Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Better Late Than Never II

I've had a chance to review the long delayed posthumous publication of Newell's "Coins from the Excavations at Beisan (Nysa-Scythopolis, Tel Beth Shean): 1929-1935" found in the the ANS 150th Anniversary edition of the American Journal of Numismatics. I've blogged about the plan to publish this article before here:

A couple items of interest jump out aside from what the exceptionally long delay in publication says about the realities of archaeology one does not often hear about, particularly from those who argue that archaeologists alone should monopolize the study of coins.

First, the coins date from Greek to Islamic times. The vast majority of the coins are examples of single finds of ancient bronze "small change," though one gold and one silver Islamic coin were also found. (This is typical for coins found at archaeological sites. Coins of precious metal are typically found in hoards, not as single finds.)

Second, "their average condition is exceedingly poor." See page 14. (This again is typical for coins found at archaeological sites. Coins in better condition, which are of most interest to collectors, also typically come from hoards, not single finds.)

Third, though bronze coins circulated closer to home than precious metal coins, a surprising number of the coins found at the site were from distant mints, including Palmyra, Antioch, Rome, Ticinum, Constantinople, Alexandria, Carthage, Tripolis, and Siscia.

Fourth, the University of Pennsylvania has managed to lose some 13 of the coins described in the article in the years since the excavation. I guess it could be worse. Still, the loss of these materials should raise doubts as to any assumption that archaeologists are necessarily the best custodians of ancient artifacts.

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