Featured Ancients: The Sacred Stone of Kaunos

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by AncientJoe, Jun 21, 2014.

  1. AncientJoe

    AncientJoe Supporter! Supporter

    In addition to coins, I'm very fond of meteorites, and therefore any "sacred stones" from antiquity pique my interest. These show up on a number of coin types and I was very excited to acquire this hard-to-find early example from Kaunos.


    Kaunos was a prominent trading center in Asian Minor alongside Lycia and Caria. It was mentioned by ancient authors specifically because of how its customs and language differed from Caria but until recently, it was not possible to decisively attribute any archaic or classical coinage to it, which is abnormal considering its importance during these periods.

    Thanks to the persistence of academics and archaeologists across the world, our understanding of ancient history is constantly evolving. This coin is a perfect example: until the 1980s, little was understood about the Carian language. Egyptologists were able to aid in the deciphering, using Carian inscriptions found in Egypt to cross-reference and begin to comprehend the language, allowing us to better understand the coins of the region.

    While the obverse of this coin has similar attributes to Nike, the latest research into the customs of the region indicates that it is in fact the Greek god Iris, the messenger of Hera. Unlike Nike, and as shown on this coin, Iris is generally shown holding a kerykeion (also known as a caduceus: a “herald’s staff”, a symbol of a messenger) and a wreath in either hand.

    The attribution of the obverse as Iris has aided in interpreting the reverse. The reverse evolved over time, starting with a crude triangular punch mark, then as a central device with horn-like tags, and eventually with handles as depicted in this coin.

    While originally thought to be either an early incuse pattern or a relief map like similar coinage from Ionia, it is now believed that the reverse depicts a sacred stone. In antiquity, it would have been referred to as a “baetyl”, or “beth el” in Aramaic, meaning “House of the God”. This term is used to describe conical stones which were worshipped as the homes of the gods. These objects are found fairly regularly on Roman provincial coins but are very unusual on early, archaic coinage.

    Archaeologists have long been mystified by the presence of a round building near the harbor of Kaunos. Recently, about three meters beneath the surface in the center of the building, a large conical piece of limestone measuring 12 feet high and 5 feet wide was discovered.

    The bottom of this object stands on the bedrock and was buried as a counterbalance to the top which towered nearly eight feet in the air. While remaining accessible to worshippers in the fifth century BC, it was eventually enclosed in walls and shrines to protect the sacred stone. With stone worship now having been confirmed in multiple aspects of life in Kaunos, there can be little doubt that the reverse of these coins depicts a sacred stone, likely the exact one uncovered inside the round building.

    This particular coin appears to show handles on both sides which may have been used to carry the sacred stone during processions prior to it being enclosed in its final shrine in the fourth century BC. With artistry evolving and improving alongside the refinement of their beliefs, the dies became more intricate with this coin showing subtle depth to the conical shape rather than just a flat triangle as seen on earlier varieties.

    Many sacred stones are meteorites, believed to have been sent by the gods, and it is likely that the conical limestone encapsulated the original meteorite. As further evidence to the stone being a meteorite, the god Iris is known as the god of rainbows, noting her connection between the sky and earth, likely referring to the event of the meteorite falling. Meteorite impacts represented a confusing and alarming event which nearly every ancient culture has interpreted as a message or visit from the gods.

    Over the span of several decades, the reverse eventually transformed into stylized birds followed by two bunches of grapes rendered in dots, potentially coinciding with a shift in religious customs and a movement away from archaic art.

    CARIA, Kaunos. Circa 450-430 BC. AR Stater (18mm, 11.49 g, 9h). Winged female figure in kneeling-running stance left, head right, holding kerykeion and wreath / Baetyl, with handles at apex; inverted Δ (K in Carian) to upper left, pelleted fields at sides; all within incuse square. Konuk 90 (O33/R31); Konuk, Coin M24; Troxell, Winged 25 (same dies); SNG Keckman 824 (same obv. die); SNG von Aulock 2347; BMC Cilicia 5 (Mallos, same dies). Good VF, toned.

