The largest gold treasure ever found in Israel was discovered by chance off the shore of the ancient port city of Caesarea, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Tuesday.
At least 2,000 gold coins dating back over 1,000 years were found 12 meters underwater by a group of scuba divers earlier in February, who quickly reported the discovery to their the diving club manager, who then called in Israel Antiquities Authority officials.
Antiquities Authority divers, using metal detectors, went back to the site along with the original divers, and uncovered six kilograms worth of golden coins, which had been exposed due to winter storms, according to the authority’s statement.
They expect to find more coins in the area.
“The gold coins are in excellent condition, and despite remaining at the bottom of the sea for over 1,000 years, they did not need any conservation lab treatment,” Robert Cole, a coins expert at the Antiquities Authority said. Some of the coins were bent and had bite marks, indicating a physical authenticity check, according to Cole.
Yaakov Sharvit, head of marine archaeology at the antiquities authority, said he believes the coins, circulated by the Fatimid Caliphate who ruled over much of the Mediterranean coast of Africa and the Middle East between the 10th and 12th centuries, were aboard a ship that sunk off the Caesarean shore.
“It may have been on a shipwreck that was carrying tax revenues to the central government in Egypt, or maybe salary payments for Fatimite soldiers guarding Caesarea,” Sharvit said in the IAA statement.
“It may also have been cash funds aboard a commercial ship that sunk at sea while trading in the area.”
Sharvit said he hopes archaeological digs in the area will shed further light on the discovery, and provide answers to the many questions regarding the treasure.
Caesarea was an important port city during the Fatimid Caliphate period, serving as a key location for maritime trade.
The coins were minted in various locations in the Fatimid kingdom, and included two types: a Dinar and a quarter Dinar. The oldest coin uncovered was minted in the Sicilian city of Palermo, dating back to the 9th century. The latest coin was minted in 1036, confirming the ship sunk sometime after that year, though an exact date could not yet be determined.