September 2014

Posted by ac527 at Jan 29, 2015 03:22 PM |
September 2014

Excavating excavated data

For the past 6 months, in addition to other work associated with the project, I have been concentrating on examining the Iron Age and Roman coin hoards that have been recovered as a result of antiquarian and archaeological excavation (discounting ‘excavation’ during agricultural, construction or quarrying work). I have also included archaeological investigations that have taken place after metal detecting finds of hoards. The project team felt that all these excavated hoards would provide the best subset of data in terms of their locational information, and details of their contextual and artefactual associations.

Books and articles. It is always nice to be able to skim through lots of published papers in journals and site reports. This research has involved following up examples from our original database, itself based upon Anne S. Robertson’s corpus of Roman coin hoards in Britain, published in 2000; and a forthcoming corpus of Iron Age hoards being published by Philip de Jersey. Their entries were compared to the hoards published in site monographs and journal articles, as well as unpublished ‘grey literature’ reports, in order to try and find out more about the original context of the hoards, and how they were excavated and recorded.

I also searched data from the English Heritage Pastscape web source and the Historic Environment Records of local and unitary authorities, and I am thus extremely grateful to all those HER officers who provided me with information and data files. In addition, I had to ask some commercial archaeological field units for further information, and thanks again to all those who responded to my e-mails or telephone calls.

I have been sorting the hoards according to local/unitary authority area, and assembling tables that include spatial and contextual information. The accuracy of the spatial and contextual information has again been ranked between 1 (Poor) to 4 (Excellent). This work has taken longer than I had originally thought, and at times it has felt like I have been slowly drowning in data! Older publications in particular often have only very brief coin lists published, and so it has often been necessary to wade through all the text in order to try and find out what features hoards were recovered from, and if there is any more detailed contextual information or accounts of possible associated finds such as animal bone or artefacts. This has allowed me to read lots of published monographs and articles, however, either in Leicester University’s own library, available through jstor, or sometimes venerable tomes ordered through inter-library loans.

Word version of the data I have been compiling.

The table above is Word version of the data I have been compiling. This hoard from Colchester has yet to be fully published, hence the locational information is still not great and so it only scores a 2 for that, and a 3 for contextual information as I have only been able to see a few photographs of the hoard in situ. Future publication will improve the ratings!

This work has also given me some interesting insights into past excavations and digging practices. Sometimes the photographs, plans or sketches provided by Finds Liaison Officers or the finders themselves have proved informative. Some of the contextual information from antiquarian accounts and older excavations was often decidedly sketchy, whilst several previously published hoards had ‘slipped through the net’ and had been overlooked, not being recorded by Robertson, or also by HERs and Pastscape too. More recent finds obviously post-date Robertson’s 2000 corpus.

Another important factor in my work has been that the Hoarding in Iron Age and Roman Britain project has taken a deliberately broad view of what a hoard is, moving beyond the previous purely numismatic definitions. Our definition of a hoard thus includes ‘3 or more coins deposited together’, where these are found in contact with one another or in very close association. I am especially interested in treating coins as deposits in this sense, and by doing so we have been able to include some coin deposits from temple and shrine sites (such as Hallaton, Bath, Nettleton and Uley), and from river deposits (Piercebridge, River Thames & Walbrook); which do not form part of the Robertson and de Jersey listings. So three coins excavated from within a stakehole, or 14 coins from the same layer within a pit, would initially count as a potential hoard, subject to more detailed investigation.

A dispersed group of coins from a more general rubble deposit within a disused Roman building would probably not be regarded as a hoard, unless more detailed spatial information, and/or a restricted date range and similar condition, might suggest that such coins were originally a group that was concealed within the roof space or walls of the structure. A secondary deposit of material within a pit, derived from midden material elsewhere, would also be largely discounted, unless it could be shown it was a layer deposited rapidly, and perhaps again where the coins were in a relatively narrow date range and were similar to one another in condition. These sorts of details have to be discussed with my colleague Dr Eleanor Ghey at the British Museum, who will now examine these records in detail and decide whether or not these coin deposits do constitute hoards, or are just simply accumulations of coins over time, before any hoards can be added to our database.



Although the exact figures will undoubtedly change in the future, to date I have identified over 600 excavated coin hoards. Of these, 36 are those of ‘Iron Age’ date recorded by Robertson and de Jersey (by ‘Iron Age’ I mean hoards consisting of all or substantially Iron Age coinage); and 400+ ‘Roman’ coin hoards (including a few examples where there are Iron Age coins but where Roman issues are in the majority). In addition, I have found 3 Iron Age coin hoards and 60+ Roman coin hoards that were recorded by HERs or Pastscape, but which were not previously on our database for a variety of reasons. I have also identified 2 potentially ‘new’ Iron Age and 100+ ’new’ Roman coin deposits that are possible hoards. Although not all of these hoards will pass Eleanor’s criteria for inclusion on the database, this is nonetheless an exciting and potentially informative addition to our known recorded hoards.

Over the next few months, I will be undertaking more detailed GIS-aided analyses of these hoards according to landscape location, context and associated finds, and searching for any regional and chronological patterning. The excavated hoards will thus form a detailed study, similar to the two county-based studies published on this website, but much greater in scope and detail. I will keep you informed of results!


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