A beautiful silver seal from the Tamil Sangam Age, probably about 2,000 years old, has come to light. Weighing less than 2 grams and with a diameter of about 1.8 cm, it was originally meant to affix a royal grant.
On the obverse side it has a mirror image of the Chera king of the Sangam Age, called Makkotai, facing left, and the legend ?Makkotai? in Tamil Brahmi script placed inside a dotted circle. It shows the king with a helmet, in a feature comparable to coins of Tiberius Julius Alexander of the first century A.D.
While the portrait coins of Chera kings Makkotai and Kuttuvan Kotai are uniface (with the reverse side remaining blank), this one has the word ?Ponko?, engraved with a stylus, in Tamil Brahmi script, on the reverse. The legend is incomplete.
R. Vaidyanadhan, an Assistant Editor (Sports) with The Hindu, has obtained this rare find. He already has in his collection silver punch mark coins of Bimbisara and Asoka, and from British India.
R. Krishnamurthy, numismatist and Editor of the Tamil newspaper Dinamalar, who inspected the piece, said: ?This is an important discovery. The importance is due to the inscription ?Ponko? (the golden king) engraved on the reverse.?
Mr. Vaidyanadhan initially thought it was a ?seal? to accord a royal grant but later concluded it was a blockage. A study of the seals of the Roman kings of the first century A.D. showed that seals were made of hard material such as bronze, he said. Besides, he argued, this silver piece was not mounted on any other object, proving it was not a seal but a blockage. The impression on this blockage was incuse. Since it was a uniface coin, no image was registered on the reverse (but the legend ?Ponko? was engraved on the reverse), he added.
A Dictionary of Ancient Roman Coins by John Melville Jones (Seaby, London, 1990) says numismatists use the word ?blockage? to ?describe a coin which has been faultily struck because its predecessor has remained stuck in one of the dies (normally the upper one, where it might escape notice). The new coin, or blockage, then bears on one side an incuse impression of the previous coin rather than the relief type which should have appeared on it.? The word ?incuse? is used to describe a coin that has an impression that appears to be recessed rather than standing out.
Dr. Krishnamurthy, however, said it was a blockage. It was a seal, he asserted. He explained that a die was made of metal such as bronze. When a coin got stuck in a die and another coin were to be struck on it, the metal impression would not be perfect on the subsequent coin. ?But the impression of the Chera king is perfect in this seal. Besides, it is beautiful. This perfection will not be imparted to an image which is minted by a blockage material.?
He did not agree with Mr. Vaidyanadhan'sargument that the impression on the blockage was an incuse. ?This seal has no incuse image. It has a raised image.?
(Courtesy The Hindu)