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Most of the following links are to topics that have some scientific relevance. The article, A Holistic Approach to Celtic Numismatics is included on this page because I feel that it is the best overview.
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A Holistic Approach to Celtic Numismatics
Read this first.
Myth and the Modern World
Explores the relationship of myth and science.
"The Big Picture" Enter the system or view related pages
The Stylistic Analysis of Celtic Coins
How it is done.
"The Cache of Gaulish Coins": Major N. V. L. Rybot's 1935 account of the discovery of the "La Marquanderie Hoard" of Coriosolite Coins, including a complete transcript, and images of the original manuscript and cross-section of the find spot. Series Information
Design Group Information
The Series responds to statistical analysis, while the Groups show design development. The links will take you the first entries, but with links to all others.
The Brittany hoards and distribution patterns
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A Holistic Approach to
Celtic Numismatics
In the earlier days of Celtic numismatics, an individual scholar had little trouble in mastering the necessary procedures of his subject. With the technological advances of the twentieth century, we have seen more and more specialization. This is not due to choice. It takes considerable time, effort, and money to become a competent archaeologist, metallurgist, art-historian, or mythographer.

The general numismatist, and those who specialize in Celtic coins only, must rely upon the reports and conclusions of other specialists to present general surveys.

Usually, this data is transported unchanged from the specialist to the generalist. I hope to rectify this situation, to show that as knowledge passes from one field to another, it can be enriched and passed back again, so that new insights might inspire new experiments.

New methods become fashionable; they give more accurate results than were ever dreamed of years ago. The subjects deemed important a hundred years ago fade into the past and seem old fashioned. Who can get excited about mythology when we have Neutron Activation Analysis? Few understand that each subject can advance in its own right and that even mythology can be studied scientifically, as can art-history. As we shift our attention from one subject to another, the abandoned subject becomes frozen in time, itself an artifact.

Communication back and forth between as many relevant subjects as possible is the way to accomplish great things.

Few would deny that Celtic numismatics is a difficult subject. Conventional methods leave us with an incomplete picture. Die-linking can only be accomplished in the commonest of series, and these are only a small percentage of the known types. While we have the technology to understand the metallurgy of the coins, it is a problem to obtain enough specimens to make valid conclusions. Sometimes, the alloy of similar coins varies so widely that stating averages is misleading. The same can apply to the coins' weights. Distribution maps based on coin finds can also be confusing without accompanying archaeological and geographical data. Some coin hoards might show lines of retreat, rather than proximity to areas of settlement.

All of the above methods are prone to mistakes, primarily in their interpretation, but to some minor degree in their execution. I have seen incorrect die-links given, usually with coins in poor condition. Badly corroded coins present problems in metallurgical analysis and care must be taken to expose the core to avoid the effects of surface enrichment. Some coins consist only of corrosion products. Any metallurgist worth his salt would not use badly corroded coins in his analysis, but I have seen statements of metal content made by dealers regarding the relative purity of the silver or gold based solely on the colour of the metal. This is often easy to manipulate, for example, using a chemical to leach out the surface copper in a billon coin, leaves the coin with a good silver appearance. As to distribution patterns, false provenances are often given, and distribution maps sometimes reflect patterns of collecting and reporting of finds.

Except for die-linking, all of the above methods are dependent upon accurate and complete classification. In recent times this has been neglected. Coins have been classified by subjective methods, usually by picking a visually dominant part of the design and labelling all coins with this element as one class while all the coins with a different dominant element are labelled as another class. This is effective only as an initial sorting method, and further examination of the coins' designs are needed before these sets can be subjected to other testing. The objective of any classification system is not to assign a reference number to any coin, but to make sure that all coins of a particular issue are accounted for, and that each set contains the coins of only one issue.

There has been considerable confusion in what denotes an issue. It must be stressed that "type" is a subjective term. An issue can include several perceived "types." Basing a distribution map upon types alone can lead to errors that mask, and sometimes obliterate the true picture. An issue of coins is a continuous production of money over a period of time. It is usually in response to some situation that the earlier Celtic coins were issued. Later coins, especially of low value, could be either for the beginnings of a small market economy, or for temple offerings, or both. It is most practical to view higher denominations as having political or military significance. The uses for any issue of coins should be taken case by case, as situations varied at different times and places.

The understanding of Celtic coins is tainted by our understanding of modern coins, and it is easy to make unjustified assumptions because of this. If, within a series, there is a change in a dominant design element, and, at about the same place, a devaluation in the intrinsic worth of the coins, it would be quite natural for us to view this series as consisting of two issues. We would then examine the average metals content of each "issue" and use the design change to signify the start of the second devalued "issue." If the design change was either coincidental with the devaluation, or occurred within just a few dies, and thus served no function as a privy mark, with current methods we would not discover this. To avoid this situation it is necessary to first examine the designs of the coinage to see if changes are frequent, or even ongoing. If so, then the design change we saw as significant, might be only a creative whim of the die engraver. The apparent dominance of a design element might only be due to the relative size of what is being depicted, or the amount of space available to be filled. A change in the design of the pupil of an eye might not be noticed, while a change in the design of the nose might be seen as significant.

