Friday, October 22, 2010

When is a coin - not a Viking coin from Rode Island!

On the piece from some time back 'A Furnace for Vinland' , this comment came in recently:
I have some very interesting viking coin finds from where I live in Merseyside UK. It is very inportent information i have ... relating coins i have found in merseyside with Newport and Newfoundland conections, i also have many more finds to link viking trade with North America and UK
(name removed to obscure the sender)
Ok - so I decided to bite. My bad. Admittedly, this was partially because the sender had asked me to be put in contact with my mentor and friend Dr Birgitta Wallace. I thought I should check out the request before considering that.
On the second go round, this is an image of one of the objects under consideration:

Everyone has taken a look. No cheating using three minutes on Google. No, wait, use three minutes, check on some core dates for 'Newport' in Wales and Rode Island. Ok?

This was my (measured?) reply to the inquiry:

I'm taking the time to write you, mainly to save you some problems as
you continue to investigate the objects you have found. Bear in mind
that coinage is an area that I have done little research, and I am not
professionally trained as an archaeologist.

On seeing the objects, there are a large number of reasons, even
casually, that I personally doubt would allow them to be Norse in origin:

1) Right off the start, one of the pieces contains the word 'Newport'.
Check the use date for the name. I suspect the name 'Newport' was not in
use till considerably into the Middle Ages, if not even more recent.
Certainly it would not be used during the Viking Age.

2) The letter forms are a modern 'Roman' style. This suggests a much
later creation date, maybe Victorian (?) Again, certainly not Viking
Age, were all Scandinavian text is in Runes. Circa 800 - 1000 in
England, text on coins is almost always in straight cut Latin font.

3) The figures on the objects are raised off the surface in quite high
relief, yet with very rounded edges. Taken together, this all suggests a
casting. Historic coins have their figures cut into dies with chisels,
then are struck to transfer these patterns. The net effect is entirely

4) The base material of your objects is hard to tell from the images,
but appears to be a copper alloy (a bronze?) Coinage in the Viking Age
is almost exclusively silver. Coins at that time are valued for their
actual weight as precious metal, not the kind of 'representational'
value normal in later (modern) currency.

5) Coins in the Viking Age are all round - never rectangular. Use of
hacked up arm rings is seen, but again, this is 'spending by weight'.

I can not imagine any connection with these objects blending 'Newport
Rode Island' with 'Norse'. Remember Newport USA was founded in 1639.
That place did not bear the name till a good 600 years AFTER any
theoretical Norse voyages! Any connection with Newport is purely an
1800's invention, and is not backed by any archaeology. (Check the
section in the recent 'Vikings - North Atlantic Saga').

Taken altogether, I suspect what you have there are perhaps trade tokens
from the 1600 - 1700's from the Newport in Wales. Maybe even tourist
tokens from the 1800's. Some quick search on the internet got me both

Sorry, but although these ARE interesting historic items, I don't think
you really have anything linked to the Viking Age or the Norse - and
most certainly not to North America.

It also turns out that Newport in Wales is founded well after the Norman Conquest, and was even not called 'Newport' by the locals until the 1300's.

So - yes, I could have just not bothered to reply to the original comment. As a 'mere' (but serious) amateur myself, I do try to give people the benefit of the doubt. I have personally been the recipient of the brush off from academics, only to find on deeper research that the true answer to the (stupid?) question is in fact 'No one has ever studied that aspect'. (Consider iron smelting!!)

I do admit that 'Vikings in the USA' is one thing that really bugs me:
- Horses walking from Labrador across most of the Canadian Shield to get to the Great Plains
- Portaging a longship over Niagara Falls
- The Newport Tower
- 'Mooring' Holes
- Who made the Peterborough Petroglyphs
- 'Vikings' walking from James Bay to Wisconsin
- The Kensington Rune Stone

I despair over the failure of the most basic understanding of science / history...

WARNING : If you send me a general information request which could just as easily be accomplished by five minutes on Google (even with Wikapedia!) you might find the results turned into a commentary here.
I do try to post something to 'Hammered Out Bits' twice a week after all.

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