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Archaeology in Israel: Caesarea Gold Coins

(June 2015)

A group of recreational divers in Caesarea National Park harbor made the discovery of a lifetime in February 2015, when they noticed small coins on the harbor's sandy bottom.  After taking a few coins to the surface and deducing that they were legitimate and not children's toys left in the ocean, the divers returned to shore and informed the director of the Caesarea National Park diving club.  The director of the club then informed the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who then sent a team of divers over to evaluate the discovery. 

The divers who discovered the coins led the Marine Archaeology Unit divers to the site where they came upon the coins.  Using an underwater metal detector, the divers discovered more than 2,000 gold coins ranging from a quarter to a full dinar (a currency still used in many Islamic countries such as Iraq, Jordan, and Libya).  Kobi Sharvit, the leader of the Marine Archaeology Unit, stated that he believes the coins belong to a “shipwreck... of an official treasury boat which was on its way to the central government in Egypt with taxes that had been collected.”  The divers from the Marine Archaeology Unit hope to learn more about the origin of the coins through further exploration of the site.  This discovery is the largest discovery of gold coins in the history of Israeli archaeological expeditions. 

Robert Cole, an expert, estimated that the coins had been at the bottom of the harbor for approximately 1,000 years. Once brought to the surface, the coins did not require any cleaning or polishing, as gold is a metal that is not affected by air or water. Bending and teeth marks can be observed on the coins, meaning that they were most likely physically inspected by merchants who received them as payment.  All the coins show standard signs of wear, and look to have been used to conduct business centuries ago. 

The oldest coin from the collection is a quarter dinar minted in Sicily in the latter half of the ninth century C.E.  The majority of the other coins were minted in Egypt and North Africa.  The gold coins are undoubtedly a Fatimid treasure, due to the fact that no coins in the collection come from the Eastern Islamic dynasties. 

Sharvit said of the people who made and reported the discovery, “These divers are model citizens. They discovered the gold and have a heart of gold that loves the country and its history.  In this case the divers reported the find; but in many instances divers take the objects home and that way extremely important archaeological information is lost forever, which cannot be recovered.”

The coins were put on display for the first time in June 2015 at the Israel Museum's Archaeology Wing, and will be on display for only three months.

Sources: “Largest gold treasure ever found in Israel displayed to the public for the first time,” Art Daily, (June 22, 2015)
Israel Antiquities Authority