If the design change occurred a few dies away from the devaluation, the averages of each "issue" might be affected only minimally. A better way would be to examine coins from the last die of the first design, and compare these to the first dies of the second design. This demands that the exact chronology be known. Usually, it is not. If we construct distribution maps that differentiate each "type", and these maps do not provide us with new insights, but a homogeneous scattering of "types," then either our classification system is erroneous, or the coins had circulated widely before being lost or deposited in hoards.

Before any meterological or metallurgical testing, we have to define the real issues as opposed to our perceived issues. In the example I used only two perceived issues, often there are more. Four to eight classes of a tribe's coinage are frequently given. The key to understanding a continuous issue, even when the moneyers debase the coinage gradually, or by significant amounts, is to examine the entire style or styles of the coinage.

It is important to differentiate between style and subject. In a given period Cézanne produced a number of paintings in the same style. His subjects might be still lifes, landscapes, or portraits, and yet they are all definable by a single style. But style is more than a manner of depicting a subject. It is also the reflection of the psychology of the individual: how he changes and evolves his subject, his own perception of what constitutes originality, his adherence to, or departures from the artistic rules of his culture.

In smaller issues of coins, twenty or thirty pairs of dies could be produced by a single engraver in a surprisingly short period. Of course, we usually find more reverse dies have to be used because of the direct stress caused by the hammer. A die engraver might have some assistants to aid in the more menial tasks such as polishing and hardening. He might also have an apprentice or two that would copy his designs, or perhaps do the rougher preliminary work. None of these would affect the style in any meaningful way, but an apprentice allowed to do all of the engraving, might exhibit a certain coarseness due to his inexperience. With large issues of coins, we might have an entire workshop of competent engravers who, although following a designated pattern, might still exhibit vagaries of style. It is important also to realize that coins within a series, exhibiting different styles, do not have to mean consecutive issues, but may merely show the varying styles and talents of several engravers. Some styles noted for the common gold stater of Cunobeline might be understood in this way, but I have not looked into this matter.

There is no detail of the coins' design that should be considered too insignificant: the ears or nostrils of the horse, the exact shape of the head's top lip, the right foreleg of a boar beneath a horse. All these things can provide valuable clues to the chronology and grouping of issues. It is the important elements that the die engraver alters totally, as a conscious expression of free will. Many tiny details are repeated almost unconsciously and can span several major changes. Some small details are eventually changed to bring the design back into harmony after important changes are accomplished. Some die engravers revert to earlier design elements previously abandoned. They might try a new device for a few dies and then decide against using it again. The possibilities are almost endless, but their work over time exhibits a personal method that can be likened to a fingerprint.

To sort out the designs, flow charts can be drawn that show overlapping changes. The correct order of the dies is that order that provides the greatest number of overlaps and shows a progression of thought. The usefulness of my method is entirely dependent on the number of design elements that change. Some series are so conservative that few changes occur, while others exhibit a rich vocabulary of Celtic design. When enough elements can be considered, the chance of error on the overall chronology is almost nonexistent.

The final test is to subject the coinage to the tests that we are all familiar with, but the difference is now that we have a secure chronology, and a correct classification system. To see distribution maps redrawn using this more scientific method, that has no use for the assumptions and subjectivity of the older classification methods, and to see that what was once thought to be a homogeneous conglomeration of "types" became crisp in focus and exhibit boundaries and directions of influence, is a most rewarding experience.

It can sometimes occur that, once the chronology is established, certain patterns emerge in the metals content of the coins. In two cases that I examined, of coins that varied widely in their precious metal content, certain habits of those responsible for preparing the metal were discovered. In the first, the outset of the issue varied considerably, as the issue progressed, a greater competence could be seen, and the range became smaller. Eventually, they became rushed or bored, and again the metal content varied more and more. What was interesting, was that the errors were not just to the profit of the moneyers but sometimes they were allowing coins far too rich to enter circulation. Strangely, the largest numbers of errors were on the side of producing coins with too high a precious metal content. When this issue became officially devalued by 25%, the clustering of the alloy became tighter again, as if attention had been drawn to their prior mistakes. We might wonder if the devaluation was an attempt to regain some of the lost wealth, but the other mint in the region, starting at this time, approximated the same alloy.

