Sunday, June 5th, 2011
In news that makes all the hoards found in England look like tiny nuggets of buried poop, construction workers in Suzhou, a city in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu, stumbled on an immense hoard of coins from the late Northern Song Dynasty (960-1126) on Wednesday. The number of coins found is a staggering 200,000. That’s four tons of coins.
The crew was digging 13-15 feet (4-5 meters) below ground level on the Gan Jiang Road when they found an ancient well that had been backfilled. They realized that it was an unusual find right away because the well wasn’t circular but rather octagonal in design. The walls of the well were made with pottery tiles and paved with brick, a traditional construction style of the south.
When they dug a little further into the well, they found a bag of ancient coins. That’s when they called the Suzhou Institute of Archaeology which promptly sent eight staff members to excavate and protect the site. They worked non-stop for 24 hours, clearing the well of bag after bag of coins. The final tally was 80 bags, each weighing more than 50 kilos (110 pounds). Engravings on the coins marked them as dating to the late Northern Song Dynasty. Archaeologists are still going through the coins, of course, but they’ve already found several rare silver coins among the more common copper ones.
Archaeologists think that such a huge mass of coins probably belonged to a business rather than a family. The Song Dynasty had one of the most advanced economies in the medieval world. They had joint-stock companies, merchants who traded internationally and nationally, and the first government-issued paper currency in history. In 1085, the Song government is estimated to have minted approximately six billion copper coins.
Families would have kept their wealth in gold and silver, not so much in minted currency, so in all likelihood this well served as an impromptu safe deposit box where businessmen hid the cash register before they went into hiding during a war. The Song Dynasty saw a great deal of war during the 11th century, both with neighboring peoples and between rival members of the court.