100,000 Kamakura Coins From First Unified Chinese Kingdom Found in Japan
A massive cache of 100,000 ancient coins has been unearthed during construction activities in central Japan’s Maebashi City, including a rare example of the ‘Ban Liang’, China’s inaugural unified currency. The cache is historically placed between the 7th and 13th centuries, and bundled in groups of 100 coins (1,060 in total!). They were secured with straw cords called ‘sashi’, and possibly hidden strategically during a tumultuous period of war and chaos.
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Ban Liang Coin: China’s First Unified Dynasty Era
As reported by Japan’s national daily, Asahi Shimbun, the oldest coin was a Ban Liang coin from 175 BC, an example of the first coin minted in unified China, more than 2,000 years old. It measured 2.3 centimeters (0.9 of an inch) in diameter and 1 millimeter (0.04 of an inch) in thickness, featuring a 7 millimeter (0.3 of an inch) square hole in the center with engraved characters for "Ban" and "Liang."
The cache, located in the larger Sojamachi district, included a straw rope threaded through a central hole connecting the coins together. The vicinity, close to influential medieval Japanese residences, hints at elite worries and safety measures undertaken during times of warfare.
Measuring a space of 60 centimeters (1.9 ft) by 1 meter (3.2 ft), officials from the Maebashi municipal government found straw remnants which indicated that the coins were wrapped in straw matting before burial. From the 334 coins that were examined, at least 44 variants were confirmed, spanning from 175 BC to as recent as 1265 AD.
Gunma Prefecture yielded a vast collection of ancient Kamakura coins unearthed from the excavation site. (Maebashi city government)
The coins in question predominantly trace their origins from China's Western Han Dynasty to the Southern Song Dynasty. These Ban Liang coins were initially introduced by China's inaugural emperor, Qin Shi Huang, around 210 BC. Their use extended through the era of the Western Han Dynasty until their replacement by the Wu Zhu coins in 118 BC, reports The Heritage Daily.
The latest coin, dating to 1265, suggests the collection was interred during the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), but further analysis might adjust this dating. As per the Maebashi City Government's statement, it is probable that the coins were concealed for security reasons during the Kamakura Jidai, a historical era commencing with the ascendancy of the Kamakura shogunate in AD 1192.
A Ban Liang coin issued during the Western Han dynasty. (Public Domain)
Kamakura Jidai: A Period of Turmoil and Conflict
The Kamakura Jidai was characterized by turbulent events, including confrontations with the Northern Fujiwara and Mongol invasions. This period is also renowned for the rise of the samurai, the warrior class, and the establishment of feudalism in Japan.
In fact, the period was marked by civil wars, uprisings, and conflicts, as various samurai clans vied for power and territory. This led to the development of a feudal system in Japan, with powerful regional samurai lords ( daimyo) exercising considerable autonomy over their domains.
Eventually, with two Mongol invasions in the period between 1270 and 1285, and internal strife, the shogunate began to weaken, leading to its eventual downfall in 1333 during the Kemmu Restoration, when the imperial court in Kyoto regained central authority.
Spanning one kilometer, the excavation site signifies its probable role as a central point in Kozuke province during the Kofun Period, from the late 3rd century to the late 7th century, the precursor to Gunma Prefecture. The area encompasses the Sosha burial mounds, the San’o Temple Ruins, and the Ueno Kokubunji Temple, highlighting the significance of the site as a hub of activity from the late Kofun period to the Ritsuryo period.
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The discovered artifacts at the Sosha Village East 03 site are currently featured in the "Newly Excavated Cultural Artifacts Exhibition 2023" in Maebashi City's Otemachi district. The exhibition is open to the public until the 12th of this month and is free of charge.
Top image: A substantial cache of Kamakura period coins was excavated in Gunma Prefecture Source: Maebashi city government
By Sahir Pandey
Kayra, O. 2023. Archaeologists uncovered over 100,000 ancient coins, some more than 2,000 years old. Available at: https://arkeonews.net/archaeologists-uncovered-an-estimated-100000-ancient-coins-some-more-than-2000-years-old/.
Tsuonzu, E. 2023. Massive trove of ancient coins dug up in Gunma Prefecture. Available at: https://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/15048486.
Milligan, M. 2023. OVER 100,000 ANCIENT COINS FOUND IN HIDDEN CACHE. Available at: https://www.heritagedaily.com/2023/11/over-100000-ancient-coins-found-in-hidden-cache/149211.