Friday, 7 December 2012

Biggest and Bestest Becoz We're British, so There!

The British imagine that because they've got lots of metal detectorists and a PAS, they must be better than the rest of the world at everything. So they are all patting each other on the back that they've got "more hoards" than anyone else coming out of the ground. They think that is "a good thing". It is of course a bad thing when those hoards have been hoiked out of undisturbed archaeological contexts below plough level, cost a lot of money to deal with and have not a snowball's chance in hell of ever properly published in the forseeable future. Anyway, just how true is it? Poland for example has masses of hoards of denarii reported - so how many from Britain?

1981 Dot distribution map of coin finds, lots in Poland with no PAS
(from Lind, L. 1981. Roman denarii found in Sweden 2. Catalogue. Almqvist & Wiksell: Stockholm).

Looking at the spread of these finds, I recall that not so long ago professional numismatists were seeing them in terms of 'circulation' (really?) along trade routes, in particular the so-called "Amber routes" going down through Aquincum to Aquileia. More recently a newer generation of academic numismatists has approached the problem in a more multi-disciplinary manner (not the US-ACCG brand, but one that is fully compatible with archaeology/archaeologists) and more nuanced interpretations involving social interactions and identity models as well as varied interpretations of the circumstances of deposition are functioning. It is clear that this map is not primarily a reflection of the boundaries between different legal systems and mechanisms for reporting, in most of the area shown on the map, the laws about 'finds' and reporting (and ownership) are much the same. While the density of finds varies within areas of homogeneous legislation (across Poland and Ukraine for example). The distribution of these finds is probably more likely a reflection of the archaeological reality rather than a function of the modern legislation and social conditions. There is no PAS in Poland and artefact hunting for archaeological finds is illegal without a permit. [I've got the numbers of these hoards of different periods in my coiney books, but they are all down in the cellar and it's cold down there today - so we'll have to do without, Poland however has nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to inventorising coin finds]

Is there really such a huge difference in the reporting of finds between areas with and without a PAS? Look at this 2007 map (from one of the articles on third century coin hoarding that it was being claimed a few weeks ago do not exist). It seems to me looking at this map of third century hoard finds, there  are areas where they cluster and are sparser (Wales), but is there really such a difference in overall density between England and France as the supporters of artefact hunting are making out?

Late Roman coin hoards in the West (from Antony Kropff (2007) 'Late Roman coin hoards in the West: trash or treasure?', Revue Belge de Numismatique et de Sigillographie 153, 2007, 73-86
It seems to me to be awfully simplistic to say "we've got more than anybody else" and attribute it to the PAS. Wales has a PAS and there's a big white spot in the middle of the country. Now that is in fact nothing to do with PAS coverage, but geography.


Cultural Property Observer said...

You need a distribution map that was created solely based on data dervived post PAS and Treasure Act for your chart to make any sense whatsoever. This dates from 2007 based presumably on earlier data.

Also, what about such charts from your favorite countries, Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Turkey?

Paul Barford said...

2007 is ten years into the PAS.

I am not a Mediterranean archaeologist, nor coiney, so really cannot comment on the situation there.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Given all your prior posts about Cyprus and coins, I think you are playing coy.

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