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Coins seized from smugglers turn out to be rare

November 04, 2013

ISLAMABAD, Nov 3: Another attempt to smuggle ancient artifacts out of the country was thwarted last month by custom officials at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport Islamabad.

In his early 20s, Zarin Gul from Mingora (Swat) tried to smuggle 150 silver and copper coins which customs officials found in his baggage.

Unable to assess whether the coins were of any historical value, the officials confiscated the dusty circular, square and triangle coins to hand them over to experts at the Department of Archaeology and Museums Islamabad (DOAM) for examination.

Zarin Gul was carrying the coins with him to Thailand and tried to mislead customs officials about their origin and value. According to a customs officer, the number of coins was too large to go unnoticed.

However, it was not significant enough for officials to register a first information report (FIR) against the passenger and detain him.

After taking down necessary information about Zarin Gul, he was allowed to travel to his final destination.

The coins were handed over to experts at DOAM last Wednesday.

They found all the coins to be original items believed to be dated back to 200BC.

In his initial assessment, a senior official at DOAM said the coins’ individual worth ranged from $15 to several thousand dollars.

Besides the ancient inscriptions, the silver coins carried the image of Greek King Menander Soter ‘The Saviour’, who had not only set up a large empire in Asia but had also become a patron of Buddhism.

These coins are believed to be from the period 200BC to 150BC.

In addition, the confiscated collection included coins from the Islamic Period. In his initial assessment, the DOAM official said these coins belonged to the years 1600 to 1700AD.

Similarly, archaeologists also identified some coins to be from the Post-Mauryan Period from the year 200BC.

Interpreting from the inscriptions on some other coins, experts also identified coins from the Kushan Period dated back to 100-465 AD.

Director General DOAM Fazaldad Kakar explained that the coins had been found from the Gandara region in Pakistan which dated back to 600BC.

Therefore, some of these are extremely rare and priceless.

He explained that besides the 403 protected sites and monuments under the Antiquities Act 1975, thousands of sites and monuments remained unprotected.

Treasure hunters illegally excavate these sites to find ancient artifacts which are later sold in black markets.

According to DOAM, museums, especially those in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), did not generally report incidents of theft.

They said the coins were stolen from one site but it was not possible for experts to pinpoint the exact site from where these coins were found.

This was the third attempt to smuggle ancient coins so far this year.

In late August 2013, customs officials at the airport seized a similar consignment when two passengers, both from KP, tried to fly out of the country with nearly a dozen gold coins, some of which were extremely rare and nearly 2,000 years old.

A similar attempt to smuggle historical treasures, including coins, was busted earlier this year.