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Hoard of 2,150-year-old silver coins found in Modiin, Israel

Hoard of 2,150-year-old silver coins found in Modiin, Israel

Archaeologists excavating in Modiin struck a rare cache of silver in a crack of an ancient wall. The hoard of silver coins dating to the Hasmonean period (126 BCE) was exposed during a salvage excavation in central Israel.

"The cache may have belonged to a Jew who hid his money in the hope of coming back to collect it, but he was unlucky and never did return" said Abraham Tendler head of the excavations in Modiin.

Aerial photograph of the Hasmonean estate house.

Aerial photograph of the Hasmonean estate house. Photographic credit: Griffin Aerial Photography, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The rare cache of silver coins from the Late Hasmonean period comprised of shekels and half-shekels ( tetradrachms and didrachms) that were minted in the city of Tyre and bear the images of the king, Antiochus VII and his brother Demetrius II.

The treasure was hidden in a rock crevice, up against a wall of an impressive agricultural estate that was discovered during the excavation there. 

The cache of silver coins were found in a rock crevice.

The cache of silver coins were found in a rock crevice. Photographic credit: Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“The cache, which consists of 16 coins, contains one or two coins from every year between 135–126 BCE, and a total of nine consecutive years are represented. It seems that some thought went into collecting the coins, and it is possible that the person who buried the cache was a coin collector. He acted in just the same way as stamp and coin collectors manage collections today”.  Dr. Donald Tzvi Ariel, the head of the Coin Department at the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a press statement from the IIA.

The cache of silver coins found at the estate house.

The cache of silver coins found at the estate house. Photographic credit: Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Or maybe: “The cache that we found is compelling evidence that one of the members of the estate who had saved his income for months needed to leave the house for some unknown reason. He buried his money in the hope of coming back and collecting it, but was apparently unfortunate and never returned. It is exciting to think that the coin hoard was waiting here 2,140 years until we exposed it” Tendler said.

He added, “The findings from our excavation show that a Jewish family established an agricultural estate on this hill during the Hasmonean period. The family members planted olive trees and vineyards on the neighboring hills and grew grain in valleys. An industrial area that includes an olive press and storehouses where the olive oil was kept is currently being uncovered next to the estate. Dozens of rock-hewn winepresses that reflect the importance of viticulture and the wine industry in the area were exposed in the cultivation plots next to the estate. The estate house was built of massive walls in order to provide security from the attacks of marauding bandits.”

Numerous bronze coins minted by the Hasmonean kings were also discovered in the excavation. They bear the names of the kings such as Yehohanan, Judah, Jonathan or Mattathias and his title: High Priest and Head of the Council of the Jews. The finds indicate that the estate continued to operate throughout the Early Roman period. The Jewish inhabitants of the estate meticulously adhered to the laws of ritual purity and impurity: they installed ritual baths ( miqwe’ot) in their settlement and used vessels made of chalk, which according to Jewish law cannot become ritually unclean.

Abraham Tendler, the excavation director, inside a hiding refuge that was connected to a ritual bath (miqwe) during the Bar Kokhba uprising.

Abraham Tendler, the excavation director, inside a hiding refuge that was connected to a ritual bath (miqwe) during the Bar Kokhba uprising. Photographic credit: Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Evidence was discovered at the site suggesting that the residents of the estate also participated in the first revolt against the Romans that broke out in 66 CE: the coins that were exposed from this period are stamped with the date “Year Two” of the revolt and the slogan "Freedom of Zion".

The estate continued to operate even after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. "It seems that local residents did not give up hope of gaining their independence from Rome, and they were well-prepared to fight the enemy during the Bar Kokhba uprising”, said Tendler and continued,

“During the excavation we saw how prior to the uprising the inhabitants of the estate filled the living rooms next to the outer wall of the building with large stones, thus creating a fortified barrier. In addition, we discovered hiding refuges that were hewn in the bedrock beneath the floors of the estate house. These refuge complexes were connected by means of tunnels between water cisterns, storage pits and hidden rooms. In one of the adjacent excavation areas a miqwe of impressive beauty was exposed; when we excavated deeper in the bath we discovered an opening inside it that led to an extensive hiding refuge in which numerous artifacts were found that date to the time of the Bar Kokhba uprising”.

The unique finds revealed in the excavation will be preserved in an archaeological park in the heart of the new neighborhood slated for construction in Modi‘in-Maccabim-Re‘ut.

Top image: A coin of Antiochus VII against the background of the rest of the coins that were exposed – studio photograph: Clara Amit.

By Sam Bostrom

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