Tuesday 23 June 2009

"Numismatic Research is Broader than Just Archaeology "

"Numismatic research is broader than just archaeology" pronounces Cultural Property Observer ("Archaeological tail wags numismatic dog" [sic]). That is a quote that would be hard to beat, especially as it is the reaction of former ACCG president to the publication of the book "Coins in Context" discussed here earlier. What he actually says is this:
"Numismatic research is broader than just archaeology and however useful the study of coins and their context may be, there are simply far too many coins out there to be studied, preserved and displayed solely by archaeologists or museums in source countries. In other words, the archaeological tail should not be allowed to wag the numismatic dog".
So the ACCG remedy seems to be get artefact hunters to dig 'em all up to "decontextualise" them, throw away the non-coiney bits, smuggle them out of those "source countries", throw them onto some intermediate market in the EU, stick them on a plane to Baltimore and sell them all off to the numismatic dogs so eager to get their teeth into them in an ACCG benefit sale to finance the US war on the rest of the world's archaeological resource protection measures.

Now I really do not know what Tompa, a Washington lawyer, actually knows about archaeology. I wonder how he sees his "numismatics" differing in any way from the typological, iconographical, metrological and philological work which is typically done within archaeology on various other kinds of archaeological finds. For there is no doubt in anyone else's mind that ancient coins are just one type of archaeological find. Just like any other. Within archaeology there are specialists who study wall paintings, medieval iron spurs, intaglios, ecclesiastical vessels, sculpture and a whole load of other artefact types which are studied in exactly the same way as Tompa's contextless-coin-grabbing friends treat coins (the ones that actually study rather than just accumulate and fondle them). Inasmuch as the study of coins is a form of the study of the past through the material remains, it follows that the study of ancient coins is no more or less than a part of archaeology. there really seems no sense in denying it, or suggesting that it is anything else. In its current ACCG-promoted form it is a retrograde one, because its no-questions-asked adherents seem to negate the meaning of context of discovery as a source of information, but they will eventually leave the Petrarchian model of decontextualised coin accumulation and come into the nineteenth century, from which it is but a step to becoming a modern discipline with a defined methodlogy and theoretical basis to guide and act as a check on the pragmatic operations and the interpretation of the results.

Photo: Hans Memling, portrait of Peter Tompa as a young man, c. 1480 (oil on oak panel 23 x 31 cm Koninklijk Museum, Antwerp). The Roman coin Peter is holding is in fact miraculously now in the collection of every ancient coin collector in the US.

1 comment:

Geoff Carter said...

Truly freighting stuff; one look at Ebay will show that anything archaeological potentially has value, and there tons it on the market.
Archaeology could respond by dumping the lot on the open market, which would be a bit of a spoiler, or, for every coin we find or have, we could produce an officially sanctioned fake, and give them to heritage charities to sell.

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