Cache of Pure Gold Coins From Islamic Period Found in Central Israel

The 24-carat gold weighs 845 grams in total, enough to buy a luxurious house in the capital of Egypt during the Abbasid Caliphate

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Ninth-century gold coins from the Abbasid Caliphate found in central Israel on August 18, 2020.
Ninth-century gold coins from the Abbasid Caliphate found in central Israel on August 18, 2020.Credit: Yoli Shwartz / Israel Antiquities Authority

More than 420 pure gold coins around 1,100 years old have been found in an archaeological dig in the center of the country, an extremely rare large find.

The 424 coins were discovered last week by two 18-year-olds who took part in a rescue excavation by the Israel Antiquities Authority during the construction of a new neighborhood. The precise location has not been disclosed so as not to entice antiquities robbers.

The site in central Israel where the coins were found.Credit: Emil Aladjem / Israel Antiquities Authority

“I dug in the ground and when I swept away the soil, I saw what looked like very thin leaves,” said one of the 18-year-olds, Oz Cohen, who is currently doing premilitary service. “When I looked again I saw that they were gold coins. It was really exciting to find such a special and ancient treasure.”

The hoard has been dated to the Abbasid period in the ninth century. The coins were buried inside a clay jar that had been secured to the ground with a nail.

The coins had been hidden to be retrieved later.Credit: Yoli Shwartz / Israel Antiquities Authority

“The person who buried his treasure 1,100 years ago must have expected to come back to retrieve it. What prevented him from returning to collect his property? We can only guess,” said IAA archaeologist Liat Nadav-Ziv, who is leading the excavation with Elie Haddad, also of the antiquities authority.

The 24-carat gold weighs 845 grams in total. This is an enormous sum that the researchers believe was enough to buy a luxurious house in Fustat, the capital of Egypt at the time, near today’s Cairo. The hoard is composed of gold dinars as well as 270 gold dinar fragments that were cut to be used as “small change.”

A researcher with some of the coins.Credit: Yoli Shwartz / Israel Antiquities Authority

The cutting of gold and silver coins was common in Islamic countries in the ninth century; the cut coins replaced cheap bronze and copper coins.

In the ninth century, the site of the find was part of the Abbasid Caliphate, which ruled from Persia to North Africa, with its capital in Baghdad. One of the coins has never been found in Israeli excavations: a fragment of a gold solidus coin that was minted in Constantinople during the reign of Emperor Theophilus, who ruled the Byzantine Empire from 829 to 842.

The coins were buried inside a clay jar that had been secured to the ground with a nail. Credit: Yoli Shwartz / Israel Antiquities Authority

The Abbasid and Byzantine empires were rivals, but the Byzantine coins were honored in the Islamic empire as well, and the coin is evidence of the military and trade connections between the two empires. The coins were examined and analyzed by Robert Kool, the IAA’s numismatics expert.

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