1,200-Year-Old Hanukkah Gelt Found in Israel

Archaeologists find hoard of gold coins unprecedented both in worth and their diverse origins across the region

By Israel Today Staff | | Topics: archaeology
Hoard of gold coins found by Israeli archaeologists in Yavneh
Photo: Liat Nadav-Ziv/IAA

Last week during excavations in Yavneh, archaeologists were surprised to discover a broken clay jug containing gold coins dating back 1,200 years. The excavations revealed an ancient industrial area that was active for several hundred years, and the archaeologists suggest that the shiny treasure may have been a potter’s personal “piggy bank.”

“I was in the middle of cataloging a large number of artefacts we found during the excavations when all of a sudden I heard shouts of joy,” said Liat Nadav-Ziv, co-director alongside Dr. Elie Haddad of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). “I ran toward the shouting and saw Marc Molkondov, a veteran archaeologist, approaching me excitedly. We quickly followed him to the field where we were surprised at the sight of the treasure. This is without a doubt a unique and exciting find, especially during the Hanukkah holiday.” Hanukkah “gelt” is a Yiddish expression for the coins given to children during the 8-day holiday.

A rare treasure

Inspection of the Yavneh gold coins conducted by Dr. Robert Kool, an expert on ancient coins at IAA, dates them to the early Abbasid Period (9th century CE). Among the coins is a gold Dinar from the reign of the Caliph Haroun A-Rashid (786-809 CE), on whom the popular story “Arabian Nights,” also known as “One Thousand and One Nights,” was based. “The hoard also includes coins that are rarely found in Israel,” says Dr. Kool. “These are gold dinars issued by the Aghlabid dynasty that ruled in North Africa, in the region of modern Tunisia, on behalf of the Abbasid Caliphate centered in Bagdad. Without a doubt this is a wonderful Hanukkah present for us,” he concluded.

The large-scale excavation, carried out southeast of Tel Yavneh, revealed an unusually-large amount of pottery kilns that were active at the end of the Byzantine and beginning of the Early Islamic period (7th – 9th centuries CE). The kilns were used for commercial production of storage jars, cooking pots and bowls. The gold hoard was found inside a small jug near the entrance to one of the kilns, suggesting to the archaeologists that this could have been the potter’s personal savings.

Where the coins were found

In a different area of the site, the remains of a large industrial installation were revealed dated to the Persian period (4th – 5th centuries BCE) and used for the production of wine. According to Dr. Haddad of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “Initial analysis of the contents of the installation revealed ancient grape pips (seeds). The size and number of vats found at the site indicated that wine was produced on a commercial scale, well beyond the local needs of Yavneh’s ancient inhabitants.”

Report provided by the Israel Antiquities Authority


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