excavated coin assemblages (site-finds)

Coins are relatively common finds from archaeological fieldwork at Romano-British sites, whether surface collection (fieldwalking), watching briefs, evaluations or large-scale excavation. Different settlement types tend to produce distinctive patterns of coin loss (e.g., military and urban sites, religious sites, villas and other rural settlements), while coins are more common from some parts of Roman Britain than others.

It is often useful for an experienced archaeological numismatist to advise the project team throughout an archaeological project’s life-cycle, but they are most likely to be needed during the Assessment and Analysis stages if  coin reports and lists or catalogues are required.

Best practice for the identification, reporting and analysis of Romano-British site-finds is set out in CIfA’s Toolkit for Finds Reporting: Roman Coinage. Vianova was commissioned by CIfA to produce the Toolkit (funded by Historic England) to support the reporting of Roman coin finds from all types of archaeological projects and at all stages of a project’s life cycle. It is the industry standard setting out the minimum requirements for Roman coin reports in the historic environment sector, ensuring the reliable and consistent identification and quantification of these important artefacts in the UK.

Profile of 264 Roman coins from a villa near Bristol

Coin assemblages from some 80 excavations in the UK have been identified for commercial units, museums as well as universities, of which 25 are published. Peter Guest has built a reputation for meaningful integration of numismatic and archaeological data, often leading to new insights and a better understanding of the excavated settlements. Vianova’s clients receive reports that comply with CIfA’s guidance in the Toolkit, and its resources have been adopted to produce standardised catalogues and quantification.

Sites include numerous villas and rural settlements in southern England and Wales, as well as Caerleon, Water Newton and Elms Farm / Heybridge.

Almost all Roman coins can be dated to an emperor’s reign (and, in some instances, more closely to a particular year or years), and the absolute dates provided by these objects are the basis for the typological sequences of many other artefacts, as well as the dating of excavated sites. Far more Roman coins are recovered from rural settlements today than was the case in the past, and their site-finds can be used to explore their use as circulating currency throughout the history of Britannia.

Roman coins, however, were cultural as well as monetary objects that had histories after the moment when they were struck and issued into circulation. Therefore, understanding site formation processes and archaeological stratigraphy is vitally important in the study of site-finds. For example, a coin dropped during a commercial transaction in a shop or at a market stall became an archaeological artefact in different circumstances to a coin recovered from a pit filled with domestic rubbish, or a coin placed in a grave.

Pierced siliqua of Constantius II

Greater focus on the archaeological origins of Roman coins, how they were deposited and with which other artefacts, leads to a better appreciation of when Roman coins were deposited at a settlement and under what circumstances, thereby improving understanding of the activities and actors involved in their loss, disposal or deliberate deposition.

If you are looking for the services of a coin specialist who appreciates that Roman coins are archaeological artefacts with cultural and social value in addition to their use as ancient money, please use our Contact page to get in touch.

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