The discovery of an ancient coin hoard is among the most exciting encounters an archaeologist can hope for.
More often than not, hidden caches of ancient coins come from the Roman Empire. This makes sense given the sprawling territorial reach of the Ancient Romans. However, those of us in the West sometimes overlook the rich ancient and medieval history of another astounding civilization in China.
Make no mistake: researchers are still finding ancient Chinese coins in huge numbers!
Researchers from China's Ceramics and Archaeology Institute were called in after construction of a new house in the village Chacun during October happened to uncover an enormous pile of old coins.
The hoard is made up of copper coins known as wén, a traditional denomination of Chinese currency used for centuries until the yuan was introduced in 1889. A staggering amount of coins were found—over 300,000 coins! Together they weigh 5.6 metric tons, according to reporting on the story by Numismatic News.
The coins date to sometime between the 10th and 13th centuries during the reign of the Song Dynasty. They are of the type with a square hole in the middle like those shown above. (These holes were useful for stringing coins together for convenient transport and exchange.)
During the preceding Tang Dynasty, China became the first country to introduce paper money more than a millennia ago. This was due to a shortage of metal coins in some regions of the kingdom during this period. Due to its isolation from much of the rest of the world prior to the 19th century, Greater China has one of the most fascinating monetary histories of any of the world's great ancient civilizations.
According to laws regarding the protection and preservation of relics in China, the coins must be donated to the state. In exchange, the finder may receive "moral encouragement or material rewards." So someone who discovers treasure or artifacts might be compensated, or they might simply be told, "Good job!"
While the individual coins are likely not as valuable as comparable coins from the Middle East or Europe due to their lack of precious metal content, they are still important historical relics. Especially as Chinese society becomes more affluent, the market for such artifacts and old coins should also grow.
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Everett has been the head content writer and market analyst at Gainesville Coins since 2013. He has a background in History and is deeply interested in how gold and silver have historically fit into the financial system.