Massive Ancient Chinese Coin Hoard Unearthed|
August 17, 2009
Have you ever given much thought as to how ancient coins got to that dealer from whom you plan to buy them? Don't assume that the coins must have previously been in a collection that has since been liquidated. If this were always true, we could likely trace the pedigree on most ancient coins to some collector from the Renaissance or earlier.
In fact, many of the ancient coins on the market - be they Chinese, Indian, or in the Greco-Roman tradition - have likely been unearthed in relatively modern history. Unfortunately the sources of coins originating from China may soon dry up due to China's efforts to enforce its laws forbidding the export of coins that circulated prior to 1911. These coins have been declared cultural patrimony.
If the coins were unique, the argument would make greater sense, but the recent discovery of more than two tons of ancient coins in Shaanxi Province in northwest China makes the point. A detailed listing of the coins, found when workmen were excavating at the site of a playground to expand a primary school, was not yet ready when this article was being written. According to the June 10 China Review, once the coins were discovered, the site was closed to further construction and was swarmed by "more than 70 archaeologists, officials and police."
Liquan County Cultural Relics Protection and Tourism Bureau director Zhao Aiguo said the coins were found when workers were excavating the grounds for construction of another building. It took more than five hours to retrieve the massive coin hoard from a gray brick vault in which they were entombed. The vault itself was described as measuring 1.5 meters in width and length as well as one meter in height. Zhao didn't give details, but he suggested the vault was likely build during the Yuan Dynasty of 1279 to 1368.
Collectors would likely enjoy eventually owning some of these coins once historians are done analyzing the hoard, but unless Chinese export laws change, this is unlikely. Fortunately, there are indications the find is being handled responsibly.
According to China Review, "'The coins have been sent to a local museum and archaeologists were counting them. Because there were so many, it might take a week to know the exact number and categories,' Zhao said."
There are some hints regarding information about the site and the coins found there, even before any results of the finding are made public. Zhao indicated the site is part of what had been a temple built between 180 B.C. and 157 B.C. by an emperor as a memorial to his mother. Some of the coins found at the site may have been donatives left by visitors to that temple, although he didn't give any date at which such visitors may have been there.
The date of such a visit may have been significantly later, since the preliminary results publicized through China Review indicate the find consists of coins in circulation in the Tang (618 to 907), Song (960 to 1279), and Yuan (1279 to 1368) dynasties.
The type of round coins with square hole known as kai yuan introduced during the Tang dynasty set the style for cash coins until the 20th century. Many of the numerous varieties are common.
The Song dynasty was pressured by barbarians from the north, forcing them to abandon their capitol and move south. The Southern Song dynasty is likely best remembered numismatically for Chun Huan Yuan Bao characters written by Emperor Tai Zong on coins. Dui gian or couple coins (coins with the same characters appearing in different fonts) are also known from this period, as is jiao zi, the earliest known paper currency in the world.
Yuan dynasty currency is similar in form to that of the Song dynasty, although a large cash Mongol dayuan tongbao coin was issued in 1310. Newly cast coins replaced the old with each succeeding emperor. Paper money became relevant to the economy during this period, replacing bronze and iron coins until 1310 during the reign of Emperor Wuzong.
The Liquan County find is of interest since it comes on the heels of a 2006 discovery of 150 coins that appear to be a coin collection found in the same province. The likely collection was found in a tomb and consists of more than coins. It is described as being of 20 different types all from the Tang, Song, and Jin dynasties spanning about 600 years. Once again, particulars on this find could not be found in time for this article.
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