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Part Two: Distribution and “Metrology” of Your Coins

Metrology is the recording of the size, shape and mass (weight) as well as the metallurgical makeup, if able to be determined, of coins. These measurements are always undertaken by serious numismatists. Information about these parameters may be crucial later on in the identification phase.

Background Reading for the Teacher:

ACE Website: Bookmarks and Links: Ancient Roman Coinage: “Production of Ancient Coins” by Jere M. Wickens  ( ) and “Roman Imperial Denominations” (bronzes from Constantine on) and “Late Roman Empire” from Beast Coins

( )

----Attributed (identified) coin sent as sample by ACE for passing around the room

----The coins provided by ACE packaged in small envelopes or film canisters

----“Coin Data Recording Sheets” – copy one per student (from ACE CD)

Essential tools:

----rulers with mm divisions

----magnifying glasses

----scale accurate to .1 gram

----individual storage container for coins



This lesson segment is intended to introduce students to the techniques used to evaluate ancient coins by having them observe and record specific details about their coins and compare their findings to the findings of others. It also introduces the concepts of intrinsic value coins versus token value coinage.

1. Distribute one coin to each student “sight unseen" (keep the rest as spares in case students' first coins are unable to be attributed). We have found that putting the coins into individual, small manila envelopes (available quite inexpensively at office-supply stores) minimizes jostling for the “biggest” or “most attractive” and allows the teacher to tell the students to wait until instructed to open them. They may also be distributed in the small film cans or other containers. This gives the teacher a moment of the students’ undivided attention to explain that they are authentic coins, perhaps as much as 2000 years old. These are the very coins used by the people who were the soldiers, blacksmiths and senators of ancient Rome. Emphasize that the quality of the individual coins will vary greatly, since they are “as found” – this is genuine archaeological work and each coin is, in fact, a tiny “archaeological site”!

2. Ask the students to study the coins and compare theirs with those of students sitting nearby. Have the students determine whose coin is the largest and whose is the smallest. Measure the largest and smallest coins, and write this on the board. Beginning now and continuing throughout the project, the students should begin recording data in their “Coin Data Sheets”, as the information becomes known. Based on the diameter of the coin, most students will be able to determine a denomination. (Since we do not know the name of very small bronze coins from the late Roman Empire, numismatists have derived a classification system according to diameter, labeling the bronze coins as AE1, AE2, AE3, or AE4. See “Roman Denominations”

3. Discuss how coinage came into existence and the differences between intrinsic value and token value coinage. Based on that discussion, ask the students what category they think their coin fits into. All the coins you have received are bronze or copper. There is an extremely small chance there may be a silver piece found, but not enough to set up any expectations along these lines. Explain that silver and gold were also used. Silver and gold coins are said to be coins of "intrinsic value" in that the precious metal in them has value beyond being representative of the issuing authorities’ power to describe it as “money”. Bronze (all copper alloy coins are referred to as bronze, despite the fact that some are made with alloys closely resembling brass) coins have “token value” in that the metal in them is worth far less than the value assigned to the coin itself. The buying power of token money rests solely in the establishment of mutual acceptance between buyers and sellers that the coin represents value. In other words, token money has no value except that groups of people agree to accept it for goods or services. Some have found that showing the class a US quarter and a similarly sized washer can be a useful object lesson in what distinguishes a coin from another, similarly sized, stamped piece of metal. Ask if anyone wants to trade you a quarter for the washer, etc.

4. By the end of the class, students should have filled in diameter, weight, denomination, and material on data sheets, then stored their coins in their individual containers with names clearly labeled. Tomorrow the attribution begins!