Roman coins – Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your Hawthorns…..

HawthornRoman coins and hawthorns, what on earth is the connection? Well, last autumn Guy Bud, a second year Oxford Ancient and Modern History undergraduate, started looking at our large assemblage of Roman coins from the site. Guy is an enthusiastic numismatist and was interested in looking at the range and nature of our assemblage. In the course of his analysis he discovered our coins came from a wide range of mints all over the Roman Empire, as far away as Constantinople. He also pointed out that the date range spans almost the whole of the occupation of Roman Britain, from the 1st c. A.D. to the very late issues of the early 5th century – though the bulk of our coins are undoubtedly 3rd and 4th c. Our coin assemblage numbers over 2,500 coins and this is largely because it is temple site where coins featured as a major type of votive offering. Guy has also pointed out that some of the coins have been deliberately cut into halves and quarters and some seem to have been pierced. They may have been pierced by a nail pinning them to a wooden post or screen in the area of a shrine as a dedicatory act, and similarly the cutting of the coins could represent the use of coins as offerings. The deliberate destruction or defacing of coins might also represent the well-attested phenomenon in prehistoric and Roman Britain of ‘killing’ objects before offering them to the gods. This act makes them unfit for human use and thereby reserved for the gods only. Our article of the waterlogged pit on this website also discusses the phenomenon of the ritual ‘killing’ of certain votive objects on Roman sites.  The coins are being catalogued in detail by Ian Leins, a coin specialist at the British Museum, but this is very much a long-term project, so in the meantime we would like the volunteers to get involved in making our collection more accessible for all and to discover more about the nature of the coin collection in the process. Guy Bud is thinking of doing a small dissertation project on the 3rd c. radiate coins in the collection, and is particularly interested in looking for die-linked coins where groups of coins can be traced to a very specific production site and time.

GuyWe persuaded Guy to do two talks about the Marcham Roman coins to all our volunteer groups in November and March. Guy revealed so many interesting things about the Roman coins, that a number of the Trendles team were inspired to get more involved with post-excavation work on the coins. One of our volunteers, Trevor Greer (a coin enthusiast and a keen photographer!), has offered to photograph the coin collection so we can have an extensive photo library of the assemblage that other people can access. In the future we will look into whether we can put this on-line as a resource for both our volunteers and for anyone interested in Roman coins. Though our Roman coins are mostly in a good condition and don’t require CoinCleaningspecialist conservation and cleaning, there are still a number of coins that are obscured by attached mud. So under Guy’s tutelage, our Wednesday volunteers have started to clean the more robust coins very gently with soap and water. This will enhance them both for analysis and for our planned coin photographic project. We have been told that the conservators working on the famous Staffordshire hoard of Anglo-Saxon metalwork used natural thorns from hawthorn and other shrubs as the ideal tool for cleaning delicate metalwork. These thorns are both robust, but also very fine and flexible enough not to scratch or damage any delicate metalwork. Having discovered it is not easy to find a shop that sells thorns, one of our ever-resourceful volunteers, Steve Nicholson,  turned up one morning with a jam-jar full of carefully cut thorns ( taken from his garden) and all ready to use on our coins! Cleaning work using these prickly tools has already started and so far we can attest to them doing the job extremely well!