Archaeology: Treasure to go into melting pot: A massive coin hoard found in Afghanistan is under threat of destruction, reports David Keys

A MILLION ancient silver coins - the second-largest hoard ever found - is likely to be melted down to make tourist trinkets because nobody wants to buy them. The impending destruction will be one of the largest antiquities scandals the world has ever seen.

News is trickling out of Afghanistan of a vast amount of silver and gold treasure that has been discovered by tribesmen, 55 miles south of the Afghan capital Kabul.

It is understood that it consists of three tonnes of mainly silver coins, and 100 kilos of solid gold plates and jewellery. Whereas merchants and dealers have had no trouble in selling the gold items, the silver coins are proving impossible to dispose of.

They are in bad condition, and so collectors are not interested in them. However, they do have immense historical importance and, if studied properly, could unlock many of the secrets of central Asian history.

But the only organisations which would buy the coins for purely research purposes are large museums and other public institutions. However, they refuse to touch the material because it left Afghanistan illicitly. It is also understood that some of the coins have already been melted down and that the rest are likely to go into the furnaces shortly.

The coins date from the fourth century BC to the first century AD, and were issued by a succession of Greek, Persian, Scythian (central Asian) and Kushan (Turkic) kings of Afghanistan and western Pakistan.

Much of Afghan and central Asian early history remains a mystery, and proper study of the coins could yield up a great deal of new historical information.

The hoard is around 20 times the size of all the known collections of early Afghan coins in the world put together. Each coin has inscribed on it names of kings, details of minting sites, titles of rulers and other information. Proper academic study of the material would take years to complete, but would almost certainly solve a string of long-

standing historical mysteries.

It is known that Alexander the Great conquered Afghanistan and that Greek kings ruled the area for three centuries - but it is not known for sure who ousted them and became their successors. The hoard would provide an answer.

From the second century BC to the first century AD there were a bewildering number of local kings in Afghanistan, but although some of their names are known, historians do not know exactly when or where they ruled. Again, the hoard would probably provide many of the answers.

The region's early economic and social history is also fairly unknown, but proper statistical and metallurgical analysis of the coins would yield information on ancient inflation rates, population fluctuations and even trade patterns with the West.

In-depth study of the hoard would also probably double the number of known issues, and almost certainly reveal the identities of previously unknown kings.

Study of the hoard would also be likely to shed important new light on the apostle Saint Thomas's mission to India in around 45 AD. St Thomas - said in ancient manuscripts to have been Christ's twin brother - is believed by many scholars to have introduced Christianity to India.

The original story of his life and works in the early third century AD were later branded in part as heretical. The coin hoard is likely to give more details of an encounter which Thomas had with an Afghan king called Gondophares.

There are several local kings by that name and proper study of the coins should identify exactly which particular ruler St Thomas encountered, and where. The new information would help confirm the St Thomas story.

The coins and gold treasures were found buried in mud in a waterhole and spring at Mirzakah, which is 30 miles north-east of the small Afghan town of Gardez.

Information currently coming out of the region suggests that fighting broke out over the treasure, and that several local people were killed. Elders are then believed to have declared it to be tribal property.

The silver and gold from the mud is believed to have filled five large chests - at least one of which was subsequently bought by elements associated with one of the Afghan Mujahedin militias. Some of the treasure then found its way across the Pakistan border to merchants in the city of Peshawar.

The gold objects - worth an estimated USdollars 100m - include very high quality necklaces, bangles, spoons and plates dating from 400 BC to 200 AD. Some solid gold kitchen utensils dating from the third century BC are decorated with classical Greek figures, while some gilt silver tableware items are adorned with beautiful Greek-style reliefs.

The treasure also included many fourth- and fifth-century Persian gold coins. Most of the treasure was probably buried by local kings or princes in the mud of the waterhole for safe-keeping in two stages - Kushan invasions in the second century BC and the early first century AD.

The gold objects have now mostly been sold to collectors in the US and Japan, but tragically the coins - which are historically far more important - and their priceless information will almost certainly end up in the melting pot. In cash terms, the coins could probably be purchased for around USdollars 750,000, but would cost many millions to conserve.

The only move that could save them would be for the Afghan government to give its official permission to museums to purchase the entire hoard - but no museums or other institutions have so far made any moves in that direction. Much of Afghanistan's early history seems therefore doomed to the furnaces.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn