The application of chemistry to archaeology has grown from
small beginnings near the close of the 18th century to become at
present a subject of widespread interest. The amount of activity in
this special field of study has increased greatly in the last few years.
One index of this large recent increase is the proportion of papers,
monographs and books on the subject published within the last ten
years. About 20 per cent of all publications on the chemical analysis
of ancient materials and objects have appeared in this last decade. If
the publications on dating by chemical methods and on chemical
procedures for the restoration and preservation of ancient objects
are also taken into consideration, the proportion in the last ten
years rises to about 30 per cent. The present volume by Professor
Satya Prakash contains many interesting examples of the application of chemistry to the study of a particular class of ancient objects,
and is another indication of the current widespread interest in
Among the various kinds of ancient objects that have attracted
attention of chemists, coins have always had a place of special
importance. In addition to being very interesting objects from a
historical standpoint, they are more abundant than any other sort of
ancient metal object, and therefore more available for chemical
investigation. The chemical analysis of coins yields detailed information on the composition of important ancient alloys, and the
microscopic examination of their structure reveals metallurgical
techniques used in antiquity. Corroded ancient coins are a source of
information on the natural corrosion products of metals and alloys,
and on the processes of corrosion. Some of the information
obtained from the chemical investigation of ancient coins is of
interest only to chemists and metallurgists, but much of it is of
interest to archaeologists and numismatists. Any exact knowledge
about the kinds of metals and alloys used for coins in different
regions at different times, about chronological changes in composition, about the occurrence of coinage debasement, and about still
other matters of particular archaeological or numismatic significance must be based on the results of chemical analyses.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the early workers in the field
of archaeological chemistry devoted much of their attention to the
investigation of ancient coins. Indeed, the earliest worker in this
field, the celebrated chemist, Klaproth was also the first to analyse
ancient coins!. His analyses of a few Greek and Roman coins com-
posed of copper, bronze, brass, and silver were published? in the
years from 1798 to 1815. About 500 ancient coins were analysed
during the 19th century by various workers. Especially extensive
and important are the analyses published by Bibra and by
Hofmann? ®. Independently . in the same year Hultsch’ and
Hofmann introduced the use of specific gravity measurements for
estimating the fineness of ancient gold and electrum coins. The
publications of Hofmann are also important because they show
explicitly for the first time the value of chemical investigations in
Of the hundreds of ancient coins analysed during the 19th
century, only a very small proportion originated outside the
Western world. Some Chinese coins were analysed by Bibra’ and by
others, but for the most part these coins are so poorly described that
their antiquity is in doubt. Three ancient Persian coins were
analysed by Bibra, and one very unusual Bactrian coin was
analysed by Flight® who found it to be composed of an alloy of
copper and nickel. Only a single Indian coin appears to have been
analysed prior to the 20th century. This coin, evidently of very early
date, was found by Lettsom to be composed of nearly pure silver.
The analysis was published by Flight.
Although activity in the general field of archaeological chemistry increased considerably in the first quarter of the 20th century,
there was at the same time a marked lull in original investigations of
ancient coins. In an extensive article Hammer’? summarized the
results of nearly all previous analyses of ancient coins. He also
included some 300 original specific gravity measurements of Greek
gold and electrum coins. Almost half the publications of this quarter
century deal with the determination of the fineness of such coins by
means of specific gravity. Most of the remaining publications contain chemical analyses of Greek, Roman, and Celtic coins, but no
one publication contained more than a few original analyses, and
these are usually incidental to the main subject of the publication.
The first analyses of adequately described and dated ancient
Chinese coins were published by Chikashige''. Shortly afterward,
Wang" published analyses of a few more.
A considerable revival of interest in the chemical analysis of
ancient coins occurred in the second quarter of the 20th century. As
compared to the first quarter, the number of published original
investigations more than doubled, and for the most part they individually and collectively contain the results of many more analyses.
Among the more extensive investigations was one on Greek bronze
coins" and one on Chinese coins'*. An awakening of interest in the
composition of ancient [Indian coins is indicated by the publication
of six analyses'’. Emission spectroscopy as an analytical tool for the
investigation of ancient coins was introduced late in this period. The
use: of this technique for the analysis of such coins was first suggested by Otto'® in 1940, and the first results of its application
appeared in a book by Grant" in 1946.
Archaeological chemistry, as a subject of the highest study is yet in
this country in its first phase, whereas in England, it has now entered
its third phase after the Second World war. I am obliged to Prof. Earle
R. Caley of the Ohio State University, Columbus, U.S.A., one of the
most distinguished workers in the field of archaeological chemistry, to
have written a Foreword to this monograph.
None of the authors of this monograph is an orthodox numismatist.
Having been interested in metallurgical practices of our olden times,
the study of the ancient Indian coins was undertaken. Here one could
speak with some certainty the dates when they were forged. In connection with this study, it was difficult to ignore the history of the coinage
practices in this country, and the material which could be collected for
one’s personal use in this context has also been presented to the readers to serve as a background.
This monograph is not a book on Indian numismatics on traditional
lines; it emphasizes those aspects which might be helpful to one
interested in archaeo-chemical studies and in the application of
quantitative methods in archaeology. Of course, besides this, the
volume also incorporates the documented material from the entire
history up to a period of 1000 A.D. from the earliest times. The reader
would appreciate the material on Roman and Greek coinage as a
contemporary study. A few other ancient countries have also been
included in the study. The monograph has chapters which may roughly
fall under three broad heads: (i) a description of ancient Indian coins
of different periods, available in collections of museums, (ii) a documental reference to Indian coinage in ancient Indian literature; this
covers the Vedic period, the Brahmana period, the periods of Panini.
