A comparative analysis of Romano-British site coin finds
A database containing information on over 35,000 coins from sites in southern
Britain was established. This was used to investigate chronological and
geographical distributions of fourth century Roman coinage in Britain, and the
role of coins in archaeological dating.
The regularity of finds supports a view of official supply policy as the principal
determinant of the coins used, deposited and subsequently recovered.
Throughout the fourth century, Britain received supplies of bronze from up to
three mints of which one was always the primary source. One or two secondary
sources supplemented this, particularly at times of major new issues. The
few finds from other mints represent material that arrived through circulation
and exchange. The only clear geographical variation Was after 388AD when
new issues failed to circulate extensively beyond the towns.
Variations between sites are related to differences in coin using and depositing
practices. Three groups of sites were recognised: towns and larger settlements,
villas and rural buildings, and temples. Differences between these are
most apparent after 350AD when circulation and use underwent significant
changes in the rural areas.
Typical excavations of rural buildings produce few coins, probably
representing accidental losses. On some sites casual loss accounts for only a
small proportion of the recovered material. Here, votive deposition, rubbish
disposal and non-recovery of hoards are the major sources of finds.
A study of the stratified material reinforces the need for caution in using
coins for dating, and has important implications for the use of coins in
archaeological dating. Residuality and lengthy circulation severely limit inferences
about the dates of deposition of the contexts in which coins are found.
Throughout the fourth century, and probably also earlier, most coins were
deposited within a few decades of their issue. Unfortunately for the archaeologist
in search of a date for a deposit, examples of primary deposition are
greatly outnumbered by residual and re-deposited material.