The largest collection of gold coins yet discovered in Israel was found in recent weeks on the seabed in the ancient harbor in Caesarea National Park, the Antiquities Authority said.
A group of divers from the diving club in the harbor reported the find to the Antiquities Authority whose officials then went with the divers to the location with a metal detector and uncovered almost 2,000 gold coins from the Fatimid period (11th century CE) in various denominations: dinars, half dinars and quarter dinars, of various dimensions and weight.
Kobi Sharvit, director of the Marine Archeology Unit at the Antiquities Authority, said on Tuesday there is likely a wreck near the find of an official Fatimid treasury ship that was on its way to the central government in Cairo with tax revenue.
Alternatively, the coins were meant to pay the salaries of the Fatimid military garrison that was stationed in Caesarea, or they belonged to a large merchant ship, he said.
Sharvit said the divers, Tzvika Feuer, Kobi Tweena, Avivit Fishler, Yoav Lavi and Yoel Miller, were model citizens for reporting the treasure to the Antiquities Authority.
“They discovered the gold and have hearts of gold that love the country and its history,” he said.
The Antiquities Law provides for a punishment of up to five years in jail for the illegal removal or sale of antiquities.
The oldest coin found is a quarter dinar minted in Palermo, Sicily in the second half of the ninth century CE, the authority said. Most of the coins were minted under the Fatimid caliphs Al-Hakim (996– 1021 CE) and his son Al-Zahir (1021–1036), and were produced in Egypt or elsewhere in North Africa.
The Fatimids developed Caesarea and other coastal cities in the area.
Robert Cole, an expert numismaticist with the Antiquities Authority, 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.
“Several of the coins that were found in the assemblage were bent and exhibit teeth and bite marks, evidence they were ‘physically’ inspected by their owners or the merchants,” Cole said.