Friday, 23 December 2011

The sexy science of coin hoards

OK, hold everything.  I’ve just seen the best thing ever!

The latest Money and Medals newsletter (what do you mean you don’t read it?  Check out the website here) has a piece by Richard Abdy of the British Museum about the preliminary study of a Roman coin hoard found near Selby in North Yorkshire.  The hoard is an interesting enough find in itself – an Antonine hoard of around 300 denarii still contained within two pots – but the technology being employed by Southampton University to analyse the coins while still inside the pot is quite simply the ‘sexiest thing ever’™

The team at the spectacularly named ‘μ-VIS Centre for Multidisciplinary, Multiscale,Microtomographic Volume Imaging’ were able to produce 3D scans of the hoard such as the one above*.  However, as Dr Abdy explains, the technology goes far beyond such images, special as they are, as it allows individual layers inside the hoard to be stripped back -  revealing individual coins, even when corroded, stuck to other coins and slap bang in the centre of the pot.  These can even be rotated to enable identification from different angles and with different light sources.

Although coin hoards are not commonly found sealed inside their containers, until now the only real option to study such coins without physically removing them has been through x-radiography.  This has its drawbacks such as not allowing layers to be individually examined, not allowing coins to be studied when not face on, and showing obverse and reverse details superimposed, as the x-ray of this sestertius of Nero from the Lincoln museum numismatics collections demonstrates quite clearly.

Of course, the real wow factor of such new technology is that such amazing details can be extracted without a single coin being disturbed.  Although not available for every find, the possibilities of such technology in the future are quite mouth-watering.

*I’ve reproduced the image from the newsletter – if anyone from the BM or Southampton University objects to me using it, please let me know and I’ll remove it!

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