Rare First Century Half-shekel Coin Found in Temple Mount Dirt

A rare half-shekel coin, first minted in 66 or 67 C.E., was discovered by 14-year-old Omri Ya'ari as he sifted through dirt removed from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, along with other volunteers.

This is the first such coin to be found at the Temple Mount.

For four years, archaeologists and volunteers have been sifting through dirt removed by the Waqf, the Muslim authority in charge of the Temple Mount compound, during an unauthorized 1999 project. The dig caused extensive and irreversible archaeological damage to the ancient layers of the mountain. The Waqf trucked the dirt to another location, from where it was taken to Emek Tzurim. To date, 40,000 volunteers have participated in the sifting project in search of archaeological artifacts, under the guidance of Dr. Gabriel Barkay and Yitzhak Zweig.

The project is sponsored by Bar-Ilan University and funded by the Ir David Foundation, with the assistance of the National Parks Authority.

The half-shekel coin was first minted during the Great Revolt against the Romans. The face of the coin has a branch with three pomegranates and ancient Hebrew letters reading "holy Jerusalem." The back reads "half shekel."

The coin that was found in the sifting project, though well-preserved, showed some fire damage. Experts believe it was damaged the same fire that destroyed the Second Temple in 70 C.E.

"The half-shekel coin was used to pay temple taxes," said Dr. Gabriel Barkay. "The coins were apparently minted at the Temple Mount itself by the Temple authorities."

The half-shekel tax is mentioned in the book of Exodus, commanding every Jew to contribute half a shekel to the Temple every year so it can purchase public sacrifices.

"This is the first time a coin minted at the Temple Mount itself has been found, and therein lies its immense importance, because similar coins have been found in the past in the Jerusalem area and in the Old City's Jewish quarter, as well as at Masada, but they are extremely rare in Jerusalem," said Dr. Barkay.

So far, some 3,500 ancient coins have been discovered in the Temple Mount sifting project, ranging from earliest coins minted during the Persian era, all the way through the Ottoman era.

Another important archaeological discovery in the sifting project was another well-preserved coin, minted between 175 and 163 B.C.E. by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, against whom the Hasmoneans revolted.