Subject: ancient coins found in America From: email@example.com (Yuri Kuchinsky) Date: 1997/07/21 Message-ID: <firstname.lastname@example.org> Newsgroups: sci.archaeology.mesoamerican,sci.archaeology, rec.collecting.coins,soc.history Greetings, Since we've been discussing ancient Mediterranean coins in America recently, I've looked up a very interesting and relevant debate about this subject that took place in 1980. I believe this is probably still the best all around discussion of such evidence. PRE-COLUMBIAN OLD WORLD COINS IN AMERICA: AN EXAMINATION OF EVIDENCE, by Jeremiah F. Epstein, in CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY, 21:1 (1980), pp. 1-20. Epstein has done a pretty good job trying to sort out fact from fiction in this area. This publication in CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY consists of the main article by Epstein, a number of responses by different participants inclined both in favour and against trans-Atlantic contact theories, and the final response by Epstein. In the main article Epstein tries to be fair to his evidence. He has collected all credible reports of such finds he could find at the time, and he also includes his comments on others that may not be so credible. "I have been able to collect information on some 40 coin discoveries" (p. 1) All these 40 or so he considers quite credible reports. He evaluates most of them one by one. They include Phoenician, Roman, Greek, and Jewish coins. Also, more reports of coin finds are provided in the replies to the main article. All in all, Epstein covered a fair bit of ground. Of course there are a lot more reports of such coin finds that came up since the article was published, and also there were quite a few more existing ones that he wasn't aware of. In particular, only one coin from the possible Roman shipwreck off Massachusetts (discussed in sci.archaeology recently) is mentioned by him. (That site with many coin finds just came to light around 1979.) Apparently quite a few more (all from a rather narrow time span) have been found there since then, as Barry Fell and others reported. Epstein himself says: "My research uncovered 31 reports for this century, but I am convinced that many more lie hidden in the files of the nation's newspapers." (p. 1) He tried to sort out coins by georgraphical location. Most of the finds came from Eastern and South-Eastern States. Many of them were made from inland, as opposed to from coastal, locations. He says: "... slightly more than half of the coins reported come from interior states" (p. 5) Why so many coins would have been reported from the interior? The answer may be, as some respondents suggested, that many of the finds came from sites along major waterways. The hypothesis here is that, if the coins indeed indicate the presence of Mediterranean explorers, these explorers would have been likely to look for minerals deeper inland. They would have sailed up the rivers to explore the interior of the country. Epstein did not consider this possibility in his main article, but this was suggested by a number of respondents. He also says: "... the distributional evidence is inconclusive" (p. 5) In other words, no significant consistent patterns of distribution were found, according to him. But this is not quite so, as others pointed out later... In his first summary, Epstein's conclusions are quite negative to the theories of transoceanic contact. He admits that most of the finds that he analysed may be genuine, but his main explanation for these finds is loss from modern collections. He says that modern American collectors lose ancient coins all the time, and most of the finds can be explained by this. Well, this is only one possible explanation... I don't know how persuasive it really is. And here's what some of the pro-contact respondents said: Warren Cook: "The most significant pattern in ancient coin finds, as Epstein admits, is their nonrandom distribution [Cook points out that almost no reports came from the West Coast, for example], which belies the collectors' losses theory. That many were found far inland ... from Texas eastward argues against modern loss and in favor of penetration of North America's great rivers..." (p. 13) Norman Totten: "Having studied coins for many years, I know that most coins (wherever found) are never officially reported, much less published. The same is true for other kinds of ancient artifacts discovered outside archeological excavations." (p. 18) Totten has a publication where more coin finds are analysed, but it is not available to me at this time. The reference is in the article. Many of the replies by anti-contact respondents are not really worth quoting here, since they mostly make general statements about how it is important to educate the public against "cult archaeology". But some of the questions raised by these critics were certainly pertinent. For example, Why no coin hoards were found in America, whereas in Europe they can be numbered in tens of thousands? Meanwhile, one possible hoard in Venezuela was discussed in the article, but there admittedly were a number of problems with it. Also, I've posted in sci.archaeology previously about a report of one possible hoard of medieval Arab coins found in the North-East in the 1700s. This hoard was not discussed in the article. As we all know, the great majority of ancient coin finds in America were not made in a controlled setting, during professional digs. This is certainly a problem for contact theorists. Nevertheless, there's one important exception. Information about one coin that was found by professional archaeologists is given in this article. This is a find of a Roman coin during a controlled dig in Iroquois territory. It was brought to Epstein's attention after he wrote the main article. Epstein says in his final summary statement: "Throughout these discussions, I have stressed that no Roman coin has been excavated under controlled acrchaeological conditions. Recently I have found that I was mistaken in this. Thanks to [a number of people's help] ... it is now possible to talk about the discovery of such a coin at the Great Gully site, a historic Upper Cayuga Iroquois village first described by Skinner (1921:55-68). ... In 1928-29, excavations were carried out there by Harrison C. Follett and George Selden.... The clear association of the coin with historic materials is evident from Follett's field notes. (1929: 12-13): [[At the head of [skeleton] 33 a small chunk of hematite, an earthen or clay ball, near this a large brass button with pieces of apparent beaver hair mass around it, one long red glass bead lay over the button, In the soil on the north wall two iron nails, two small glass beads, and a small unknown iron implement. In the southeast corner of the grave and next to the wall a horn spoon.]]" Further, Epstein comments: "The coin, later identified as commemorating Emperor Antonius Pius, was minted about ad 165. Since this village was located only 2 mi. from the Cayuga Mission, it is speculated that Fr. Rene Menard (1605-61) may have given the coin to one of his charges. ... In summary, even when we have an aboriginal archaeological context for a Roman coin in America, the associations are all post-Columbian. (p. 19) Here I will beg to disagree with Epstein. I don't think these associations are so clearly "all post-Columbian". He may have dismissed this find too glibly. All of those other objects found in the grave may well have been precolumbian. In light of its unique status, this find should really be looked at again. I have no idea if these items are still available for laboratory testing. If they are, they may be tested to remove all doubts. Apparently it never occurred to Epstein to look into this possibility. So what if a missionary may have been in the area in the 17th century? Why would he have been distributing Roman coins to his Indian contacts? Didn't he have plenty of American or contemporary European coins for this? The coin is apparently brass, and it would have been of relatively little value to the Native man buried there -- if it came from a missionary in postcolumbian time. On the other hand, if it was precolumbian, its value would have been much greater. And no mention is made that this burial was Christian. This could have been expected if the coin was given by the missionary to one of his friends. Best regards, Yuri. Yuri Kuchinsky in Toronto -=O=- http://www.io.org/~yuku It is a far, far better thing to have a firm anchor in nonsense than to put out on the troubled seas of thought -=O=- John K. Galbraith _________________________________________________________________Click here to go one level up in the directory.