Last year, a bevy of ancient gold coins were discovered in the unassuming Indian village of Jankipuram. News of the discovery sent shockwaves throughout the town of Tonk, in the state of Rajasthan, as well as the larger numismatic community. How, though, did those coins get there? The question has left many numismatic experts scratching their heads and a recent examination of the pieces has only added to the turbulence.
By January 17th of this year, 108 coins had been confiscated from villagers, in an effort led by local authorities, to determine the total number of coins and hand them over to the government. (It has been suggested that, as of March 1st, 2017 the total number of confiscated coins is 158. These additional coins, collected between January 17th and March 1st, have not yet been included in any official documents.)
The coins were then analyzed by the State Archaeology and Museum Department (SAMD) and a report documenting the findings was subsequently released.
The report has caused many experts to reevaluate what they thought they knew about the pieces. It was believed, for example, that the hoard dated back to the era of Samudragupta era, about 336 – 380 CE. The minting of the coins, though, may have taken place under the governance of several different Indian emperors.
Now, the majority of the coins—106 pieces—do hail from the era of the Gupta dynasty. Samudragupta (335-380 CE), Chandragupta II (380-415 CE) and Kumaragupta (415-455 CE) were all, at one point, responsible for commissioning the mintage and distribution of these coins. Two of the coins and a terracotta bull, however, are believed to come from the Kushan dynasty of the 1st century CE.
Completion of the report was dependent on the researchers’ abilities to accurately translate the ancient Brahmi and Greek inscriptions found on the pieces. This practice is in keeping with the standards put forth by the International Core Data Standard for Archaeological Sites and Monuments.
Jafarullah Khan, superintendent for the SAMD office in the Rajasthan city of Ajmer, describes the Kushan era coins as having “an image of a king giving ‘ahauti‘ (inflammable item) to the fire on one side. On the other side, there’s an image of Greek god and goddesses.” On the coin is an inscription rendered in Greek. It says “Shao Nano Shao, Kanishka Kushan,” or “Emperor of the emperor, Kanishka Kushan.”
The coins from the Gupta period depict, among many other incarnations of Hindu deities, Saraswati the goddess of knowledge, music, and the arts. Saraswati is part of the Tridevi, or trinity of supreme goddesses wherein she is accompanied by Lakshmi and Parvati, the lords of fortune and fertility respectively.
“The rarest coin from the Gupta dynasty period is that of a goddess sitting on a chair with the hair falling down over the shoulder. She wears a sari. The words describe her as a goddess and speaks about independence and empowerment of women back then,” revealed Khan.
The Gupta-era coins feature a Brahmi inscription as well.
The coins were discovered last September by mining companies searching for granite in the village. Word of the discovery quickly spread to surrounding communities. Before long, the area was besieged by treasure hunters from twenty disparate villages.
The private excavation of coins, though, is illegal. Local authorities eventually cordoned off the area, and cited Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code (which allows a civil officer to forbid the assembly of more than four people in an area in order to preserve peace) as their reason for doing so.
Khan seems to have his own theories on the matter: “The excavation of coins, ranging from 1 CE to 5 CE, indicates that this place was used to hide accumulated wealth.” Of this, he is uncertain but hopeful. “It’s very early to say anything. But if our assumptions matches the established historical accounts of the region, we will share the path-breaking news with the world.”
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