Ancient coins teach researchers about modern society





Spencer Pope, an archeologist who specializes in ancient Greece and assistant professor of classics, has teamed up with researchers in medical physics and applied radiation sciences to study the metallurgical content of Greek and Roman coins. By finding out what the coins are made of, says Pope, the researchers are able to reconstruct ancient trade routes, understand the development of economies and even determine the extent of counterfeiting. The work will also shine light on modern societies.

"The ancient world is a laboratory for understanding the societies of today," said Pope. "This research will help us link the archeological to the historical to understand how we, as a society, got to where we are today."

Twenty coins have already been analyzed using techniques including x-ray fluorescence systems at McMaster and a proton microprobe at the University of Guelph. After they are analyzed, radiation scientists are able to tell Pope what sorts of metal are present in the coins, allowing him to determine where they were minted and how widely they may have been circulated. He is also able to zero in on ancient economic downturns - during such times, coins were made with less valuable metals - and even track the collapse of the Roman Empire....


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