Punch Mark | Rediscovering the earliest Coins

These coins were made of silver of a standard weight but with an irregular shape
"The Maha Janapadh (major state) of Gandhara has issued its own ancient coin called Punch mark coin, which has been quite distinct from other coins."
"The Maha Janapadh (major state) of Gandhara has issued its own ancient coin called Punch mark coin, which has been quite distinct from other coins."Author

Although Kashmir has got its five thousand years of written history, its numismatic history has not been so less old. The new researches conducted on its ancient coins have proved that the numismatic history of this land is about 3000 years of age and first coins of this land are dated to 5th century BC.

There were the times when copper coins of Kushana era dated to first century AD were known as the earliest coins of Kashmir. Such coins were denominated as dirham and tetra dirham and weighed dirham as 4 grams and tetra dirham as 12 grams and were found here in good numbers.

In fact Archaeologists have found thousands of Kushan dirhams and tetra dirhmas and several dinars (gold coins) from various places of Kashmir.

There are several such types, which have been found and are believed to have been current here while few of those types are viewed to have been exclusively issued to meet the currency requirements of this province.

Such coins are known as provincial series coins, the reputed archaeologists and numismatists like Alexander Cunningham, Dr. Roshan Field and Dr David MacDowell, who have already worked on Kashmir coins and have been considering these Kushana coins as the earliest coins.

These coins are round in shape and on the obverses displayed the motif of typical Kushana dressed standing king and on the reverse the motif of Shiva with his Nadi and sometimes several other Greek, Persian and other God and Goddesses. Perhaps till then these scholars had not come across any such punch mark coins from this part of land. 

Since the modern day Archaeologists have found several imperial series punch mark coins with in Jammu and Kashmir as well, which they believe has been the earliest coins of the subcontinent including that of Jammu and Kashmir.

During the ancient Janpadha Period, when Indian Subcontinent was divided into sixteen Mahajanpadhas, Kashmir, it is recorded, formed the part of Ghandhara Janapadha and is referred in ancient literatures as Gandhara- Kashmir. The Maha Janapadh (major state) of Gandhara has issued its own ancient coin called Punch mark coin, which has been quite distinct from other coins.

This coin type was basically concave shaped and had got symbols stamped on its two different edges. Archaeologists have found this typical of punch mark coins within the confines of ancient Gandhara principality, the Presentday Khandhar and they have named it as belt bar because its looks like a small belt. Surprisingly such type of coin find has never been reported from Jammu and Kashmir.

The punch mark coins found in Kashmir have been identified as Magadhian type punch mark coins, bearing the motifs of Sun and Six Armed Symbol with other minor symbols punched on the face of the coin.

These Punch mark coins, known as Karshapna are believed as the earliest coins of the subcontinent including that of Jammu and Kashmir. These coins are believed to have been first struck during Janaphadha period when the ancient India was divided into sixteen janapadhas and Maha Janapadhas (Minor and Major states) which dates to circa 6th century BC. Although this type of currency is believed to have evolved in janapadha period but it has remained in circulation during entire Mouryan period.

First let us try to understand, what are punch mark coins? Basically these are small rectangular and circular flat pieces of thin silver, more rarely copper cut from a hammered sheet of metal and clipped to the desired weight, which bear some symbols. 

These coins in between circa 6th to 2nd centuries BC. The study of the relative chronology of these coins has also been successfully established that the first punch-marked coins initially had one or two symbols punched over the face of the coin, with the number of punches increasing over the time.

Such ancient coins are reported from the entire subcontinent and believed usually to have evolved around the 6th century BC in the Mahajanapadas of the then sub continent. These coins were made of silver of a standard weight but with an irregular shape. This was gained by cutting up silver bars and then making the correct weight by cutting the edges of the coin.

After the Mahajanaphda period, punch-marked coins continued to be issued in large quantities. Similarly, the coinage of the Mauryan Empire was an example of the punch-marked coinage of Magadha. Each coin contained on an average 50–54 grains of silver depending on wear and 32 rattis in weight, and earlier coins are flatter than later coins.

The systematic studies of such coins taken in, have revealed that the punches on these coins count to 450 different types with the most common the sun and six-armed symbols, and various forms of geometrical patterns, circles, wheels, human figures, various animals, bows and arrows, hills and trees etc.

Numismatists have named these punch mark coins as Karshapna and believed to have continued circulating in the north India until approximately the beginning of the first century AD, but lasted three centuries longer in the South, i.e. until about 300 AD.

These punch mark coins are also reported from Jammu and Kashmir. In one of its excavation undertaken in Semthian area of south Kashmir revealed artifacts of various ancient Periods, besides several imperial series Punch Marka coins. The imperial series punch marka coins carrying the motifs of sun and six armed symbol are also found in several numismatic collections of SPS Museum at Srinager in its numismatic collections also houses several pieces of this series of punch mark coins.

The punch mark coins found in Kashmir are imperial series coins bearing five different symbols with sun and six armed symbol repeated on every coin and it is believed to have been struck here to full fill the currency requirements of those ages.

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