digitisation

Roman Coins: Behind the Scenes at the Yorkshire Museum – Alec Boyd and Kerrie Hoffman

The Yorkshire Museum’s Numismatic (money and medals) collection is composed of over 44,000 objects, approximately 35,000 of which are coins. As you can imagine with a collection of this size the documentation and curation of these objects is a massive undertaking. We took up the challenge of helping curator Andrew Woods with this task. One day per week for 6 months we volunteered to photograph primarily Roman Republican coins and then update the records for these objects to provide a more precise location in the museum store. This work makes the collection more accessible both physically and digitally.

A wooden storage cabinet with one tray removed. Coins are placed in each of the round depressions.

A wooden storage cabinet with one tray removed. Coins are placed in each of the round depressions.

Meeting at 10:00am we proceeded to the museum’s research room situated behind the scenes at the Yorkshire Museum.  Our daily routine began by setting up state of the art photography equipment. Andy would then select a series of objects for the day.  Our main task was to use this equipment to photograph these objects and produce high resolution digital images.

Numismatics volunteer Kerrie using a copy stand to produce high-resolution images of coins.

Kerrie photographing coins

These images could be used for both documentation and presentation material. We then had to update the museum’s collection database to include these new images and revise the object’s storage locations.  Each day we took turns alternating between these two tasks to broaden our exposure to the curatorial process.

Numismatics volunteer Alec updating the YMT database with information about coins

Numismatics volunteer Alec updating the YMT database with information about coins

For each coin we photographed both the obverse (heads) and the reverse (tails). A coin’s obverse usually depicts the current ruler whilst the reverse often shows an image (such as a god, animal, or structure) or phrase which symbolises the ruler’s sovereignty. During our time on this project we took over 6000 photographs of over 3000 objects, averaging approximately 200 per week. As we worked through the collection we saw the faces of 45 emperors and 13 kings.

A Gold Solidus of Valentinian that has been uploaded to Wikimedia Commons and viewed 16000 times

This is a coin we photographed in our first week and the Wikipedia page has been viewed 16000 times

The images taken for this project are not exclusive to the YMT online public resource. They have already made their way to Wikipedia and we hope that they will soon be featured in an online collection with contributors across the world. The image above is featured on the Wikipedia article: ‘Gold coin‘.

Over the six months we did not work exclusively with the Roman collection and had opportunities to document coins of other archaeological periods. Highlights included:

  • Photographing and preparing parts of the Waterloo collection for display at the Castle Museum.
  • Documentation of the Blake Street Hoard, the oldest hoard from York.
  • Preparing English Civil War coins in the Breckenbrough Hoard for display.
  • Photographing the returning Vale of York Viking Hoard now on display at the Yorkshire museum alongside our images.

We are now coming to the end of this project, with the hope that this and similar projects will allow more people to contribute to the documentation of the museum collections and further their accessibility. Many fantastic opportunities also currently exist, details of which can be found on the YMT website.

We will be completing another post to show you interesting coins we have photographed, and some of our personal favourites, so check back soon!

This post originally appeared on the York Museums Trust Blog: Roman Coins: Behind the Scenes. It was posted by Pat Hadley on behalf of Kerrie and Alec.

 

Planning field work in Egypt

So-called "barrow" on Hampstad Heath
Boadicea’s Grave‘ on Hampstead Heath

The chapter writing  is coming along but after driving my desk for a few hours, I needed a break and went for a run. I often go up to Hampstead Heath, and even there archaeology is never far off. Somewhere on the Heath is a Saxon ditch and earth bank, which formed early ownership and administrative boundaries (since at least AD986), though as far as I am aware I’ve not come across it yet. And of course, there is the so-called ‘Boadicea’s Grave‘ which may be nothing more than a foundations of an old windmill or a folly (right).

My desk

My desk

So back here at my desk for more writing, I am excited to find an email regarding some paid field work in Egypt. I may have the opportunity to undertake reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) this Autumn at South Abydos in Upper Egypt. Prof. Joe Wegner (who taught me during my BA at the University of Pennylvania) has been directing excavations there for years and is keen to document the sealings from the Middle Kingdom town. The sealings are quite small, only a few centimeters across, and there are a lot of them, so this will be an ideal job for the RTI mini-dome (see Figure 5).

We’ll see what happens though. As many Egyptians continue to seek a better future and more economic equality, the current political situation in Egypt means that the cultural heritage sector is undergoing many changes. It’s an issue that weighs on my mind quite a bit as I job hunt and look for opportunites to collaborate. As an archaeologist I’ve developed various skills and experience relating to Egypt’s ancient past. Now the question for me is, how can I both obtain employment in my field, and do so in a way that supports a better Egyptian present?