September 25th. 2023.
Monday 2nd October.
· Oxford Mint Halfcrowns 1642 to 1646. By Maurice Bull.
Monday 6th November.
Monday 4th December.
Meetings are held at the Abbey Baptist Church, Abbey Square, commencing at 7.00 p.m.
Apologies were received from Gavin, Tony and Michael and also from John on behalf of the committee for failing to organise a Summer Social. We still hope to go to the Royal Mint - but as our Summer Social for next year, so regard this as giving plenty of warning.
Our speaker for the evening was Dr. Courteny Nimura speaking on ‘Iron Age Coins from Britain go Digital’. As one of her many roles, Dr. Nimura is the curator for Iron Age coins from Briton and Gaul in the Heberden Coin Room. She pointed out that she is a Prehistoric archaeologist and not a numismatist but became fascinated by Iron Age coins from her research into portable art from the same period. For the last two years Dr. Nimura has been working on two related projects, the Celtic Coin Index Digital and Iron Age Coins in Britain.
In her talk she went on to concentrate on the material culture created in the last century and a half of pre-history in England, through the two intertwined projects, concentrating on the processes involved in making these two different sources available digitally. Dr. Nimura then went on to acknowledge all her co-workers, too many to mention here.
She began by setting the stage and talking about the time period involved. Large social changes were occurring during this period, involving shifts in communal identities and outside influences, evidenced by innovation in technology and material culture. This was also the time that the first coins appeared in Britain, historically being referred to as ‘Celtic’ coins. The coins were produced from about 200 BCE to 100 CE and had ornate imagery and complex designs. Originally based on Hellenic and Roman prototypes, they quickly developed their own iconography. Such complex design has led to much debate about their meanings, which could give insights into many aspects of life in Iron Age times. Compared with other contemporary coins, the Celtic coins are not as well made, being dished and seldom wholly round. In addition, the dies are larger than the blanks or offstruck so that no one coin shows the whole design and images from several need to be stitched together to see the whole design, which Dr. Nimura illustrated with a composite picture from three different coins. British Iron Age coins show many similarities with contemporary coins from Europe, featuring images of heads or people, lots of animals and sometimes inscriptions, the latter producing a great deal of speculation as to what the inscriptions mean.
Dr. Nimura presented a map of Iron Age Coin finds from about 2010, which showed that most coins are found in Southern or Eastern England, now referred to as the ‘Iron Age Coin Zone’. Traditionally these areas have been divided up into tribal areas, though now there is doubt as to whether there really were such defined areas at the time. As an example she quoted the Vectuarii who are regarded as a tribe from the Isle of Wight, though their first mention (by Bede) is not till 700 CE.
The main source of data for study in this area is the Celtic Coin Index (CCI), it is a repository for details of any Celtic coins that have been found. It was founded in 1961 by Derek Allen and Sheppard Frere and is now based in the Institute of Archaeology in Oxford. Initially it consisted of paper cards, housed in a windowless room where Dr. Nimura carried out much of her research. Each card contains an image of the coin and any other data, including weight, material, findspot etc. In addition to the coins from finders and museum collections it also lists coins from other sources such as Auctions and even EBAY. This does mean that the same coin can be recorded multiple times. The goal of this first project was to digitise the whole of the CCI, by making
1) high definition scans of the cards
2) digital versions of the transcribed data from the cards (already available up to 2003) supplemented with data on new finds/cards carried out by using volunteers from a MicroPasts crowdsourcing project
all to be input into an ‘open source’ database software app already in use by the ANS (American Numismatic Society) to make it compliant with existing structures so that it would be available for use from anywhere and connectable to other databases.
Since 2018 the project has been scanning the cards and we were shown a video of ‘Molly’ (Molly Masterson a DPhil student/ Research Assistant) endlessly scanning altogether about 84,000 cards, representing 50,000 coins. This part of the project was completed last year, though new additions are being added as we speak. Great care had to be taken to ensure that the transcribed data contained useful and necessary data fields to allow meaningful searches to be carried out and over twenty different fields are available. Dr. Nimura went on to give details of the painstaking work that went into to keeping track of the progress of the project and the resolution of problems within the cards, including duplicates, whilst not losing any original details. All of this carrying on during Covid! However even a project as mechanical as this one contained moments, such as when a card is discovered which has clearly had coffee split on it or a letter has inadvertently found its way into the cards from very early on in the creation of the CCI.
Dr. Nimura then described the CCID website https://cci.arch.ox.ac.uk/. The opening pages include information on the history of the CCI and details of what data is available, including all the searchable fields. Fields available include the Authority and a typical value would be a tribal name, the weight, the material etc.. She demonstrated the use of these fields by searching for coins attributed to an authority and then selecting Icenii from the drop down menu revealing ~ 4000 card hits in the database. The results are displayed in CCID index number order. By selecting a single card you can arrive at the data for the card, including the scan of the card itself, which allows the image of the coin to be examined in greater detail. Another useful feature is to show the distribution of findspots for the coins selected on a selection of geographic maps, including some from historical references. Very detailed data about findspots is NOT provided to protect the sites. Also included are links to references about the typology of the coins. There are plans to further enhance the functionality of the site, based on feedback from users of the system and Dr. Nimura told us that two small grants from the BNS and RNS have been secured to help with this work. Of course one major advance in functionality will be the connection of the CCID to other databases across the globe and that was the second project that Dr. Nimura went on to tell us about.
