Monday, 27 April 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part seven

"Irony is just honesty with the volume cranked up",

Corieltauvi silver unit of a type first listed in the CCI after Robert Van
Arsdell first published Celtic Coinage of Britain (1989). This specimen
is CCI 90083. Liens illustrates only the obverse. The CCI note says,
"J May suggests obv. may have a wolf rather than the usual boar.
Also varies in that there is a vertical line of pellets in front of the
?wolf; large pellets in line in exergue. Rev. has horse with feathery
tail, three pellet in rings above"

Its specimen history states: "In trade (Spink's) April 1989, from a
collection formed in Lincolnshire. Also in SNC July/August 1991,
no. 4846.

The fact of the feathered tail of the horse connects it with the
Corieltauvi units of Van Arsdell's Hosidius type, as with this
specimen of VA 855-5. Bob dates the end of this type at 45 BC.
The style of the wolf is very close to that found on the Norfolk wolf
staters which he dates the end to be also 45 BC. The new discovery
confirms, at the very least, his relative dating of the two different
tribal issues.

This record has been online since about 2001.


The title is true to its topic in Ian Leins, What can be inferred from the regional diversity of Iron Age coinage? in Duncan Garrow, Chris Gosden and J.D. Hill (eds.), Rethinking Celtic Art, Oxford, 2008.

People infer all sorts of things. The title is also true to what Colin Haselgrove did which resulted in his Iron Age Coinage in South-East England: The Archaeological Context, BAR, (British), 174, Vol i & ii, Oxford, 1987. However, the commentary gives a somewhat different impression:
"Haselgrove abandoned the the use of tribal names, allowing both early uninscribed and later issues to be attributed to regional groups based purely on their style, the distribution of findspots and their appearance in hoards."
Haselgrove spends most of the first part of his book describing the parameters of his study. After covering a vast number of considerations, on page 52, he starts to talk about its regional divisioning:
"Coinage struck in Britain is conveniently divided into seven major geographical and typological groupings. These largely correspond to Allen's (1944) 'dynastic' and 'tribal' groupings, but owing to our ignorance of the exact relationship between the Roman administrative divisions and the preexisting socio-political groupings (Haselgrove 1984c) - which must anyway have fluctuated while coinage was in use - I have reverted to a regional nomenclature, similar to Evans' (1864) scheme."

Leins refers to Allen's system:
"Allen's backward projection of the Roman civitates divisions into the pre-Roman period was, however much less straightforward than is often recognized. ..."
People project all sorts of things. For example, Liens says:
"Do we believe that coins were produced by a centralized tribal authority and sent en masse to a particular community where they circulated and were eventually deposited? Or, is it equally possible that they were issued by a localised community, for local use, but drew upon the the standard technology (dies) and chosen iconography of the craftsmen available to them? Either way both the broader and localised distributions are significant as potential indicators of social contracts, but neither can be assumed to relate directly to a meaningful political entity."
This is a backward projection of a late Medieval kingship model onto a La Tène society.

The real debate that has been going on is about the degree that pre-Roman Celtic societies exhibited tribal or state characteristics. There is even a book on the theme, and an excellent one at that: Celtic chiefdom, Celtic state. As there is little value in trying to impose a single model on both a tiny group of huts in a damp forest near the Rhine, and on the Celtic large oppidum of Manching in Bavaria, the more fruitful academic arguments are more about the middle bits where opinions will vary. This is all just academic fuel for papers and conferences and had very little to do with really understanding these societies unless we just give up on all of those papers and conferences and just say that there was something of a spectrum based on local conditions.

Although John Creighton titled the book, Coins and Power in Late Iron Age Britain, he gives a very useful preamble to the period of his focus with The Middle to Late Iron Age transition, and the link goes its text. You would do well to read it before reading tomorrow's episode on what Celtic tribal society was really like. Creighton does make one mistake: "Another new arrival here was the appearance of gold, absent here since its last appearance in the Bronze Age. It came first as imported coin, then as locally manufactured derivatives." This mistake is so common that it is sometimes not even stated because it is thought to be so well understood. The late Bronze Age gold shortage was ended much earlier: In England, the Snettisham gold torc sequence (Jope, 2000) starts in the mid third century BC, and in Ireland it is just a bit earlier (first half of the third century BC) with the Clonmacnoise collar. It was at this time that a number of continental trained metal artists arrived in Britain and the south west and the north east were very important places.

Liens attempts to cover stylistic issues with his assertion that the above illustrated coin depicts a boar and not a wolf. He talks only of subject, and subject is not style. Were you to look at the style, you would notice that Celtic boars (or any pig, for that matter) are never shown with claws. You see some confusion with another native art  (Thracian), as to whether a feline or a canine is being shown with some clawed beasts, but pigs are easier to identify. They also do not get depicted with their mouths open (save for the carnyx use), and various ways are used to show their snout. Mostly, too, they have tails that are shorter and more curly. The boar does have a crest, and the dog raises its hackles when it threatens. The crest carries the significance, regardless of the type of creature. But someone told Liens the Norfolk wolf might be a boar. People tell you a lot of things.

A dichotomy of methods (the right one and the wrong one) are given in this paper by Liens, but there is really no such dichotomy. The way of looking at the coinages is mostly dependent on what sort of information you are looking for. For Haselgrove's purposes (which are many beyond this particular issue), a regional division was needed, For Van Arsdell, a stylistic grouping worked better because the exact chronology was a very important factor in classifying the entirety of the British Celtic issues. With new discoveries, whether they be by new types, or new ways of structuring the information, the researcher is always in a state of flux. You find that most will adjust their methods as is needed to answer more and more complex questions, and have little time to jump on various bandwagons or adopt various fashions. That sort of thing is more of a spectator-sport.

Haselgrove uses region, chronology and then classes; Van Arsdell uses typology and divisions based on stylistic differences which follows Allen's method, but beyond types, he goes straight to the variations seen on each die and does not put them into classes. This most closely approximates my own method, but I, closer to Haselgrove, pay a lot of attention to regions and numbers of issuing authorities within and without tribal territories. As to Classes, though, whenever I see those, I string garlic cloves around my neck, and check to make sure I have the wooden stake and vial of holy water on hand. ...

Friday, 24 April 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part six

White gold ingot from a Dobunni site in south Worcestershire
discovered and reported by metal detectorist Dean Crawford.
Photo: G. T. Jones (all requests for reuse should go to him).
Resampling, cropping and post-production processing by JH
(click for X 9.3 enlargement)
Support for the idea that the Iceni and the Dobunni Antethirig are the same person is supplied from the finds at the Dobunni south Worcestershire site. The importance of the multiple finds of Thurrock types cannot be overestimated. Prior to its discovery, only a single Thurrock type had been found as part of an archaeological excavation and that was at Maiden Castle in Durotriges territory. Also interesting about the Maiden Castle site is that a stratified La Tène 1 brooch was also found there which had the same high Co to low Ni impurity as the Thurrock potins. The ingot, of "white gold" finds its closest alloy parallel with the Norfolk wolf staters, but its high tin content (considering that tin was most likely just a part of the bronze content and the Cu percentage was only 15.8%) does not match up with analyses of Norfolk wolf staters which usually have a very low level of tin. Some of the Iceni Freckenham gold staters do have high levels of tin, however. Any levels of Sn above just a trace are unusual for gold staters, and the presence of white gold in Dobunni territory is very unusual. By something of a fluke, the ingot (and the following pellet) are now back in Dobunni territory.