Kautilya, and Manu, and the period when the ancient books on Indian
Mathematics were compiled, and (iii) the laboratory work on the
chemical and spectroscopic analyses and metallographic studies of
Indian coins. An account of the coinage in the ancient neighbouring
countries has also been given and in this context, I am obliged to
Professor Caley, for the material on the Greek and Roman coins which
has been collected from his numerous publications.
For this work on coins, the indebtedness of authors goes to Shri S.C.
Kala, Curator, Allahabad Museum, to Prof. G.R. Sharma, Head of
the Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, University of
Allahabad, to Sri Jineshwar Das and to Shri R.C. Vyas for their
valuable personal collections at Allahabad, to Dr. N.A. Narasimham,
Head of the Spectroscopic Division, Atomic Energy Establishment,
Trombay for providing necessar, facilities for the spectroscopic work,
and to Dr. T.R. Anantharaman, Head of the Department of Metallurgy and Shri R.P. Wahi, incharge, Metallographic Section. Banaras
Hindu University, for kindly assisting in the metallographic work.
Thanks are also due to Sri Balkrishna of the National Museum. New
Delhi for the Bibliography and the use of material from the Library.
It is remarkable that the Indian Palaeobotanist of the eminence of
Professor Birbal Sahni got interested in the moulds used for forging
ancient Indian coins, and in one of our chapters has been summarized
the material which he had presented in one of his publications. Equally
interesting has been the scientific aptitude of some workers in the field
of Indian numismatics, and in this context, the publications of
Kosambi in the Current Science and other journals are very valuable. I
have copiously incorporated in this monograph the material from the
writings of numismatists like Cunningham, Brown, Mac Dowall,
Robert Goeble, Altekar, Vasudeva Sharana Agrawal, Chakrabortty
and others. We have reproduced in details material from the paper of
Mac Dowall and also of Goebl since they have suggested a new technique of approach towards numismatic study; of course, these techniques have their own limitations and must be used with caution.
I was obliged to the Research Institute of Ancient Scientific Studies
(RIASS), New Delhi to have included the present monograph entitled
COINAGE IN ANCIENT INDIA in its publication programme. As
early as 1962, my pupil, Dr. N.S. Rawat started some work on the
chemical analyses of objects of archaeological interest at the
University of Allahabad and submitted a dissertation for the Doctorate, and this work was extended by another pupil of mine, Dr.
Rajendra Singh, the co-author. The present imprint of this monograph
also incorporates in the form of an appendix the work of another pupil
of mine, Dr. J. Venu Gopalkrishna Murthy, on ‘Ultrasonic study of
the elastic constants of some ancient and medieval Indian coins’’ (J.
Indian Chem. Soc. , 1982, LIX, 591-594).
After the sudden death of the Director of the RIASS, the activities
of the Institute were almost instantly winded up and only a few copies
cf the monograph (1968) could then be released to public. Since then
till now it has remained unavailable. We are now thankful to our new
distinguished publisher Messrs. Govindram Hasanand of Delhi for this
beautiful new Reprint.
In one of his reviewing and summarizing papers contributed to a
monograph, David W. MacDowall writes as follows: (The
pre-mohammadon coinage of greater India: a preliminary list of some
Although Klaproth (1815), E. von Bibra (1869;1873), Hofmann
(1884;1885) and Hultsch (1884) published analyses of many other
coins and von Bibra actually analyzed a few Chinese and Persian
coins, very few Indian coins were analyzed in the nineteenth
century. Flight (1868) discovered the presence of nickel in a coin
Enthydemus in 1868 and published Lettsom’s analysis of a silver
punch-marked coin in 1882. But towards the end of the century
there was an increasing interest in the metals used for coinage and
the relative purity and debasement of the metals used. While some
comments seem to be based on no more than subjective assessment
others, like those of Cunningham in his accounts of the coinage of
Saka, Kushan and Gupta dynasties, reflect some precise methods
and try to measure the quality systematically through a series —
calculating gold content from the determination of specific gravity.
In this way, MacDowall reviews a good deal of literature. He refers
to the work done on chemical composition of coins by government
chemists in Indian museums on some sample taken from a rich hoard
of coins. He refers to the good work of S.K. Maity who calculated out
the gold content of a gold coin from the specific gravity data. He refers
to the work of Professor Thompson on spectrographic analyses backed
by the microscopic examination of coins in the principal issues of the
medieval kings of Ceylone, of Rajraj, the Shahis of Kabul, the Hindu
kings of Kashmir and the Kushan dynasty.
Then McDowall writes: "It is, however, to the Research Institute of
Ancient Scientific Studies in New Delhi that we are indebted for the
most extensive series of analyses undertaken so far in this field, which
gives a good general coverage of most of the remaining series of ancient and medieval coinage in India in the extremely useful volumes by
Prakash and Singh (i.e. Satya Prakash and Rajendra Singh), Coinage
in Ancient India. The work is impressive in its thoroughness. For each
coin there is a spectrographic and chemical analysis, backed by the
study of microstructure with a commentary on the composition and
impurities noted. Each coin is described with a note of size and weight
which sometimes enables the numismatist to identify the coin even
more closely than has been done in the text."’
The authors feel elated to see that their work has been appreciated
and commended. Today we live in an age of paper currency and light
alloys of inferior value, and perhaps for long decades, the present
day coins world over would not interest any serious numismatist.
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