Author Topic: Metallic content connects ancient coins to historic events  (Read 1444 times)

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Offline Figleaf

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Metallic content connects ancient coins to historic events
« on: December 13, 2010, 12:12:13 PM »
Researchers connect ancient coins to historic events
Andy Johnson, CTV.ca News, Dec. 12, 2010

Researchers at McMaster University are mapping the metallic DNA of ancient Greek and Roman coins, establishing a direct link from the currency to events that changed the course of history such as wars and even the collapse of the Roman Empire.

They have developed a technique that makes it possible to determine the precise metal content of ancient coins by bouncing subatomic particles off their surface. Repeated thousands of times over the course of weeks, the process begins to reveal exactly what the coin is made of.

And once the "metallic fingerprint" is complete, researchers can begin to link the coins back to the Mediterranean locations where the source metal was mined, said Spencer Pope, an assistant professor in the department of classics, and one of the researchers leading the project.

"As we learn more about the artifact we come to understand the coin itself a little better. And the other shoe to drop on that is to understand the origin and where the silver came from. We can then begin to better understand economic trade routes and particular patterns of trade and exchange in antiquity," he told CTV.ca.

Essentially, researchers can begin to reconstruct the story of the ancient coins and connect them to historic events, adding an Indiana Jones-esque flare to a field with a reputation for nerdiness.

The long-term goal is to create a database available to researchers, archeologists and historians around the world.

Pope and his colleagues are studying coins on loan from the McMaster Museum of Art. Most are Greek and Roman coins, some dating back 2,500 to 3,000 years.

By analyzing numerous coins the researchers are able to piece together whether the silver or gold bullion used to make the currency was acquired in large batches, piecemeal, or whether the coins were simply restruck from other coins.

That information helps form a picture of the civilization they came from, and the type of government and civil organization that existed at the time, Pope said.

"By understanding the composition we can begin to make conclusions about trade, the administration of the Greek city, whether this was a one-time effort from a leader of the city to secure a vast supply or constant efforts over a long period of time. And these questions can begin to inform us about the origins," Pope said.

Perhaps more exciting is the fact that the metallic composition of the coins can be linked directly to known events such as wars and recession, even the collapse of the Roman Empire.

Pope and his colleagues have mapped the contents of about 20 coins to far -- each one takes about a month. Among the batch is a Roman coin dating back to the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage, between 146 and 264 BCE.

The period was one of great financial strain for Rome as it struggled to fund the war, a fact that is reflected in the coins minted during the era.

"A coin dating from this period has been determined to have a lot of base metals included," Pope said. "It's a silver coin, and if you look at it from the exterior it has the silver colour and it shines like a silver coin. But it has a lot of elements added, tin, lead, and this is what we can reconstruct as ancient inflation."

Coins dating back to when Sicily was under Greek rule also tell a fascinating story. Because the area was poor in natural resources and had none of its own gold or silver, the mint relied entirely on restriking other coins to create currency.

When those restruck coins are analyzed, researchers can draw informed conclusions about where the original coins came from.

Through their research, Pope and his colleagues hope to create a database that can be accessible by coin researchers around the world.

In theory, an ancient coin found in a shipwreck in the Mediterranean, for instance, could then be analyzed and its metallic DNA could be connected to the source mine where the metal actually came from.

Nerdy or not, that's exciting for Pope.

"We could become a real centre for activity here in Canada, thousands of miles from Greece and Italy but nonetheless with the know-how to get this done."

Source: CTV
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

akona20

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Re: Metallic content connects ancient coins to historic events
« Reply #1 on: December 13, 2010, 12:26:10 PM »
I am somewhat disappointed to see this rather premeptive discussion given what has recently been undertaken in an independent study on a known series of coins.

You might notice in this report it takes several weeks for each coin to be analysed. This is now somewhat old technology and frankly it is known that a number of groups locked in certain old technologies will be somewhat scrambling to 'release' data before another major announcement is made fully describing the technology used, the manufacturer of the technology and supporting data from independant sources to show the accuracy of the data presented in record time.

can we trace where the metal was mined. Well the answer is yes and no and it depends on whether or not the coins are remelts and stagically what has been added for alloy purposes. We know in our research where much of the copper has come from and where much of the silver has come from, as well as gold. In our first batch of coins tested publicly (to support private test data) we already have a number of interesting problems and research leads following interesting alloy components. We test for over 100 metal elements in the coins.

When our data and support reports are published it will turn coin testing, non destructive coin testing, on its head. deabtes will rage from the uninformed simply because many research efforts will be made redundant over night and many coins saved from destructive testing.

This is not my call, this is from key people in the testing area.

Interesting times will happen. And the manufacturer of the equipment is one of the largest world wide corporations of its type with annual turnove in the many billions of collars. it is not a backyard effort. But as alreay advised it will set some people in a negative path simply because technology has outrun their own knowledge.

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Metallic content connects ancient coins to historic events
« Reply #2 on: December 13, 2010, 12:58:28 PM »
Sorry to disappoint, but this is all standard in the scientific world and even beyond. I have worked in a political environment with scientists (OECD) and noted that the scientists are secretly hoping to score a Nobel prize with their current research, whatever it is. This explains why they are secretive, try to publish as fast as possible and are jealous of those working in adjacent offices.

This attitude is strange to the outsider, who cares for the results, not the way they have been achieved. In addition, politicians use these discussions against results they don't like, making the whole attitude counterproductive. Do you think that couldn't happen with Roman coins? I bet the European extremist-right is looking at this to "prove" that North Africa was despicable even in Roman times. Trust them to find a twisted reasoning.

As for me, I would like to have as many coins researched as possible. I would like colossal data bases, publicly accessible. I would like to drown in data and I want the data to be reliable and comparable.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

akona20

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Re: Metallic content connects ancient coins to historic events
« Reply #3 on: December 13, 2010, 01:01:03 PM »
"As for me, I would like to have as many coins researched as possible. I would like colossal data bases, publicly accessible. I would like to drown in data and I want the data to be reliable and comparable."

Well that is our plan, a freely accessible data base.


Offline Salvete

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Re: Metallic content connects ancient coins to historic events
« Reply #4 on: December 13, 2010, 01:33:47 PM »
I don't give a tuppenny f**k who gets what Nobel Prizes (for what they're worth, these days).  I don't care a hoot about who gets the prestige or publishes the paper that gets the highest accolades.  I don't care what language they are written in, or the colour of the skin of the writer.  All I want is for easily used, quick and utterly non-destructive processes that give us tons (tonnes in Europe) of accurate, replicable data that leads to a better understanding of the coins and history.  The kind of tracing-back of silver sources like that being carried out by the researchers in Figleaf's article, is perfectly possible, given a decent ammount of application by a few logical-minded individuals (with or wthout degrees) to such a priceless resource as that database will represent.  The results will prove invaluable and maybe surprising in some ways.  If politicians, industrialists and just plain collectors like most of us, and professional numismatists and historians want to lend a hand, the data will be there for them to use.  I just hope the tests prove that this new machine is capable of piling up this mass of data over the next few months and years............

More power to your elbow, Arthur!

Barry
Ultimately, our coins are only comprehensible against the background of their historical context.