    Ex Bowers & Ruddy FPL (Fall 1980), no. 41.
  2. Avatar

    Guest User Guest

    to hide this ad.
  3. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    Another fantastic coin AJ. And good information to boot. Thanks
  4. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    Fascinating new addition to your collection with an equally fascinating background. The art on it is wonderful!
  5. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

    Great write. You;ll find more than a fans of meteoites here 483227_498605803509669_815267756_n.jpg

    Attached Files:

  6. AncientJoe

    AncientJoe Supporter! Supporter

    I find it very intriguing how we coin collectors seem to have the same tangential interests. Here's a picture of one of my meteorites, using the auction house's pictures (still need to take pictures of some of my others):


    Iron, coarse octahedrite
    Gran Chaco, Argentina

    This Campo del Cielo exhibits well-defined regmaglypts (the small thumbprint-like impressions in the fusion crust caused by frictional burning and melting as the meteorite plunges to Earth). A protuberance on one side evokes a human profile. Accompanied by an ebony display stand, this is a winsome example of a meteorite. 5.25 x 6.75 x 3.5 inches and 4.45 kg (9.8 pounds)."
  7. chrsmat71

    chrsmat71 I LIKE TURTLES!

    yup, that is pretty darn awesome. I aint seen nothin' like it.
  8. spirityoda

    spirityoda Coin Junky Supporter

    holy cow that things huge. probably worth big bucks $$$$ ???? :blackalien:
  9. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

  10. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Johndakerftw, Savy, Jwt708 and 7 others like this.
  11. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

  12. Whizb4ng


    Awesome coin AJ.

    I would love to have a meteorite one day as well. They are pretty friggen awesome.
  13. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter

    Keep 'em coming AJ - love your coins and posts!
  14. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

    Another cross over into ancient coins, kind of

    "The name "ammonite", from which the scientific term is derived, was inspired by the spiral shape of their fossilized shells, which somewhat resemble tightly coiled rams' horns. Pliny the Elder (d. 79 AD near Pompeii) called fossils of these animals ammonis cornua ("horns of Ammon") because the Egyptian god Ammon (Amun) was typically depicted wearing ram's horns.[1] Often the name of an ammonite genus ends in -ceras, which is Greek (κέρας) for "horn"."

    002~4.JPG 003.JPG
  15. willieboyd2

    willieboyd2 First Class Poster

    Great article and interesting coin!

    There was also a Sacred Black Stone of Elagabal:


    Antoninus Pius Provincial AE - Sacred Stone of Emesa Syria
    Obverse: Laureate bust right - AVT KAI TI AI ANTONEINOC CEB EV
    Reverse: Eagle standing right on sacred stone of Elagabal - EMICHNWN (Emesa)
    Size: 23mm Weight: 8.71gm Catalog: BMC 1

    Emesa began to mint coins during the reign of Antoninus Pius (AD 138-161) when it became a major city.

    The reverse depicts the Black Stone of Emesa, which was worshiped in Syria as the god Elagabal.
    The stone is believed to be a meteorite.

    Elagabal had always been worshipped with much pomp and devotion, accompanied by music and dancing.
    On coins, the stone is usually shown with an eagle spreading its wings over the object in a protective way.

    The cult of Elagabal was later introduced into Rome by the emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus,
    who was later known as Elagabalus after his stone.

    Last edited: Jun 22, 2014
  16. Gil-galad

    Gil-galad I AM SPARTACUS

    Awesome OP coin! I learned quite a bit by reading the article.
  17. stevex6

    stevex6 Random Mayhem

    that's a stupidly-cool addition ...
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2014
  18. Collect89

    Collect89 Coin Collector

    I have very little meteorite material. I collect coins, rocks, and an occsional sea shell. Here are some colorful minerals that are about 10 cm x 10 cm.

    Rock Sulfur.JPG Malochite:
    Rock Malachite.JPG Pyrite & Quartz:
    Rock Pyrite and Quartz.JPG Rhodochrosite:
    Rock Rhodochrosite.JPG
  19. AncientJoe

    AncientJoe Supporter! Supporter

    It wasn't cheap, but the coin is more expensive than the meteorite in this case.
  20. AncientJoe

    AncientJoe Supporter! Supporter

    Great minerals! I love the "Pyrite and Quartz" especially! I have a few pieces of pyrite - I find the variety of structures very intriguing (and my attempts to find a picture of them have come up empty... I'll take a new one soon :))
  21. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    randygeki and TIF like this.
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page