In the other example, the first step was omitted. They started producing coins within a fairly narrow range. As time went on this all fell apart and the quality varied widely again. While there were more coins that erred on the light side, we should understand that we can only examine those coins that have survived. It would have been human nature for anyone noticing that he had obtained a coin intrinsically worth more than the going rate to melt down the coin to profit on the metal. We might imagine that one or two "cottage industries" sprung up to reclaim the precious metal from such coins. As to the practice of allowing quality to slip over time, this has been a complaint of many throughout history, and might be seen as an inherent human trait. The significance to numismatics of this observation, is of course that we must be careful of assigning deliberate intention to the reduction of the average precious metal content by tiny amounts. While sometimes this could be the case, it might often just mean that observant people have made a little profit over the years. If averages of the metals content are given, or if the analyses are given by listed numbers, such patterns of clustering at parts of the chronology will not be apparent. It is more useful to plot the precious metal content on a graph where one axis shows the chronology, and the other the percentage of gold or silver.

Clustering patterns are less relevant to reductions in weight, as it is easier to maintain a weight standard than a standard of fineness in a three-part alloy. If blanks are cast in molds to a specific size, wide variations would be less likely. Nevertheless, some statistically valid conclusions might be drawn, even if one has to compensate for wear and corrosion.

We could leave the matter there, confident that the most asked numismatic questions would be answered by combining what we know of classification, die linking, meterological, and metallurgical procedures and statistical interpretation of all of the data, but perhaps we should push the matter a little further.

A knowledge of Celtic art is not needed to plot changes in coin designs in a series. Runs of static design elements that coincide and overlap with other runs provides a secure chronology of die production that can eliminate the possibility of chance occurrence. By careful observation of these changes, both in their design, and in the patterns of their use, we can gain knowledge of Celtic art that would be occluded to an art-historian unfamiliar with the chronology of the dies. The die engraver's thought patterns can emerge, and as much can be told by what he does not do as by what he does.

One application of understanding the artistic evolution of a series, is to be able to differentiate design elements from religious symbols and die identification marks. It is only when all of the selected elements change at the same position, can we be confident that one series has ended and another began. One or two changes do not necessarily show an intended break in the series, and will be of no use for statistical analysis of metal content, weights or distribution patterns. It may even prohibit a successful analysis of the entire series. If one attempts to establish several classes for a coinage without first knowing the chronology, the resulting breakdown confuses the task of preparing distribution maps, as factors of time and geography are combined. Distribution of coins can be affected by the distance from the mint site and by geopolitical zones. While coins from one mint might travel a hundred miles, they do not cross the river a hundred yards away. Later, through circulation, the coins from two zones mix, but they often still carry the pattern of their original emission. When coins are issued for an event, as a response to war, for example, some might take a while to get to the furthest reaches of a zone. Meanwhile, if production is ongoing, other coins are being delivered or are being collected by others that are closer. If all of these coins are eventually hoarded, they will show different proportions of earlier and later coins.

I know of one example of a hoard containing what appear to be only the latest coins from what was probably a close-by mint. This would probably have contained the final products of that mint, but because that class was believed to be part of an issue that continued, no reason for this anomalous hoard was offered. Unfortunately, it appears that the coins from this hoard have long been dispersed. There was no distribution map for the various classes of this coinage, but it was said that no pattern seemed to exist. The fault was in the classification system.

Celtic art, as it appears on the coins is essentially a religious art. Even devices that we may assume to be heraldic will be found, on closer examination to have religious significance. Identifying such symbols is not difficult, if we have first established a correct die chronology. Commonly we will find a run of different symbols over a few dies. I know of one case where this run is identified by two other symbols or design elements that are both unchanging and non-existent at any other part of the chronology. I have applied the term "variations on a theme" to these. While their presence is easy to detect, their meaning can be difficult to interpret. A method that can sometimes solve this problem is to find out what each design has in common. This might take considerable research into Celtic and Classical mythology, but it is worth the effort. Most religions within broad, but adjacent regions, have similarities because of both communication and descent from common roots. The study of syncretism is a useful tool to apply to Celtic numismatics.

The connections between Celtic art and Celtic religion are difficult to sort out. We can never be sure of how much of the design was to be understood as one or the other. This ambiguity was probably deliberate. Anyone familiar with early Welsh poetry will find many visual parallels in the religious art of the coins to the literary devices of alliteration and internal rhyme in the poetry. If we abandon earlier methods in favour of modern technology, the subject is not only the poorer for it, as we can run into a dead end where the lack of data eliminates positive results, but also the questions that we ask of the subject are influenced by the tools that we use. Art history can clarify distribution patterns, and psychology can aid in metallurgical analysis. Think of it as a crossword puzzle: we may not be able to answer one clue, but by solving enough other clues provides several letters and the solution to the other becomes possible. Top