“Because Other People Have Done It”: Coin-Trees and the Aesthetics of Imitation
Issue: Vol 2 No. 2 (2015)
Journal: Journal of Contemporary Archaeology
Subject Areas: Archaeology
This paper considers the centrality of imitation in relation to British coin-trees, which are exactly what their name suggests: trees which have been embedded with coins. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the custom of coin insertion was observed for folk-remedial purposes; depositors were hoping for cures to certain ailments through the process of “contagious transfer”. However, the custom has experienced a recent resurgence, with many coin-trees dating to the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s. The modern-day depositors of coins do not cite folk-remedies as the purpose behind their participation; instead, the majority refer to imitation as the primary motivating factor. Simply put, people insert coins into trees because they have witnessed other people doing so. The paper considers imitation as a dissemination mechanism of the coin-tree custom; as the process which not only ensures the continuation of the custom but also influences how it is observed. The aesthetics of imitation, for example, refers to the distributions of the actual coins within the coin-trees, which often follow neat geometric patterns, testifying to the depositors’ inclination to maintain a broader design. This paper aims to demonstrate the central role of imitation in the “why” and “how” of participation in this contemporary custom, and to consider the broader archaeological implications of such a demonstration.
Author: Ceri Houlbrook
Baker, M. 2005. “Some Object Histories and the Materiality of the Sculptural Object.” In The Lure of the Object, edited by S. Melville, 119–134. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Bandura, A. 1977. Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Banerjee, A. V. 1992. “A Simple Model of Herd Behavior.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 107 (3): 797–817. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/2118364
Barnett, T. R. 1930. Autumns in Skye, Ross and Sutherland. Edinburgh: John Grant.
Bikhchandani, S., D. Hirshleifer and I. Welsh. 1992. “A Theory of Fads, Fashion, Custom, and Cultural Change as Informational Cascades.” Journal of Political Economy 100 (5): 992–1026. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/261849
____., D. Hirshleifer and I. Welsh. 1998. “Learning from the Behavior of Others: Conformity, Fads, and Information Cascades.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 12 (3): 151–170. http://dx.doi.org/10.1257/jep.12.3.151
Bradley, R. 1990. The Passage of Arms: An Achaeological Analysis of Prehistoric Hoards and Votive Deposits. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Brück, J. 2006. “Ritual and Rationality: Some Problems of Interpretation in European Archaeology.” In The Archaeology of Identities: A Reader, edited by T. Insoll, 281–307. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
Campbell, J. F. 1860. Popular Tales of the West Highlands, Volume 2. Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas.
Chapman, J. 2000. Fragmentation in Archaeology: People, Places and Broken Objects in the Prehistory of South-Eastern Europe. London: Routledge.
Daly, J. F. 1961. “Curative Wells in Old Dublin.” Dublin Historical Record 17 (1): 13–24.
Dijksterhuis, A. 2005. “Why We Are Social Animals: The High Road to Imitation as Social Glue.” In Perspectives on Imitation: From Neuroscience to Social Science, Volume 2: Imitation, Human Development, and Culture, edited by S. Hurley and N. Chater, 207–220. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Dixon, J. H. 1886. Gairloch in North-West Ross-shire: Its Records, Traditions, Inhabitants, and Natural History; with a Guide to Gairlock and Loch Maree and a Map of Illustrations. Edinburgh: Co-operative Printing Company.
Donoho, E. 2014. “The Madman amongst the Ruins: The Oral History and Folklore of Traditional Insanity Cures in the Scottish Highlands.” Folklore 125 (1): 22–39. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0015587X.2013.829664
Dowden, K. 2000. European Paganism: The Realities of Cult from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. London: Routledge.
Eade, J. and M. J. Sallnow, eds. 1991. Contesting the Sacred: The Anthropology of Christian Pilgrimage. London: Routledge.
Frazer, J. G. 1900. The Golden Bough, Volume 1. London: Macmillan.
Gamble, C. 2007. Origins and Revolutions: Human Identity in Earliest Prehistory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511618598
Gell, A. 1998. Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
____. 1999. “The Technology of Enchantment.” In The Art of Anthropology: Essays and Diagrams, edited by A. Gell, 159–186. London: Athlone Press.
Godden, G. M. 1893. “The Sanctuary of Mourie.” Folklore 4 (4): 498–508. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0015587X.1893.9720183
Goody, J. 1961. “Religion and Ritual: The Definitional Problem.” British Journal of Sociology 12 (2): 142–164. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/586928
Granovetter, M. 1978. “Threshold Models of Collective Behavior.” American Journal of Sociology 83 (6): 1420–1443. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/226707
Grimes, P. 1999. “The Pin Tree.” Lough Shore News. March edition: 22–23.
Hall, M. 2012. “Money Isn’t Everything: The Cultural Life of Coins in the Medieval Burgh of Perth, Scotland.” Journal of Social Archaeology 12: 72–91. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1469605311431387
Hamilton, D. 1981. The Healers: A History of Medicine in Scotland. Edinburgh: Canongate.
Handelman, D. 1990. Models and Mirrors: Towards an Anthropology of Public Events. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Harbison, P. 1991. Pilgrimage in Ireland: The Monuments and the People. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.
