Massive trove of ancient gold coins discovered off Israeli coast

The trove of ancient gold coins discovered off Israel's coast. Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority.

( A group of amateur divers stumbled upon the largest-ever trove of gold coins found in Israel while diving in the ancient harbor of Caesarea. 

The divers found the coins after initially thinking they had spotted a toy coin. Only later did they figure out that they found the “real thing,” and they proceeded to alert the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) about their find. The IAA quickly organized a dive that uncovered nearly 2,000 gold coins, the largest-ever discovery of its kind in Israel. 

According to the IAA, the oldest coin found in the trove was minted in Palermo, Sicily, in the 9th century CE. Most of the coins belonged to the 11th century CE Fatimid caliphs, and were minted in Egypt and elsewhere in North Africa. 

“The discovery of such a large hoard of coins that had such tremendous economic power in antiquity raises several possibilities regarding its presence on the seabed,” said Kobi Sharvit, director of the IAA’s Marine Archaeology Unit. 

Sharvit speculated that the coins could have been part of an official treasury boat on its way back to Egypt with taxes it collected, payment for a military garrison, or even money belonging to a large merchant ship. 

The coins were found in remarkable condition due to the fact that gold is a noble metal and not affected by air or water, the IAA said.

“The coins are in an excellent state of preservation, and despite the fact they were at the bottom of the sea for about a thousand years, they did not require any cleaning or conservation intervention from the metallurgical laboratory,” said Robert Cole, an expert numismatist with the IAA.

Posted on February 17, 2015 .