A principal source of information about Celtic coins is the book ‘Ancient British Coins’ which lists all the known types for the series. Published in 2010 it listed 999 different types but a second edition is on the way, listing many more types. The second project involved the digitisation of the book and has been accessible since 2021, through the web, at the IACB (Iron Age Coins in Britain) website https://iacb.arch.ox.ac.uk/. Dr.Nimura made the point that it is easier to update the website on an ongoing basis than it is to issue new editions of the book, though, of course, some people will always prefer a printed copy, even if not entirely up to date. It works in a different way to the CCID, in that it is not itself a database, but rather a list of links to other databases that contain information about the coins. For each type, it lists the known examples of the coin and includes links to the database (British Museum, PAS etc. of course including CCID) where information is held about the coin. This has only been possible because all the databases have used the same structure for their records. It has its own search fields, very similar to those in the CCID and Dr. Nimura illustrated the site with a video showing a search involving the Catuvellauni, which resulted in a list of 196 different types. Each known example of the type is listed together with the link to the database containing further data about the coin but the search also looks in the background for other references to the Catuvellauni, for example revealing that they were associated with an area North of the Thames. It will also raise references to Catuvellauni in different languages, allowing Foreign databases to be searched. There are only a handful of known rulers from this period and although the inscriptions on the coins sometimes refer to these, not all of them do and deciphering these inscriptions remains an unsolved mystery. Celtic coins are complicated compared to other series, in that so little is known about them, so that denomination, issuer etc. is not straightforward to assign. Quite often coins have been used to define production centres, but also are supposed to be from those centres because they were found there!
A further refined search for staters of the Catuvellauni involving a ‘wreath’ produced 11 results and when one was selected in addition to the data, a map is shown on which the area attributed to the Catuvellauni is highlighted. Another useful facility in the IACB is the provision of visualisation tools. Dr. Nimura illustrated some of these including showing a block graph of the different denominations for Catuvellauni coins.
The IACB has joined a group of ten other coin typology websites which include Roman, Egyptian, Macedonian and other coins, united by identical underlying structures now allowing researchers, collectors and others, such as archaeologists, to use them as a resource. As an example of this, Dr. Nimura told us about David Robinson in Scotland who is conducting die studies for quarter-staters in the South-West, associated with the Durotriges. Such research would be nearly impossible were it not for the access to the CCI.
Coins are of course used as money but we know they are much more. Coins are used as National identifiers, their designs speak of events happening now. The sudden appearance of a new type/denomination can be an indicator of financial or political upheaval. Another project that Dr. Nimura hopes to start with her German colleagues is to look at the pre-history period back to 300 BCE, using coins to give us more clues as to the societies and people that created them for the whole of Europe and the ability to link together the various databases of coins makes such a project possible.
It was always Dr. Nimura’s intention to bring the subject of Iron Age Coins to the attention of the public and a while ago she began a Public Engagement project called ‘More than Money’ which turned out to be very popular. It involved interactive projects where images of the coins could be turned about any axis and otherwise manipulated, together with background information. It is available from ccid.web.ac.uk/more-money-coins-iron-age-britain and is well worth a try. Different imaging techniques included photogrammetry, using multiple photographs to produce a 3d model that can be manipulated and with points of interest on the coin highlighted. Secondly, reflectance transformation imagery which uses photographs taken from different directions of illumination and allows the direction of illumination to be altered interactively. Next was a 3d model produced from laser scans, again with the ability to interactively rotate about any axis, also ultra high definition images are available. All these were illustrated by a video showing the techniques applied to some of the coins in the CCID.
Dr. Nimura revealed that having produced the data for the 3d model of the coin, it was then possible to feed that data into a 3d printing machine and she had brought along some of the replicas prepared by various groups in the University of Oxford. These replicas were ten times real size, making it much easier to see details, rather than on the real coins, which are generally only the size of a fingernail, they were also gilded, to make them look more like the ‘real thing’.
A follow up small exhibition in the Money Gallery had the replicas on show next to the original coins, along with contemporary artefacts. The exhibition, in 2022, was called ‘From Julius Caesar to Boadicea’ and this part of the exhibition focussed on the relationship between the ornamentation of the coins and other material culture from the same period. This exhibition only ran for ten months but fortunately a company called ‘Vortek’ wanted to make a ‘virtual reality’ recording of the exhibition and Dr. Nimura showed us a video produced from the virtual reality recording. The recording begins by zooming through the gallery and then focussing on one of the wall panels, before moving to the exhibit on the Icenii. Whilst looking at the recorded exhibition it is possible to zoom in etc and also click on objects to learn more about them, including audio files which allow a great deal more information to be given than on a simple label. (Photo: David Orwell, Ashmolean Museum)
Dr. Nimura then took questions from the audience. The first one was whether AI could be applied to this type of research and one answer was that it can be used, for example, to identify a coin, by comparing it with a database of coin images that the computer has ‘learnt’. It is also being used to extract the coin images automatically from the card images in the CCID. Another question asked whether there was any attempt to provide some idea of the numismatic condition of the coin. Dr. Nimura pointed out that the various people who contributed to the cards had their own agendas and that not everyone supplied the same information. A final question revealed that the ‘ten times’ replicas would probably cost about £25 each. Dr. Nimura finished by telling us that she had used the replicas to make ‘negative’ moulds that children were then able to use to make chocolate versions of the Celtic coins.
A great may thanks to Dr. Nimura for a deeply fascinating talk covering an interesting period of archaeological research.
Be reminded that subscriptions are now due. It would be most appreciated if members yet to renew their subscription would please do so at the next meeting. Please see our treasurer Peter or another committee member. Membership cards are now available for paid-up members.
· COINEX, Grosvenor Square, London – September 29th – 30th.
· World Paper Money Fair, Bloomsbury Hotel, London – October 6th – 7th
· Midland Coin Fair - National Motorcycle museum – October 8th.