Thursday, 13 November 2014

Context Matters: Faux Numis (2) Virtual Celtic Myth-Making in Canada

Celtophile collector John Hooker, who imagines he has a brain the size of the planet, claims to be an expert: "A numismatist with over fifty years experience [...] Very few people without at least twenty years of experience in numismatics can make much of an impact on the subject ". He says that when  news of a new coin hoard from Jersey broke in June 2012, "I knew that someone would be contacting me. I know more about Coriosolite coinage and its cultural connections than anyone in the world".

Apparently puzzled by the fact that the team currently excavating the material and studying it have not yet beaten a path to his door, he thought he'd give them the benefit of what his inner mind* had told him. He thought he'd do some virtual armchair archaeology on the "Jersey "Le Catillon 2" hoard stratigraphy". Not having received the expected pack of documentation with the urgent plea for help from the archaeologists, he thought he'd do it on the basis of internet reading.

He has a hunch, you see, about two published photos. These, as is usual in antiquity-collecting circles, are taken at face value and taken out of context - collectors like Mr Hooker do not see the point of using context as a source of information. For them, the documentation of context is a waste of time and energy, they feel the coins (and the pictures and writing on most of them) speak for themselves, especially if one is a pompous wannabe-clairvoyant collector who thinks he is above such things as finding out what it is he's talking about.

He sets out to use such decontextualised photos as the basis for a long-winded exegesis of the alleged 'stratigraphy' of the new Jersey hoard as he sees it from afar.  The first photo he uses as "evidence" on his blog is from the publicity material from an exhibition put together by Jersey Museum and Art Gallery earlier on this year. He says "I think that these coins were the very first of the hoard found", and what it shows is just some of the cleaned coins which were among the first that came off the edges of the soil block when it was lifted and work on it began. Quite what 'stratigraphy' is represented there is not clear - certainly that information does not come from the description (viz. none) of the excavated context but maybe something might be elucidated by Mr Hooker's "inner brain".

 The second photo, however, is a triumph of context-means-nothing-to-me-interpretation by the collector. Hooker writes that in comparison to the first photo he discussed:
The other photograph is a complete contrast: mostly Series Y (mint site west of the River Rance) and especially group L, they represent a very small part of the chronology. These coins are more difficult to see and I had to enlarge the photo by several 10% increments in order to get a larger image in decent resolution.
He then goes on to suggest on this "evidence" that there are what he calls 'parcels' in the hoard, groups of coins put together from different sources and careful analysis (which only he, we understand, is best qualified to do) could reveal - if done carefully enough [in other words, in relation to knowing in detail the relative position of each coin in the hoard in relation to the others - another way of saying context]:
it is even possible that a 2,000 year old itinerary might be reconstructed, but just one or two mistakes could negate that possibility. 
This is typical of the milieu, a metal detector, spade and basic artefact identification skills are enough - collectors think - to transform anyone into a karaoke archaeologist. Not only can anyone 'have a go' at 'doing archaeology' ("jus' diggin' stuff up innit?") but everyone can have a go at archaeologists. After all, all archaeologists are said by many of their 'leaders' to be stupid, unreasonable, useless and conspiring with the Establishment "against collectors". Hooker thinks web-based avocational scholars might give the hopeless archaeologists a hand to sort out what's what in the name of 'education':
Although Jersey does not have a very good record of publishing photographs and providing catalogues of the previous hoards, [...] this hoard is recent and they will, hopefully, share the photographs with the public along the lines of the British Museum's web site which allows scholars to post photos for non-profit, educational use.
Coins in Jersey Museum display (JH )
The problem is that Mr Hooker's use of decontextualised photos has led him astray. As in the case of the Central European cross denier he and his Calgary dealer pal reportedly falsely 'identified' on the basis of a photo, Hooker seems blissfully unaware of what he is pompously spouting on about.

The second photo does not show any stratigraphical layer of the hoard itself. The coins he identified from his photo as to typological group and geographical origin are all replicas, the several hundred coins shown in the publicity photo are are all modern copies of the same Coriosolite stater, very probably those covering the surface of a model of the hoard which sits at the entrance to the exhibition currently on show at Jersey Museum! The photo is called "shiny" and it does not take any enlargement at all to see that these are not cleaned coins like the others, still less those embedded in the earth of a hoard in a soil block (see Hooker's own comments on the state of the uncleaned coins in the Wikipedia photos). Even a novice, surely, could see that they are modern cast fakes in white metal with the typical soapy' appearance, one on the left are several with a very clear mould seam visible on their edges, and all of them have the same cast of a flan split in exactly the same place. These copies are even on sale in the museum shop, though I hope they are discretely marked 'R' for the benefit of collectors who, like Mr Hooker it would seem, cannot see a mile off that these are replicas.


 * John Hooker, 'On the nature of research' - "dreams, visions, or just hunches. Only fools do not take such things seriously". I would suggest that only a fool would take them as a basis for any serious research without checking the facts very, very carefully.

UPDATE 12th November 2014:

It seems difficult to argue that modern replica pewter copies patterned on ancient coins have very little to tell us about many aspects of the past even in the hands of an 'expert' (PACHI, 'Context Matters:  Faux Numis (2) Virtual Celtic Myth-Making in Canada'). John Hooker, the self-proclaimed world's greatest amateur expert on everything (especially Coriosolite coins),  has apparently decided to brazen it out.  He's just published a comment on his blog where his obsequious tekkie fawner confirms his view that Hooker is one of those who is "are acknowledged leaders in their own specialist fields - be they collectors, numismatists, or metal detectorists" which alleged intellectual inferiors such as myself have to struggle "to get on terms with". Ah well, in the Land of the Blind the One-Eyed man is king. The land of the metal detectorists and coineys is indeed a land of the blind, I doubt whether the commentator, the coiney's yapping flunky lapdog John Howland, even got to the bottom of my post. "Too many words, gor' blimey".

UPDATE 12th November 2014

Talk about muddying the waters, Hooker has now added his comment to the clownish metal detectorist's. In it, typical collector fashion, instead of sticking to the issue, he tries to deflect attention to further discussion about the Kilroy Cross denier (please see my UPDATE to the original post). But experience shows that all of this is totally typical of the dugup antiquity collecting milieu. Mr Hooker is a typical exemplar of the genre. So as not to lose sight of what this discussion is about, what Hooker says is:
There are two photographs that show stratigraphy (sic) evidence. The first of these [...] I think that these coins were the very first of the hoard found [...] The other photograph is a complete contrast [...]
Mr Hooker now suggests my alleged "short attention span" is why I cannot see any point in any discussion about "stratigraphy" of a hoard from Canada based on two decontextualised photos- neither of which is what he says they are. In actual fact the point I was making and maintain is that  he has not identified any "stratigraphy" of the hoard because the second batch of coins he assumes is one of the "layers" he discusses is composed of modern replicas of the same coin made for sale in the museum shop and display purposes.

Mr Hooker considers that since he has a brain the size of a planet and to him it is "obvious" what nobody else (less well-endowed cerebrally) can see, there is no need to check with anybody what those coins he writes about actually are, BEFORE writing about them. Most of the rest of us, with brains considerably smaller than a planet, find prior checking the facts is a pretty good way to avoid looking like an idiot.

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