COINAGE IN ANCIENT INDIA

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The application of chemistry to archaeology has grown from small beginnings near the close of the 18th century to become at present a subject of widespread interest. The amount of activity in this special field of study has increased greatly in the last few years. One index of this large recent increase is the proportion of papers, monographs and books on the subject published within the last ten years. About 20% of all publications on the chemical analysis of ancient materials and objects have appeared in this last decade. If the publications on dating by chemical methods and on chemical procedures for the restoration and preservation of ancient objects are also taken into consideration, the proportion in the last ten years rises to about 30%. The present volume by Professor Satya Prakash contains many interesting examples of the application of chemistry to the study of a particular class of ancient objects, and is another indication of the current widespread interest in archaeological chemistry.

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Archaeological chemistry, as a subject of the highest study is yet in this country in its first phase, whereas in England, it has now entered its third phase after the Second World war. I am obliged to Prof. Earle R. Caley of the Ohio State University, Columbus, U.S.A., one of the most distinguished workers in the field of archaeological chemistry, to have written a Foreword to this monograph.

None of the authors of this monograph is an orthodox numismatist. Having been interested in metallurgical practices of our olden times, the study of the ancient Indian coins was undertaken. Here one could speak with some certainty the dates when they were forged. In connection with this study, it was difficult to ignore the history of the coinage practices in this country, and the material which could be collected for one’s personal use in this context has also been presented to the readers to serve as a background.

This monograph is not a book on Indian numismatics on traditional lines; it emphasizes those aspects which might be helpful to one interested in archaeo-chemical studies and in the application of quantitative methods in archaeology. Of course, besides this, the volume also incorporates the documented material from the entire history up to a period of 1000 A.D. from the earliest times. The reader would appreciate the material on Roman and Greek coinage as a contemporary study. A few other ancient countries have also been included in the study. The monograph has chapters which may roughly fall under three broad heads: (i) a description of ancient Indian coins of different periods, available in collections of museums, (ii) a documental reference to Indian coinage in ancient Indian literature; this covers the Vedic period, the Brahmana period, the periods of Panini. Kautilya, and Manu, and the period when the ancient books on Indian Mathematics were compiled, and (iii) the laboratory work on the chemical and spectroscopic analyses and metallographic studies of Indian coins. An account of the coinage in the ancient neighbouring countries has also been given and in this context, I am obliged to Professor Caley, for the material on the Greek and Roman coins which has been collected from his numerous publications.

For this work on coins, the indebtedness of authors goes to Shri S.C. Kala, Curator, Allahabad Museum, to Prof. G.R. Sharma, Head of the Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Allahabad, to Sri Jineshwar Das and to Shri R.C. Vyas for their valuable personal collections at Allahabad, to Dr. N.A. Narasimham, Head of the Spectroscopic Division, Atomic Energy Establishment, Trombay for providing necessar, facilities for the spectroscopic work, and to Dr. T.R. Anantharaman, Head of the Department of Metallurgy and Shri R.P. Wahi, incharge, Metallographic Section. Banaras Hindu University, for kindly assisting in the metallographic work. Thanks are also due to Sri Balkrishna of the National Museum. New Delhi for the Bibliography and the use of material from the Library.

It is remarkable that the Indian Palaeobotanist of the eminence of Professor Birbal Sahni got interested in the moulds used for forging ancient Indian coins, and in one of our chapters has been summarized the material which he had presented in one of his publications. Equally interesting has been the scientific aptitude of some workers in the field of Indian numismatics, and in this context, the publications of Kosambi in the Current Science and other journals are very valuable. I have copiously incorporated in this monograph the material from the writings of numismatists like Cunningham, Brown, Mac Dowall, Robert Goeble, Altekar, Vasudeva Sharana Agrawal, Chakrabortty and others. We have reproduced in details material from the paper of Mac Dowall and also of Goebl since they have suggested a new technique of approach towards numismatic study; of course, these techniques have their own limitations and must be used with caution.

I was obliged to the Research Institute of Ancient Scientific Studies (RIASS), New Delhi to have included the present monograph entitled COINAGE IN ANCIENT INDIA in its publication programme. As early as 1962, my pupil, Dr. N.S. Rawat started some work on the chemical analyses of objects of archaeological interest at the University of Allahabad and submitted a dissertation for the Doctorate, and this work was extended by another pupil of mine, Dr. Rajendra Singh, the co-author. The present imprint of this monograph also incorporates in the form of an appendix the work of another pupil of mine, Dr. J. Venu Gopalkrishna Murthy, on ‘Ultrasonic study of the elastic constants of some ancient and medieval Indian coins’’ (J. Indian Chem. Soc. , 1982, LIX, 591-594).

After the sudden death of the Director of the RIASS, the activities of the Institute were almost instantly winded up and only a few copies cf the monograph (1968) could then be released to public. Since then till now it has remained unavailable. We are now thankful to our new distinguished publisher Messrs. Govindram Hasanand of Delhi for this beautiful new Reprint.

In one of his reviewing and summarizing papers contributed to a monograph, David W. MacDowall writes as follows: (The pre-mohammadon coinage of greater India: a preliminary list of some analyses):

Although Klaproth (1815), E. von Bibra (1869;1873), Hofmann (1884;1885) and Hultsch (1884) published analyses of many other coins and von Bibra actually analyzed a few Chinese and Persian coins, very few Indian coins were analyzed in the nineteenth century. Flight (1868) discovered the presence of nickel in a coin Enthydemus in 1868 and published Lettsom’s analysis of a silver punch-marked coin in 1882. But towards the end of the century there was an increasing interest in the metals used for coinage and the relative purity and debasement of the metals used. While some comments seem to be based on no more than subjective assessment others, like those of Cunningham in his accounts of the coinage of Saka, Kushan and Gupta dynasties, reflect some precise methods and try to measure the quality systematically through a series — calculating gold content from the determination of specific gravity.

In this way, MacDowall reviews a good deal of literature. He refers to the work done on chemical composition of coins by government chemists in Indian museums on some sample taken from a rich hoard of coins. He refers to the good work of S.K. Maity who calculated out the gold content of a gold coin from the specific gravity data. He refers to the work of Professor Thompson on spectrographic analyses backed by the microscopic examination of coins in the principal issues of the medieval kings of Ceylone, of Rajraj, the Shahis of Kabul, the Hindu kings of Kashmir and the Kushan dynasty.

Then McDowall writes: “It is, however, to the Research Institute of Ancient Scientific Studies in New Delhi that we are indebted for the most extensive series of analyses undertaken so far in this field, which gives a good general coverage of most of the remaining series of ancient and medieval coinage in India in the extremely useful volumes by Prakash and Singh (i.e. Satya Prakash and Rajendra Singh), Coinage in Ancient India. The work is impressive in its thoroughness. For each coin there is a spectrographic and chemical analysis, backed by the study of microstructure with a commentary on the composition and impurities noted. Each coin is described with a note of size and weight which sometimes enables the numismatist to identify the coin even more closely than has been done in the text.”’

The authors feel elated to see that their work has been appreciated and commended. Today we live in an age of paper currency and light alloys of inferior value, and perhaps for long decades, the present day coins world over would not interest any serious numismatist.

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Weight 1.53 kg
Dimensions 25.4 × 17.78 cm
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