Monday, February 26, 2007

Flight of the Navigator, Part V

Cue music: Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon, 'Money'
"Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash."

I closed the last post with "
Holy signposts, Batman, how will we know they were here?"

There are a considerable number of whole classes of evidence that might serve as those signposts:
  • Dolmens
  • DNA
  • Fortresses, harbors, or other structures
  • OOPAs, particularly those found in or around mounds, caves, mines, or mine tailings
  • Epigraphic or pictographic evidence
  • Lithic, bronze or iron works and items of old World styles in New World
  • Skeletal remains
  • Lingual evidence
  • Clothing, arms, armor, fabrics or furs unique to the Old World found in New World or vice verse
  • OOP animals
  • OOP Coins
For this installment, I want to concentrate on the latter: Ancient Old World coins found in the Americas. The late Gloria Farley was a prolific and careful researcher who cataloged several OOPAs during her career. Her book In Plain Sight is very highly recommended reading. Gloria wrote,

"The problem of the provenance of ancient coins can be summarized in one paragraph of a letter I wrote to Tom Lee, an anthropologist in Quebec:

'I agree with you that it is too bad that ancient coins are found by treasure hunters and amateurs (and housewives and children and chickens) instead of by scholars, but who else is going to find them? If they are authentic, they just are where they are, and found by accident. It is not at all logical to think that a professional archaeologist or anthropologist or numismatist or historian could set out to find one and succeed. Where in God's millions of square miles would he pick to hunt? And if by chance he did find one, then who would say he did not plant it?' "

Gloria and her research partners cataloged at least seven OOPA Carthaginian coins, several other Mediterranean coins of similar age, and Norse coins, all found from Maine to Nebraska. Other researchers have tallied no less than forty such ancient coins (Epstein).

Other OOPA or anomalous coin finds abound along the river systems of the eastern United States. Many of these were found in comparatively excellent condition. What would most people do if they found an ancient, out of place coin? Most people finding themselves in this position would go to the State Archaeologist, and, under general interpretation of current law, one must.

Such a find occurred near the Falls of the Ohio during construction of the Interstate 64 bridge in 1963. Only this wasn't just one out of place coin, it was a horde of coins!

Two of the coins from this cache were donated to the Museum of the Falls of the Ohio. Troy McCormick, former manager of the museum, put the coins on display.

Image credit: Troy McCormick

"For several years, the Falls of the Ohio Museum had an exhibit about the find that displayed several casts of both sides of the two originals, so as to reflect the approximate number of coins originally in the hoard. The two original coins, depicted above, are in storage and were not on public display. McCormick has informed me that the exhibit has recently been removed from public display, because the Museum belongs to the state of Indiana, and the exhibit conflicted with the state's archaeological policy that there is no documented evidence of pre-Columbian contacts."
In other words, following the intent of the law will get you no satisfaction should you come across any out of place artifact that would be evidence of pre-Columbian contact and take it to your State's archaeologist. Digging up native American pottery is a felony (UNLESS you are that State archaeologist). Digging up Old World coins is not policy.

So, does the presence of 3rd and 4th century AD Roman coins in southern Indiana clearly indicate that the Romans were here? Well, no. Although the coins were clearly of Roman origin, they could have been in the possession of peoples from anywhere in Europe, North Africa, the British Isles, all the way to India. Given the other pre-Columbian evidence in the same area, and putting it all into context, it seems very likely to me that peoples from the British Isles found their way to the Falls of the Ohio in ancient times, perhaps more than once.

More conventional scholars would brush aside such evidence and conclusions because the Romans left us no historical records of such excursions. There is a simple explanation for that: The Romans were kept out of that loop. Rome ruled from afar. Even the taxation or tribute was generally collected through native officials, messengers, and intermediaries. The Roman leaders often maintained spies within their government, but were often woefully unaware of what was happening in the far-flung territories. And the histories were written around the Roman government with mention of the territories only when the leaders went there or sent representatives. The historians (much as today) concentrated on the affairs of state, not the affairs of man.

I picked up two of the new Washington one dollar coins at the bank the other day. I think I'm going to "lose" one of them under a rock (with the help of a friend of mine) in northern Norway, just to throw a ringer into future archeology...


The Oopa Loopa Cafe on blogtalkradio this week featured William Smith of the THOR (The Hunters Ohio Rock) group. He reviewed the work of the group on the "rock" and other artifacts the group investigates.

Listen to the archive here

Visit the THOR site here

Holy boneyards, Batman! Who was this guy?

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