China-bound passenger held with over 2,000 rare ancient coins

Published June 2, 2014
Gold coin from Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir's period. According to DOAM, the text reads 'Issued with King's seal for the entire World'.
Gold coin from Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir's period. According to DOAM, the text reads 'Issued with King's seal for the entire World'.

ISLAMABAD: Customs officials at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport made one of their biggest hauls of ancient coins and artifacts when they caught a China-bound passenger trying to smuggle out more than 2,000 rare items, including 16 well-preserved gold coins.

“We were surprised at the audacity of the man,” said a customs officer recalling the May 21 catch.

According to the officer, a smuggler would have on him 20 to about 100 such items to avoid detection.

Coins from the Kushan and Islamic period.
Coins from the Kushan and Islamic period.

Deputy Collector Customs Ghulam Ali Malik confirmed that Mehar Nabi from Peshawar was trying to catch an early morning flight (PK1-855) to Kashgar, China, on May 21, when baggage examination led to the recovery of the coins and other objects which apparently seemed antiques.

The recovered items were sent to the Department of Archaeology and Museums (DOAM) for verification.


Department of archaeology confirms that most of the artifacts were antique


The department, in its preliminary report, verified that most of the recovered coins were antique and dated back to the Islamic, Kushan, Sultanate period, Mughal, Hindu Shahi, Sassanid and Sikh dynasties.

The department of archaeology took about 10 days to verify more than 2,000 coins and some 110 iron spear and arrow heads, surgical items, copper bells, seals, rings and items made from semi-precious stones.

Iron arrow and spearheads.
Iron arrow and spearheads.

The most fascinating are the 16 gold coins from the Islamic and Kushan periods. Equally well preserved and beautifully carved are the 1,000 silver coins of Mughal, Hindu Shahi, Sassanid and Sikh dynasties.

The catch also contained some 270 copper coins of Sultanate period besides coins from the fairly recent British Empire and the United States.

But it was the gold coins that grabbed the attention of the experts at DOAM.

“The best part about gold is that it never deteriorates. These are well preserved. Gold coins can be found in museums but they are special because they are not easy to find,” said an archaeologist at the DOAM, giving an example how he discovered one gold coin amongst 200 copper coins in Taxila some six years ago.

Holding a 250 AD Kushan period gold coin, the expert described the figure of the king known as Vasudev. The other side of the coin has an impression of Lord Shiva holding a trident.

Unlike the coins from the Kushan period with impressions of kings and gods, the gold coins belonging to the Islamic period carried only text and had the names of Sultan Firuz Shah Tughlaq (1309-1388).

Another carried the name of Masud who was the son of Mahmud of Ghaznavi.

The expert seemed more fascinated with the coin with the name of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir.

“It possibly contains the number of days since the emperor sat on the throne. The coin was possibly made in Surat, India, and it reads that it is issued with the King’s seal for the entire world,” said the expert, reading the Persian text inscribed on the coin.

The catch also contained more than 550 silver coins from Indo-Greek period, some 450 Kushan copper coins besides a few figurines, buckles and stamps etc.

In August 2013, the customs seized 20 shiny rare gold coins of Kushan period from a passenger travelling to Thailand. Similarly, in November 2013, another 20 ancient gold coins from the Gandhara civilization were found hidden in the baggage of a passenger travelling to Thailand.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2014

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