Gold coins and pottery found at Apollonia fortress.
Gold coins and pottery found at Apollonia fortress. Photo by Pavel Shrago
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A gold cache, one of the largest ever found in Israel, was discovered last week in a dig in the Apollonia National Park, near Herzliya, heads of the archaeological project said.

The 400-gram gold stash, unearthed by a joint Tel Aviv University and Nature and Parks Authority team, is currently valued at over $100,000.

The excavation began three years ago as part of work to prevent the collapse of the cliff on which the Crusader fortress in the Apollonia park stands. Since then the diggers have discovered numerous findings shedding light on the Crusaders in general and on the last days of the 13th century fortress in particular.

Findings include hundreds of arrow heads and catapult stones from the battle in which the Mamluks conquered the castle from the Crusaders. In a landfill dug at the site diggers found shards imported from Italy and rare glass utensils.

Mati Johananoff, a TAU archaeology student, found the treasure concealed in a potsherd under the tiles in one of the castle's rooms.

The fortress on the coast line and the city beside it were ruled at the time by the Christian order of the Knights Hospitaller, and was one of the Crusaders' most important strongholds in the center of the country. In March 1265 the Mamluk Sultan Baybars stormed the city and captured it after 40 days of siege. The site, abandoned in ruins, has not been inhabited since.

Researchers assume one of the fortress' leaders hid the treasure in a bid to prevent the Muslim conquerers from finding it, perhaps hoping to retrieve it again some day. "I think the stash was deliberately buried in a partly broken vessel, which was then filled with sand and laid under the floor tiles," said the head of the Apollonia digging team, Professor Oren Tal of TAU. "So if anyone found it he would think it's a broken pot and pay no attention to it."

"It was hastily hidden just before the fall," said Haggai Yoyanan, Apollonia National Park director. "With the other findings, it tells a story of a prolonged siege and a harsh battle."

The cache consists of 108 gold coins, 93 of them comprised of 4 grams of gold and worth about a dinar each and 15 coins worth a quarter of a dinar, comprised of 1 gram of gold each. The coins were minted in Egypt some 250 years before being buried in the fortress' floor.