Druze Salute Divers Who Found Gold Coins on Caesarea Seabed

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Treasure includes at least 2,000 gold coins from the Fatimid period, approximately 1,000 years ago.Credit: Clara Amit / Israel Antiquities Authority

When the Druze community celebrates the Nebi Shu’eib holiday at the Nebi Shu’eib shrine in the Galilee on Sunday, it will also be paying tribute to five scuba divers who found the first coins of the largest gold hoard ever to be discovered in Israel.

The image imprinted on most of the coins is that of Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (literally, “Ruler by God’s Command”), a leading figure in Druze history and tradition.

The gleaming stash was found by divers in the ancient harbor at Caesarea National Park, in February. They reported their find to the diving club, which called in the Antiquities Authority. Its marine experts hauled from the seabed 2,580 gold coins, weighing more than 6 kilograms (about 13 pounds). Soon afterward, three anchors also were discovered in the area; these are believed to have belonged to the ship that carried the coins and sank.

The coins are dated to the wealthy Fatimid Islamic dynasty that ruled the Middle East at the beginning of the 11th century C.E. The ship is estimated to have carried tax revenue to the Fatimid Caliphate in Cairo, or perhaps wages for Fatimid troops stationed in Caesarea to protect the coastal city.

Most of the coins are imprinted with Arabic script and the name of Al-Hakim, the sixth Fatimid ruler (996-1021 C.E.), during whose reign they were minted, archaeologists said.

Dr. Robert Kool, an expert numismatist with the Antiquities Authority, believes the ship sank in the 1020s. “I have a feeling something dramatic happened there, natural or human,” he says.

Shortly after the stash was discovered, Druze community leader Sheikh Muwafak Tarif contacted Antiquities Authority director Israel Hasson and told him of Al-Hakim’s importance to the community. Al-Hakim was proclaimed the incarnation of God by the Druze community’s founder Ad-Darazi in 1018. His mysterious disappearance while on a hike near Cairo in 1021 enhanced his importance in Druze tradition, according to which he is not dead and will return one day as the harbinger of the End of Days.

“The excitement is profound,” Hasson said. “It’s similar to our finding a coin that Moses issued.”

“It’s an archaeological find that corresponds to our holy text and creates great excitement,” says Salah Khatib, in charge of content in Druze education. “Al-Hakim laid the foundations for the Druze doctrine. Finding the treasure is an opportunity to awaken the faith in the heart of every Druze,” Khatib added.

The divers – Zvika Fayer, Kobi Twina, Avivit Fishler, Yoav Lavi and Joel Miller – will receive awards and certificates for exemplary citizenship and their contribution to archaeological research in the State of Israel.

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