Ancient Buried Treasure Unearthed In Israel

An exciting archaeological find in Israel was announced early this week: a hoard of ancient gold, unearthed in excavations near Tel Aviv. A teenage volunteer digging the ground saw something glittering in the dirt. “It looked like very thin leaves,” he said. It was gold coins spilling out of a  broken clay jug, exposed to daylight for the first time in perhaps 1,1000 years.

gold coins found in archeology dig in Israel

Israel Antiquities Authorities archaeologists Liat Nadav-Ziv and Elie Haddad said in a press statement that the”extremely rare” find comprised 425 complete gold coins and hundreds of gold clippings from other coins, to be used as change.

“We almost never find them in archaeological excavations, given that gold has always been extremely valuable, melted down and reused from generation to generation,” the directors said in a statement. “The coins, made of pure gold that does not oxidize in air, were found in excellent condition, as if buried the day before. Their finding may indicate that international trade took place between the area’s residents and remote areas.”

gold hoard in Israel, hand holding coins

Antiquities Authority coin expert Robert Kool estimates that the coins date from the late 9th century, an era when the Abbasid caliphate was at its peak of power in the Near East and North Africa.  “The hoard consists of full gold dinars, but also — what is unusual — contains about 270 small gold cuttings, pieces of gold dinars cut to serve as small change,” Kool said. 

Between entire coins and clippings, the total weight is 845 grams of pure gold. A rich man’s hoard, or maybe a businessman’s entire assets?

Nadav-Ziv estimates that one such gold coin would buy a horse.  Kool says of the whole hoard’s worth, “With such a sum, a person could buy a luxurious house in one of the best neighborhoods in Fustat, the enormous wealthy capital of Egypt in those days. ”

He added that one of the gold cuttings was exceptionally rare and never before found in excavations in Israel — a fragment of a gold solidus of the Byzantine emperor Theophilos (829 – 842 CE), minted in the empire’s capital of Constantinople.

gold coin found in Israel

According to the IAA, the existence of the fragment among Islamic coins is evidence of connections between the Abbasid Caliphate and the Byzantine empire.

Kool said, “Hopefully the study of the hoard will tell us more about a period of which we still know very little.”

The clay jug holding the coins had been firmly closed, and held in place with a nail before being placed in a hole and covered with dirt. There’s no way of knowing who buried it or for what purpose, but clearly it was concealed to be retrieved when the right time came.

Only the right time came an unimaginable thousand-odd years later.

Photos by Heidi Levine, AFP, and courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority.

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