Potin pellet from the same site
(G. T. Jones credit and details as above)
The pellet from the Dobunni site is no less interesting: Its high (46.6%) Sn content appears to be unprecedented in potins. That it does not contain the high Co and low Ni profile of southern British bronze dates the pellet to after 50 BC, a time when the Thurrock potins were no longer in production. The coins at the same site were silver units of Corionos. The brooch fragments at the site were all mid 1st century AD, and the latest find was a cut denarius of Antoninus Pius (r. 138-161 AD). The site is about midway between the two closest Roman remains and fits the profile of a Druid council site. Before the ingot and the pellet were analyzed, I thought that they indicated that metalworking was going on there. I am now inclined to think that the cut denarius and similar items were of a prior founders hoard and were left there as a display of wealth, as were the earlier Celtic coins, the ingots, and the pellets.

In addition to the wide network of contacts indicated by the ingots and the pellets typical to this site, the high Sn content of the Thurrock potin and the pellet is a strong indicator that their former owner was closer to the source of tin than any person or group associated with British potin coins. (not just in the distance to the Cornish tin mines, but in the degree of social/trade contact as well).

We cannot know the nature of the person or persons who left these objects at the site: the ingot could have been left by someone supplying metal to the Iceni, or it could have come from a person who had an exchange with such a person and the ingots had then become treasures (I borrow the term from early Irish laws of status and franchise, which are La Tène in origin), or it could have been an object of value that was exchanged for credit in livestock.

Next, I must say something about the earliest use of Celtic gold coins. It seems rather difficult for most people to comprehend that Britain, long before the Roman conquest, was part of the Greek world. As his synopsis to Ancient Greek Gold Coinage up to the Time of Philip of Macedon, John R. Melville Jones says:

"Coinage in gold was issued by Greek mints at first only in emergencies, when silver was not available. It was later also used when the recipients of this coinage preferred to be paid in this metal. The most usual reason for this preference was that the recipients were mercenary soldiers, or were serving away from their own countries for some other reason. Commercial considerations or a desire on the part of rulers to advertise themselves were less relevant to the choice of gold as a metal in which to strike coins. It should be assumed that most payments of large sums to soldiers were made at the conclusion of their period of service. Since ancient Greek coinage in gold is much rarer than coinage in silver or bronze, the authenticity of some of the surviving specimens is not beyond doubt. It is to be hoped that further discoveries will make it possible to answer some of the questions which are matters of dispute at the present time."
He had sent me a copy of his paper after he read a piece of mine where I had identified the Ambiani as being present in Pyrrhus' army in Italy. He regretted that my article appeared after his own publication as he would have liked to have included it as a reference. In his paper, he noted:
"A connection with the activities of Dionysius I of Syracuse (406-367 B.C.) has been suggested as the most appropriate time at which the first gold coins issued by Syracuse may have been struck, and it seems likely that many of the gold issues of all of these four mints were produced within a few years of each other. The most likely reason for the striking of gold coins by the Sicilian cities is the series of Carthaginian attacks on the island which began in 406/5 B.C. These were resisted by Dionysius, who used hired troops."
The Carthaginians were in the part of the world, primarily to be able to trade in British tin (also possibly Spanish silver). Their competitors in western Mediterranean trade were Syracuse, Massalia (France, Phokaean,) Taras (Italy, Spartan), and the Etruscans. Somewhat later, the Romans were also in the picture. Dionysios had hired Celtic troops and this led to a massive move across the Alps into Italy of Celtic armies from a number of tribes who set up bases in northern Italy. Milan was founded by the Celts and in 390 BC, the Senones captured Rome and held it for ransom. The ransom was raised by the people of Massalia as it was far too high for Rome to pay herself. Livy's account of the attack being successfully defended by a Roman hero is pure fiction, and even Polybius said only that the ransom was paid, but did not want to offend his Roman patrons by giving the details. The true story comes from Gnaeus PompeiusTrogus (Marcus Junianus Justinus, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus).

The Celts were in on the Sicilian proliferation of gold for military pay right from its start. Dionysius even loaned some of them to Sparta to fight against the Athenians. Gold coinage thus had a profound, and long lasting effect on the Celts. Their payment in Italy, was mostly in the form of posthumous Philip of Macedon gold staters which they then copied for their own, later currency, although the earliest Gaulish coin (Ambiani) was copied from an earlier type of Taras depicting the head variously described as either Hera or Amphitrite and issued by Taras, originally, during the Italian campaigns of Alexander the Molossian (Epirus), the uncle of both Alexander the Great and Pyrrhus.

The Celts main use of gold coins was for the purchase of troops when they returned from Italy, but at a very late date in Britain, the types started to change away from their former warrior imagery to that of trade with the barley ear types of Cunobeline and Epaticcus and the vine-leaf type of Verica, even though the ubiquitous horse or mounted warrior was retained for their reverses still.

If you are of the opinion that Britain, before the Romans, was barbaric, or that the Dobunni were nothing but small groups of peaceful farmers, guess again. The Dobunni were one of the primary traders in valuable resources: tin, lead, iron, silver, and salt. Not only that, but  for a very long time had produced some of the best-crafted metalwork in Britain. They attracted artisans from foreign workshops, too. The maker of my Plastic style finial (most likely sword pommel) originally hailed from between Bavaria and Bohemia. He might have been of the Boii people. Although the finial is the only piece of his workshop yet known to us, he changed the course of British early Celtic art, as after he died, his casting secrets were lost, and the Britons learned how to mimic it with a repoussé method that could achieve far higher relief than had ever existed on the continent. His workshop was in Dobunni territory and it was found in Oxfordshire.

There was another Dobunnic metalworker who had been trained at an Italian workshop during the 3rd century BC. The only thing we have left from him is splendid, indeed, even if it lacked the high relief of the later repoussé work and the casting magic of the Plastic style. It is the Witham shield. It combines Italian techniques of the early to mid third century BC with Celtic styles (Jope, 2000). It was a custom mount for an older shield of a spearman. Jope gives us a tantalizing hint, perhaps unwilling to state what might have crossed his mind about its owner (p. 61):
"In Europe these spearmen were rank-and-file foot-warriors, knights being mainly at the time mounted or wheel-borne. In third-century Britain owners of such grandiose 'Gaulish' shields seem to have had no scruples over being seen to bear what in Europe was the armour of unmounted spearmen."
On the Gundestrup cauldron's "procession plate" (also made in Italy by Thracian craftsmen in the third century BC) , the spearmen march into battle and death. They become resurrected, however, and in their next incarnation have been promoted to knights. A British spearman in Italy during the third century BC was about to go home. He survived his time there and although he had not died the glorious death in the battle that would ensure his future promotion, he was very proud of his accomplishment. He was also richer than he could have possibly imagined being when it all started. Perhaps he knew the craftsman in Italy, perhaps he even encouraged him to try Britain, or he might have learned about the workshop after his return, and the craftsman had come to Britain on the suggestion of someone else. The spearman might have been Corieltauvi or of another tribe who had lived in the same area. The original boar decoration, which was something important to his people and spoke of their former glories needed to be changed. Those legendary glories could not hold a candle to what he had just experienced. He could now even afford to get his own army back home...

