Coins as Artefacts: How can the role of object biographies enhance our understanding of Roman coins in Lancashire?

Le Quelenec, Victoria orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-0778-6766 (2023) Coins as Artefacts: How can the role of object biographies enhance our understanding of Roman coins in Lancashire? Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Coins are commonly encountered on Roman archaeological sites and are viewed as an excellent means of dating these contexts. Consequently, analysis has often focused on the visual elements of a coin’s design, namely the imagery and legend present on the surface. When considering the circulation, use and acceptance of coinage, there is a heavy reliance on static and rigid wear categories (worn, slightly worn and unworn) which focus on the visual preservation of the object. However, these categories are highly subjective and rarely defined. Moreover, coin wear is due to human interaction with the object from its production, through its use and into its deposition and therefore can be intrinsically linked to the social relations of which they are a part.
This thesis has applied a biographical approach, using the information provided by a coin’s production, use and deposition (see Chapter 6). The methodology created has gone beyond wear as a static concept and has instead explored twelve different aspects, which until now have all been considered under the umbrella of ‘wear’. By considering the aspects of wear as individual entities, further information on the production, use and deposition of coins can be considered. In turn enabling a more cohesive understanding of coins as objects in their own right.
This new approach is applied to coins from Lancashire (see Chapter 8) as well as evidence from the site of Plantation Place, London (see Chapter 9). In total over 1400 coins have been recorded from Lancashire, of which over 1000 have been individually examined and recorded to explore the 12 components of wear. The Lancashire dataset has demonstrated that biographical approaches can provide new interpretations of the acceptance and use of coinage. For example, whilst further work in this area is needed, if we accept that one reason for notches on the outside of a coin may be a result of coin production and we subsequently analyse their presence against the backdrop of chronology, we can begin to see the visual effects that political unrest would have had on the process of striking coins, with more notches present at times of political instability. Furthermore, by considering factors associated with a coin’s reuse, such as perforations, we can begin to explore the visual political messages that societies are accepting, assimilating with, and projecting back into society. Finally, we can also start to understand the attitudes of a coin using society through the ways in which coinage has been clipped. During the clipping process the bust of the emperor on the obverse is almost always left intact, suggesting that, whilst coinage may have been considered a commodity, there was still a need to retain the imperial portrait - either out of respect for the ruler or because intrinsically a coin could not be a coin without this feature.
This systematic and repeatable approach to coin wear has enabled a more detailed biographical picture to be constructed. By considering coinage as an object with its own unique biography, rather than just a dating tool, it has been demonstrated that these objects can be invaluable in understanding the changing function of coins as an object in their own right (see Chapters 10).
Furthermore, a biographical approach has highlighted that there are multiple different social relationships reflected in the biography of a coin; from the maker who can leave his mark on the coin at the point of production, to the user or multiple users throughout the coin’s lifecycle, and in some cases the potential for the depositor in the ways in which the coins are deposited or lost. Consequently, by adopting a biographical approach to coins we can begin to add another layer of understanding to archaeological sites, which goes beyond the use of these objects as a tool for dating (Chapter 11).

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