Archaeology news: Amateurs unearth ‘rare’ 24 karat gold coins in Israel worth £37,000

Israel: Archaeologists discover large hoard of gold coins

Nearly one kilogram of pure gold has been uncovered by high school students volunteering at an archaeology dig outside of Tel Aviv, Israel, late last year. Two students from a local youth community stumbled upon the buried treasure while helping the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) as part of a Pre-Army Service Year, known as Shnat Sherut. Two students noticed a shimmer of gold peeking through the cracked remains of a small jar in the ground.

A closer inspection revealed a hoard of coins dating back to the Abbasid Caliphate, which spread across North Africa, Arabia and parts of Asia from 750 to 1258 AD.

Oz Cohen, one of the two students, said: “It was amazing. I dug in the ground and when I excavated the soil, saw what looked like very thin leaves.

“When I looked again I saw these were gold coins. It was really exciting to find such a special and ancient treasure.”

According to Dr Robert Kool, the IAA’s resident coin expert, the Abbasid gold is one of the earliest known caches of gold from this period – the end of the ninth century – found in Israel.

The coins were all minted from pure, 24 karat gold and weighed in at about 845 grams.

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This much gold would have been an impressive haul even back then.

Dr Kool said the coins could afford their owner a luxurious house in one of Egypt’s best neighbourhoods, Fustat.

The archaeologist added: “This rare treasure will certainly be a major contribution to research, as finds from the Abbasid period in Israel are relatively few.”

Today, 845 grams of pure gold would be worth nearly £37,000, according to BullionByPost data on January 25 – and that does not include the coins’ historical value.

Hidden among the Abbasid gold was an even rarer treasure – gold cuttings of a Byzantine-era coin bearing the face of emperor Theophilos (829 to 842 AD).

The coin was minted in the Byzantine empire’s capital of Constantinople.

Gold cuttings like this were often used as change in Islamic countries after the 850s, coinciding with the disappearance of bronze and copper currency.

According to IAA archaeologists Liat Nadav-Ziv and Dr Eli Hadad, who led the excavations, the treasure was most likely buried with the intention of recovering it one day.

They said: “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.

“We can only guess what prevented them from returning to collect this treasure.

“Finding gold coins, certainly in such a considerable quantity, is extremely rare.

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“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 gold coins were found in excellent condition because pure gold does not oxidise – rust.

The IAA said the treasure looked as though it had been “buried the day before”.

The archaeologists added: “Their finding may indicate that international trade took place between the area’s resident and remote areas.”

The excavation was sponsored by the Israel Land Authority.

The IAA said: “Youth participate regularly during the summer holidays in excavations as part of the Israel’s Antiquities Authority’s policy to bringing them closer to their past and heritage.”

But this is not the only recent discovery of gold treasure in Israel.

Archaeologists excavating Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter have uncovered a cache of coins from also from the Abbasid Caliphate and Fatimid Caliphate.

Israeli archaeologists have also uncovered a 1,600-year-old hoard of coins and bronze statues in the Roman port city of Caesarea.

The treasure was first spotted by divers exploring an ancient shipwreck in the city’s harbour.

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