The Dobunni route to the north-east was the Jurassic Way and would have been a chariot road that ran along hilltops. The time it would take to ride a horse from the south Worcestershire site to where you start seeing Iceni coins would have been about four days at the most; two or three with a horse trained to the task and perhaps only two days for a good chariot team. The route avoided the Dobunni's rivals: the Atrebates and Cantii, and only partly came close to the Catuuellauni, who were less of a rival, anyway,even if they had originally been Belgae, and the Dobunni were Celtae. It is along this route, and nearby, where much earlier, iron currency bars were traded. Places that now echo with names connected to great British Celtic art: Birdlip, Cheltenham, Desborough, Arras, Bugthorpe, and more. The Iceni territory "turn-off" was only about halfway along the route that started in Dobunni territory.

Twice, there had been a disturbance in Dobunni territory: the first time it was between two rivals, only. They both issued coins for their military needs and both issues had about the same amount of gold in them. You can take that to mean that they were fairly evenly matched, so both would have been less willing to settle for any solution that their Druids might have proposed such as by having an election. Remember, that Druidism was thought to have originated in Britain. The coins of one contender said CORIO(NOS) which meant "army commander" and the other proclaimed BODVOC which meant "Victorious" which was a promise, rather than a boast, of course.  Before the swords came out, both factions would have spent some time soliciting support from whomever they could in order to raise the money for their troops. For local warriors, it would mean a direct fighting alliance if they joined a clan or faction, for more distant trading partners, support was a way of gaining, or even just maintaining trade deals. Whoever won, things soon returned to normal until there was more dissatisfaction, but this time, there were a number of chieftains involved (or kings as they called themselves). In such situations, it was not just two powerful rivals fighting for supremacy, but a general political malaise or disagreements about trading practices. Also at such times, a king having problems of his own might benefit from seeking alliances with kings of greater strength. These alliances would come about through feasts, displays of wealth, and even tributes to leaders or gifts to their people. In times of conflict, a lesser king would be more likely to offer gold as that could be used for troops. When Dionysius loaned the Spartans some crack Celtic troops, it was an offer from a position of power. The Spartans knew, full well, that if Dionysius need a favour from them in the future, they would have to oblige.

I think it unlikely that two kings on the same long-used trade route, each powerful enough to issue gold coin, would assume the same name. I suspect that some petty differences between minor kings in Dobunni territory might have been the perfect opportunity for a slightly more wealthy, but far more locally powerful king who might be facing a very dire political situation at home, to either gain support from his allies or find asylum with them befitting his status. The faction he sides with gets the gold for their troops, his own name is blazoned on the warriors pay to show where the money came from and he will never have to pay for a drink there again. This is typical tribal behavior. It is also significant, I think, that after the "name" Antethirig vanishes from Iceni coins, it is replaced by ECEN, almost certainly their tribal name. It suggests a different form of government or alliance.

Of course, the gold staters are issued before anyone wins, so the names on them are not, necessarily of a winner. You might think of them as sort of "political campaign buttons" come bribes. There was no reason to issue gold coins in times of peace (either militarily or political). In fact, you do not even want gold coins out among the people that could be traded for the services of a warrior to hunt you down. The only Celts who used coins were Celts that had long experience in foreign campaigns, and it virtually separates them, culturally, from the tribes who did not. Even though a member of such a tribe, two hundred years after his ancestor fought along side Pyrrhus' elephants in Italy, would have no personal experience of such, his mythological viewpoint would have been changed by the stories and legends, and his ancestor would have altered the exact nature of his sub-culture.

This is not the Iceni hypothesis, though, its just another part of its background. On Monday, we will have to deal with the "tribe versus region" debate that has been going on for more than thirty years, and that will require a transdisciplinary approach, because, well, what other sort of approach could possibly work?

Thursday, 23 April 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part five

Iceni gold stater of Antethirig (= "Fit to rule")
The other night, I thought that I should confirm my reading of the Iceni "ANTED types" because I had noticed that Antedios was starting to appear in listings of those coins. No problem, the gold stater on the right is very clear with its legend ANTEÐI. For many years, I have been reading this as Antethirig = "fit to rule", I think it came from Jackson, it is not in Delamarre, but his work is on Gaulish inscriptions anyway, and only includes the British examples that confirm, or vary from, the Gaulish examples. With the silver types, it is clear enough when that part of the legend is visible, although one example had the variant (and more familiar) theta so the monogram would read ANTEƟI. Variants in other names also exist such as ADDE... (Athedomaros), or when the same name might read AÐD. It is easy enough for a die cutter to forget the bar across a D to make it theta, but there is no reason at all for someone to add a bar to an intended letter D.

I also decided to see how the name or title was handled on Dobunni staters and those, too, had a few examples where the bar was missing. The British examples of Ð have a bar that does not cross the upright of the D, but is enclosed within the D as the bar is enclosed on an upper case Ɵ. The name as given on the Dobunni coins is ANTEÐRIG and misses out the I. Sometimes though, they also missed the E, and variants show up for a number of British Celtic names, even within the same issues.

Could the Iceni and the Dobunni Antethirig be the same person? I thought that the first thing to do would be to check the analyses of both the Iceni and the Dobunni. Using a few analyses by Northover and Cowell in BAR 222, I got a surprise: The Dobunni was heavier in gold than the Iceni, which is not surprising, but the silver contents of a Dobunni and an Iceni stater both analyzed by Cowell had exactly the same percentage of silver (16.0%), so the Iceni had a greater percentage of copper. As many types of coins gradually become more debased over time, there is no standard for such issues as a whole, and such debasement often helps in deciding the chronology of the issue.

Although some data had a few typos, etc. I had noticed a general trend among the long-lasting British L types for the types to sort themselves better and group together with like coins when they were sorted by their increases in copper rather than by increases in silver or decreases in gold. One coin had an extraordinarily large amount of copper, because the alloy the moneyer had started with was very high gold and very low silver. He knew that he had to add much more copper, but even after doing so, the gold content was far too high for its place in the chronology. He, apparently, had not added any silver at all. The general theory is that the moneyers used the proportions in the three-part alloys to maintain a gold colour as best they could. British L, however can be gold yellow, brassy, or coppery. The Norfolk wolf staters debase primarily in the addition of silver before they added more and more copper, and the later Snettisham torc hoards do the same thing.

There is something strangely reminiscent of the Durotriges coinage in this, even though their staters copying British A never had that much gold to start with and are called "white gold" because they are mostly silver with only a very small amount of gold in the earlier strikings. Earlier other types from Durotriges territory have more gold, though. Because of the strange metallic connections between the Norfolk wolf staters and the Durotriges coinage, I had imagined that the Iceni Antethirig would also add more silver. Those staters are not thick on the ground in western Canada, so I have never even seen one "in the flesh", and when I was last in England, my attention was on the British L staters.

