World Coins

Gold coin hoard found in Israel by two students

A hoard of gold coins was found by students participating in an archaeological excavation in Israel.

All images by Yoli Schwartz, courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority.

Two students in Israel have an exciting answer to the question of what they did this summer.

The unnamed youths discovered a hoard of Abbasid gold coins during an archaeological dig under the oversight of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The 1,100-year-old hoard was found Aug. 18 in Yavneh (ancient Iamnia) in central Israel during construction of a neighborhood.

The hoard contains approximately 130 gold dinars, 30 deliberately defaced coins of various origins, and a large group of dinar fragments, according to Robert Kool, Department of Coins, IAA Research Division.

Together the hoard contains 425 coins or pieces of coins, containing about 850 grams of pure gold, which is equal to about 200 full weight dinars (about 4 grams each), Kool told Coin World. Most of the coins date to the end of the ninth century.

The coins were found in what looks like a medieval industrial area from the early Islamic period, according to Kool.

This was a considerable amount of money for the ninth century, enough to buy a luxurious house in one of the best neighborhoods in Fustat, the enormous wealthy capital of Egypt in those days, according to the IAA.

The teenagers who found the hoard participated in the dig as part of IAA policy to bring them closer to their past. Students that have not yet entered into compulsory military service at 18 years of age regularly participate in digs during the summer.

There is some confusion as to how many individuals are being credited with the find. 

Kool told Coin World that only one student was the finder, but the IAA press release says there were two students, but identified only one (Oz Cohen) by name.

Cohen said in the press release: “It was amazing. I dug in the ground and when I excavated the soil, saw what looked like very thin leaves. When I looked again I saw these were gold coins. It was really exciting to find such a special and ancient treasure.”

Regardless of how many individuals are credited, the hoard is making headlines internationally, because of the nature and composition of the find.

Importance of the hoard

According to Kool in the press release, “It is extremely rare to find treasures from the Abbasid period in excavations in Israel — especially gold coins. This is one of the earliest known caches from this period found in the country.”

According to the directors of the excavation, Liat Nadav-Ziv and Dr. Elie Haddad of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The hoard, deliberately buried in the ground in a clay jar, contained 425 gold coins, most of which date to the Abbasid period.”

During this period, the region was part of the vast Abbasid Caliphate, stretching from Persia in the east to North Africa in the west; its center of government was in Baghdad, Iraq.

The person who buried this treasure 1,100 years ago must have expected to retrieve it, and even secured the vessel with a nail so that it would not move.

“We can only guess what prevented him from returning to collect this treasure,” Nadav-Ziv and Haddad said, in the press release.

The release continued: “Finding gold coins, certainly in such a considerable quantity, is extremely rare. We almost never find them in archeological excavations, given that gold has always been extremely valuable, melted down and reused from generation to generation. The coins made of pure gold that does not oxidize in air, were found in excellent condition, as if buried the day before. Their finding may indicate that international trade took place between the area’s residents and remote areas.”

The cutting of gold and silver coins into smaller pieces was a regular feature of the monetary system in Islamic countries after the 850s, with the sudden disappearance of bronze and copper coins.

A fragment of a lesson

One of the cuttings is an exceptional rare piece never found in excavations in Israel: a fragment of a gold solidus of the Byzantine emperor Theophilos (829 to 842), minted in that empire’s capital of Constantinople.

The appearance of this small Byzantine coin fragment in an Islamic coin hoard is rare material evidence of the continuous connections (war, trade) between the two rival empires during this period.

According to Kool in the press release: “This rare treasure will certainly be a major contribution to research, as finds from the Abbasid period in Israel are relatively few. Hopefully the study of the hoard will tell us more about a period of which we still know very little.”

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