Numismatic Archaeology of North America: A Field Guide
Marjorie H. Akin, James C. Bard, and Kevin Akin, Routledge, New York, New
York, 2016. 289 pp., b&w illus., glossary, index, refs. $50.95 paper
Published online: 11 July 2017
Society for Historical Archaeology 2017
Hist Arch (2017) 51:576–577
Numismatic Archaeology of North America: A Field
Guide by Marjorie H. Akin, James C. Bard, and Kevin
Akin fills an important lacuna in the historical archaeo-
logical literature. Although coins are often recovered by
historical archaeologists, they rarely see more than curso-
ry analysis relative to other heavily studied classes of
artifacts such as ceramics, glass bottles, and tobacco pipes.
This is unfortunate as coins, when expertly interpreted,
can be much more than simple dating tools. Akin, Bard,
and Akin’s book is well written and lavishly illustrated. It
belongs on the shelves of all historical archaeologists and
is likely to become the go-to volume for archaeologists
trying to learn more about the coins in their assemblages.
The authors, experienced archaeologists and numis-
matists, note four goals in writing the volume. First, they
see it as a step toward establishing a numismatic vocab-
ulary and taxonomy for archaeologists. Second, they
hope to provide numismatists with a deeper understand-
ing of coins and tokens. Third, they want to build trust
and understanding between archaeologists and numis-
matists. Fourth, and finally, they want to understand the
“unique and special aspects of the numismatic archaeo-
logical record of this continent” (preface).
The volume begins by defining numismatics, “the
formal study of coins, tokens, and other similar artifacts”
(preface), and discussing the relationship of numismatics
to archaeology. Coins have long been important time
markers, providing absolute dates for archaeological de-
posits. The reuse of ancient Greek coins, through a pro-
cess of over striking, also helped establish early archaeo-
logical chronologies. Akin, Bard, and Akin, do not limit
their work to European examples; they also draw from
Chapter 2 focuses on the development of money in
North America. While some Native American societies
did employ forms of currency, none were fully mone-
tized. Early America was, broadly speaking, lacking in
circulating currency and tokens and, therefore, com-
modities were used to make up the difference.
Appropriate attention is paid to the conversion of pre-
cious metals from Latin America into coins and ingots.
Even before European contact, shell was being
employed by some Native American groups as a form
of currency. Considerable attention is paid to the pro-
duction and function of achum, or shell beads, a curren-
cy employed by the Chumash and other West Coast
societies. Other forms of shell money are also discussed,
from the wampum of the colonial Northeast to the
Depression-era Pismo Clam money of California.
In chapter 3, the authors examine circulating curren-
cy—typically money produced by government bodies.
The chapter begins with early Spanish and Mexican coin-
age, then moves on to later Mexican coins, followed by
the colonial coinage of the original 13 colonies. Canadian
coins are also described and illustrated while black and
white photographs illustrate the common coin types is-
sued by the U.S. mint. The chapter’s organization, in part
chronological and in part geographical, is a bit unusual.
R. Veit (*)
Department of History and Anthropology, Monmouth University,
West Long Branch, NJ 07764, U.S.A.