Saturday, 31 July 2021

Roman Ritual Found as Excuse for Metal Detecting Find Cluster in Dutch Archaeology


               Archaeology just below the root mat, Aa.                 

There is a lot of coverage of this story from Brabant of discoveries made on the banks of the Aa river in the village of Berlicum. by Dutch metal detectorists Wim and Nico van Schaijk, for example, Anon, 'Roman Coins Found on Riverbank in the Netherlands' Archaeology Magazine Tuesday, July 13, 2021
Metal detectorists reported their 2017 discovery of more than 100 Roman coins along the banks of the Aa River in the southern Netherlands to the Portable Antiquities of the Netherlands. When Liesbeth Claes of Leiden University and her colleagues went to the site to investigate, they recovered two coins and a bronze pendant from a horse harness to add to the four silver denarii, 103 bronze sesterces, and several axes. Claes said that all of the coins were minted between 27 B.C. and A.D. 180, while the pendant dates to between A.D. 120 and 300. None of the coins was very valuable, she explained, and they were found scattered over a wide area. Research revealed a nineteenth-century document indicating that the spot where the coins were found had been used as a ford. The researchers think the coins may have been offered by Romans who crossed the river.
Hmmm. This looks like another case where archaeological collaboration with artefact hunters is justified by making up stories to fit the data. In this case it's accepting the artefact hunters' own natrrativisation. First of all what real detectorists would be just searching blind, first they do the research to find 'productive' sites - find the document about the ford, then go and hoover the site with artefact detection devices to see what they can find and pocket. And yes, if in a landscape scattered with stuff you concentrate a search is a specific area, you find more stuff there than in the places where you did not concentrate your search, quelle surprise yeah? Photos here and here, show this is grassland they are hoiking finds from. Live Science picks up the story and the speculation goes on. 
Many of the coins had military imagery, which may echo the earlier local practice of placing war-related objects, such as axes, swords and helmets, along rivers and other stretches of water, said the report's co-researcher Liesbeth Claes, an assistant professor at Leiden University in the Netherlands. "This could be a pre-Roman custom that continued in the Roman period but in a different way," Claes said in a statement. Deducing that this practice persisted "was an important eureka moment in my academic career."
My commiserations to her. There is actually quite a lot of literature about the topic.. going back quite a way (including in the ethnographic past). As for coins of "military imagery", it would have been good to hear some examples from the pre-Severan coinage and the evidence for their deliberate selection as offerings.   But here's a good bit of public outreach that British militant artefact hunters will be depicting as "ungrateful":
Although the team commended the amateurs for discovering the coins, going forward "It is advised not to allow metal detection in the advisory zone, so that existing coins and other metal finds are not taken out of context without an archaeological investigation," they wrote in the translated report. 

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