Researchers at Macquarie University's Australian Centre for Ancient Numismatic Studies (ACANS) have joined forces with scientists from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), on a joint research program to solve a twenty-five century-old mystery behind the technology used to produce a special variety of ancient Hellenic coins, thus reports the Archaeology News Network.

Twenty-five century-old mystery uncovered
Silver Stater from Lucania Metapontion, 510-480 BC: Obv. Ear of corn, META reversed; 
Rev: Ear of corn incuse [Credit: Rosenblum Coins]
There are many mysteries about ancient Hellenic society, and it seems these researchers are working hard to solve one of them: how did the ancient Hellenes mint coins which shows the same image on the front and back, but with the image on the back sunk into the metal so that it appears as a negative or incuse version of the front?

These coins were first minted around 540 BC in the cities of Southern Italy (modern Basilicata and Calabria) and has attracted a good deal of discussion but it has never been satisfactorily explained. The mysterious technique of manufacture, which appears to be quite difficult to execute, was in practice for over a century. There are no surviving contemporary accounts of ancient coin manufacture, and no illustrations. Only three or four of the dies once used for striking coins in ancient Greek mints survive today. Therefore, what we know about the earliest history of coin minting is derived from a study of the coins themselves.

Dr Vladimir Luzin, Instrument Scientist at ANSTO, is at the head of the new research which makes use of neutron scattering texture measurements.

"Our aim is to explore the technology behind the production of one of the world's first coinages. In particular, our objective is to explain the very singular technology and processes for minting incuse coins."

ANSTO's Bragg Institute leads Australia in the use of neutron scattering and X-ray techniques to solve complex research and industrial problems in many important fields. Although measurements of coins using neutron texture analysis have been implemented before, a systematic and full-scale study to set a benchmark is unique to this project. According to Associate Professor Kenneth Sheedy, Director of ACANS, ANSTO's neutron scattering texture measurements will provide insight into the mechanical processes undertaken to create the coins. Numismatists from ACANS will then infer the production steps undertaken to produce these coins using knowledge of ancient materials and equipment that were available at the time. I will keep you posted when more information becomes available.