Ancient Chinese coins surface during seabed dredging

Suction dredgers, operated to increase the draft of the newly constructed cargo port at the Tangasseri harbour complex here, have uncovered a treasure trove in the seabed. The dredgers have thrown up an amazing array of antique artefacts, including Chinese coins.

This has triggered a treasure hunt at the harbour complex. Historians and archaeologists who inspected the site said the artefacts had the potential to tell the story of a bygone India-China link, and even strong trade links with other ancient empires.Sold as scrapBut because of the late arrival of Kerala’s Archaeology Department at the site, a good portion of the treasure has fallen into wrong hands. A man who collected about 11 kg of ancient Chinese coins from the site sold it to a scrap-dealer for a pittance. Efforts by the Archaeology Department officials on Tuesday to retrieve them from the scrap-dealer drew a blank as he had sold them to someone else.

But many others living in the vicinity have also collected a good quantity of these artefacts, especially the coins. Although they readily gave a portion of their collection to friends and others till a few weeks ago, they are reluctant now because of rumours that a couple of dealers from Tamil Nadu are prepared to offer a good price for the coins. The hush-hush talk is that these dealers need the coins for the flourishing feng shui market. Ancient Chinese coins are much in demand as feng shui items, since they are seen as “lucky pieces” and symbols of wealth and prosperity.

The coins get sucked up by the dredger only when it is operated from a particular area. This has given rise to rumours that the coins were stashed in two or three earthen chests or jars which could have crumbled. There are also reports that following the arrival of the feng shui dealers, technicians are not operating the dredger in the area where the coins are buried. They operate it at night and collect the coins, it is said.Trade linksHistorians say a preliminary examination of the coins showed that they belonged to the Northern Sung, Southern Sung, Chin and Ming dynasties that ruled China from 960 AD to 1644 AD.

Historian P.J. Cherian said a clear picture would emerge only after a detailed study. A lot of pottery fragments, mostly of European origin, have also been collected from the site.

Kollam was a major port and trading centre of yore, where ships from China, Europe and Arabia used to call mainly for purchasing spices like cardamom and pepper, ivory, teak and indigo. Archaeology Department officials claim that studies show a ship was sent by the Biblical king, Solomon, around 960 BC to Kollam for teak and ivory.

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