The other thing that had me wondering about whether the two Antethirigs were the same person was the small ingots that were found at the Dobunni south Worcestershire site. Their analysis percentages gave:

Ag: 43.5; Cu: 15.8;  Sn:  3.7; As: 0.1; Fe: 1.5; Au: 35.3; Se:  0.1

The alloying elements here would not be out of place on a wolf stater, and one (British Ja) stater done by Northover gave Ag: 45.52; Cu: 14.91; Au: 39.44. If the Dobunni metalworker had tried to copy the metal of that particular wolf stater, he probably could not have got the proportions better. As I have owned a few Norfolk wolf staters from the Mossop collection, I am skeptical of the amounts of gold given for those which have been analyzed and I think that they went right down to a Durotriges-like billon and even to copper. The basest are called "cores" and assumed to be contemporary forgeries, but one that I had showed no signs of being a fake, stylistically, and took part in the slight evolution in the design as the rest of them, and it was of metal in very good condition with a smooth patina and no signs of any missing gold foil. Some stater cores are very corroded and it is no surprise that the plating is gone. On silver plated coins, I have often seen a very corroded core with just a couple of bits of silver still hanging on. Besides, some of the last Snettisham torcs are billon.

As I said in a previous post in this series, when Dean sent me the representative collection of the finds (minus the bones), I was expecting the pellets to be related to the ingots and that the pellets would be silver and related to the silver pellets found in other Iceni hoards (although none seem to be have analyzed, so perhaps calling them silver was just a guess).

I remember my apprenticeship at Glenbow Museum: I was cataloging the first part of the Black Watch badge collection and showed the first worksheet to the Lew Burke, my boss. I had described the WW 1 badge as "bronze". Lew said, "So you have had it tested, then?". He drilled into me (he was an ex Sergeant Major) to write "what appears to be..." in all catalogue worksheets. I should have known better, as when I was in the jewellery business and someone wanted something repaired, you described it as "yellow" not "gold". Someone could come in with a gold-filled or plated item that was marked as real gold, and when it came back to them, they could say the gold mount was stolen and it was replaced with a gold filled or gold plated mount. Just saying "yellow" avoids such problems. I dare say very few archaeologists have been jewellers or museum catalogers, so they don't know these things.

Discovering that the "silver" ingots were white gold of the Iceni variety, and the "silver" pellets were "super-potin" was quite the surprise. Nothing was as it seemed to be. The ingots did have a higher percentage of tin than the wolf staters and you also see Durotriges staters with a lot of tin in them, too. You do not see unusually high tin levels in Dobunni gold or silver coins, so they were obviously trying to simulate white gold, although of a far higher level of gold than you could find in the earliest Durotriges "white gold stater". It seemed aimed, deliberately, at the Iceni. The "super-potin" percentages is below:
Cu: 42; Pb: 6.1; Sn: 46.6; As: 0.4; Ti:  0.4%; W:  0.1; Zn:  0.1; Fe:  4.3.
No continental nor Thurrock potin analyzed by Northover in BAR 222 had such high levels of tin. But there was another shock: the Thurrock type that Dean had sent me from the same site contained 52.6% tin! Northover's record tin content was a Zürich type with 40.33% Sn, and his top Thurrock was only 35.55% with the other three running between 17.48 and 18.50%; The highest tin content he analyzed in a British potin, however, was a Takeley specimen at 37.08%. With all of these specimens, I polished the hell out of them at one spot as I wanted no surface enriched results which are useless for studying anything other than surface enrichment, and even then, you would need the interior for comparison. The Thurrock type from the Dobunni site also had the high Co to low Ni ratio typical of earlier British bronze, but at a lower amount because of the high Sn. Neither the pellet nor the ingot had measurable levels of either element. This is not too surprising because of the lower Cu and because the British high Co, low Ni went extinct in about 50 BC. No Potins from Snettisham, Beckford, Takeley, Stansted, or Kelvedon had high Co to low Ni, and the Co content was sometimes just a trace or not measurable in a few of them.

It is common knowledge, in numismatics, for coins to have better metal at places closer to its source. Athenian silver coins were so respected because they had a great silver mine on their doorstep. Coins from areas distant to metal sources have to include seigniorage that allows for the extra cost of obtaining and shipping the metal. We have to ask ourselves, if the Dobunni were manufacturing the Thurrock types because they were the closest to the mine source, were others, further down the trading line, actually recasting Dobunnic-made Thurrocks because they wanted to add more copper as seigniorage, too? The profit emerges from the difference in unit of value and unit of account.The later tin trade must have been quite competitive, and even some faking might have taken place in order to profit even more. This sort of thing, by necessity, would have happened close to the shipping points.

In all of the above, I have given you some clues as to why it might well be possible for the Iceni and Dobunni Antethirigs to have been the same person. There are other reasons, too, that I have left no clues about, but those very familiar with the subject might also see what those are, too. You can find out tomorrow how you did. All of this has to be learned before I can fully explain my hypothesis and potential method for tracking original coin dispersion patterns that seem to be impossible to recover, so it is not just a "Scheherezade compositional device", even though it is still fun.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part four

South Worcestershire site, Dobunni.
Corionos ( = "army commander")

silver units, some quite base
VA 1042-1, VA 1045-1
It was one of those observations you make and don't think much of at the time, but later, it starts to nag at you. I saw, in a dealer's catalogue, a few Iceni silver pattern/horse units in fairly good condition. Nothing strange about that, but two of the reverses were from the same dies. They were said to have come from a scattered hoard. Quite often, when you see just a few ancient coins of a very large issue from lots of dies and there are die links, you suspect fakes, but these were real. If the coins are from a very small issue, there would be far fewer dies and some coin types are even known only from one set of dies, but these did not fit the profile.

What had started to nag at me was Dean Crawford's find of a Dobunni site that might give the first impression of a scattered hoard, but Dean had noted that all of the coins and other objects were on the original ground surface, so we have a stratified site where the coins were originally scattered. No plough had touched that ground.

From the description of the finds and the geographical description of the area, I identified the Dobunni site as a Druid council meeting site. I have seen evidence of a number of such sites but they are never described as such and are either said to be the site of a religious offering, or the remains are of a plough scattered hoard. So after it had nagged me for a while, I thought that the Iceni "hoard" in question must be from another Druid council meeting site. These sites, as we learn from Caesar's description of the Carnutes annual Druid council meetings, take place on consecrated ground, hence the impression of a site that had religious offerings. Long ago, it was common for finds at such sites to be called a hoard, because of the wording of the old Treasure Trove laws about things hidden with the intention of recovery.

With the Celts, there are no really sharp differences in the religious and the social, no "separation of church and state", as it were. Anything religious has cultural overtones and anything cultural has religious overtones. These connections are always made by the modern unconscious mind and, providing they do not enter the conscious mind, leave a numinous feeling that gets translated (still unconsciously, but at a "higher level" into "all artifacts and coins are sacred". The person most likely to do this would be an extravert and their unwillingness to look inside prevents the image from becoming conscious so it remains repressed as a neurosis. The cultural aspect is also prevented from becoming conscious so it is projected onto a nationalistic outlook. The museum, too can then sometimes take the place of the sacred ground. Although living a very long time before Jung, the Druids understood all of this, and were quite the masters at translating the profane into the sacred, while not believing at all, in the gods of the population they ruled. Syncretism was used quite intentionally, because the Druid's was a pantheistic Mystery religion while that of his untrained people was polytheistic.

Caesar gives an example of tribes who had piles of war-spoils, left untouched and unused at their oppida. It was sacred to the gods, and there were very harsh punishments in store for anyone violating that "sacred law". Captured cattle, too, had to be sacrificed and eaten at a feast. The real reason for all of this was so that a commander could not use a victory as a way to finance an even larger army. Cattle could be loaned at interest (some of the offspring) to ranchers which would not only improve their lot, but give the lender greater power in the society. Obtaining gold from foreign commanders for their military service was the Celts' purpose in the Greek campaigns, and they are known, too, to have raided cemeteries for the same. In the story of Brennus at Delphi, the Wikipedia account fails to mention that he scoffed at the Greeks for having anthropomorphic deities.

