Difficulties in Interpretation

As one may deduce from the many footnotes and remarks, although I feel that I have made the interpretations of the diverse ancient synagogue coin deposits clearer and more distinct than in the past, the categories and interpretations can never be as definite as we would want them to be. Post-depositional processes and excavation methods, for example, could have altered the profile of a deposit, making it difficult to determine its original character. Processes like bioturbation, earthquakes, and rising groundwater levels could have influenced the original deposit, making, for example, a clustered deposit a scattered one, or changed its archaeological context. Diverse excavation methods, with some archaeologists excavating with metal detectors and sifters while others do not, can make two functional similar deposits look like two contrasting ones. Furthermore, there are many blurred lines within the parameters of the coin groups themselves. In theory, emergency hoards should contain more coins from the time of deposition (forming an upward curve), while coins from treasuries should have coins of all periods evenly distributed. However, multiple problems hamper these kinds of analyses for our particular synagogue deposits. First, we have no idea how and when coins were collected and distributed for treasuries or savings hoards. Were coins added every week, every year, or every seven years? Were the treasuries regularly emptied (and so we cannot estimate when the original deposit started) or did they keep adding coinage to the original pile? Second, on multiple occasions we have pointed out that the lifespan of 4th century coins was long and can only provide a terminus post quem: it is impossible to say if a coin minted in 310 CE was deposited in 315 or in 410 or even later. Thus, it is impossible to determine if coins were added over a long period or all at once. We also cannot be sure of the exact closing date of the deposit. Third, we cannot know if certain coins were removed from a (retrievable) deposit when they were in danger of being demonetized and had to be taken out of circulation quickly before they became worthless. How do we know if we have all the coins that were originally deposited in these hoards? Without this kind of information, it is impossible to say how the contents of different deposits compare to each other, beyond the observations we made in this chapter (for example, that treasury deposits on average have a longer time span than votive and charity deposits). Thus, our proposed definitions are theoretically sharper than the blurry archaeological evidence on the ground allows us to be. In this regard, we can only operate with degrees of certainty when it comes to categorizing a deposit and we should avoid the impression that it is possible to decide on either / or categorizations. Nonetheless, the proposed interpretations and their attributes offer a starting framework to begin identifying characteristics, and advance our discussion of the understanding on ancient synagogue coin deposits in Late Antiquity.