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Roman Coin Hoards

November 5, 2009

Hoarded coins may help answer questions about ancient Rome’s population.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
Tracking ancient cash stashes. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Long-lost coin stashes may help settle a dispute about ancient Roman history. This according to University of Connecticut evolutionary biologist Peter Turchin. He explains that historically, in times of social upheaval, people tend to hoard their money.

PETER TURCHIN (University of Connecticut):
If the threat passes, and nothing terrible happened, then they invariably unearth their valuables and use them for whatever purposes.

HIRSHON:
But if they die or flee, they leave their hidden coin hoards behind. Recently, Turchin and Stanford University historian Walter Schiedel applied this to a debate about the first century B.C., a time of political strife. Some historians have suggested that the Roman population more than doubled during this time. But Turchin says a spike in coin hoards supports the view that it actually shrank. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.