With this information, we can then explain May’s wonder at the discovery of eight Roman coins minted between 337 and 383 CE on a Massachusetts beach. May relies on the theories of marine biologist Barry Fell—not a reputable source—to suggest that the coincidence in dates proves such a discovery could not have been due to a lost coin collection because collectors wouldn’t have coins so close in date. This is a lie. I have on my shelf coins of almost exactly the same date. The reason for this is simple: Such coins, being among the last minted by Rome, are the most abundant and therefore least expensive to acquire. Even if they were not part of an American’s collection, they might well have been part of some Roman’s lost pocket change scooped up for the ballast of a Massachusetts merchant vessel on some European jaunt and dumped unknowingly into the sea, where they would have washed up on the beach. Point is: without any other evidence of Roman activity, these coins are not conclusive proof of anything.
The second half of the chapter comes from Lee Pennington, a playwright and filmmaker. He reports the discovery of Roman coins in Kentucky in 2009. The same man, David Wells, turned up not one but two sets of Roman coins near Louisville, again near water, this time the river. Pennington dismisses the scholarly consensus, expressed in Jeremiah Epstein’s classic 1980 Current Anthropology article “Pre-Columbian Old World Coins in America,” that such finds are the result of lost collections and deliberate hoaxes. Pennington rests his case largely on the idea that more than half the coins (and here we have left behind the Kentucky coins and now speak of all coins found everywhere in America) are apparently third-century, which he sees as being too close in date for coincidence. His evidence is that the coins feature a “radiate” (solar) crown, “only minted between 215 and 295 AD.”
Nearly all of the sites Pennington lists for what he considers well-documented finds of Roman coins are, he admits, “on or near waterways,” including the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and the Atlantic and Caribbean seaboards. He takes this as evidence that the Romans sailed along these routes rather than the most obvious situation, that (a) this is where colonial and Victorian people lived and therefore lost their collections and (b) this is also where oceangoing ships put into port, dumping their European ballasts, which archaeology has proved contained ancient coins among the granite and other debris they picked up in the Old World.
So far Lost Worlds of Ancient America is 0-2 on “compelling evidence of ancient immigrants.” They have 43 tries left to go.