The Celts, too, were masters of psychological warfare: the rumours of the Celts raping women and killing children were probably spread by the Celts, themselves, to terrify the Greek populations; a group of Armorican Celts baited the Roman inhabitants of a fort into leaving their posts at an unfavorable time for battle by accusing their commander of being a coward; I read one story that a Celtic bard could cause hives to break out on the skin of an enemy he satirized; After seeing enough Celtic chariot linchpins that had one very worn-away surface, often with striations, I became convinced that the Celts bent the linchpin to rub against a moving part of the wheel to create a screaming sound: Caesar reports that the noise of the horses and chariots first terrified his troops in Britain. Still, these tactics did not work so well against the Romans as it did to their own people who had been conditioned to it. Commios did manage to fool a Roman cavalry attachment that had been sent to capture him after his falling out with Caesar: according to Frontinus in his Stratagems, when Commios reached the coast where his ship was waiting to take him to his Atrebatan friends in Britain, the tide was out and the cavalry were only a couple of miles away. He ordered that the sails be unfurled and they filled with wind. The Romans, thinking that the sea was deep enough for Commios to set sail, abandoned the chase and turned back. Commios waited on the mud for the tide to come in. It might be apocryphal, but it's a great story. When the Teutones (aka the tribe or people) were on their big migration they passed the Roman fort in the Alps that was commanded by Marius. So big was the convoy of wagons that it is said that it took six weeks to pass the fort. The people just ignored the Romans until the warriors at the end stopped and hailed the guards:

"Any messages for your wives in Rome?" one called out, "After all, we will be there soon." 

When Druid arrives at a meeting, he or she might bring a large amount of livestock for a feast, or "treasures" like coins to scatter on the ground signifying a great surplus of wealth. The sacred ground is chosen because it sets the mood and associates those present with an entry to the Underworld: it is a liminal place thus, and all liminal places (even borders of territories, hillforts etc.) are thus sacred. If we accept that the Druid also represents tribal power (Dunham), then the association with the sacred gets transferred to the tribe or clan and it just becomes a matter of who is more religious or socially active.

A suitable entry to the Underworld can often be a "watery place", like a river or bog, and especially a spring. There was more than one spring at the south Worcestershire site. It can also be a cave, well, storage pit, or any entry to below the ground surface. The animal most associated with the liminal is the boar as pigs root around in the ground, are dark creatures, and have tusks shaped like the new moon (Joseph Campbell, Primitive Mythology). To translate lunar imagery to solar imagery, a sun is placed below the boar above a line representing the horizon. Originally, this indicated the dawn of the winter solstice, but as calendars and cultures change and evolve, it became the symbol for whenever their year started, like Samhain, in the verse from the Vale of the Dee reported by John Rhys in a lecture of 1886 and published in John Rhys, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by Celtic Heathendom, London 1898, p 516:
Hwch ðu gwta
Ar bob camfa
Yn nyðu a chardio
Bob nos G'langaea'. 
A cutty black sow
On every stile,
Spinning and carding
Each November Eve.
The stile, of course, is a cross which is another symbol of the passage between worlds, and there is a tradition of meeting the Devil at a crossroads on Halloween night.

So, last night, I searched high and low and went through my paper lists, and lists on my had drive for the details of that Iceni multiple deposit. I did not find it. Perhaps it exists in a folder I forgot to transfer on the hard drive of one of my other dying or dead computers. I really should back things up more often. No matter, it will be available, I'm sure, for anyone who wants to test the hypothesis. Of course, when you are looking for one thing, you sometimes find other things. I found an example of my Coriosolite Series X, Group E, Coin 19 (fairly common) that a dealer had said was neither in Hooker nor Rybot, so that was fun. I also found some interesting Iceni and Dobunnic coins that got me wondering about something and had me rummaging through some of my other books. What I found was very startling and I'll tell you all about it tomorrow together with something I spotted a few days earlier that is related to it. It is all part of this topic.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part three

Word cloud of the top 75 words generated from all Classical text passages mentioning Druids

No Classical author claimed that the Druids were priests. While associating them with philosophical and religious matters, their function at sacrifices was official and supervisory. Their main function appears to be judicial and their decisions were absolute whether in deciding private disputes or sanctioning warfare between tribes. They ran schools where a student could attend for up to twenty years. After the death of a Druid, they appointed another by common assent, through election, or rarely, by fighting it out.

Every year, in Caesar's time, they held a pan-Gallic council in the territory of the Carnutes which was supposed to be the centre of Gaul (including Belgica). As magistrates at some oppida, they also decided what news from outside should be passed or suppressed. Caesar stated that Druidism was a British import, and that people still went there for advanced studies.


"Not even among barbarians is the practice of divination neglected since there are Druids in Gaul, one of whom I knew myself your guest and eulogist Diviciacus the Aeduan. He claimed to have knowledge of nature, which Greeks call 'physiologia' and he used to tell the future partly by means of augury and partly by conjecture." Cicero, De Divinatione I, 90, 44 BC
Caesar, however, cast Diviciacus in different roles: as a leader and spokesman for the Aedui he even commanded troops at one point. Sean B. Dunham, in Caesar's Perception of Gallic Social Structures, Celtic chiefdom, Celtic state, Cambridge University Press, 1995, p.110-115 says:
"Dumnorix was also described as being the brother of the highest Aeduan magistrate [Diviciacus]. Since no two Aedui from the same family could hold public office simultaneously, Dumnorix seems to have been an eques after the Roman fashion." (p.113).
It would be a simple mistake to see a divination meaning in the name "Diviciacus" because of the Latin divinātio, but despite the 'us" Latinization of the end of his name, his name is Celtic and the root is diuic- "avenge", "punish" (Xavier Delamarre, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise: Une approche linguistique du vieux-celtique, 2nd edition, 2003, p. 145f.). Dumnorix' name consists of two roots that mean "underworld" (dumno- or dubno-) and "king" (-rix). A common confusion is seen in translations of Dumnorix as "world king", such a name would actually be "Biturix" and thus we get the tribal name Bituriges which does mean world kings. Another translation for dubno- etc. is "the Deep".

We also have to be very careful with the title Rex. Dunham explains its Roman meaning as a title which was eliminated during the Republic: "The Roman rex acted as a war leader, a priest and a judge". When it was eliminated as a position, it was replaced by the elected appointment of two senators, and the Gauls also had a senate structure. Their word for "senator" was comaterecos (Delamarre, op. cit.).

What we can understand about the Druids in Gaul must also apply, to a great degree, for Britain. There are probably a few functions for the Druids which developed at the larger centres in Gaul, that we might not find in Britain, at least for a while after Caesar, because Celtic society did not advance, everywhere, in unison. While the La Tène styles were starting to appear on the continent in the early 5th cent BC, Britain was still in the Hallstatt phase, and that style does not start to appear before the mid fourth century, and even then it seems to have been rare. It was not until about 300 BC when things really started to pick up in Britain.

Even though Caesar says that Druidism originated in Britain, it is just possible that because it appeared in Britain during the time of Caesar, to be more detailed, traditional and conservative, the continent might also have experienced such a state long before the living memories of the Gauls at the time of Caesar and this would give an impression of it originating in Britain.

The fact that the only historically surviving name of a Druid during the classical world is Diviciacus, and his name means "The Avenger" or "The Punisher" should support the idea that being a judge was at the very core of being a Druid. But is this a name at all, at least, in the way we understand given names? When we translate a lot of Celtic names, we find the meanings to be a pretty good description of what they did, or how they wanted to be seen. Vercingetorix becomes something like "Supreme king of warriors" and Dubnouellaunos, "Ruler of the Underworld".

In China, the emperors took reign titles as names: To be correct, you should not write "The emperor Kangxi" but should write, "The Kangxi emperor". He also had a temple name: Shengzu. His birth name, however, was Xuanye. During the last two dynasties, the emperor used only one reign title as a name, but earlier in Chinese history, the name could change many times during the reign, even every year. It is clear that in Britain and Gaul something similar was happening with some of the names of those in authority.

We also see, with the situation of Diviciacus and Dumnorix, that being a judge was a higher position than being a king. Although Dunham does not deal with such things, we do know that there was not just one king per tribe in Britain. Caesar names three kings of the Cantii who came to talk to him. This does not mean that the Cantii had three kings, either. They probably had all sort of kings of varying rank as is attested for the later Irish kings. Caesar explains that society was divided into two opposing factions from the very highest level of nation, down through tribes and even to the family unit. Each level would have druid representation, and you might even be the king of a very small village.

Because Celtic legends were written down during the Medieval period and have that veneer, we still tend to think that when any king dies, the job then goes to the son. It did happen, sometimes, but you can see that the Celts were a bit apprehensive about family rule. Not only did we have the situation whereby Diviciacus and Dumnorix could not be joint rulers and the latter became subservient to the former, but a son of Celtic man of status would be raised by a non-related foster father, and would only be allowed to come into the presence of his birth father once he became an adult. This would break the usual bonding patterns of the natural psychological father son relationship and have an added bonus of extending affiliations between different families, villages, regions and even tribes. I think it is more realistic to say that most succession was conducted in a similar way to the succession of Druids.

In the later Celtic world, we have the Scottish clans and the clans sought out support from the population through events of feasting and demonstrations of largess and wealth. In the same book as Dunham's paper, there is Modelling chiefdoms in the Scottish Highlands and islands prior to the '45, by Robert A. Dodgshon. I particularly like the story of a Laird candidate who wanted to be a little more economical with his feast. He was dropped in favor of a younger brother and it started a feud.

Among the northern Pacific First Nations, the Potlach could be compared and in almost all primitive governments (excepting some "hill peoples") societies develop through such social obligations and mutual dependence.

With the names that appear on British Celtic coins, then, it is only safe to assign family succession whenever we have historical verification of such as it was probably not the usual way of doing things. Even when we see "son of" as with Latinized legends such as COMMI F or TASCIOVANI F, we cannot assume a literary filius: Verica came to power around 10 AD and he styled himself as son of Commios, but Commios was made king of his tribe by Caesar about sixty years earlier. We see Tasciovanus in the territory of the Catuellauni and Cunobeline in the territory of the Trinovantes and Cunobeline calls himself son of Tasciovanus only on those coins that circulated in the border area of the two tribes.

I am particularly interested in a Corieltauvi legend: DUMNOC / TIGIR SENO. The latter "name" is no name at all, It is an abbreviation of Tigirni (lord) Senos (elderly or ancient). I think it most likely that it means something like tribal or village elder or perhaps even "senator". Tigirni is an exceptionally common word with a very long life (i.e. Vortigern). It is possible that Dumnoc... was giving his title, or another person was named by only his title. Another "name" includes VOLISIOS but I can find no translation and Delamarre does not even have a word that starts "uoli..." although the ending "...sios" is well attested. VOLISIOS appears with three different names.

With such uncertainties, it becomes risky basing much on ruler's names and there would have been plenty of kings of varying status in each tribal area. As with the Tascovanus f. legends of Cunobeline, a regional focus might be at play and the Corieltauvi legends could also reference a notable ancestor (assumed or real) like Commios was referenced by Verica.

With the Iceni, however, and their homogenous silver hoards, we know nothing of the original distribution patterns. This is where my hypothesis starts, but some background on Celtic society was essential in order to weaken the Medieval model of having a hereditary king at the apex of power. If we can track the influences, then titles and adoptions might even shine a light on how these words were used. So tomorrow I will describe and explain the observation that served as the seed of the idea, and then we can look into how to do the impossible.

Monday, 20 April 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part two

Max Planck (1858-1947)
The father of quantum mechanics
On Friday night, Robert Van Arsdell filled in some gaps in my blog entry of that day, by telling me that it was John Talbot who was working on the Iceni die-links, and that he has finished them. Thanks, Bob! So we should be good to go (providing the photographs are not 1:1 scale printed in a very low-res halftone. I much prefer the web with its "click to enlarge"). As most of my interest, for the last few years, has been in early Celtic art, I have not been keeping up with all of the latest Celtic numismatic achievements.

On the weekend, I was struggling to invent a term that would serve as the philosophical basis for my Iceni hypothesis. I settled on quantum numismatics. The term exists only in two applications: the first was in a long sentence parodying modern academic terminology (as it would seem to be an absurd term at first glance), and the second was its use as a business name (as in the not-quite literate phrase "quantum-leap" which gives an impression of being huge).  In physics, a quantum (plural: quanta) is the minimum amount of any physical entity involved in an interaction. (Wikipedia definition), so it's not huge at all. The Planck length is 1.61619926 × 10-35 meters; a distance so small you could not see it with a scanning electron microscope.

I came by my definition honestly: my "Rosetta Stone" for deciphering Coriosolite coin chronology was in noting that a small group of coins within J.-B. Colbert de Beaulieu's Class III had variations where a lash from the banner in front of the chariot pony either terminated in its tail ornamentation or connected to the driver's forehead and these were also combined with different designs for the pony's ears. That there were overlaps in these features made me realize that the traditional numismatic classification method that found importance in dominant design elements was not workable. For example, I have even seen an instance of where the coins were separated by "the boar or lyre mintmarks" (my Italics). These boar and lyre variants have the same religious iconographic original meaning (the dawn of the solar year) and the differences and later usage are all to do with specific cultural syncretisms. Their size on coins reflects their religious importance and have nothing at all to do with either coin die identity or any heraldic application. Once I understood this, I was able to rough out the entire chronology of the Coriosolite issues in just a few hours, after being baffled by it all for many months. It was a matter of evolutionary cladistics to chart it properly. God is in the detail, as the saying goes. The maximum number of dies in all of the series that had any internal subjective order was only five, and the chance of error was minute because of the many features I used (far more than like the six numbers in some lotteries).

Colin Haselgrove (BAR 222, 1992, p. 123) had noted that any single archaeological site could only tell us so much about the Celtic coins that it contained, and that in the light of finding too few data from one site, the thing to do would be to frame questions in a broader sphere through comparisons of numbers of sites with similar characteristics. He, too, came about this honestly through his Ph.D thesis which was published as Iron Age Coinage in South-East England: The Archaeological Context (BAR 174, 1987, 2 volumes).
I read this massive work three times in quick succession, hoping, unsuccessfully, that a single site would reveal something new and certain about British Celtic coins.

