Teenagers Find Hoard of Islamic Gold Coins in Israel
A couple of teenagers volunteering on an archaeological site have uncovered a treasure trove of gold coins in Israel. The cache of 24-carat gold coins is said to date back over a thousand years. It is believed that the find is one of the largest of its kind ever made in Israel and that it will help researchers to better understand an important warlike era.
The discoveries were made during at an archaeological dig in the city of Yavne in central Israel before the start of a residential construction project. The teenagers were helping archaeologists as part of a summer holiday youth program. During the dig they discovered a remarkable treasure hoard of 425 24-carat gold coins. According to the Daily Mail, professionals from the Israel Antiquities Authority described it as an “extremely rare” find.
The discovery of 425 24-carat gold coins in Israel was made during an archaeological dig in Yavne as part of a summer holiday youth program. (Israel Antiquities Authority)
Unexpected Discovery of Golden Coins in a Clay Vessel
Oz Cohen was one of the lucky teenagers who found the cache. Cohen told the Jerusalem Post: “I was digging in the ground and when I scooped it out, I saw what looked like very thin leaves. When I looked again, I saw that these were gold coins.” The trove was found in an earthenware vessel that had been deliberately buried. Apart from gold coins, the youngsters uncovered “hundreds of smaller clippings, made from other gold coins, that would have served as smaller denominations of currency,” reports the Daily Mail.
Some of the coins and clippings have been dated to the Early Islamic period, but most came from the Abbasid Caliphate, roughly 10 th or 11 th century AD. They were the Third Muslim Caliphate and this dynasty came to power after they overthrew the Umayyads in order to control an area from Central Asia to North Africa. The Abbasid period is seen as something of a golden age which left an enduring impression on the Muslim World.
Mysterious Hoard of Islamic Gold Coins
The hoard of coins and clippings were found in an area that is believed to have once been home to many workshops. It is possible that the coins were owned by a successful trader or artisan. They are believed to be the oldest coins ever found that date from the Abbasid period and the stash would have represented a huge sum of money at this time. Dr. Robert Cole, an expert on Muslim coins who works with the IAA, told the Jerusalem Post that “with a sum [of cash] like this, a person could buy a fancy house in one of the best neighborhoods in Fustat, the rich capital of Egypt at the time.”
Part of the substantial gold coin hoard still in the ground. (Israel Antiquities Authority)
Experts are puzzled as to why such a large stash of gold was simply left in the ground. “The person who buried this treasure 1,100 years ago must have expected to retrieve it and even secured the vessel with a nail so that it would not move,” explains Liat Nadav-Ziv, the director of the excavation in Reuters. However, the cache was left undisturbed for over a millennium. We may never know why its owner failed to retrieve the treasure.
What Can the Gold Coins Tell Us About Byzantine-Arab Relations?
During an examination of the treasure, experts made a remarkable discovery. One of the coins in particular was identified as extremely rare: a piece of a golden solidus. This was minted in Constantinople during the reign of Emperor Theophilus (829-842 AD) of the Amorian Dynasty. At the time the Byzantines and the Abbasids were sworn enemies and they regularly fought wars in what is now Syria and Turkey.
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Abbasid Caliph sends an envoy to the Byzatine Emperor Theophilos. (Public domain)
The discovery of a Byzantine coin may indicate that the relationship between the Christian and Muslim states was far more complex than previously believed. “The presence of the coin in a cache of Islamic coins is physical evidence of connections between the two empires that were fighting at the time,” explains Cole in the Jerusalem Post. However, there is also the possibility that the coin minted in Constantinople was booty from an Abbasid raid on Christian territory, which was common. Robert Kool, an Antiquities Authority coin expert is quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying that: ‘'Hopefully the study of the hoard will tell us more about a period of which we still know very little.”
The cache of coins is not the largest ever found in Israel. In 2015 amateur divers found 2000 gold coins in waters off the coast of the ancient harbor of Caesarea. The Caesarea coins were produced under the Fatimid Caliphate, an Ismail Shia state that ruled much of North Africa and portions of the Middle East in the 11 th and 12 th centuries.
Top image: Teenage volunteers taking part in a summer holiday excavation discovered an impressive hoard of rare 24-carat gold coins in Israel dating back to around 1,100 years ago. Source: Yoli Schwartz / Israel Antiquities Authority
By Ed Whelan