In early October, 2012, a villager digging near an old wall in wangminxiang hongtaicun village (王民乡红太村) located in Xiji Prefecture (西吉县) in China’s northwest Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region (宁夏回族自治区) unearthed 17 ancient Silk Road coins, according to several reports in the Chinese press.
The newspapers interviewed Mr. Su Zhengxi (苏正喜) of the Xiji Prefecture Coin Museum (西吉县钱币博物馆) who stated that a preliminary investigation identifies these copper coins as originating from the ancient Kushan Empire (guishuang 贵霜王朝) which existed about the same time as China’s Han Dynasty.
The Kushan Empire existed during the period 30 AD – 375 AD and occupied northwest India and the adjoining regions of Iran and Afghanistan. At the height of its influence, Kushan’s territorial control expanded to include parts of western China’s Xinjiang. Kushan played a major role in linking the seagoing trade of the Indian Ocean with the overland route of the Silk Road.
The coins are described as being round but do not have a hole in the center, unlike the bronze Chinese coins of the same era.
Various newspaper reports give slightly different descriptions of the coins. Some reports state that the coins have the image of a king on one side and the image of a cow or ox on the reverse side. Other newspaper accounts state that there are written characters on one side and an image of a cow or oxen on the reverse.
Mr. Su mentions that three of the coins have inscriptions written in a “foreign script”.
One newspaper report states that the coins were minted (struck) in the same manner as ancient Greek coins and that the obverse sides have inscriptions written in “Kushanized” Greek letters. The reverse sides are said to have images of Persian and Indian gods.
Mr. Su emphasized that this is the first time these particular ancient Kushan coins have been discovered in Ningxia. Previous to this, the only coins of this type that have been unearthed in China have been “several tens of coins” discovered in the Loulan ruins (楼兰遗址) and Hetian (和田地区) in Xinjiang.
The museum has 5 or 6 coins originating from the ancient Silk Road but these coins were found mixed together with other coins when unearthed in Xiji Prefecture.
Mr. Su pointed out that this was the largest hoard of such coins discovered in Ningxia and the first time Silk Road coins have been discovered not mixed with other coins.
Historical records mention that this area was part of the northern section of the Silk Road but, to date, there had been no archaeological evidence to confirm this. Mr. Su said that the discovery of these seventeen Kushan coins now provides the needed evidence to confirm the historical records.
During ancient times, a large number of merchants would have travelled through the area where the coins were unearthed on their way to and from Luoyang (洛阳) at the eastern end of the Silk Road.