Sunday 21 June 2015

Cypriot coins found in hoards

Cyprus and the sea
The library-shy numismatist now have an enhanced digital edition of the 1973 Inventory of Greek Coin Hoards (IGCH) edited by Colin Kraay, Margaret Thompson and Otto Morkholm. This has been created and hosted at by Sebastian Heath and Andrew Meadows under a Creative Commons license. So now coin dealer Sayles has hit upon the idea of using it to "prove Elkins wrong" (Nathan T. Elkins "Ancient coins, find spots, and import restrictions: a critique of arguments made in the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild's 'test case'," Journal of Field Archaeology 40, 2 [2015] 236-43). Sayles uses the results from 90 individual hoards and shows the results as dot-distribution maps. "The intention of this summary here is to clarify any misconceptions regarding the circulation of contemporary Cypriot coins of the Pre-Classical, Classical and Hellenistic eras, or lack thereof". Quite what "misconceptions" have been addressed here is not stated, nor has anything been presented apart from red dots on a map. What is the significance of these patterns in terms of ancient activity? How does this address what Elkins wrote about?

In any case it is disappointing to see US numismatics lagging behind central European methodology. Polish numismatists for example, based on the inventorisation of Early Medieval hoards established back in the 1950s (so 65 years ago), that coin deposition in hoards was an expression of hoard deposition behaviour and not circulation. For Mr Sayles to make any sensible statement about coin circulation in the past we need not only the addition of site finds and casual losses, but also a more detailed breakdown of the contents of each of the hoards he discusses compared to the other ones in the region. In proper numismatics, interpreting changing patterns of coin circulation in the past involves much more than crude distribution maps. Pathetic.

Again the question arises of the lack of a textbook setting out the methodology of the 'discipline' of heap-of-coins-on-a-table homegrown numismatics as practiced by US coin fondlers and dealers. If they want what they do to be seen as a 'discipline', let them present the basic assumptions and methods of this approach to the study of the past and let us see what it has to offer.

Sayles, W. 'Cypriot coins recorded in IGCH as found in hoards outside the Republic of Cyprus' Ancient Coin Collecting Sunday, June 21, 2015.

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