A few days ago I was being berated in the comments to my blog because I do not speak in awed terms about the intellectual ability of those that can only understand the past by building huge collections of decontextualised ancient artefacts. Then I found the collector who'd come here ostensibly to engage in "dialogue" subsequently made a post over on Moneta-L further demonstrating the same lack of capacity for independent thought on the wider context of the issues connected with the collecting of portable antiquities. Awkward though scattering the discussion may be, I cannot answer over there as my views are excluded from that forum. So I’ll have to cover what he said there here. I’ll do it in three more shorter posts so as not to overload the attention span of anybody from over there that may care to try and read it.
Let’s start at the end, after giving a very object-centred account of what he believes, Chris Rose (Chris Exx) ends up by saying that collectors may “put ACCG in our wills”. The ACCG is currently doing nothing other than fighting US government regulation of the antiquities market. Frankly I do not think they will be able to keep it up long enough to benefit in anybody’s will. Certainly these people are doing nothing good for the trade, collecting and most of all efforts to preserve the archaeological record from commercial looting.
More to the point the writer suggests somewhat simplistically that since “the enemy” is clearly those dastardly ivory tower “radical archaeologists”:
no university can expect a bequest from me if it has a department that stands against our hobby. Maybe we can endow chairs of Numismatics at prestigious universities and engage archeology on its own ground”.Excellent idea. But first, let us consider where in the structure of the average prestigious university this chair would be situated. In the Department of Anthropology, like archaeology often is? I cannot see much in current coineyism that is particularly asociated with an anthropological approach. Maybe in the department of humanities, perhaps as part of Classical philology? Or should it be in the science department? Would it be numismatics in general, or is Mr Exx thinking of some kind of dugup numismatology? Obviously the study of European Thaler and other milled coinage is somewhat different from the problems involved in the conflict between ancient coins as collectable geegaws and a component of archaeological information.
Secondly, in order to engage archaeology "on its own ground", this academic discipline of dugup numismatology would have to show an independent methodology and body of theory which seems on the whole to still be lacking and what there is is derivative. So in order to counter (or work with) archaeology as an independent discipline, it would have to develop one, but of course that is in part the function of academic institutions. It would have to produce textbooks for teaching applied numismatics. I think given the current attitudes within the academic milieu, very soon questions of professional ethics of this discipline will begin to arise, as we have seen for example in archaeology and ethnography. This can only be a good thing, with numismatic scholars (real ones) advocating more ethical means of obtaining the raw material for their research – which hopefully will eventually come round to realising that context, pattern and associations of deposition are sources of information about many aspects of the past which is lost by heap-of-coins-on-a-table typological approaches.
More to the point, maybe Chris Exx/Rose can actually point to a single university department (can be anywhere in the world, not just the USA) that actually „stands against our hobby”. The problem is surely NOT “the hobby” but the way hobbyists currently do it. While there may be many that advocate change and bringing the collecting of certain categories of coins (and dugup artefacts generally) out of the nineteenth century, I am not sure who among them are producing material advocating complete abolition of coin collecting. But maybe Mr Exx knows differently.
I'd also like to ask whether it is just criticism of the current form of the dugup coin trade which can be countered by founding chairs of dugup numismatology. Maybe we need chairs of Shabtiology and Scarabology? Those collecting Roman brooches from the dealers with Balkan artefacts might like to endow a chair of Classical Fibulology. Why not?
(More on Moneta-L # 100262 to follow)
Vignette: a coin-eye view of the world