Friday, June 29, 2012

Ancient Coins, Buried Treasure, Archaeology, and All That

"Ancient coins worth $15 million found by amateur treasure hunters after 30 year search" (June 27, 2012)

"After a search that spanned three decades, two amateur treasure hunters have uncovered the biggest ever hoard of Iron Age silver and gold coins in the UK -- weighing a full ton and valued at $15 million.

"Reg Mead and Richard Miles found the stash using a high powered metal detector called a deepseeker. What they discovered was a large block of clay containing 30,000 to 50,000 gold and silver coins dating from the 1st Century BC.

"The coins - which could have been buried to prevent Roman troops from getting them during Julius Caesar's invasion of the British Islands - come from Armorica, modern day Brittany and Normandy. They have been buried for more than 2,000 years...."

Coins, Value, and Points of View

What gets the headlines is "ancient coins:" the idea of buried treasure. How much contemporary money this lot of obsolete coinage would bring on various markets is important. But so is what the coins can tell about who buried them and when.

Let's take a hypothetical example. Say someone digging up an old barn in Pennsylvania, one that hadn't been used since about 1800, came across a coin about the size of an American quarter. The coin looks really old, and one side shows a somewhat under-dressed woman with a shield.

Evidence of a pre-Columbian civilization? Relic of Atlantis? Nope. It's an American quarter. It's old, but not that old. Those numbers at the bottom, "1917," indicate the year the coin was minted: which makes it about 95 years old. That's old, but nowhere near as old as the barn.

Depending on where the coin lay in the ruins of the barn, its presence might be evidence of what's happened at the site since the barn was abandoned.

That's the sort of value archeologists see in old coins. Pottery is even better, since it's a lot more common than coins, and nearly indestructible. Sure, fired clay breaks easily: but the shards will last longer than any civilization has so far.

Never Mind the Gold Nugget: Show Me That Broken Pot!

And, since the way folks make pottery changes over time, and different places have different styles of manufacture, a bit of broken tableware found in a long-buried trash pile can tell a great deal about the folks who threw it there.

Here's another hypothetical case. Let's say archeologists were digging through a trash heap left by the folks who built the Watson Brake mounds. That's in what folks recently took to calling Quachita Parish. They found most of a pot like the one in that photo. Those bits of broken pottery would be, in their own way, incredibly valuable.

Also very hard to explain: and that's another topic.

Secret Location: For Good Reason

"...Further excavation is taking place at the secret location by archeologists keen to get to the bottom of the ancient discovery, while it is kept secluded from the threat of looters.

"Ownership and value of the findings could take months to determine and are subject to the island's Treasure Act. It is estimated the coins could be worth £10 million (US$15.6 million).

"The coins are understood to date back to the Late Iron Age, a time when the armies of Rome's Julius Caesar were advancing north-westwards through France, driving the tribal communities towards the coast."

Folks have been known to do odd things to get money. Keeping the location of that archaeological site secret sounds like a good idea. One hyperventilating treasure hunter with a pick and shovel could irretrievably destroy evidence left in the ground in Jersey.

Archeologists know what to look for: and how to pick apart archaic detritus. That's another reason that the Lemming doesn't miss 'the good old days.' A famous, or infamous, enthusiast may have shoveled his way through the real walls of Troy, trying to find the fabled city. Whether or not he did may never be known. About Troy: what you see in the movies is Hollywood spectacle. Troy itself is quite real: all nine cities.

And that's yet another topic.

Not-totally-unrelated posts:


Military Challenge Coins said...

Coins has a lot of value especially such coins which are ancient.

Brian Gill said...

Sorry about the excessive delay - the Lemming finally realized that comments were piling up.

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