Hartfield, E., J. T. Cacioppo and R. L. Rapson. 1994. Emotional Contagion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hartland, E. S. 1893. “Pin-Wells and Rag-Bushes.” Folklore 4 (4): 451–470. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0015587X.1893.9720181
Houlbrook, C. 2014a. “The Mutability of Meaning: Contextualising the Cumbrian Coin-Tree.” Folklore 125 (1): 40–59. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0015587X.2013.837316
____. 2014b. Coining the Coin-Tree: Contextualising A Contemporary British Custom. PhD Diss., University of Manchester.
____. 2015a. “The Penny’s Dropped: Renegotiating the Contemporary Coin Deposit.” Journal of Material Culture 20 (2): 173–189
____. 2015b. “Small Change: Economics and the British Coin-Tree. Post-Medieval Archaeology.
____. Forthcoming. “Possession through Deposition: The ‘Ownership’ of Coins in Contemporary British Coin-trees.” In Possession: To Own and be Owned, edited by C. Hedenstierna-Jonson and A. M. Klevnas. Stockholm Studies in Archaeology. Stockholm: Stockholm University.
Ingold, T. 2007. “Materials against Materiality.” Archaeological Dialogues 14 (1): 1–16. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1380203807002127
Insoll, T. 2004. Archaeology, Ritual, Religion. London: Routledge.
____. 2011. “Sacrifice.” The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Ritual and Religion, edited by T. Insoll, 151–165. Oxford: Oxford University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199232444.001.0001
Jones, F. 1954. The Holy Wells of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.
Leins, I. 2007. “Coins in Context: Coinage and Votive Deposition in Iron Age South-East Leicestershire.” The British Numismatic Journal 77: 22–48.
Lewis, M. J. T. 1966. Temples in Roman Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lohmann, S. 1994. “The Dynamics of Informational Cascades: The Monday Demonstrations in Leipzig, East Germany, 1989–91.” World Politics 47 (1): 42–101. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/2950679
Lucas, A. T. 1963. “Sacred Trees of Ireland.” Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society 68: 16–54.
Markus, M. L. 1987. “Toward a ‘Critical Mass’ Theory of Interactive Media: Universal Access, Interdependence and Diffusion.” Communication Research 14: 491–511. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/009365087014005003
McPherson, J. M. 1929. Primitive Beliefs in the North-East of Scotland. London: Longmans, Green.
Meltzoff, A. N. 2005. “Imitation and Other Minds: The ‘Like Me’ Hypothesis.” In Perspectives on Imitation: From Neuroscience to Social Science, Volume 2: Imitation, Human Development, and Culture, edited by S. Hurley and N. Chater, 55–77. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Mitchell, A. 1863. “On Various Superstitions in the North-West Highlands and Islands of Scotland, Especially in Relation to Lunacy.” Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 3, 251–288.
Moore, S. F. and B. G. Myerhoff, eds. 1997. Secular Ritual. Assen, Germany: Van Gorcum.
Morton, A. 2004. Tree Heritage of Britain and Ireland. Marlborough, UK: Airlife Publishing.
Muddock, J. E. 1898. “The Land of Santa Maree.” Celtic Magazine 3: 435–461.
Osborne, R. 2004. “Hoards, Votives, Offerings: The Archaeology of the Dedicated Object.” World Archaeology 36 (1): 1–10. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0043824042000192696
Pennant, T. 1775. A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides, MDCCLXXII, Volume 2. Dublin: A. Leathley.
Porteous, A. 1928. Forest Folklore, Mythology, and Romance. London: G. Allen & Unwin.
Priest, V., P. Clay and J. D. Hill. 2003. “Iron Age Gold from Leicestershire.” Current Archaeology 188: 358–360.
Rattue, J. 1995. The Living Stream: Holy Wells in Historical Context. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press.
Reeves, W. 1857–60. “Saint Maelrubha; His History and Churches.” Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 3: 258–296.
Robertson, A. S. 1974. “Romano-British Coin Hoards: Their Numismatic, Archaeological and Historical Significance.” In Coins and the Archaeologist, edited by J. Casey and R. Reece, 13–35. London: B. A. Seaby.
Rodger, D., J. Stokes and J. Ogilvie. 2003. Heritage Trees of Scotland. London: Tree Council.
Roe, H. M. 1939. “Tales, Customs and Beliefs from Laoighis.” Béaloideas 9 (1): 21–35. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/20642522
Rogers, E. M. 1995. Diffusion of Innovations. New York: Free Press.
Royal Mint. 2012. The Royal Mint Trading Fund: Annual Report 2011–12. London: The Stationery Office.
Score, V. 2006. “Ritual, Hoards and Helmets: A Ceremonial Meeting Place for the Corieltavi.” Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society 80: 197–207.
____. ed. 2011. Hoards, Hounds and Helmets: A Conquest-Period Ritual Site at Hallaton, Leicestershire. Leicester Archaeology Monograph 21. Leicester: University of Leicester Archaeological Services.
Shils, E. 1966. “Ritual and Crisis.” Philosophical Transactions of Royal Society of London, Series B 251 (772): 447–450. Special issue: A Discussion on Ritualization of Behaviour in Animals and Man, edited by J. Huxley. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.1966.0032
Simon, B. 2000. “Tree Traditions and Folklore from Northeast Ireland.” Arboricultural Journal 24 (1): 15–40. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03071375.2000.9747260
Tuleja, T. 1991. “The Tooth Fairy: Perspectives on Money and Magic.” In The Good People: New Fairylore Essays, edited by P. Narváez, 406–425. New York: Garland Publishing.
Victoria. 1884. More Leaves from the Journal of a Life in the Highlands, from 1862 to 1883. London: Smith, Elder.
Vyse, S. A. 1997. Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Walhouse, J. 1880. “Rag-Bushes and Kindred Observances.” Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 9: 97–106. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/2841872
Wilks, J. H. 1972. Trees in the British Isles in History and Legend. London: Frederick Muller.
Williams, J. 2003. “The Coins and the Helmet.” Current Archaeology 188: 361–362.
Woodward, A. 1992. English Heritage Book of Shrines and Sacrifice. London: B. T. Batsford.