If it weren't for an act of God, the Nimad region's status as an important trading post of the early historical period may well have remained unknown for long.
Digging to carry out repairs at the local Hanuman temple, villagers of Umarband in Manawar tehsil of Dhar district, around 150 kms from Indore, were astonished when they stumbled across a cache of punch-marked silver coins buried deep in the earth.
Upon examination the coins, each weighing approximately 3.5 grams apiece and bearing human and animal figures as well as celestial symbols, were discovered to date back to the 3rd century BC.
Roughly speaking, the 18-odd coins were manufactured around the time Qin Dynasty commissioned the construction of the Great Wall of China and Hannibal was leading Carthaginian forces against the Romans for control of the Mediterranean.
Although the coins are of undoubted antiquity, it isn't age alone that lends them their significance.
"Typically, local level transactions were carried out through the barter system at the time with coins coming into play only during inter-regional trade. The discovery at Umarband, therefore, suggests that a highly developed economy existed at the site that had commercial links not only with adjoining regions but possibly also overseas," declared Dr SK Bhatt, Director, Academy of Indian Numismatics and Sigillography which authenticated the silver coins.
The theory is substantiated by the discovery of pottery and black polished ware artefacts from far-flung areas dug up during earlier excavations in Maheshwar and other sites in the Nimad region, added Dr Bhatt a member of the United Nation's International Numismatic Commission who has extensively surveyed the area.
"Today we know Nimad primarily as a backward and impoverished region. But existing conditions are no indicator of socio-economic indices that prevailed in the region earlier," added the sexagenarian.
Dr Bhatt says that although tantalising fragments have been made available — discovery of human remains dating back 5 lakh years at Jabalpur, evidence of overseas trade links at Maheshwar — it remains to put the jigsaw pieces together to form an accurate picture of the historico-commercial significance of Nimad in earlier times.
"All discoveries, whether coins, pottery or any other artefact, should be conserved carefully and studied in relation to other objects," he suggests. Until that happens, no amount of coin discoveries will help the theory of Nimad as a major commercial centre gain currency.
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