The Problems with Illegally Transporting Ancient Coins
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The Problems with Illegally Transporting Ancient Coins

Discussion of the sale of ancient coins on the black market.

Nathan Elkins wrote in his paper “Why Coins Matter: Trafficking in Undocumented and Illegally Exported Ancient Coins” about the importance of being able to put coins into proper historical context to insure their importance as sources of history. When a coin is illegally exported, it loses its usefulness as a sources as it is unknown where it was discovered, what else was found along with it and in which stratigraphic layers it was found.

Defenders of illegally transported ancient coins’ and their value as primary sources of history counter argue that in the past, context was never taken into consideration yet numismatics has made a lot of progress as a discipline. They also argue that context make little difference to the value as coin finds are so numerous.

Image source

It is true to say that in the past, archeologists paid little attention to coins and their context and it is also true to say that important research has taken place on coins that has not taken their context into consideration. However disciplines like archaeology and numismatics are dynamic and should learn from past mistakes. In more recent decades, archaeology has strove to catalog as much data from finds, including coins, as possible, all within context which has proven invaluable to the study of the past.

This approach has allowed a much wider scope of research in the field which is why many, like Elkins, are against the removal of coins from their place of discovery for sale in the market place. The majority of ancient coins sold around the world hold very little financial value but when recorded properly within the context they are found, they can hold considerable scientific value.

Constantine the Great bronze coin minted in Rome c. 315-316 AD with a market value of $2. Image source

An example is if a large number of coins are found on a given site, they can indicate the type of economy of the site and/or the wealth of individuals or the community. However if the coins on the same site are removed and sold off separately on the black market, they may well loose any value as primary sources of history.

While many are happy to see displays and pictures of ancient coins, many people are bent on owning a collection of them. This leads to many looting from archeological sites and taking coins to sell on the black market. In the past, many of the finds on archeological sites have been neglected when it came to published findings and this is particularly true of coins.

However in Europe steps are now being taken to ensure the information of a dig is published within two years of excavations. After this, finds are made available to anyone who wants to study them, with their context recorded and logged with them. By buying coins from black market sources, collectors are inadvertently hampering the study of the past according to most archeologists and de-valuing the coins as primary sources of history.

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Comments (3)

Voted up. Interesting

Excellent article as an information drive to preserve these relics.

Ranked #18 in Archaeology

Thanks :)