Haselgrove's method was intuitive and can often work in a "general trend" sort of way, but as the Iceni silver hoards are all so homogenous, we really need to look for very small variations in their makeup, and have to include other sorts of deposits that show similar clues in that particular case. We cannot treat the hoards like a series of archaeological sites and really have to go far beyond Iceni boundaries to find what we are looking for, so in a sense, Haselgrove's method is better than he might have imagined it to be when it gets expanded a bit to include even non-archaeological material.

When the metal detectorist Dean Crawford was puzzled by a Dobunni site that he had discovered and asked me about it. I had a eureka! moment. You can read about its significance in the blog post his name links to. An update to that post is the corrected XRF analysis: After Trefor contacted me about his plans to study the materials issues of the recent Jersey hoard, I gave him some of the samples that Dean had sent me so that I could get a properly done analysis and so that he could run some tests on the equipment prior to getting any of the Jersey coins. I had thought that the small silver pellets he found in some numbers at the site might well be related to some similar pellets found in an Iceni hoard I had just been reading about. I don't think that these other pellets have been analyzed. Imagine my surprise when the analysis revealed that the pellet was not even silver alone, but was the same "white gold" silver rich gold alloy as I found in a Norfolk Wolf Stater analyzed by Peter Northover, also in BAR 222. Even the non-alloying element of tin was in the same proportion. The site also contained quite a number of Thurrock potins (multiple finds on the original ground surface and not a scattered hoard). The small ingots at the same site also looked silvery and I was expecting to see that the pellets and ingots were all part of the same metalworking project that seemed to have taken place there (as evidenced by a much later cut denarius of Antoninus Pius that marked the end of the site sequence).

Trefor delivered another shock to my system by revealing that the ingots were actually a very tin-rich potin (higher Sn content than the Thurrock potins themselves). This fact also adds further confirmation to my hypothesis that the Dobunni were the manufacturers of the Thurrock coin-like ingots that are found in hoards in the South East where they could be shipped by a sea/overland route to Massalia in the south of France. Their Massalia derived design indicating not influence from, but subsequent use for the copper coinage of that city. The latter coinage is known to have the lowest tin content of all Greek bronzes, and although most analyses of that coinage has not looked for the cobalt and nickel impurities in Massaliote bronze, one conducted by Ulrich Zwicker did, indeed find it (Northover op. cit.) This ratio identifies the source as British bronze, and not the typical continental bronze. There would have been no reason at all for the Massalians to have the need to import bronze from Britain, but they had experienced great problems from Carthaginian pirates seizing ships bringing British tin to their port and must have realized that an overland route would be far safer. The first tin shipments from the Dobunni would have been via the Durotriges at Hengistbury, probably to the Coriosolite port and thence, via the Redones, either overland to Massalia, or partially through a Veneti sea route landing northwest of Massalia and avoiding the Mediterranean. We must also ask ourselves just how early these Thurrock potins might be as Carthage was destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC. and the Massilote bronze coinage started in about 200 BC. Mark Fox (who quotes me -- slight spoiler alert!) has some fascinating things to say in this article on the Thurrock potins.

Dobunni profit was possible because the tin was debased with copper and after Cassivellaunos made his little deal with Julius Caesar to cut out the Durotriges trade and bring Roman imports to the areas that he controlled, the subsequent tin trade went through the south east. Caesar must have thought the real motive was to obtain Roman trade, alone, but all trade is two-way anyway. The profit vanishes with empty ships unless you are some sort of raider or pirate. There must have been a long tradition of trying to cut out the Durotriges trade before Caesar. The later potin coins produced in the southeast contained even less tin. It was quite the little economy going on. Although it lacks recently discovered information, this paper, by Haselgrove has some interesting stuff about the Co, Ni profile etc. with regard to potin coins and Massalia.

Now, if you think all of this is strange and byzantine, you are in for an even greater shock tomorrow. It's fun playing Scheherazade!

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part one

Main Iceni silver types
There are three types of Iceni silver coins which exist in great numbers and with many varieties: Boar/Horse; Pattern/Horse; Head/Horse. There are also three Iron Age hillforts in Norfolk but nothing is known about the identity of their inhabitants. Nor can we associate any of these coins with any of the forts. Metallurgically, these three types present a jumbled picture: on average, there appears to be more tin in the Face/Horse type, but you can find examples which have less tin than examples of the other two types (Northover, British Archaeological Reports (BAR) 222, 1992). With three major types in a region we could be seeing three issuers with a regional focus or consecutive issues of a single issuer, or a combination of the two. To the best of my knowledge, the main focus of trying to understand these series is still through the large hoards, but these hoards show no regional focus to any of these types and include them all.

The first extensive study of Iceni coins and their hoards was by Derek F. Allen and it was the first paper in the first volume of the journal Britannia in 1970. He concluded that the Iceni silver coin hoards were buried at the time of the Boudiccan Revolt from the presence of Roman coins in some of them. Other papers on the Iceni coinage and hoards also appear in BAR 222. The homogeneity of the main Iceni silver hoards does not help at all in trying to better define these issues and opinions vary. A Norfolk government archaeologist told me some years ago that someone is working on the Iceni coinage, but I do not know if this is still ongoing. Since the late Tony Gregory became the "liaison par excellence" between detectorists and archaeologists, finds of Iceni coins have increased, vastly, since Derek Allen got the ball rolling. One of the papers in BAR 222 on Iceni coins is by Tony Gregory and it also includes his obituary (he died in 1991). Yet sorting out these issues continues to be one of the biggest problems in British Celtic coin studies. It appears that the types had circulated widely and this has effectively occluded any original distribution patterns.

Or has it? I have devised a method which might make sense of it all, but I can offer it only as a hypothesis because putting this method into practice would be a huge research project available only to a dedicated amateur. It could take many years to complete, and there is no guarantee that the expected answers will be found. Like most of my methods, it requires very large numbers of coins to fall within its parameters. We have large numbers of Iceni coins, but how many will fall within these parameters I cannot guess. Perhaps there are not enough right now, but it could work in other century or so. I have no idea.

Apart from these doubts, though, the method could also be used for other sorts of objects of more than this single culture and time, and the raw data might be more obliging for some of that. It is based on an observation of some coins and a knowledge of Celtic social practices and we will dive into it on Monday. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Searching for the money tree — part eight

This brilliant graphic says it all
artist: Mick Stephenson
With today's economic problems, you have to watch your back. This is especially true if you are a member of the shrinking middle class. The linked article is about the United States, but the same is true, to a greater or lesser degree, for many countries and regions. The cycles of boom and bust hit such people especially hard. The arts often suffer when things go bad. People will naturally complain about funding going to the arts when their employers are talking about downsizing. When the bubble has burst, and you can neither make the mortgage payment nor sell the house for anything close to what you had signed for, the fact that some people might have to pay more for their opera tickets is of little comfort. Your government might well bail out the financial institutions who got you into this mess in the first place but you, my friend, are on your own. I cannot blame you for buying into the dream: our dreams keep us going and allow us to get through a few tough times because there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Nowadays, though, some people are thinking that light is an oncoming train.

