An impressive and rare treasure of gold coins from the Abbasid period, which may have been hidden around 1,100 years ago, was discovered during an archaeological excavation by young Israelis who had volunteered for the task before beginning their mandatory military service.
Last Tuesday, while working on the excavation, two of these youths suddenly noticed something glistening in the ground.
Oz Cohen, one of the youngsters, said: “It was really exciting. I was digging in the earth and I saw what looked like very thin leaves. When I looked again, I saw that they were gold coins. It was really exciting to find such a special and ancient treasure.”
According to the heads of the excavation, Liat Nadav-Ziv (in the video) and Dr. Elie Haddad of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The treasure, deliberately buried in a clay pot in the earth, contained 425 gold coins, most of which were from the Abbasid period. The person who buried this treasure 1,100 years ago must have expected to find it again and even secured the jar with a nail to keep it from moving. We can only guess what prevented him from returning to recover this treasure. The discovery of gold coins, certainly in such a considerable amount, is extremely rare. We almost never find them in archaeological excavations, as gold has always been extremely valuable, sought after and melted down. The coins made of pure gold, which does not oxidize in air, were found in excellent condition, as if they had been buried the day before. The find could be an indication that there was international trade between residents of the region and remote areas.”
According to Dr. Robert Kool, a coin expert for the Israel Antiquities Authority, “It is extremely rare to find treasures from the Abbasid period – especially gold coins – during excavations in Israel. This is one of the earliest known containers from this period (late 9th century) to be found in the country. The coins are made of pure gold – 24 carats. The total weight of the hoard is around 845 grams of pure gold – a significant amount of money at the time. Such a sum could, for example, buy a luxurious house in one of the best districts of Fustat, the then enormously rich capital of Egypt. From an initial examination of the coins, most of them date to the end of the 9th century AD. During this period, the region was part of the vast Abbasid Caliphate, which stretched from Persia in the east to North Africa in the west, with its center of government in Baghdad. The hoard consists of full gold dinars, but it also contains – which is unusual – around 270 small gold cuts – pieces of gold dinars that were cut as ‘small change’. The cutting of gold and silver coins was a regular part of the monetary system in Islamic countries after the 850s with the sudden disappearance of bronze and copper coins.”
One of the cuts is an exceptionally rare piece that has never before been found during excavations in Israel: a fragment of a gold solidus of the Byzantine emperor Theophilos (829 – 842 AD), which was minted in the imperial capital Constantinople. The appearance of this small Byzantine coin fragment in an Islamic coin treasure is a rare material testimony to the continuous connections (war, trade) between the two rival empires during this period.