Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Coins and Cyprus: a response from the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus

Jessica Dietzler has interviewed Dr. Pavlos Flourentzos, the director of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus ("The case for Cyprus", SAFE Interviews). It includes discussion of the US decision to restrict the import of coins from Cyprus. Flourentzos comments:

We deeply appreciate the decision of the Department of State to include ancient Cypriot coins in the MOU [sc. Memorandum of Understanding]. This act shows sensitivity to the importance of preserving world cultural heritage, a principle highly esteemed by the international scientific community.
He makes the point that is understood by archaeologists but not by some in the collecting community that coins form an integral part of the archaeological record and should not be treated as a special case.

You have very rightly pointed out that coins are an essential part of the corpus of the archaeological data. Actually, there is no scientific reason to set coins apart from the rest of archaeological finds. And it is important to understand that there is no way of retrieving coins without destroying the stratigraphy of a site.
He emphasises context, something ridiculed by some in museum (e.g. Philippe de Montebello) and collecting (e.g. Peter Tompa) circles,
In contemporary archaeology the ultimate value is context and not any isolated artifact. Thus, destroying stratigraphy to retrieve a coin is equal to destroying archaeology.
He also emphasises the transformation of the discipline of archaeology from antiquarianism to scientific study.
I am afraid that arguments about “responsible” collecting are based on the nineteenth century—and thus completely out of date—tradition when it was thought that archaeology is a pleasant pastime that anyone could “enjoy”. In the decades that have elapsed, the gradual transformation of archaeology from a pastime to a science has proved the essential difference between looting and scientific excavation.
It is useful to have the archaeological case made in such a clear way. And it contrasts with the voice of some of the more radical collectors who have yet to understand the material and intellectual consequences of collecting coins.

1 comment:

Peter Tompa said...

David-

Issues related to the usefulness or lack thereof of coins for dating archaeological sites have been treated elsewhere. Suffice to state, only ancient coins from "secure contexts," i.e. under flooring have any real use for dating purposes. Even then, the long periods of circulation of ancient coins makes them of much less use for dating than other artifacts, notably pottery shards. For the ACCG take on the SAFE interview of the Director of of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus, please see: http://accg.us/issues/news/accg-queries-director-of-antiquities-of-cyprus-about-decision-to-impose-import-restrictions-on-ancient-coins-of-cypriot-types

Sincerely,

Peter Tompa

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