Friday 13 July 2018

Collectors' Corner: What happens to dugup archaeological evidence at the hands of so-called 'Citizen Archaeologists'

Some cutsey (passinitly intrestid in th' 'istry) narrativisation probably owing not a little to sources like Wikipedia
Roman Empire Bronze Aurelianus of Aurelian Father of Christmas, Buy With Confidence from ModernCoinMart (MCM) on ebay

Why purchase this Ancient Roman Empire Bronze Aurelianus of Aurelian?
Aurelian was the 44th Emperor of the Roman Empire, and a devout pagan. Hoping to unify the Empire through a common religious belief, he forced worship of Invictus Sol, the pagan god of the Unconquered Sun, throughout the region. In 274 A.D., he proclaimed December 25th, the winter solstice, the feast day of Invictus Sol, and in celebration, he eliminated public debts and burned the records to gain favor of his people. Christian's celebrated the day, secretly worshiping their own god, resulting the establishment of the date of Christmas (Christ's Mass). Aurelian's grand gesture of generosity become known as the "Christmas Spirit", the inspiration behind the spirit of gift giving today.
Aurelianus imagery
The obverse bears the radiate portrait of Emperor Aurelian, an image similar to the previously issued Antoninianus, surrounded by his inscribed name and title. The reverse depicts the Emperor, victorious in military uniform, or illustrates a theme of the regime with images of gods and goddesses. The Aurelianus was struck from bronze with a diameter ranging from 21-23.5 mm, weighing 2.7-3.7 g.

Attractive album with COA
This ancient bronze Aurelianus commemorating Roman Emperor Aurelian was struck 270-275 A.D. It is presented in a handsome collectible album, along with a Certificate of Authenticity signed by a member of the American Numismatic Association. The album includes a detailed narrative explaining how Emperor Aurelian came to be known as the "Father of Christmas."

Make this impressively packaged Roman Imperial Aurelianus the centerpiece of your ancient coin collection!
No documentation of licit origins or export from the source country offered. Other people are selling these, but one of them tells us: 'our buyers have hand picked the highest quality and best looking coins from A hoard of 15,000 coins'.  No publication details of that (presumably legally declared , no?) hoard are given, let alone where it was found.

It is interesting to note that though this specific coin is 'authenticated' by an authentic signature of  Robin L. Danziger, the accompanying narrativisation attached to it is generic ('reverse depicts the Emperor, victorious in military uniform, or illustrates a theme of the regime with images of gods and goddesses'). Sadly, the buyer is not informed about the nature of the exact reverse bought (which is in any case hidden by the way the coin is mounted) so they'll not learn from the seller about which 'gods and goddesses' are depicted and why. The Syrian links of Sol Invictus might have been topically stressed in the commercial narrative - as well as the eclectic and mutable nature of Roman culture at this time.

Would Bloomsbury/Helsinki/Ixelles Six also be calling this approach to decontextualised collectables 'citizen archaeology'? Or in their eyes are artefacts like this only decontextualised by the people they call 'citizen archaeologists' who take them from the context of deposition and without documenting the context of discovery make them available to collectors? Or is the seller that wrote that generic narrativisation and 'preserved' the coin for display in that folder the 'citizen archaeologist' sharing his knowledge with the rest of us? Or perhaps the 'citizen archaeologist' of the Bloomsbury/Ixelles Six model is the collector who puts his trophies in a row and goes to Wikipedia and Wildwinds to find out about those pictures on the back. This object in its 'attractive album' with built-in Certificate of Authenticity and ready-made generic narrativisation is a product of Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record - so what precisely is the phase that in the eyes of Bloomsbury and the Ixelles Six academics is so-called 'citizen archaeology'? Or is none of it any kind of archaeology at all, but just collecting?

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