gold coins israel
February 19, 2015

Divers find largest treasure trove of gold coins

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

If you’ve ever jumped into a body of water, you’ve probably fantasized about diving down to find sunken treasure--aka pirate’s booty.

For one group of amateur divers swimming off the shores of Israel, that fantasy became a reality as they found that country’s largest-ever cache of gold coins on the seafloor of the ancient Mediterranean harbor known as Caesarea.

The treasure was probably uncovered by recent storms, according to Discovery News. The divers said they initially didn’t suspect they had found an entire treasure trove.

[Related story: How was this treasure trove of gold formed?]

“At first they thought they had spotted a toy coin from a game and it was only after they understood the coin was the real thing that they collected several coins and quickly returned to the shore in order to inform the director of the dive club about their find,” the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said in a statement.

Is anybody here a marine archaeologist?

Marine archaeologists notified by the group returned with metal detectors and confirmed that a major trove of gold coins had been discovered – around 2,000 in total. Determined to be around 1,000 years old, the coins were in several different denominations: a dinar, half dinar and quarter dinar.

[Related story: Rare gold treasure unearthed in Jerusalem]

“The earliest is a quarter dinar minted in Palermo, Sicily, in the second half of the ninth century AD,” the IAA said.

The coins were currency used by the Fatimid Caliphate, a Muslim empire that ruled parts of North Africa and the Middle East from 909 to 1171. Even after the Crusades took some of these regions over from the caliphate, these gold coins remained in circulation, particularly in port cities like Caesarea.

Buried treasury

Kobi Sharvit, director of the IAA’s Marine Archaeology Unit, told Discovery News the gold coins probably came from the wreck of an official treasury boat.

“The boat was on its way to the central government in Egypt with taxes that had been collected,” Sharvit said. “Perhaps the treasure of coins was meant to pay the salaries of the Fatimid military garrison which was stationed in Caesarea and protected the city.”

[Related story: Treasure hunters find 'holy grail' of shipwrecks in Lake Michigan]

The gold could also be from a merchant ship that sank as it was traveling between ports. The IAA said further expeditions to the site would “answer the many questions that still remain unanswered about the treasure.”

Someone bit them at some point

Despite spending a millennium on the floor of the Mediterranean, the coins are still in good condition and don’t even need to be restored.

“This is because gold is a noble metal and is not affected by air or water,” Robert Cole, a currency expert with the IAA said.

Cole noted that many of the coins show bite marks made by human teeth, a sign that they were once inspected for authenticity. Some coins in the trove appeared to have been in circulation for some time, while others looked like they were freshly minted.

[Related story: Crusader gold found in Castle of Arsur ruins]

Sharvit called the amateur divers “model citizens" and called on authorities to protect the historic heritage in the Caesarea National Park.

“The discovery of the treasure underscores the need to combine the development of the place as a tourism and diving site with restrictions that will allow the public to dive there only when accompanied by inspectors or instructors from the diving club,” Sharvit said.

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