I used to be a typical "starving artist". While most people were revelling in the boom times and suffering in the bust times, it was the opposite for me. Like the protagonist in Robert Nathan's novella, Portrait of Jennie, I had a patron who owned a restaurant. Funnily enough, his wife's name was also Jennie. Oscar was a kindly Jewish businessman who had been in the Diplomatic Corps and Jennie had been a U.N. translator. I was working on a very elaborate and large pen and ink drawing for him and he allowed me to get an advance on the purchase price anytime that my finances were dwindling. He also allowed me to work on drawings in his restaurant, and if a customer wanted to order one from me, that was fine too. He had previously bought a larger than life size pen and ink drawing of a Canadian Lynx, and a few minor drawings. I once said that I thought that I would enjoy working for the Diplomatic Corps. I will never forget his answer: he laughed and said, "You like solving problems, Johnny, we used to work to avoid them." Once, they had to both be away from the restaurant for most of the day. They had three exceptionally attractive young daughters who worked there and Oscar asked me to watch out for them while they were gone. "If you get hungry", he said, "just go into the kitchen and make yourself something." I think that I sold a drawing that day, and thankfully, I did not have to play the role of "bouncer" against an overly amorous diner.

Convent Trees by the Elbow River
John Hooker, 1979, 12" X 16"
oil on canvas (public domain)
The drawings were just my "bread and butter". In my studio I painted in acrylic or oils and in a very different style. Whenever I got too thin, I would look in the newspaper job ads and would usually get something in a jewellery store because of my previous experience. I enjoyed the work and, being in my twenties, could afford to date more girls. Eventually though, I realized that I was not going to be another Cézanne and I decided to follow other interests. The painting on the left (sorry about the slight glare on the right side of the photo) was one of my last paintings. I kept it for myself. I wanted to give a hint of the stained glass windows in the cathedral next to the convent where I sketched the scene. The trees were actually that shape, but I went wild with the pathways. Even though I had sneaked into the convent grounds to get a better view of the trees and the nuns had spotted me, they allowed me to draw in peace.

The collector and the dealer of ancient coins and art is experiencing the effects of a "turf war" at the moment. Some archaeologists, especially those who cannot devise methods to counteract missing data, are even accusing us of being the "real looters". Art crimes are popular in the media these days, and accusations of not following "due diligence" are being made by those who are also withholding archives of works that are suspected (with only "ad hominem" evidence). Such people, of course, not only can benefit from excavation permits from countries getting the stuff back (and these countries use such as metaphorical "spoils of war" against the countries that have returned them), but some are cashing in by offering degrees in "art-crime" related topics to the young. Now if such courses insisted on prerequisites of degrees in international law, criminology and art-history. I might not laugh so much. I think the real looting going on there is of the parent's bank accounts or the student's debt load. From personal experience, I can assure you that there is little difference in the ethics of big business and educational organizations. You see news videos of "smugglers" being arrested and the "priceless artifacts" shown are just cheap tourist fakes. Dealers who advertise coins that originated in regions now in conflict are accused of selling looted artifacts sold to finance terrorism, even though such coins have been in collections for decades and even centuries, and any academic specialist knows this. The amount of money from art crimes is said to be second only to drug dealing or gun running and so on, but if you look at other sorts of crimes such as poaching, cigarette smuggling or whatever, exactly the same thing is being said there too.

These people do not have to worry too much about the state of the economy, though. If they lose their jobs, I'm sure they would do just fine as used car salesmen.

Tomorrow, my "Iceni hypothesis" will start.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Searching for the money tree — part seven

"Scrutant l'horizon"
Hans Jean Arp
photo: Wikifrits


"We had a dim premonition that power-mad gangsters would one day use art itself as a way of deadening men's minds." Hans Jean Arp

Walking with my daughter through the museum gallery, I encountered, quite by surprise, a marble sculpture by Hans Jean Arp. I ran my hand over its smooth organic form. Sculpture is such a tactile experience. A museum attendant with a concerned look on her face rushed over to us and told us that we were not allowed to touch it and recited the oils on our skin dogma. I thought that this would be the perfect moment to leave the museum. I wonder what Arp, himself, would have said to this woman. What would have been a perfect Dadaist or Surrealist response? My encounter with sculpture would have pleased the artist. His later abstract creation work included multi-part pieces which the viewer was invited to touch and rearrange. He had sculptures set up in gardens where people could discover them as a surprise, and where no attendants could destroy the moment.

There was a life-size bronze sculpture of a Labrador retriever by Sir Edwin Landseer a couple of blocks from the museum in Calgary's only indoor garden. It was patinated all over save for its nose which was worn to a bright shine from the hands of thousands of children who came over to pet it, knowing that it would not bite. Life was everywhere in that garden: from tropical plants to fish and turtles in its pools. People often held their wedding ceremonies there, or at at least used the gardens for their wedding photographs. Children played in the playground or petted Landseer's dog. The place was relevant.

Had I seen the Arp sculpture in a museum or a mausoleum? Its attendant had certainly interrupted the Muses that day. Of course, you should not get a fingerprint on a sword blade or a proof coin and I always shudder when photocopying a nineteenth century book with its acid laden and brittle paper crumbling away even more as I turn the pages. The patination on the Landseer bronze was simulated, it was not the material finding equilibrium with its surroundings, but something added to make it look more classical (as we now see ancient bronzes). It was an affectation, an homage to a past long dead. The children, rightfully, ignored all of that frippery. Ferlinghetti's words come to me: "They were putting up the statue of Saint Francis... where no birds sang."

We have five senses, but all of them save for sight were being suppressed that day in the museum. The attendant played the role of the temple guard, she was there to make sure that the inner sanctum of the Mysteries was not penetrated by the uninitiated. Not all museums are that way: the Louvre, where art was always encouraged to live on and advance has a sign in one gallery: "S’il vous plait pour touchers les ouvres".

The sense of touch is very interesting, especially when it comes to how our memories work for that sense. Collectors might use all of their senses (even taste, sometimes) to learn more about the things in their collection. I was once offered an Armorican billon coin by a dealer who said it that it had a very high silver content. I could have tasted it, but decided to smell it, instead. I told the dealer that a previous owner had given it a strong bath in citric acid and the surface had been enriched by the acid eating away at the copper. It probably had no more silver inside than one that was not as bright and silver on its surface.

You see the temple attendants on TV wearing surgical gloves when they hold the ancient coin. I wonder if they know, consciously, that they are separating the past from the people. Do they also wear those gloves when the cameras are not present? I used to work in the same museum that I saw the Arp, but in the military department. There were no surgical gloves anywhere to be seen in the non-public area where I helped to catalogue the collection. There is a quote in Yannis Hamilakis' The Nation and its Ruins (p. 146) from the great Greek archaeologist, Manolis Andronikas:
"The time of archaeological research is the 'inhabited' time, that time that is not recorded with astronomic precision, but with cultural completion...The tactile and visible image of historical time is composed of countless relics of human creation...In other words, the archaeologist sees and touches the content of history; this means that he perceives in a sensory manner the metaphysical truth of historical time..."
So when you hear or read the phrase "cultural property" understand the lie: it really means "national property". Its intention is to "keep you in your place", and it shows in the writings and even the body language of those who frequently promote it. That power is given a religious veneer, today, as being imperialistic does not work as well as it used to.

Power and money are almost inseparable: the grand architecture of the museum is like the Medieval cathedral, splendid against the poverty and dirt of the town that surrounds it. Albert Speer's grand architecture and open spaces dwarfed the people below; it reinforced their subservience to the Nazi state and deadened their minds.