Poor village woman diving for oysters off of Indonesia discovers ancient treasure chest filled with gold coins washed up by 2004 tsunami
- The trove was found in Gampong Pande village in the region of Banda Aceh
- The coins date to 1200 and 1600 and were buried in an ancient cemetery
- The chance discovery has led to a mini-gold rush to the area
- Banda Aceh, in the north of Indonesia, was badly hit by the 2004 tsunami
A poor village woman searching for oysters in a swamp has found a centuries-old chest filled with gold coins – a fabulous treasure uprooted from an ancient cemetery in the 2004 tsunami.
In a story that stirs the imagination, the chance discovery of the chest, covered in coral and oyster shells, has sparked a mini gold-rush to the swamps around Gampong Pande village in the northern Indonesian region of Banda Aceh, which was badly hit by the tsunami.
The tidal wave ripped up graves in the ancient cemetery containing the bones of 13th century rulers who were buried with their treasures.
But this week, from the swamps surrounding Gampong Pande village, came the astonishing news of the discovery of the chest by a woman searching for oysters. It was found not far from the ancient cemetery that had been virtually destroyed by the 2004 tidal wave.
‘The chest was covered in coral and oyster shells which had formed on it since it was carried away into the mud,’ said Abdullah, a Gampong Pande villager who uses only one name.
When the woman, up to her thighs in thick, oozing mud, pulled open the lid she stared in amazement at its contents – it was filled to the rim with gold coins of varying sizes.
Recovery: This picture shows how life gradually returned to normal in the area where the coins were found
‘They spilled out as soon as she opened the chest,’ Abdullah told the Jakarta Post. The woman reported the find to the authorities who took possession of the coins – but not before many of them had been plundered by local people.
After the discovery, hundreds of people from miles around heading to the area to search for other coins that might have become buried in the swamps following the tsunami.
They brought with them simple tools for digging into the mud and scraping sand from the bottom of a river that runs near the site of the ancient tombs.
Those lucky enough to find other coins lying loose sold them immediately to gold traders, who paid up to 800,000 rupiah (£40) for each coin, confident they would make a good on-selling profit, given the history of the coins.
Gampong Pande village stands in the centre of the first Islamic kingdom of Aceh, in a region ruled by the Meukuta Alam dynasty.
A neighbouring kingdom was ruled by the Darul Kamal dynasty, the two groups later merging to form the Aceh Darussalam kingdom, ruled by Sultan Iskandar Muda Johan Pahlawan Meukuta Alam (1590-1636).
During his rule, the kingdom established diplomatic relations with England, the Ottoman Empire in Turkey and with the Dutch.
An Indonesian historian, Husaini Ibrahim, said that gold coins had been found in the area over the centuries due to the greater population that lived there in earlier times.
Between the 13th and 17th century, Gampong Pande village became an industrial area producing various goods that included gold coins – resulting in the village getting its name, which means ‘village of the expert or master craftsman’.
‘The area should immediately be preserved by the government because it is derelict, despite the fact it is a historical site rich in Acehnese history,’ Husaini told the Jakarta Post.
He said he was sad to see the slow reactions of the Aceh provincial administration on the discovery of the gold coins.
‘All the coins should have been collected by the authorities and compensation paid to the residents who found them,’ said Husaini, who feared that many had already been lost to scavengers.
To this day, the tombs of the ancient rulers are in a state of neglect, many of them buried in mud from the tsunami.
‘We will try to limit the number of residents looking for gold coins in the area,’ said Mr Reza Pahlevi, of the Banda Aceh Tourism Agency.
We’ve also bought some of the gold coins as samples for further study.’The coins are believed to have been struck between 1200 and 1600 but prior to the devastating tsunami none of the tribes living in the area had dared to interfere with the graves, fearing revenge from the spirits of the dead
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