural resources like metals or salt are obtained. There could also be longer distance relationships like marriage, fosterage or military/political support. Such relationships can easily cross tribal divisions, but most coins that are left are still current in the general area. Longer distance offerings at Druid council sites might be other items of value like metals in pellet or ingot form or jewelry, or simply evidence of many cattle bones from a huge (and wasteful) feast.

The key to finding revealing information is not in the hoards, but in "multiple deposits" of coins that would have been used to gain support in a social process similar to the north American west coast native potlatch. If such coins are part of an an expansionist plan of a tribe or king, they could be identified by die links and coins focused at one part of the chronology of the type in question. Another, less clear picture, might be obtained from die links between stray coins in the general area that are not clearly part of the same multiple deposit. This would be looking for an earlier stage of circulation mixing than is usual for the broader area.

After seeing such die links in what has been called a scattered hoard, and what I thought were silver pellets at a Dobunni site that were related to similar finds from alleged hoards in eastern England, I started to see trading patterns between the Dobunni and the Iceni along the Jurassic Way which avoided most of the Belgic south-east tribes. Oxford, however, was an area where several tribes or groups would meet in council. After the pellets were analyzed (together with what I thought was a silver ingot) and they turned out to be, respectively, very high tin potin and white gold, the Norfolk connection was still maintained, but in an unexpected way. The white gold also had an amount of tin in it and, other than the tin content, was typical for a Norfolk wolf stater. Tin also exists in the redder gold alloy of some of the Freckenham staters and is a unusual element to find in any gold stater.

For the longest time, the inscribed British Celtic coins have been called "dynastic issues", yet by bracketing social characteristics reported by Caesar with early Irish Medieval laws (because Ireland was never Romanized), we can find only evidence that family connections in power were frowned upon, through fosterage and the forbidding of joint power by brothers, and that Druid or legal representation for the people existed at all social levels, and most importantly at each end of the bracket, were multiple kings of varying status within each tribe. The argument that Commios started a dynasty populated mainly by his own sons (marked on the coins with F for filius) is especially weak when we consider the life expectancy of those people. Filius might be an adopted or clan title and not indicative of a natural son at all. We also see that was often considered to be a name is most likely either a title or an assumed reign name (as was practiced in Chinese dynasties and in N. American first nations).

The habit of assigning a Medieval, feudal, model to pre-Roman British societies is probably due to the great amount of Medieval Celtic stories from Ireland, Wales and France, and the model of coin use is influenced by the purposes we give to more modern coinages. Trade and coinage is far too associated and is practical only at a late stage with multiple denominations and small change. Base metal does not mean a market: the Durotriges economy eventually eliminated gold and their staters became copper alloy coins that were the only denomination and were not "small change".

The Iceni hypothesis also extended into my theories about the British tin trade in the last two centuries BC, but whenever you come across an important line of reasoning, all sorts of other evidence starts to show up with it. If your inquiry is along the lines of the latest academic theory or fad, you do not get such distractions at all. In fact, the lack of these are a sure sign of academic navel-gazing. The theories and fads exist only because of their lack of available material proof and thus can occupy as much time as any wild goose chase. Many of them are due to memes in their environment.

So, I have covered just about everything in this long series because there were far too many assumptions being made about the function of coinage and the type of society which used them. It is always best to look at evidence with fresh eyes and not to get too immersed with what had gone before. The psychological viewpoints indicated by certain types of theories is something that too few consider. It is best, always, to stick with what the material evidence shows, and to try to keep ourselves out of the evidence by understanding how our own psychology and experience can affect what we think about such evidence.

I do plan to expand my theories about the tin trade to include evidence from continental potins, even though literature on the subject cannot compare with the work that has been done on the British material. Whatever I do, it will appear here, or course. Tomorrow: what else has been happening while I have been busy with this topic.

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